The seal of the Holy Spirit
The full-orbed Christian doctrine of God takes us to the doctrine of the holy Trinity, that is, that the one true God exists and has eternally existed in the three persons of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Of these three divine persons, the Holy Spirit has been, arguably, the most neglected member of the Trinity in Christian thinking and preaching.
The Holy Spirit’s ministry, however, is absolutely indispensable. We would not and could not become Christians apart from his regenerating agency. It is the Holy Spirit of God who imparts to us all the blessings of God in Christ. Chief in his work is the effectual application of the redeeming work of Christ on the cross to our souls.
It is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of our sin and enables us to believe in Jesus, and so appropriate personally the salvation Christ procured at Calvary. The joy and peace which comes as a consequence of this is an experience which ‘none but Zion’s children know’.
A ministry of the Holy Spirit which receives even less mention in Christian preaching and writing is that of ‘sealing’ – yet this blessed ministry is written plainly on the pages of the Bible for the Christian’s encouragement, assurance and reassurance.
In Ephesians 1:13, Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus that ‘you … who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit’. Here then is a distinguishing mark of a Christian.
How do we describe a Christian? In various ways. A Christian is chosen by God, saved by grace, called by God, redeemed by Christ, justified by faith. And a Christian is ‘sealed with the promised Holy Spirit’.
Paul says the same a little later in Ephesians when he exhorts: ‘do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption’ (Ephesians 4:30). What, though, does Paul mean when he writes of this invisible, yet very real ‘seal’?
In the ancient world, visible seals were used on goods to attest their genuineness – something akin to our modern-day trademarks. They were also utilised to mark ownership and to keep a legal document from being tampered with. A document had to arrive at court with an unbroken seal or it would be considered invalid.
The seal of God’s Holy Spirit then is proof that we genuinely belong to Jesus. It is the proof of our salvation. In Romans 8:9 Paul writes, ‘Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him’. The seal of the Holy Spirit is also one of the many ways in which the Bible describes the eternal security of one united to Christ in saving faith.
God our Father not only made us, but has also purchased us with the blood of his Son. We belong to him for ever. Nothing can undo our salvation, for God’s mark is upon us. By his Holy Spirit we are ‘sealed for the day of redemption’. ‘He has put his seal upon us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee’ (2 Corinthians 1:22).
The Bible often comes to life when we consider it against its original background of first century, Middle Eastern context and customs. This is especially so here. The booklet The Bible Comes to Life, published by the Churches Ministry amongst Jewish People, casts light on the Holy Spirit’s sealing of the Christian when it explains that in the first century world of the Bible: ‘letters, books, documents and other possessions were sealed to indicate ownership, authority or the value of an article. Paul uses this old custom of sealing to show how the believer has been purchased and paid for by the blood of Christ’.
The same booklet also has an instructive paragraph about a corn seal which, it says, was: ‘made of wood and measures about 48x24x2 cms. On one side the monogram of the owner is deeply cut while on the other side is fixed the handle.
‘When a man has purchased a quantity of corn it is placed in a heap which he proceeds to seal carefully by pressing his monogram upon it. This is to warn all who pass by that the corn has been purchased and paid for and is the property of the person whose seal is upon it. Later the man will send a servant with a donkey to collect or redeem it in his name’.
So we can understand better what Paul meant when he referred to the Holy Spirit’s sealing of the Christian. A Christian is ‘sealed for the day of redemption’. We have been purchased by the blood of Christ. We belong to Jesus. We are his property, for he has paid for us and now owns us. His mark – the seal of the Holy Spirit – is upon us.
One day he is going to come and collect us and we shall be with him for ever. Jesus promised, ‘I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also’ (John 14:3).
The last book of the Bible – the book of Revelation – was written during the most troublesome, violent and unstable days. If anyone should have believed that a Christian could not be sure of salvation, or lose a salvation he once had, surely John, the author of Revelation, should have.
But, no. God gave John a vision. John was enabled to view salvation from a heavenly angle. In Revelation 7:2ff, he tells how: ‘I saw another angel … with the seal of the living God, and he called … “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads”. And I heard the number of the sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand.’
This, of course, is highly symbolic. But symbolic of what? There were twelve tribes in Israel, and there were twelve apostles. 12×12=144. This then refers to God’s true church – the large number of his elect from all the ages who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ. They have God’s seal upon them. They are a saved people, a safe people and a sealed people.
They will be a glorified people because no natural or supernatural power can break the Holy Spirit’s seal upon them. ‘Those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified’ (Romans 8:30).
‘Sealed for the day of redemption’. If, by God’s grace, you belong to Jesus, why not bow your head now and thank God for the blessed sealing of his Holy Spirit.
There on each he setteth
His own secret sign
They that have my Spirit
These, saith he, are mine.