Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Ephesians 1:13, 14: Sealed with the Holy Spirit

Ephesians 1:13c, 14a: " ... you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise who is given as a pledge of our inheritance ..."

I remember when I was a child that my older brother thought it would be cool to start sealing his notes and letters with a wax seal. He went to the hobby shop, bought some sticks of red sealing wax, and a plastic seal with the letter "H" on it. I watched as he enclosed a letter in an envelope and then dripped melted wax over the flap. He carefully pushed the "H" seal down on the wax and held it until the wax cooled. After a few tries he got the hang of it, and it looked really royal, or so he said.

In the ancient world it was the norm for important letters and packages to be sealed with wax, and bear the seal of the sender. This seal protected the message from being opened, warning all but the intended reader . To keep counterfeiters at bay, the seals became more and more elaborate, and those belonging to rulers were especially impressive. A letter sealed with the King's moniker meant that the message it contained was very important. In a way, the authority of the King resided in the seal, and it was a clear warning that no one but the intended reader should dare open the letter.

As you can see, the seal performed two tasks. First, it kept the letter securely closed. It protected what the letter contained from those who had no business reading it. But it also performed a second function: it declared to everyone that the letter belonged to the one represented by the seal. In these two short verses Paul is telling us that the Holy Spirit functions as a seal on the lives of those who follow Christ, and does so in the same two ways.

 Paul paints his own picture of something very important being sealed. That "something" is the Christ-follower. Paul has pictured the believer as possessing every spiritual blessing available from Almighty God. Certainly the question was rising in the minds of the readers: "Can these blessings be forfeited? Can they leak out? Can they be lost? And if these blessings are found 'in Christ' is there a chance that - somehow - we might fall out of Christ? What keeps us 'in Christ' and also keeps the blessings ours?"

Have you ever wondered about these same questions? I'm pretty sure every believer has asked them at some point. And to these unspoken, but important questions Paul answers: "You have been sealed with a most important seal, and this seal represents the eternal power of heaven itself." The blessings that are ours in Christ are being protected by the Holy Spirit.  They will never dissipate nor are we ever in danger of losing them. God the Spirit protects in us what God the Father has lavished upon us in God the Son.

Furthermore, Paul announces that it is the Holy Spirit that keeps us in Christ. We are "sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise." This is extremely important. In Philippians 2:12,13 Paul unpacks this idea a bit more. After encouraging the Philippian believers to "work out their salvation with fear and trembling" he states in no uncertain terms that "it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure." What does this mean? Only that the indwelling Spirit is at work in the Christ-follower to make obedience beautiful to our eyes. He is at work, using the Word, and growing us in spiritual maturity and strong faith. He is the agent of our sanctification, and it is through this progressive, sanctifying work that He "seals" us in Christ. He is the reason the Christ-follower will never sin so much as to forfeit salvation, nor fall away from saving grace. While we often speak of the "perseverance of the Saints" as the doctrine that establishes our eternal security, it is technically more correct to speak of the "perseverance of God the Spirit in His saints" that is the grounds for our eternal assurance.

Secondly, the Holy Spirit also declares to all that we belong to God, and are therefore heirs of eternal glory. In fact, a very good description of a Christ-follower is "one in whom the presence of the Holy Spirit can be readily seen."  This doesn't mean that those who give little or no evidence of the indwelling Spirit are not believers, but it does allow us to say to those whose lives do not display a characteristic righteousness, joy, and perseverance that they had better examine themselves to determine if they are really "in the faith" (see: 2 Corinthians 13:5).

But Paul isn't satisfied merely to use the "seal" to describe the blessings we enjoy from the Holy Spirit. He has an eye to our eternal future, and again he hears his readers perhaps wondering just how they can be sure that the promises of God will be fulfilled. "How can we know that one day we will be with Him, fully re-created, and enabled to live in God's perfect New Creation quite apart from any possibility of sin? How can we know that, at the final judgement, God will keep the promise to declare that we are righteous, that our sentence has already been paid in full, and that we are welcomed for all eternity into the presence and possessions of the family of God?" Paul's answer involves another illustration from the culture of his day.

In many of the transactions of Paul's day the buyer would give an amount to the seller as a demonstration of good faith that the whole sum would be paid as agreed. We know this today as a downpayment, and if you've ever purchased a house, you know it all too well. And we also know that the bigger the downpayment, the greater is the assurance that the total will be paid as promised.

Not only is the Holy Spirit a seal, it turns out He represents a divine downpayment as well. And He is a huge one at that! He is the earnest money of heaven, given to the Christ-follower as a guarantee that one day, the entire inheritance of eternal life will be granted. This is the inheritance promised to everyone in the family of God, and it is guaranteed by the presence of the indwelling Spirit.

In our day God the Spirit often gets overlooked. But in these verses Paul shows just how important He is! In addition to convicting us of our sin, gifting us for service, guiding our hearts into obedience, and a host of other important tasks, God the Spirit is also busy protecting what God has granted us in Christ while at the same time testifying to our own doubts that God will keep His promise.

Why not take some time right now to thank God for the indescribable gift of the Holy Spirit, who is even now securing you in Christ, while guaranteeing your final redemption. Soli deo gloria!

Hope this helps,



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