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What Does It Mean to Be Sealed with the Holy Spirit?

Seal by zappowbang from everystockphoto dot come

Sealed with the Holy Spirit

Three times in his letters Paul says we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit — in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Ephesians 1:13; and Ephesians 4:30.

So what does this mean?

And how does this impact our lives?

The Background

In the ancient world people used damp clay to close letters. Then they would imprint that clay with their own personal seal (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 8:940).

This seal served a couple different functions –

  • It secured the letter by tightly closing it,
  • It authenticated the genuineness of the letter,
  • and it identified the owner of the letter (Harold Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, 238).

So what does it mean for us to be sealed with the Holy Spirit?

A Clue

I found a clue in Ephesians 1:13-14. Notice when we are sealed with the Spirit —

In [Christ] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. [My italics.]

So every believer is sealed with the Spirit when they hear the gospel and believe in Christ.

Since this sealing happens at conversion, and other passages teach that we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit at conversion (Acts 2:38; Galatians 3:2; John 7:37-39), it seems likely that being sealed with the Spirit is another way Paul describes receiving the gift of the Spirit.

So why would Paul use this picture of sealing to describe the gift of the Spirit?

Why This Picture?

The answer is found in what happens when we receive the gift of the Spirit.

Many passages show that the gift of the Spirit is something we feel and experience.

For example, when we receive the Spirit we have our heart-thirsts satisfied with rivers of living water (John 7:37-39), we experience God’s love poured into our hearts (Romans 5:5), and by this the Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God (Romans 8:15-16).

And this experience of the Spirit functions just like a seal on a letter –

  • It secures us for salvation, because it shows we have the Spirit whose power keeps us persevering until the end;
  • it authenticates us to ourselves that we are genuinely saved, since no one receives the Spirit without being saved;
  • and it identifies us as belonging to God, as people see the living water filling our hearts and pouring from us in sacrificial love for others.

Anyone Else?

So does anyone else explain the sealing with the Holy Spirit in this way?  Yes.

Jonathan Edwards: “The witness or seal of the Spirit consists in the effect of the Spirit of God in the heart, in the implantation and exercises of grace there, and so consists in experience. And it is beyond doubt, that this seal of the Spirit is the highest kind of evidence of the saints’ adoption that ever they obtain.” (from “A Treatise on the Religious Affections,” The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 1:334)

John Owen: “We are sealed to the day of redemption, when, from the stamp, image, and character of the Spirit upon our souls, we have fresh sense of the love of God given to us, with a comfortable persuasion of our acceptance with him.” (“Of Communion with the Holy Ghost,” The Works of John Owen, 2:243)

Robert Murray McCheyne: “After ye believed ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise… But how much more wonderful, blessed, and indelible, is the impression made by the Holy Spirit dwelling in the heart! It is compared to the impression made by a seal on wax, and it is to the day of redemption. Oh, my friends! Does this friend dwell in you?” (The Works of Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne: Complete in One Volume, accessed from Google Books 2/11/2015, sermon number 88).

Not Just the Past

But these quotes show that these men did not think being sealed with the Spirit was just a past event.  They believed we can experience the effects of this sealing throughout our Christian lives.

That’s why Paul commands us to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).

But it’s been a while since I have experienced the living water of the Spirit, the love of God poured into my heart, and the Spirit bearing witness with my spirit that I am God’s child.

That’s one reason I wrote on this topic – so these truths would stir my hunger for God.

And it worked.  I am motivated to pray for more of the Spirit’s work, and ponder the truth of God’s word, until I once again experience this work of the Spirit.

Join me.

Questions? Comments?

I’d love to hear them, although I might not be able to respond.  Leave a reply below — thanks.

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(Picture is from by zappowbang.)

Category: The Work of the Spirit


One Response

  1. Roy says:

    I have never experienced my heart thirsts being satisfied and I have never experienced God’s love poured into my heart, although I have walked down an Isle and prayed for salvation at least four times. Does this mean I am not saved?

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