Seal: Small Word, Big Meaning

One joy of studying the Word rather than giving it a cursory reading is all the truth that starts to pop. Read through anything quickly and little will stand out. Read things slowly and thoughtfully, and you’ll experience reading in a whole new way. One thing slowing down forces us to do is to ask questions about the Bible. What does a word mean? Why did the writer use that sentence order or repeat that phrase several times? Where else from Scripture might they be drawing from? If we pause to chew on one word, one promise, one truth, or one phrase, we’re much more likely to be gripped by it and do something with it.

Consider the beautiful passage of Ephesians 1:3-14. Paul helps us see all the blessings we have in Christ. Towards the end of this section, Paul uses the word “sealed”.  Sealed is a small word one could easily skip over in a section like Ephesians 1, but it’s worth camping out on. Stay for a little while to see what it means. Chew on it. Delight in it. Consider what it means for you.

Paul opened Ephesians by proclaiming the rich blessings God poured upon them in Christ (see Eph. 1:3-14).  Last but not least of these blessings, Paul praises God for our sealing by the Holy 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” (Ephesians 1:13-14).

Although some words in the Bible have lost their place in culture today (immediately I think of lasciviousness), “seal” has remained somewhat common lingo.  People seal items like envelopes, packaged food must be sealed, a kiss seals the wedding vows, and companies give their seal of approval. The good news is we know a little about the word, but it begs the question, which way is Paul using it here? Or, does he have another background behind the word besides my sealed bag of chips?

A Seal Secures and Protects

First, we’re sealed by the Spirit in the sense we are secured, fastened, closed, and protected.  Paul states this sealing happens at the moment of true belief in Christ and it happens for all in Christ, meaning every single believer experiences the Spirit’s sealing work at conversion. The Holy Spirit seals us in Christ, signifying that our union with him cannot be severed and our future salvation is certain and secure.

The gift of sealing includes the guaranteeof our inheritance (Eph. 1:14). Guarantee refers to an initial pledge or down-payment providing the assurance of the whole. It is similar to how Christ’s resurrection is the first-fruits, or guarantee, of the resurrection of all believers in him. When the Spirit seals us we are given him as a gift today which ensures our future inheritance, i.e., our full salvation and redemption.  Paul uses guarantee in another letter with the same meaning.  “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Cor. 5:5; see also Rom. 8:23).  The Holy Spirit indwells us now and he is the pledge providing us with certainty we will receive fully resurrected bodies one day.

The Holy Spirit’s sealing means we partially enjoy something now with the anticipation and assurance of its full enjoyment in the future.  It is not something that can be lost or taken away, but in fact the whole point of something being sealed is to protect it from harm.  When we are sealed by the Holy Spirit we are protected from losing Christ or being torn from him. And we are sealed until we receive in full what we have been given a guarantee of in the present.  Notice the similar use of “sealed” in Ephesians 4:30. “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”  We are sealed by the Holy Spirit for something future, the day of redemption.  Here we are given not only protection, but protection that provides the promise we will one day enjoy the full inheritance God has for us.  

Through the Holy Spirit’s sealing, not only does God help provide present assurance of our salvation, but our future perseverance in faith is made certain. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).  The Spirit brings it to completion not by regenerating us at conversion then abandoning us to our own devices, but he brings it to completion by indwelling us, transforming us, and enabling us to persevere in faith until this life ends.  Our sealing entails we are those “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:4-5).

A Seal Certifies Authenticity and Ownership

This leads us to the second way “seal” can be used.  A seal also suggests an emblem certifying authenticity and ownership, such as with a royal seal.  “In Paul’s day, a prominent person would choose an emblem as his official seal.  Using melted wax, he affixed an imprint of this emblem to an object he wanted to identify as belonging to or coming from him.”[1]This seal was often stamped on letters, both closing the letter to protect its contents until it arrived at its destination as well as proving it to be genuine. It was proven to be authentic because the owner’s seal provided an emblematic picture representing him.

Today, emblems serve the same purpose.  Every vehicle has one its front and when we see the vehicle’s emblem we immediately know what manufacturer produced it. The sealing of the Spirit signifies we are God’s (ownership) and that we bear his image (authenticity). Or, when sending certified mail, the Post Office stamps it with their official seal.

Sanctification is both a definitive event that occurs when-at conversion-we’re set apart as God’s holy possession (ownership) and it is a progressive work as we’re transformed into the image of Christ (authenticity).  The Holy Spirit renews us in the image of Christ and brings forth fruit in our lives, “for all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Rom. 8:14).  This Christ-likeness, the fruit of the Spirit, demonstrates they are in fact God’s.  As those sealed by the Spirit, our authenticity as the people belonging to God is evidenced as we grow to look more like Christ.  Thus, rather than giving a license to sin, sealing ensures we will become holy as the owner stamps his image upon us.

Returning to the text of Ephesians, we see God’s complete provision from eternity past when “he chose us in him” (1:4) to the future when we will acquire possession of our inheritance (1:14).  Our future possession of that inheritance is secured for us because we “were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance.”  Sealing is a treasured gift calling us to praise God for his provision and it provides life-sustaining comfort as we await our inheritance.

The assurance of our salvation frees us from the constant worry of whether we can lose our salvation, whether God will abandon us, or whether Satan can tear us from Christ’s grasp.  We do not live in fear of what can be lost but we live with the joy of what we possess.  The Father gives us the Holy Spirit as a guarantee, as a pledge of the full inheritance awaiting us.  He protects us until this day by the very same Holy Spirit who sanctifies us, setting us apart as God’s possession and growing us in Christ-likeness until we receive the inheritance kept for us.

[1]Richard Phillips, Chosen in Christ(Philipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2004), 142.

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