Wearing the brand

19 Jun

Yesterday, Carol, Amanda, and I went to see Toy Story 3. Very enjoyable movie – fun for kids and adults alike. Seeing that Woody, Buzz, and the gang still treasured having Andy’s name written on their feet reminded me of something I wrote back in 2002.

People have a variety of ways of marking their possessions. A rancher brands his cattle to set them apart from the other herds on the range. Businesses and organizations register their domain name on the Internet to identify themselves and draw people to their website. Libraries use bookplates to set their books apart.

When it comes down to it, we have become pretty sophisticated in developing ways to mark our stuff. As kids, we wrote our names on our baseball mitts. When we went to camp, our mothers put labels inside our clothes.

As adults, we write our names inside our date books, and even on the startup screens of our computers. If necessary, we add passwords to prevent others from accessing our documents. We want to make it clear what belongs to us.

In the Toy Story movies, Woody, Buzz, and their friends treasured having Andy’s name written on the soles of their feet. It meant that they were loved, cared for, and that they belonged to someone who valued them. They were a treasured possession. In the second movie, when Woody was repainted and Andy’s name was covered up, Woody went to great lengths to remove the paint and make his owner’s name visible once again.

Just like Woody, we have that same desire to belong. We wear corporate logos to show what company or group we work for. We sport team hats and shirts to identify with our favorite baseball or football team. We want to make it clear where our loyalties lie.

In Ephesians 1:13-14, the apostle Paul explained that because God loved us, he placed his mark of ownership on us. “Having 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.”

Paul used two key words to describe our unique relationship with God. By “sealing” us and giving us the Holy Spirit as a “deposit,” God wrote his name on our souls. He identified us as his own. That identifying mark speaks volumes about belonging, protection, and security.

Seals were widely used throughout the ancient Near East from the fourth millennium b.c. through the Roman period because they provided both identification and prestige to the owner. An individual announced his ownership by attaching his seal to his possessions.

The impression made by the seal had the same legal validity as an actual signature, as is still the case in the East. Indeed, the importance attached to this method is so great that without a seal no document is considered authentic. 

That is what God has done for us. He has tagged us, he has left his mark on us, he has written his name in our hearts, and we who have the seal know it. “The Spirit himself,” says Paul in Romans 8:16, 17, “testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.”

The seal not only assures us that we are his—it also assures us of his protection. Later in Ephesians we find the same word as we read that with the Holy Spirit of God we are “sealed for the day of redemption” (4:30). Not only are we owned by our Lord, we are also under his protection until the great day of redemption. Just as we guard and protect our stuff, God watches out for his possessions.

The second concept Paul uses to express the fact that we belong to God is the word “deposit.” Along with his mark or seal, the Holy Spirit serves as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.

In the Greek and Roman culture of Paul’s day, it was customary to make a deposit, an “arrabon” as they called it, on the purchase of a possession. The arrabon was a down payment which announced that more of the same would be coming—the first installment.

Today we often call it “earnest money” or a “down payment.” Thus we understand that the spiritual life given to us by the Holy Spirit is an arrabon of what is to come.

No one in his or her right mind walks away from the down payment. Instead, after writing a check for the down payment for your first home, you begin to make plans about redecorating, moving in, and getting to know the neighbors. You anticipate the day when you take possession.

When you give the down payment for a new car, you imagine what it will be like to drive down the street. You anticipate heads turning to take a second look. You are confident you will be the envy of all your friends.

Much as you put money down and sign a contract to buy a car or a house, God gave us the Holy Spirit as a deposit or down payment to guarantee our salvation. The deposit means that God will complete the purchase, so to speak, when he redeems us as his possession.

When we became a Christian, God wrote his name on our souls and declared that we belonged to him. He promised to care for us and protect us until the day when he brings us into his presence.

Why not tell a friend what it means to you to know that you belong to God? Wear his name proudly today.


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