This past week as I’ve been thinking about the winding down of 2017 and a brand New Year looming ahead, a passage from the Book of 1 Samuel came to mind. The book is named for Samuel who was born in answer to the fervent prayers of his mother, Hannah. He grew up to be a prophet and a judge in Israel. But when he grew old, the people decided they wanted to be like all the other nations and have a king rule over them. So they asked Samuel to appoint a king over Israel. No, actually they did not just ask, they demanded a king! So God gave them what their hearts desired. But after anointing Saul as the first king of Israel, Samuel addressed the people and pointed out their rebellion against God. After all, it was God who was to be their king. Their rejection of Him was sin.
In Chapter 12, Samuel reminded the people of God's mighty power in caring for them and their forefathers over many generations. He also confronted them with their rebellion. When their eyes were opened to realize their demand for a king was wrong and a sin in God's eyes, they were fearful. Here is what Samuel said to them: "Do not fear. You have committed all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart....Only fear the Lord and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you" (12:20,24).
Looking ahead to a New Year, we see a clean slate of 365 days upon which to write another year of our lives. It is also a time to leaf back through the pages of 2017 and consider what great things God has done for you. The changing of the calendar from 2017 to 2018 is both a time for reflection and a time for resolutions. It is a time to remember all of God’s blessings in your life, His mercies, and His grace and then, with grateful heart, commit to following and serving Him. As Samuel told the Israelites, it is not a time for fear or regrets. It is a time to remember God's grace, mercy, and mighty power that has protected and fortified you and your family in the past. And it is a time to turn away from lesser things and set your face in His direction with strong resolution to follow and serve Him with all your heart.
As far as New Year’s resolutions go, it is said that most people who make them will abandon them by February. But as Christians we are not "most people", and we do not just "make resolutions". We make a commitment to our calling. Remember, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). By His grace we have been chosen, predestined, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, lavished with grace, and sealed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:1-14). And, as the apostle Paul also wrote, I am confident that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
No matter what trials and troubles you and I endured in 2017 and no matter how many times we messed up and sinned, each one of us has much to be grateful for. And we have all good things to look forward to in 2018 as we follow and serve our King of kings! When you make Him the desire of your heart, all your desires will be fulfilled.
Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).
Happy New Year
Sealed with the Holy Spirit of Promise
For the past few months we have been looking at the apostle Paul’s list of blessings in Ephesians 1. Paul calls them spiritual blessings in the heavenly places, bestowed upon us in Christ Jesus. Paul has explained that, as believers, we have been chosen, predestined, adopted, graced, redeemed, forgiven, given insight into God’s will, and given an inheritance. These are a wonderful list of blessings that should instill in us grateful hearts. But in this uncertain world where nothing is ever for sure, perhaps you harbor some doubts about the reality of your possession of these blessings.
Many years ago our family fostered a little six year-old boy whose favorite phrase was “What if?” Whenever we made him a promise or told him we were going to do something fun and exciting, he always responded with, “What if……” followed my his imagined scenario of what might happen to spoil his fun. In this world, where nothing is really certain, I think we all tend to do that, at least from time to time. Do you ever ask the question “What if?” What if I fail the exam and don’t pass the class? What if I don’t get the promotion? What if I lose my job? What if the biopsy results show cancer? Let’s face it. Our uncertain world is a stressful place that can cause anxiety. But, we have an Almighty God who has given us promises and blessings with no “what if’s” at all. And Paul explains in Ephesians 1:13 exactly why we can have confidence and no doubts. It is because, at the moment we believed, God sealed us with His Holy Spirit: having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.
What does it mean that God has sealed us with His Holy Spirit? The Greek word Paul used is “sphragizo”, commonly used to refer to the official seal of a person’s signet ring made in wax. The seal was an official mark placed on a document to mark it as authentic and secure and protect its contents. When God seals us with His Holy Spirit, He officially identifies us as belonging to Him. It places us under His authority and is His pledge of our inheritance in Christ (Ephesians 1:11). Remember from last time that our inheritance includes our present blessings in Christ, our eternal salvation, and His kingdom, which was prepared for us from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34).
