/ Barry York

The Sealing of the Spirit

The glorious passage of Ephesians 1:3-14 highlights the role of each person in the Triune God in our salvation. Three times the phrase “to the praise of His glory” is used (1:6, 12, 14) to highlight and to honor each person: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. However, unfortunately this passage is quite controversial, not only for such things as the predestination it teaches, but also for the statement about the Spirit's sealing in verse 13.

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation — having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise. (NASB)

What is this sealing? When does it take place? How is it experienced by the believer?

In his wonderful, extensive commentary on Ephesians, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones asks, “So we are faced with the question, Is this sealing of the Holy Spirit a distinct and separate experience in the Christian life, or is it something that happens inevitably to all who are Christians, so that you cannot be a Christian at all apart from this sealing?” Lloyd-Jones actually taught the former, that the sealing of the Spirit follows, or is subsequent to, conversion. He believed the sealing came some time after someone believes, where the believer is given a definitive new power to serve God.

As his grandson Christopher Calderwood said of Lloyd-Jones, "He believed passionately in the baptism with the Holy Spirit as a second post conversion experience."[1] Thus, sealing is something to be sought, and not every believer receives it. Though certainly not the same teaching, Lloyd-Jones' view is based on similar texts from which Wesleyan doctrine derives its teaching regarding second blessing perfectionism. Yet, with all due respect to the great preacher and his volumes on Ephesians, any type of development of a post conversion second blessing, as we shall see, is contrary to the context, grammar, and especially the spirit of Paul's letter.

Paul never teaches, and especially not in Ephesians, that there are two classes of Christians known as the "sealed" and "non-sealed". For we are all one in Christ. Verse 13 is a further explanation of verse 3, where he tells us that God our Father "has blessed us with every spiritual blessing", of which sealing is one of those blessings. The text is clear. He has blessed us. We have these spiritual blessings already. If you are a believer in Christ, you are sealed. How do we know? What benefit does this bring? The sealing work of the Holy Spirit testifies to three blessings we already have in Christ.

The Spirit Gives Us Our Faith. Why do Lloyd-Jones and others think this sealing is subsequent to, or following, a profession of faith? Because the order of the text in the KJV makes it sound that way. "In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise." The wording makes it appear that the sealing is after hearing and believing. The use of participles by Paul here in the Greek cause some translators to view them as temporal ones and so they add the word "after".

However, the word “after” is not in the Greek text. Further, the three verbs for hearing, believing, and sealing are all aorist participles. As such, the text would indicate they are definitive acts happening simultaneously. Verse 13 should not be read as if it says, "You will be sealed when you have some special experience later in your Christian journey.” Rather, it should be understood as simply stating, "You were sealed." More modern translations reflect this, as do theologians and commentators.

In him 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 (ESV).

Note too that this sealing is represented by the aorist tense as an accomplished fact, suggesting that as the Spirit is the witness that the Christian is a child of God and as such an heir of God, so the indwelling Spirit of adoption, given in conjunction with God’s constituting act of adoption, becomes also at the same time the ‘guaranteeing pledge’ of the believer’s full inheritance and the ‘mark’ or ‘seal’ that the believer belongs to God’s household to the final day of redemption…faith is the instrumental cause of sealing."[2]

…the aorist participle is contemporaneous here (with the others ones). Contextually, the threefold praise to the Godhead is in the first two instances due to God’s prior action (election, redemption). To be consistent, it should be that way for the third leg (in the least, sealing should not follow believing).[3]

As Ephesians 1:8 tells us, God "made known to us the mystery of His will." How? Through the Spirit’s work. As the next chapter states, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Our faith is a gift of God given by the Spirit. This glorious truth is actually what is being pictured for us in the Spirit's sealing.

Whenever certain legal transactions are made, such as an adoption, the papers must be notarized. Before the adoption becomes effective and official, and the parents can take the child home from the adoption agency, the papers concerning the adoption must be notarized by a notary public, who attests that the proceedings are proper and in accordance to the law. That official seal shows the authenticity and legality of the adoption. In Biblical times, kings and their officials would use the king's signet ring, a ring that had a special engraving upon it, to stamp laws or documents as official, carrying the authority of the king's approval. Similarly, Paul is teaching the Ephesians that they have been adopted by God through the blood of Christ. How do they know it is true and official? They were marked in Christ with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. When a person truly professes Jesus Christ, God places His authoritative stamp on that person through His Spirit at that moment, causing the new child of God to cry out by the Spirit of adoption, "Abba! Father!" (Rom 8:15).

The Spirit Grants Us a Pledge. When someone is seeking to purchase a house, he puts down what is called earnest money. When a person makes an offer on a house that is accepted, he makes a payment, such as $500 or $1000 (or more in cases of expensive homes), to show that he truly intends to purchase the home during the period of time that the legal matters are being worked out. The earnest money demonstrates that the offer is sincere and worthy of the owner's consideration and time. It is such a sincere desire that if for some reason the buyer should decide not to proceed with the purchase of the home, the owner may keep the money. No one wants to lose $500 or more, so rarely does one one back out of a home purchase once the offer is accepted.

In verse 14, Paul says that the Holy Spirit is "the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it." In reading this carefully, this description of the Spirit is further explanation about what the Spirit has done in sealing us. This sealing of the Spirit comes as a guarantee by God Himself! And when God puts down the earnest money, there will be no backing out. So a believer should not doubt that the redemption, the purchase of his soul by Christ's blood, is secure. It is the mark of God’s ownership. This guarantee work of the Holy Spirit, evidenced by a person's profession of faith, baptism in the church, and bearing fruits of the Spirit, is further evidence that the sealing is concurrent, not subsequent, to a person's conversion.

The Spirit Guarantees a Result. In verse 14, this guarantee of an inheritance is described as occurring with “a view to the redemption of God’s own possession.” God is taking believers and, through His Word and Spirit, redeeming them in the sense of making them more and more like His Son. John Owen wrote, “The Holy Spirit communicates to us his own likeness, which is also the image of the Father and the Son.”[4] As 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” Owen describes this process further in relationship to the Spirit's sealing.

In this work of his, the Holy Spirit brings us into fellowship with himself. Our likeness to Him gives us boldness with him….We pray for His fruit, and when any effect of grace, any awareness of the image of Christ implanted in us persuades us and assures us that we are separated and set apart for God, then we have communion with the Holy Spirit in His work of sealing.[5]

Every time in our Christian journey we experience acts of sanctification, we are communing with the Spirit in His sealing. We are tasting of the heavenly glory that yet awaits us. He is readying us for heaven as He makes us more like Christ.

Ecclesiastes reminds us that “a cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” If that be the case, then the salvation granted to us by the Triune God, who seals us in it by His Spirit at the moment of conversion, will never be broken.

  1. D Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Joy Unspeakable, Eastbourne, 1984, p. 13. ↩︎

  2. Reymond, New Systematic Theology, p. 763 ↩︎

  3. Wallace, Exegetical Syntax of NT, p. 625 (see footnote) ↩︎

  4. John Owen, The Works of John Owen, Vol. 10, 299 ↩︎

  5. Ibid. ↩︎

Barry York

Barry York

Sinner by Nature - Saved by Grace. Husband of Miriam - Grateful for Privilege. Father of Six - Blessed by God. President of RPTS - Serve with Thankfulness. Author - Hitting the Marks.

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