It often begins as a light rain falling when the temperature hovers around 31-32 degrees. Slowly you begin to see ice building up on the sidewalks, trees and windshields. As the ice thickens, it becomes increasingly more difficult to move around. If you are walking, unless you have something to hang on to, you will possibly lose your footing and fall. If you are driving, there is a good chance you might end up off the road. After one ice storm a several years ago, I remember putting our dog out in the back and not being able to walk up the slight incline to get back to the house because of the ice. I was finally able to grab a tree and slowly inch my way up until I could get on firm footing. If you try to walk in such conditions, you long for a firm place to stand or to be. If there is no such firm place, you will quite likely fall.
Do you ever feel that way in your life? No matter what you try to do, you end up feeling like you are standing on ice. The good news this morning is that those who belong to Christ need not feel this way. There is a solution that will help us to stand firm. Indeed, God has sent His Spirit to help us to stand firm. The next part of Question and Answer One of the Heidelberg Catechism says, “Because I belong to him, Christ by his Holy Spirit assures me of eternal life.” Let’s read 2 Corinthians 1:12-24.
I. Let’s look first at the importance of standing firm.
The phrase “stand firm” that Paul uses in verse 21 did not originally refer to losing your footing. Rather, in Paul’s day the word was frequently used in a business or legal setting. It meant a transaction that was guaranteed. The deal is firm; the people will guarantee the product or the deal. Paul is saying that God has made an arrangement with His people through Jesus’ death and resurrection. The people can be sure that God will keep His end of the arrangement. They are guaranteed; they can stand firm in this because of Christ. Now why is Paul making such a big deal over this?
The issue that Paul is dealing with here centered around Paul’s traveling plans. Paul had promised to visit the Corinthians in his first letter. But now some things had changed and he had evidently changed his travel plans a few times. Some of the Corinthians took this schedule shuffling and turned it into a charge against Paul. They said that he was being insincere and fickle. “If he is that inconclusive, then he and his message are not trustworthy.” In these verses, Paul answers that these charges are ridiculous! Paul and his co-workers are very faithful in their work! And certainly their message, the gospel of Jesus Christ, is faithful. That message does not change; it is always constant because Christ is always constant. Paul and his co-workers are reliable because they have been made to stand firm in Christ. But his point is that all believers can stand firmly just as Paul does.
It is good to remember that God makes us stand firm as well today. There are many things that seem to continually try to knock us down. We feel wobbly when we or someone in our family becomes seriously ill. A demanding job or loss of job can make us feel like we are slipping. And then there are the battles that can rage within. Just when we think we have an inner battle resolved, it returns again with just as much intensity or another struggle; or temptation replaces it. Tensions and struggles within personal relationships can drag us down.
And we all have times when we wonder if our faith is real or if it is strong enough. And sometimes we try to bluff or shout our way through it. William A. Miller writes that many people use a lot of noise as cover-up for insecurity. He writes, “I’m reminded of the church janitor who, while cleaning the church on Monday morning, came upon the preacher’s notes from his sermon of the previous day. Curious, he glanced at them and noticed something written in longhand in the margin of page three. He looked more closely and saw that the preacher had written these words: ‘Argument weak here. Pound pulpit extra hard.’” Some Christians may have times when they have doubts that they try to overcome and they try to bluff or shout their way through it. But the good news this morning is that God is the One who causes us to stand firm in Christ. We can be confident, secure and bold in our lives if we belong to Christ. How? Paul gives three ways that God makes us to stand firm.
II. Verse 21 says that God anoints and seals us.
First of all, God anointed Paul and all believers. The word “anointing” brings to mind the anointing that was done in the Old Testament. Then priests, leaders, kings and prophets were all anointed with oil as a symbol of God’s special call for people to serve Him. Thus when a person is anointed, God gives Him the gifts necessary to carry out his task. Paul is also making a play on words here because the words for “anointing” and “Christ” are very similar and almost next to each other. The word “Christ” means “anointed one.” We are able to stand firm because we are anointed like Christ was. Christians are anointed by God and that means that our sins are forgiven. It also means God has a special plan for us within His kingdom. Being anointed means that we are filled and equipped to become more like Christ. That helps us to stand secure.
Secondly, verse 22 says that God also seals all believers. This seal refers to an impression made in wax to indicate ownership. If something had your own seal on it, it was officially yours. God places His seal upon us which proves that we belong to God. This seal comes in the form of the Holy Spirit. We have the Holy Spirit living in us which assures us that we belong to God.