In a sermon on the Holy Spirit John Piper referred to the seal as “a message of safety and security in God's love and power. God sends the Holy Spirit as a preserving seal to lock in our faith, as an authenticating seal to validate our sonship, and as a protecting seal to keep out destructive forces. God gives us security and safety in His love and power…..When He seals us with His Holy Spirit, God is saying, ‘My great desire for those who believe in me is that you feel secure in my love. I have chosen you before the foundation of the world. I have predestined you to be my children forever. I have redeemed you by the blood of my Son. And I have put my Spirit in you as a seal and a guarantee. Therefore, you will receive the inheritance and praise the glory of my grace forever and ever. And I tell you this here in Ephesians Chapter 1 because I want you to feel secure in my love and my power.’”
Especially at this time of year, as we celebrate the birth of Christ, through whom all our blessings come, let us lay aside our anxious “What if’s” and let us celebrate our safety and security in the sovereign, unchanging Creator and Sustainer of all things who sent His Son to save us and will never fail us or forsake us.
Merry Christmas! And may you fully enjoy all your blessings in Christ in the New Year,
Our inheritance in Christ
Did you know that whoever you are, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, God has an inheritance reserved for you? In legal terms, an inheritance refers to property or other gifts conferred after the death of a family member. Jewish inheritance law was always linked to family blood lines, whereas Roman law permitted awarding of the inheritance to an heir through adoption. We have seen, in Ephesians 1:5 that through Jesus Christ, we have been adopted as sons of God.
In the Old Testament, God deemed Israel to be His "son" (see Deuteronomy 14:1; Psalm 82:2; Jeremiah 31:20) and made a promise to Abraham to give his descendants all the land of Canaan (Genesis 13). Over 600 years later, Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan River and into that Promised Land. Joshua Chapter 13 records God’s command to Joshua “divide this land as an inheritance” among the tribes of Israel (13:7). Two tribes and half of another had chosen to make their home on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Nine tribes and a half received their inheritance in the Promised Land of Canaan. But the Hebrew word for inheritance, “nachalah” embraces a meaning beyond just an inheritance in the land. It can refer also to a cultural or spiritual heritage. In Psalm 16:5, David proclaimed that God Himself was the inheritance of His people, O LORD, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup. In fact, there was one tribe, the tribe of Levi that never received an earthly inheritance. The tribe of Levi was given no land because the Lord God of Israel was their inheritance (Genesis 13:33; Numbers 18:23,24; Deuteronomy 18:1-2; Ezekiel 44:23).
In Ephesians 1:11, we learn that New Testament believers also receive an inheritance. The apostle Paul, wrote to the Christians in Ephesus, also we have obtained an inheritance. In Galatians 4:7 he wrote, You are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. So what is our inheritance? In a sense, we are like the tribe of Levi, we have no worldly inheritance, and like Abraham, we are but sojourners here on earth (Genesis 23:4). Our inheritance is in Christ (Ephesians 1:11), the mediator of the new covenant, by means of death…, so that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15). It took Christ’s death to acquire it, but He rose again and we receive our inheritance in Him (Ephesians 1:11) because He lives. And as we have been seeing in Ephesians 1, we are experiencing a portion of that inheritance here and now through our spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ (1:3). We have seen so far that those blessings include being chosen, predestined, adopted, graced, redeemed, forgiven, and the ability to know the mystery of God’s will. Those blessings are all part of our inheritance in Christ.
Beyond that, our inheritance includes eternal salvation and the kingdom of God. Hebrews 1:14 speaks of angels as ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation, and in speaking of His second coming and the judgment, Jesus told His disciples, “Then the King will say to those on his right hand ‘Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world’ (Matthew 25:34). 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:21, and Ephesians 5:5 also confirm that our inheritance includes the kingdom of God.
There is so much to be learned about each of these blessings included in our inheritance that whole books have been written about each, but the apostle Peter tells us there are four things we can be confident of knowing about our inheritance (1 Peter 1:4):
Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology says, “The concept of the believer's inheritance highlights the dignity of the family relationship of the believer in Christ. No higher position or greater wealth can an individual acquire than to become an heir of God through faith in Christ.” Therefore we do not lose heart, for though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Our inheritance is a gift, a promise, and a blessing from God through Christ. We can be sure of it and we should be thankful. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28). Next time we will see how God gives us assurance that we will receive the promised inheritance.
I have been involved in Disciplers since 1987, as a discussion leader, teacher, writer, and now as director. I am profoundly committed to the stewardship of this ministry which God has entrusted to me for a time. God’s word is the chief joy of my life. I cherish my personal time in the word, and I am filled with gratitude to be able to share His word with you, my fellow disciples in Christ.