The Proof in the Patina

Proclaim Sermons
July 14, 2024
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: Among the many blessings God gives his children in Christ is the gift of the Holy Spirit, the seal that marks us as God's beloved. The presence of the fruit of the Spirit assures believers that their salvation is genuine and secure, and it helps them distinguish truth-tellers from spiritual frauds. The love for others demonstrated by disciples of Christ also serves as a powerful witness to observers outside the faith that God's Spirit is present to transform lives.

If you've ever watched the Antique Road Show, you've probably seen the look of disappointment when experts tell a collector that their prized heirloom is not genuine and is worth much less than they thought it was. Or, alternately, the delight someone expresses upon discovering that the article they bought at a garage sale for two dollars is actually a rare, valuable antique.

Experts in the antique business say they look for specific signs that prove whether an item is authentic or not: color, patina, materials used, how it is put together, whether it is signed by the artist or stamped by the manufacturer, whether the item is similar to other items the same crafter or artist created that are known to be genuine and so on.

Have you ever wondered how you can tell a genuine follower of God from a fake or fraud? Apparently, Jesus' disciples wondered about that, too.

In the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds,1 Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to someone who sowed good seed in his field, but when the plants came up and bore grain, weeds appeared as well. The farmer concluded that an enemy had sown weed seed in his field. The weeds looked so similar to the good grain that the farmer wouldn't let his farmhands pull up the weeds, lest they uproot the wheat along with them. Once the grain was ready for harvest, the farmer said, he would instruct the reapers to separate the weeds from the wheat, so that they could dispose of the weeds and gather the wheat into his barn.

Jesus used this metaphor not to make a point about agriculture, of course, but to let his disciples know that it wasn't their job to try to determine which people were genuine God-followers and which people were fake. The authenticity of a person's faith would eventually be seen in the outcome of their life.

In our text for today from Ephesians 1, Paul tells the Ephesians that they were marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit, which proved they were part of God's own people, even though they were not Jews. God gave them this mark, Paul says, when they heard the word of truth, the good news of their salvation, and believed in Jesus.

What is the seal of the Holy Spirit that marked the Ephesians as part of God's people?

Before we answer that question, we need to define what a seal is, and what its purpose is.

Throughout history, seals have been used to denote authorship, ownership, identity, authenticity or authority. People dripped wet clay or hot sealing wax on letters, contracts, decrees, certificates or judgments, and then used a ring or stamp to imprint their name or image on sealing wax. This seal made the documents secure and proved their origin.

Today a notary public, government agent or corporate official might use a stamp to show that a document is validly executed, acknowledged or witnessed.

The Great Seal of the United States is used on proclamations, warrants, treaties and communications to authenticate the signature of the president. The presence of the seal on U.S. passports and currency is one way to tell that the passports and money are genuine.

So how does the Holy Spirit function as God's seal?

The seal of the Holy Spirit tells us we belong to God

The presence of the Holy Spirit in someone's life establishes that that person belongs to God. The experience of the Holy Spirit in a believer's life is proof to them, and a demonstration to others, of the genuineness of their faith.

God gave Abraham, the father of our faith, the sign of circumcision2 as a physical mark that God had made a covenant with him. But reading further in the Bible, we learn that the seal of the Spirit is "a matter of the heart",3 that "the only thing that counts is faith working through love"4 and that it marks "a new creation."5

Just a few verses before our text,6 Paul says that it pleased God to choose to adopt us as his children through Christ.

In New York State, when a court approves an adoption, the adoptive parents are given a certificate stating the child's new adoptive name and status as a member of a new family. The Holy Spirit is God's certificate indicating our new relationship to God and God's family.

The seal of the Holy Spirit also signifies to Jesus who belongs to him.

If you have ever watched an old western, you've probably seen cowboys putting the rancher's brand on cattle to establish ownership of the livestock. Jesus told his disciples, "I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me."7 How does Jesus know which sheep belong to his flock? By the seal or "brand" of the Spirit of Jesus that marks us as God's own.

We've already seen that the seal of the Spirit is not a physical mark people have on their bodies. So what is that seal that marks people as belonging to God?

Some people say that having a particular spiritual gift, such as speaking in tongues, is the sign or seal of the Holy Spirit, but the Bible tells us that the Spirit bestows spiritual gifts as God wills, and that not everyone has the same gift. So the seal of the Spirit must not be a gift or ability that only some believers have.

The seal of the Holy Spirit tells us who we are

In The Prince and the Pauper, by Mark Twain, a prince trades places with a look-alike poor boy, as a lark, but the game goes wrong when the prince is trapped outside the palace walls. Many adventures ensue before Prince Edward is able to reenter the castle. The royal seal becomes the object through which Edward proves he is the rightful king. By identifying the seal and its location, Edward proves he is who he claims to be.

When the words and actions of a person bear the marks of the Spirit of Jesus, everyone can know that person is an authentic follower of Jesus.

Shortly before Jesus went to the cross, he told his disciples, "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."8

Now the command to love others was not a new mandate. Jesus had already identified the command to love one's neighbor as oneself as the greatest commandment, second only to the command to love God with all one's heart, soul, mind and strength.9

What was new about the commandment he gave his disciples in the upper room was that they were to love one another as Jesus had loved them. - selflessly, sacrificially. When we express that kind of love, we are marked as disciples of Jesus, the great shepherd who gave his life for his sheep.

Remember the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, in which the farmhands had a hard time telling the good grain from the weeds? In another place,10 Jesus taught his disciples how to tell the difference between true and false prophets. "False prophets ... come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits."

You can also know true prophets by their fruits. Jesus indicates that they are the ones who don't just use religious language, but who do the will of God in heaven, who hear Jesus' words and act on them. You know the identity of a fruit tree by what kind of fruit it bears.

By the same token, observers will know who we are and to whom we belong by the kind of fruit, the kind of character, the kind of behavior, we exhibit.

Paul names the fruit of the Spirit11 as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

The seal of the Holy Spirit is seen in the fruit of the Spirit that the believer bears. What fruit do people see when they view your actions? What is the evidence in your life that you are marked by the Spirit of Jesus?

Much more could be said about how the Holy Spirit functions as a seal: to provide security and protection, to indicate that God accepts us, to demonstrate that we have been tested and have met God's standards by faith in the grace of Christ, to serve as a sign of our authority to speak and act as God's emissaries and to give us a foretaste of the joyous future God has prepared for us. But that's for another sermon or two at another time.

For now, suffice it to say that the Holy Spirit is God's seal that tells us who we are and whose we are.

Let's pray that our lives would be marked by the fruit of the Spirit that characterized Jesus' life, that our words and actions would be the patina that proves that we are genuine followers of Christ, so that everyone would know that we are his disciples.