Sealed with the Spirit
Rev. Ryan Kron
“In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. ” (Ephesians 1:13-14; NKJV)
Ask any Christian to explain the work of the Holy Spirit and you are bound to get a variety of answers. Throughout the history of the church, people have had opinions on the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In the year A.D. 170, a group of people called the Montanists taught that God was still speaking in the church through prophets. They claimed that this gift of prophecy had not existed since the days of the apostles. The Montanists had a prophetess, Maximilla, who said that Christ would return before she died. Well, she missed on that one.
Church history demonstrates the Biblical truth that there is nothing new under the sun. False teachings are re-packaged for a new culture, but the same core problems remain. This is the case with the confusion today in Pentecostal circles on the role of the Holy Spirit. Some Pentecostals, like Benny Hinn, are going around just like old Maximilla and saying they have gifts of prophecy. They claim that they have been baptized with the Holy Spirit and have special gifts such as being able to predict the end of the world.
How do we respond to Pentecostals who claim to have a second blessing of being baptized with the Holy Spirit? The answer is not to run away from talking about the Holy Spirit. In fact, as Reformed Christians we should have a biblically and confessionally robust theology of the Holy Spirit. In light of the variety of teachings on the Holy Spirit today in different Christian circles, the question we are answering in Ephesians 1:13-14 is this: what does this text teach us about the Holy Spirit? My main point is that the Spirit assures us we are God’s children and that we have the blessings of salvation. I pray that you might see that as God’s people, we have great assurance because of what Paul says about the Spirit in Ephesians 1:13-14. We will look at three points reflecting on the past, present, and future. First, the Holy Spirit as a promise (that’s the past). Second, the Holy Spirit as a seal (that’s the present). Third, the Holy Spirit as a deposit (that’s the future).
The Holy Spirit as a Promise
Look again at Ephesians 1:13: “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. ” Here we want to look at the Holy Spirit promised in the Old Testament. That is what Paul is referring to here in verse 13 when he talks about the “promised Holy Spirit. ” In the Old Testament, God promised to send the Holy Spirit. Joel 2:28 says this, And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Likewise, Ezekiel 36:27 says, And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. The Old Testament was looking forward to the coming Messianic age, which was the age of the Spirit. We know this from Isaiah 61:1-3, which was quoted and fulfilled by Jesus in Luke 4 as he said the Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to preach good news. Christ was anointed by the Holy Spirit, which is one way we know that he was the Messiah.
God fulfilled his promise to send the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2). The promised Holy Spirit was poured out on believers! It is clear that the Holy Spirit was promised in the Old Testament, but can we say the Holy Spirit was present in the Old Testament? The short answer is “yes.”
When considering the question of the role of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, we go way back to Genesis. In fact, already in Genesis 1:2 the Holy Spirit is present as the presence of God, hovering over the darkness and the waters. In Exodus 13, the Holy Spirit was there in the pillar of cloud and fire, leading Israel into the promised land. Then in Exodus 31:3, the Spirit empowered the craftsmen who were building the tabernacle. In Exodus 40:35-40, the Holy Spirit was present in the tabernacle. The Holy Spirit was also present in the Old Testament inspiring the writers of Scripture, such as Moses. That is what Paul means in 2 Timothy 3:16 when he says all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.
The Holy Spirit was clearly present in the Old Testament as God was saving a people for Himself. Not only was the Holy Spirit leading Israel in the wilderness and inspiring the writers of the Old Testament, but the Holy Spirit was also present in the Old Testament in saving the people of God. Salvation in the Old Testament is the same as it is for us today. This means that God’s people are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in the Messiah alone. The Holy Spirit was at work in the Old Testament, regenerating God’s people. So, the Holy Spirit was both promised in the Old Testament and present in the Old Testament. Not only that, but God has also promised that the Holy Spirit is at work today in His people.
The Holy Spirit as a Seal
This point is referring to the present reality of the gift of the Holy Spirit to believers. Thus, as Ephesians 1:13 says, the Holy Spirit is God’s seal of our salvation, the promise that we have every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3). Those whom God has chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world have been sealed with the Spirit (Ephesians 1:4, 13). 1
Paul uses several different pronouns here in Ephesians 1:11-14. He moves from “we” in v. 11-12, which refers to himself and Jewish believers, to “you also” in v. 13, referring to Gentiles believers, to “our inheritance” in v. 14, talking of the inheritance shared by Paul, other Jewish believers, and Gentile Christians like you and me. 2 Paul does this in v. 11-14 of chapter 1 in anticipation of what he will talk about in Ephesians 2:11-14. What Paul is saying here in Ephesians 1:11-14 is that Christ is the one who brings us to God and Christ is the one to be glorified. Not only that, but it is in Christ that we Gentiles are one with Jewish Christians. This very thing happened in Ephesus. The gospel went forth in Ephesus, and God built his church in that place. God did for the Ephesians what he promised to do in this letter to the Ephesians. Acts 20:17 talks about the elders in the church at Ephesus. The gospel promise here in Ephesians 1 that Christ will build his church from among both Jew and Gentile is a reality in Ephesus!