Being anointed and sealed is a great source of security for us. And we need that kind of security today in a very insecure world. A few years ago in an article in Wired Magazine, Mat Honan wrote, “This summer, hackers destroyed my entire digital life in the span of an hour. My Apple, Twitter and Gmail passwords were all robust -- seven, 10 and 19 characters, respectively, all alphanumeric, some with symbols thrown in as well -- but the three accounts were linked, so once the hackers had conned their way into one, they had them all. They really just wanted my Twitter handle: @mat. As a three-letter username, it’s considered prestigious. And to delay me from getting it back, they used my Apple account to wipe every one of my devices, deleting all my messages and documents and every picture I’d ever taken of my 18-month-old daughter. Since that awful day, I’ve devoted myself to researching the world of online security. And what I have found is utterly terrifying. Our digital lives are simply too easy to crack.”
The more security we think we have today, the less secure we feel. God, however, through the Holy Spirit, has anointed and sealed us for eternity and that is the greatest source of security possible. But God has done another very important thing for us through the Holy Spirit.
First, God gives us “his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit.” The Spirit was not only poured out on the Apostles at Pentecost. We who believe also have the Holy Spirit poured in our hearts. We have gifts and bear the fruit that comes from having the Holy Spirit in our lives. But what is important to note here is that we have the Spirit in our hearts as a deposit. This term also comes from the business world in ancient times. This word would refer to a deposit or a down-payment. When you rent an apartment, you put down a deposit which holds that place for you. When you buy a house, you pay a down-payment which holds that house for you. A deposit or down-payment assures the seller that you will pay more later. In this case, God is the one who gives us the down-payment in the form of the Holy Spirit. God gives us the Spirit now but it is only partial payment. He gives the Spirit as a guarantee that God will give us even more.
What more could God possibly give us? In Greek, the word for deposit here is used to describe the act of giving an engagement ring. A couple decides to get married and the man gives the ring to the future bride. These two people have promised to live with each other for the rest of their lives. But if it stopped there, something would obviously be missing. The ring is given as a promise of something better to come, which is the marriage itself. The Spirit guarantees that when Jesus returns again, we will be gathered together with Him and all who believe and be taken to heaven. The Spirit guarantees that we have new life in Christ now and will someday have it for eternity.
But how do we know that we really do have the Spirit in my heart as Paul says? What if it is only something that I am imagining or making up? What if I only believe because my mom or dad believes? What if I have doubts and questions? Through the Holy Spirit, God also assures us that He is our Father and we are his children. There is a simple test we can take to see if the Holy Spirit is in our hearts as Paul is describing here. The test is simply this: Do I understand that God is my Father? If I do, then this is the evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life. Moreover, if I am bearing fruit, producing the fruit of the Spirit, kindness, gentleness, self-control, etc., then it is also evidence that we have the Spirit truly living in us.
IV. So how does this help us to stand firm today?
God makes us stand firm in a slippery, uncertain world! God has chosen, anointed and equipped us to do special things for Him. He has done this through the Holy Spirit which He has poured out on us. He has put His seal of ownership on us; we belong to Him. This too comes from the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. Through the Spirit, he somehow makes us aware that what He has said he will promise to do, He will in fact do.
Listen again to what Question and Answer One says about this: “Because I belong to him, Christ by his Holy Spirit assures me of eternal life.” Belonging to Jesus means we can be completely assured of our salvation because of the Holy Spirit in us and that gives us real security. We have this assurance through the Holy Spirit but we must continue to grow in it. And we need to continue to seek it through regular, daily prayer and reading God’s word. It that is not happening, you may not be receiving the Spirit’s power that is so abundantly available to us.
Finally, let’s not lose sight as well of the overwhelming need of so many to have that power. When the Spirit came at Pentecost, it wasn’t just so that the disciples could feel good. Now the Spirit’s coming certainly did comfort the disciples and assure them that Jesus would continue to be with them. But that is not the end by any means. The Spirit came with great power so that they could tell others. That is a very real part of the filling of the Holy Spirit that we cannot overlook. The Spirit comes to anoint us, seal us, assure us so that today we too can go out and proclaim the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have great news, but sometimes we have trouble sharing it. Why? Most often we are afraid that others will not listen or that they may reject us.
The guy told Mel about the freedom he found in Jesus, how he’d just learned the gospel from the girl he’d been dating. He’d only just become a Christian before his incarceration. “This Bible man was weird,” Mel decided. Still he couldn’t help but wonder about such bold assurance of a newly found faith upon entering this forsaken place. Feeling once again like that scared, confused boy, he wondered: Maybe God is real. Maybe he can change things. Secretly, he wanted to know more.
People may be hungrier to hear the good news than we may begin to realize. Is the Spirit alive and thriving in your heart? Are you praying for more of the Spirit’s power so you can stand securely and share your faith?