Study: Hope Church Triad Program
Today’s Chocolate: Green & Black’s Organic Milk Chocolate with Almonds
Today’s Passage: Ephesians 1:3-14
Sometimes, Pastor Stephen Kirk is a man after my own heart. Commenting on Ephesians 1:13-14 in the Multiply book that accompanies the Triad study program, he goes to absolute town on the Greek. I could never be a pastor; I imagine that unless your congregation is either extremely generous or nerdy, you only have so many Original Greek Language Points to spend per sermon before they start losing interest. I, on the other hand, had half a mind to just start looking up Greek words from this week’s passage and see what I found, until I realized I’d kinda already done that back in All the Paul.
But Kirk leans hard into the Greek in his commentary on this week’s passage. In fact, the week’s theme of “Guarantee” derives principally from his exegesis of a particular Greek word. When Paul says, “You were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance” (13-14), the word “pledge” (in other versions translated “deposit” or “guarantee”) is ἀρραβών, arrabon. And Kirk observes,
The Greek word “arrabon” refers to a down-payment, a first installment that promises “More is on the way.” This transaction happens every day as new home owners put down 20% on a mortgage. It’s not the total amount, but it is real money and a binding promise that the other 80% will come in due time. Even today in Modern [sic] Greece an “arrabon” is the engagement ring a hopeful groom gives his fiancée. …The Holy Spirit within you is His pledge, the first installment of your real inheritance and a tangible promise there is more to come. (Multiply 50)
As Kirk points out, Paul hits this idea of the Holy Spirit not just in Ephesians 1:14, but also in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, 2 Corinthians 5:5, and Ephesians 4:30. I can’t help thinking of God’s promise, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5). The Spirit is God’s presence with us here and now, an assurance that we will be present with God forever.
Biblically, the theology is sound. I can’t dispute that Paul’s choice of the word arrabon indicates that the Spirit is an appetizer for the all-you-can-eat grace buffet that is heaven. But for me, a question remains: if we know that we’re saved by the presence of the Spirit, how do we know if we have the Spirit? Kirk asks, “Have you ever acknowledged the personal presence of God’s Spirit within you and known the certainty the Spirit intends to provide?” (Multiply 50). If one has the Spirit, according to Kirk, one can observe its presence within oneself. But I’m of two minds about that idea: not wanting to discount the possibility of certainty, but wary of looking within for answers, even if the Holy Spirit resides there.
And that’s because of my own experiences. I’ve bumped up against the fallibility of my own faculties of spiritual observation. Yesterday I hesitated to tell this story, but without bogging us down in a long tale or getting too real, I had an experience in college where I thought the Holy Spirit spoke to me. In a voice within myself, I believed the Spirit told me that a certain event would inevitably come to pass, even producing a sign of paralyzing me for a moment to verify the truth of its message. Within two years, the exact opposite of that event happened. The experience catapulted me into a period of intense doubt, even disbelief at times, where I questioned the trustworthiness of absolutely everything, from myself to God to the Law of Non-Contradiction.
In the fourteen years since, thanks to God and time and the helpful people in my life, my faith has recovered substantially. Make no mistake, I’m still “once bitten, twice shy,” and when Paul says that “the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26), I’m somewhat inclined to think that that’s how the Spirit speaks most of the time, if not all. If the Spirit is an arrabon (and I would say it is), then even as a Christian I’m still perfectly capable of having counterfeit arrabons inside of me, misleading me with false promises.
It’s clear enough that you’ve got the Holy Spirit in you when you’re speaking in tongues to communicate the gospel to Jews from all over (Acts 2:1-41) or miraculously healing men crippled from birth (Acts 3:1-10). I have no doubt that Peter and the other early disciples did these things, and that they could look to them as reassurances that God’s saving Spirit was alive and well inside them. But short of overt, verifiable, externally-manifested and gospel-advancing miracles, I hesitate to say that we can look inside for confirmation of our salvation, at least not without testing what we find against the Scriptures.
Can you be certain of your own salvation and the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life? At the end of the day, I’d say yes. But you can also be uncertain; you can even be certain and have your certainty be unmerited. Read the Bible carefully and step cautiously. Safety not guaranteed.