The question is “how does this happen?” Christ isn’t present here on earth anymore and we don’t physically see him today. So, how does God build his church? Well, after his death and resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven and he is seated at the Father’s right hand. He is physically absent from us. But He has not left us alone. In the Upper Room Discourse in John 14-16, Jesus comforted His disciples with the promise that the Holy Spirit would come. Loved ones, this is our comfort today as well. Jesus is not physically here with us because he is at the right hand of the Father. But Jesus is present with us through the Holy Spirit and builds his church through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Paul talks about the Holy Spirit as a seal in Ephesians 1:13. The language of a seal is important to understand. A seal is a mark of ownership and authenticity. A seal provided security, as well. In the first century, cattle and slaves were branded with a seal by their owners to indicate to whom they belonged. 3 If an emperor wrote an official letter, he would seal the letter with his ring. This was his official insignia to say this thing is real and is not counterfeit. These were external seals.
God’s seal, however, is internal. Paul uses the language of “seal” to talk of God’s authenticating work. Ephesians 1:13 says that God gives us His Spirit to mark us as his own. God has sealed us with the Spirit and we are now His adopted children. Without the Spirit, our hearts are hard and we are hopeless and dead in sin. When we are sealed with the Holy Spirit, however, we are authenticated as true children of God. 4 The Spirit testifies to us through the word of God to our hearts that we belong to God. Paul says the same thing later in Ephesians 4:30, where we read that we were sealed by the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption. This is an incredible spiritual blessing for us! We have the security of forgiveness through Christ’s blood and the gift of the Spirit. 5 Not only that, but we have great assurance as well, for God has set his seal on us from all eternity. 6 Satan can not harm us. We can rejoice that our only comfort in life and in death is that we belong to Christ and have received the seal of the Spirit.
Life in this fallen world is often hard and uncertain. Paul knew this very thing, since he was beaten, stoned, and shipwrecked (2 Corinthians 11:24-28). Our relationships with people have ups and downs. Our life may feel unstable in terms of our health, family, or job. However, if you believe then the promise for you today in Ephesians 1:13-14 is that nothing can separate you from God’s love in Christ – not tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword (Romans 8:35-36). As Christians, we have the assurance that God loves us because we read in His Word that we have been sealed with the Spirit.
It is important for us to know the work of the Holy Spirit. As you know, there are a variety of opinions out there in the church today on the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Pentecostals, for one, have plenty to say about the Holy Spirit. They say a person believes the gospel and then is sealed with the Spirit at a later point. When he is sealed with the Spirit, then he is baptized in the Spirit and receives things like the gift of tongues.
Now, let us pause for a moment. Is this the proper way to understand our salvation and the work of the Spirit? Well, an important verse in this discussion is Ephesians 1:13. The ESV is right with the translation “when you heard the word of truth…and believed…you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. ” The little word “when” is key here. These events are all simultaneous. It is not that we hear the truth, believe in Christ, and then later in life we are sealed with the Spirit. Not at all. Rather, Ephesians 1:13 means we believe in Him, who is Christ, and are sealed with the Spirit at the same time. Contrary to Pentecostalism, Ephesians 1:13 does not teach a second baptism of the Holy Spirit. Thus, sealing does not follow believing. 7 Believing in Christ and the sealing of the Spirit are simultaneous in our experience as Christians.
In verse 13: Paul talks about “hearing the word of truth. ” This is talking of the preaching of the Word. Specifically, this is talking of the preaching of the gospel of Jesus, which is what Paul is saying when he writes “the gospel of your salvation. ” The gospel is the good news of what Christ has done to save us from our sins and misery. This is a Trinitiarian redemption, as God the Father has chosen us in Christ and sealed us with the Spirit (Ephesians 1:3, 14). We are to put our trust in Jesus and believe in Him, as Paul also says in v. 13. We can only do this if the Holy Spirit applies the gospel to our hearts.
