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Blessings That Won't Be Restricted: Preservation

 
James Burstow | February 22nd 2021

In the past few months we’ve been reminded that so many of the blessings we take for granted are not guaranteed. They are blessings that can be given, and can be taken away. 

But, as Christians, we receive some blessings that are untouchable. Ephesians 1 v 3 calls these “spiritual blessings.” They can’t be restricted, regulated or removed. Join me each week for an encouraging reflection on these everlasting spiritual blessings.

Blessing 5: Preservation

So far in this series we've thought about election, adoption, redemption and revelation. And this week we're moving on to verses 13 and 14—which say this:

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

I’m calling this spiritual blessing preservation. Why? Because it has to do with how we keep going until that point where we see God face to face and receive our promised inheritance. Another word for it is assurance: how can we be sure that we're going to make it? That’s a big question! The answer hinges on the work of the Holy Spirit.

Verse 13 says that the Holy Spirit is a seal, marking believers as God’s possession. If we are followers of Jesus, we belong to God. This means that it’s his responsibility to care for us, his possessions. It’s his responsibility to bring us home.

How Does He Mark Us?

I recently read a book about sheep farming in the English Lake District. It was surprisingly interesting! In the summer the shepherds let their sheep roam freely up in the hills. There are no fences: they just go where they want, mixing with flocks from neighbouring farms. But as winter approaches, there’s a day when the shepherds work together to gather the sheep and bring them in to safety. They come down from the hills in a mixed flock—but each sheep is marked, so that it’s clear just from looking at them which shepherd they belong to. The sheep are separated into the right groups, and then each shepherd keeps his flock in the fields near his farm so that he can look after them over winter. Those sheep belong to him. They are marked as his possession and they are safe because he preserves them.

Christians are marked like sheep. The Holy Spirit shows that we are God’s possession and guarantees that he will keep us safe.

How Does He Preserve Us? 

Perhaps you know someone—or perhaps you are someone—whose faith feels weak at the moment. Perhaps you are going through a trial which you feel like you just can't endure. If that’s so, it may not feel very obvious that God can preserve you. How does he do it? Again, it hinges on the Holy Spirit—who in verse 14 is called “a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance”. Guarantee is a strong word: it’s a cast-iron commitment or promise that something is going to happen.

"The Holy Spirit is the guarantee that we belong to Jesus and that therefore we will make it safely home to him."

In John 14 and 15, Jesus tells his disciples that he is about to leave them. And he warns them that they will be persecuted for his sake. But he promises to send them a helper who he calls the Advocate—the Holy Spirit. Here’s what he says in John 15:26...

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. All this I have told you so that you will not fall away.”

The disciples needed the Spirit’s help in order not to fall away. There are lots of ways that we might think the Holy Spirit could have helped the disciples. Perhaps by giving them some Avenger-like powers to keep them safe. Self-healing properties? A force field around them?

No. The Spirit’s main way of helping the disciples is to testify about Jesus, to continually remind them of the truth about Jesus—who he is, why he came, what he’s done for them, where he’s gone and what he is doing right now. Initially that might seem a little bit less impressive than having the strength of 100 men or being able to fly, but in truth it is exactly what the disciples needed to remain faithful to the end, in spite of trials and temptations and persecutions of every kind.

What Does He Testify To Us?

The same Spirit that was given to them is given to us. The Holy Spirit is the guarantee that we belong to Jesus and that therefore we will make it safely home to him. That is because, in the same way that he testified to the disciples about the grace and truth and love of Christ, he testifies to us.

When we struggle to believe that we were chosen before the dawn of time, the Spirit testifies that we were.

When we forget the reality and privilege of being adopted as children of God, the Spirit reminds us that we are.

When we can’t believe that we really are redeemed and that our sins have really been forgiven, the Spirit confirms that they have.

When we can’t understand what God is doing in the world and in our lives, and whether he is really in control, the Spirit assures us that he is.

The Spirit's job is to testify to Christ, to his work, to his character and to his promises. There are ways that we can and should remind ourselves of these things—the so-called habits of grace—and we'll think about them more in the next post. But essentially it is all about the work of Christ.

The spiritual blessings we have, we have in Christ. And the way that we keep going in our faith is to hold on to Christ even as he holds on to us. If you’re doing that, however precarious it feels, it is evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in you, preserving your faith—and thereby your life.

Richard Coekin says in Ephesians For You (page 24):

“Having sacrificed his Son to purchase us from hell for heaven, the Father will not fail to ensure that we arrive safely in heaven, through the indwelling of his powerful Spirit, who will maintain our faith in Christ until we arrive home.”

This is a great spiritual blessing. It gives us assurance that we will make it to the end. It gives us hope that whatever we face in this life, God will hold on to us. It encourages us that even in the midst of trials, if we can still say that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour, then the Holy Spirit is at work within us, testifying to the truth of the gospel and preserving our faith.

J.I. Packer says in Knowing God, “Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.”

You know that I like to end with a hymn lyric, and there are so many that pick up on this idea. Here's one of my favourites, from He Will Hold Me Fast:

When I fear my faith will fail, Christ will hold me fast;

When the tempter would prevail, he will hold me fast.

I could never keep my hold through life's fearful path;

For my love is often cold; he must hold me fast.

 

He will hold me fast, he will hold me fast;

For my Saviour loves me so: he will hold me fast.

 

Amen!

James Burstow

James' role as Commercial Director encompasses marketing, sales and customer service. Before joining TGBC he spent time in Chile and Japan teaching English before becoming a fundraiser for Great Ormond Street Hospital. He is the senior elder at Grace Church Worcester Park.