Remember the question we asked: “How does God build his church when Christ is physically absent?” Well, God is present in his church by the Holy Spirit. The preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments are the means of grace God has given to His church. Loved ones, it is here that the Holy Spirit is at work in making unbelievers regenerate and strengthening Christians in the faith which is once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). We cannot speak of the Holy Spirit apart from Christ and the church. To know the Holy Spirit is to know the Spirit through the church of Christ, where the Word is preached and baptism and the Lord’s Supper are administered. These means of grace are the primary way the Spirit works to apply salvation to us and nourish and strengthen believers.
The connection between hearing the Word proclaimed and believing this Word and being sealed with the Spirit is made clear in Ephesians 1:13. There is no such thing as a Christian who believes but is not sealed with the Spirit. The primary way God saves his people is through the preaching of the word. Romans 10:14-15 says: how then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? The preaching of the gospel is the means God has appointed to save those whom He chose in Christ from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4, 13). 8 Preaching is not effective because of the winsome personality of the preacher, but because the Holy Spirit makes God’s people regenerate and seals them as they hear the preaching of the Word. So, those who hear the Word preached and believe also have the seal of the Spirit. The Spirit makes preaching effective.
Thus far we have looked at something “past” in our first point, talking of the Old Testament promises of the Spirit. We have also looked at something “present,” which is the blessing of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the church. Now let’s go to our third point, which is something “future,” although not entirely future, as we will see.
The Holy Spirit as a Deposit
In Ephesians 1:14 we learn that the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. Throughout Ephesians 1:11-18, Paul writes about our final inheritance as Christians. Verse 11 says we have been predestined to this inheritance. Verse 14 says the Holy Spirit is a guarantee of this inheritance. And then verse 18 says that the saints have a glorious inheritance. What is this inheritance? This is our full, heavenly salvation. This is the inheritance God promised to Abram back in Genesis 15 which was purchased for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. 1 Peter 1:4-5 says that the believer has an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. Ephesians 1:14 is saying that the Holy Spirit is a deposit and is God’s guarantee to us that he will give us this great heavenly country.
We are not claiming this inheritance on our own. Rather, God has claimed us as an inheritance. That is the point back in Ephesians 1:11. God has chosen a people as His inheritance, as Deuteronomy 32:9 says. Gentile and Jewish Christians are God’s chosen possession, and one day God will give us the full possession of the inheritance of heaven, as Ephesians 1:14 says. So, God chooses us to be His inheritance, as v. 11 says, and the Spirit guarantees our inheritance of heaven, as we see in v. 14. God chooses us to be His own and gives us himself. The goal of what God is doing here is this: God says He will be our God, and He says we will be His people. This is the same promise made to Abram back in Genesis 17:7 and again in John’s vision of the new heavens and new earth in Revelation 21:3.
Looking more closely at Ephesians 1:14, we see the word “guarantee” (ESV) or “pledge” (NASB) or “deposit” (NIV). In ancient business transactions this Greek word talks of a pledge or a guarantee connected with the thing it promises to give. Our society works in much the same way. For instance, when a deposit is put down on a house, this is the first installment of the payment and the pledge of something more to come later.
Genesis 38 helps us a bit when understanding this language of “pledge. ” The context in Genesis 38 is the sexual sin of Judah and Tamar. Judah wanted Tamar to do something for him. Tamar asked for something from Judah in exchange, and Judah told her he would send her a goat. Judah did not have the goat, so Judah ended up giving her his seal, cord, and staff as a pledge until he would send the goat. The seal, cord, and staff were a pledge, or earnest, which was a guarantee that the inheritance of the goat would later come to Tamar.
In Ephesians 1:14, the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance (ESV). Now, it is true that the Holy Spirit is a guarantee, but in reality the Holy Spirit is more than just a guarantee. With the Holy Spirit, God is not just promising our final inheritance but is giving us a foretaste, or a downpayment, of that inheritance. 9 Judah was going to receive back his cord and staff once he paid Tamar, but that is not the case with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the first installment of what is promised to us in the future. The Spirit is not some sort of collateral to tide us over for now, but which will be taken back once we get to heaven.
The Holy Spirit is God’s unquestioning promise that His children will receive the full inheritance of heaven. 2 Corinthians 1:22 and 5:5 also explain that the Holy Spirit is a pledge of God’s faithfulness. 2 Corinthians 1:22 says God has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. And then in 2 Corinthians 5:5 we read: He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. God has fulfilled His promise made to Abraham of a great inheritance back in Genesis 15. Through Christ, the promises to Abraham are fulfilled and today we are the children of Abraham who receive the promise of heaven because we are in Christ. Not only that, but we have the Holy Spirit as a pledge and deposit of this heavenly land. 10
We already have the Holy Spirit, but we do not yet live in heaven. We are groaning for that day when we will have resurrected bodies. If we read a few verses beyond 2 Corinthians 5:5 we come to v. 7 and see that we walk by faith, not by sight. On the one hand we are sure of our inheritance, yet, we do not yet have it in full. We are united to Christ and have all of Christ’s benefits, but we live in a fallen world with sin, disease, and death. All of us know the pain of living in this world. We have bodies that grow old and get sick and die. But we have the Holy Spirit, who testifies that we are children of God (Romans 8:16). This Holy Spirit is a deposit of heaven as we wait to be taken out of this life and set free from all misery. 11 The Spirit causes us to thirst for the promise of heaven as we live as pilgrims in this present evil age. What great assurance!
Our assurance is also seen in the truth that the Holy Spirit is the agent of our future resurrection. We sit here today on Sunday morning and as God’s children we look forward to being raised one day by the Spirit with real bodies empowered and indwelt by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 15). The good news for you today, if you believe, is that you have the Holy Spirit now as a down payment of this future heavenly glory. The Holy Spirit takes these heavenly promises and makes them present for us now as we sit here and worship God.
We don’t pay God for this heavenly inheritance. Rather, God has pledged to pay us. His pledge is the Holy Spirit. This is something God has done in giving us the Spirit. This should deepen our confidence in the gospel today. Our prayer is for the Lord to come quickly. We pray “thy kingdom come,” which is a prayer for Christ’s return. When He does return we will have glorified bodies in the new heaven and new earth with no more tears, pain, sorrow, or death, as Revelation 21:4 says.
There is a clear connection between the Spirit as a seal, which was our second point, and the Spirit as a pledge, which is our third point. God seals us with the Spirit and we receive all the benefits of salvation (Ephesians 1:13). Now in Ephesians 1:14 he says this Holy Spirit is a down payment of heaven. 12 This inheritance is guaranteed for you today if you are trusting in the merits of Christ for salvation. If you are sealed with the Holy Spirit, then you also have the Holy Spirit as a pledge of your heavenly inheritance, which is something God has done for us in Christ. You have a certain hope laid up in heaven (Colossians 1:5).
The last words of Ephesians 1:14 ground what Paul is saying here. Ephesians 1:3-14 is one long prayer of praise to God for his great plan of redemption. I pray that as a result of this great salvation and the work of the Holy Spirit as a seal and deposit we might resound in praise, giving glory to God for such a great redemption. We belong to God, and God is ours. What wonderful assurance we have as we look to the promise of the new heavens and new earth and know that God is our God and we are His people (Revelation 21:3).
In light of the popularity of Pentecostalism today, it is important to know what we believe about the Holy Spirit. Our Reformed confessions help us greatly in this regard. Heidelberg Catechism #53 says that the Holy Spirit “is co-eternal God with the Father and the Son. Second, that He is also given unto me: by true faith makes me a partaker of Christ and all His benefits, comforts me, and shall abide with me forever. ” Knowing this question and answer helps us understand the meaning of texts like Ephesians 1:13-14.
Ephesians 1:13-14 is a past, present, and future promise of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was promised in the Old Testament, in addition to being present among God’s people. The Holy Spirit is present now with us as a seal of salvation, and the Holy Spirit is a pledge to us of a future inheritance greater than anything we can imagine. The result is that we have security and assurance as God’s people. Because the Spirit is a seal and a down payment, we have every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3). Our salvation is certain and secure. As a result of this great work of the Holy Spirit, may we praise and glorify our great Triune God.
I pray that you are one who believes in Christ, as Paul talks about in Ephesians 1:13. If you are trusting in Christ then be assured that you have been sealed with the Spirit. If you believe today, then Ephesians 1:13-14 is true for you. Rejoice today and give God the glory for this salvation. Amen.
1 John Calvin, John Calvin’s Sermons on Ephesians (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1979), 69.
2 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1979), 45.
3 Ibid., 48.
4 Charles Hodge, Ephesians (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994), 48.
5 Sinclair Ferguson, Let’s Study Ephesians (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005), 19.
6 Calvin, 69.
7 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 625.
8 Stott, 48.
9 Ibid., 49.
10 Ferguson, 18.
11 Calvin, 78.
12 Ibid., 75.
Rev. Ryan Kron
Eden Prairie, MN