In Ephesians 1 we read, “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will¼in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” (Eph. 1:5, 13b, 14)
How should we understand the language of being sealed with the Holy Spirit? The Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, writes of being sealed by the promised Spirit, being sealed with the earnest of inheritance, and being sealed unto God’s glory. To more fully understand what the apostle is teaching, we should look three other passages.
Sealed by the promised Spirit
“And I will give them one heart and a new spirit¼“ (Ezek. 11:19–20) Let us realize, here at the beginning, that we are speaking of God and His covenantal relationship with His people, and when we look at the history of God’s people up to the time of Ezekiel, it is a history filled with idolatry, disobedience, and unfaithfulness. This was an indication of the condition of their hearts. The covenant-keeping God had given them everything that He promised, yet they continued to wander. Why? Part of the answer lies in the fact that the deliverance of the people of Israel from bondage and the inheritance of the Land of Promise were intended to indicate and illustrate the true redemption from the bondage of sin through Christ, and the true inheritance of eternal life and fellowship with God through Christ. And we know that many of those who were delivered from physical bondage were never spiritually delivered; and those who inherited the land never inherited eternal life. (Galatians 3:27–29, Romans 2:28, 29)
You see, there was something that was not given to many of those Hebrews—a purified, undivided heart and a new spirit. The prophet Ezekiel preached to the people; he grieved for the people; he condemned the sin of the people; and he called the people to repentance. And the people ignored his teaching and persecuted Ezekiel.
They rejected the man and the message because God had not given them hearts to receive the man and the message. But the promise here in Ezekiel 11 is a glorious promise! There will come a time when God will give that undivided heart and new Spirit to His covenant people. But that is not all, he will also take something away, “I will remove the stony heart¼and will give¼a heart of flesh.”
Of course the prophet is not referring to the beating heart in your chest, he is referring to your inner man: your affections, loves, hates and passions. So the picture that is drawn for us is, we might say, a heart transplant, not a heart addition. The work of the promised Spirit is two-fold: removing the dead and deadly heart and replacing it with one that is alive and lively. Our confession calls this, “the dying of the old man and the quickening of the new.” Both activities are necessary and both are promised.
This really is a perfect illustration of the spiritual reality. It is not that we don’t have a heart, but it is that our natural heart is prone to evil and rebellion. It needs to be removed and replaced. And when the Spirit does this work in us it is, as Ezekiel puts it, so “That they may, walk¼keep¼do¼be¼“ That is, the work of the promised Holy Spirit is to accomplish four things in us: that we may walk, keep, do, and be the following.
First, “Walk in my statutes”—The relationship between us and the Law is changed. This word refers to the manner or custom of life. There is a norm of behavior for the Christian and that norm is based upon the divine statutes. And the statutes which would condemn us have now become a delight and life-guide as the Apostle Paul said, “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man¼“ Even if we struggle with this at times, it is still the intent of the work of the Spirit (Rom. 7:22).
Second, “Keep mine ordinances”—We must guard and be observant concerning God’s judgments. The work of the promised Spirit is to teach us to accept the divine judgments. If God says it is good, it is good; if God says it is evil, it is evil. For one to accept this is a fruit of this spiritual work. At this point we should recognize that there is a covenantal activity being described here. Your father Adam had been given God’s statutes to walk in, and ordinances to keep by covenant with God. He did not walk and keep these and thus plunged the race into darkness. The prophecy is a prophesy to overturn the effect of the Fall and to give the sons and daughters of Adam hearts that desire what Adam did not desire and the ability to do what Adam would not do!
Third, “And do them [the statutes and ordinances]”—It is at this point that much current error exists. Whether we are talking about the broadly evangelical church or even in some parts of the self-consciously Reformed and Presbyterian churches, there are those that say when we are given the promised Spirit, there is no longer any relationship to the divine law or judgments. There are those who even say that the attempt to be obedient is wrong-minded, and there are those who say that to desire to be obedient is a focus on the letter and the letter kills. But as we see from God’s Word, the promised Spirit is given so that we can make that small beginning of obedience (cf. HC 114). That is, so that we will no longer be merely sons of Adam, but also the Sons of God.
Fourth, “Be my people¼I will be their God”—Here we read that most precious of covenant formulations. They will be His people and He will be their God. It is the fulfillment of the promise, and the promise of continued fulfillment of that promise. It is an ancient promise that is your promise in Christ. Consider Leviticus 26:1—13. Those promises are your promises! Read it closely. The fellowship, the blessing, the protection, the victory, the close communion that was lost by your Father Adam is restored and will be restored. And the down payment to that end and purpose is the promised Holy Spirit.
Sealed with the earnest of inheritance
“All the promises of God are yea and amen¼“ (2 Cor. 1:20–22) Does this mean that there are promises that are not yea and amen? That is, are there promises that are falsely made or are uncertain to be fulfilled? Certainly, broken promises are common among humans.
But when we have been given the Spirit of promise, we are in possession of both what has been promised (as we saw in Ezekiel) and we have the earnest, or down-payment, of future blessing. How sure is that promise? If it depended on you, or it depended on me, it would not be sure at all. So praise be to God that it is not dependent on you or any other mere human. It is dependent upon God and His faithfulness. He does not promise amiss like little boys playing tag. The sealing work of the Spirit is according to the divine initiative.
At every point in God’s covenant—making and keeping—God initiates. He is not passive and helpless while He watches the world go to hell! He sets His love on whom He wills and He executes His covenant according to His own good pleasure. “¼Yea, let God be true, but every man a liar¼“ But to say that God initiates is yet not enough. There is no such thing as inertia when it comes to the Holy Spirit’s sealing.
Physicist Isaac Newton gave us three laws of motion. The first of three laws which describes inertia can be summarized as a body that is at rest will stay at rest and a body in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by some external force. In other words, if you are sitting in the pews at church, according to Newton’s first law, we should not expect that you will suddenly and spontaneously fly up to the ceiling. That would violate Newton’s first law. It also explains why a billiard ball on a level, smooth surface will continue to roll for a very long time until the forces of gravity and friction overcome its inertia.
Now why is this distinction important? It is because when we speak of divine initiative, we are not saying that our spiritual life is like God rolling a billiard ball. That is to say, He just gives us a push and then watches. No. In verse 21, Paul tells the Corinthians that the unity and fellowship they have through Christ and the indwelling Spirit is established and maintained by God. And further, that the sealing work itself is also a divine work.
The giving of the Spirit is God’s imprint on us. It is like a deed or other important document that has an embossed imprint. The reason for the imprint is that it cannot be removed and it certifies the authenticity of the document. When you have been elected, redeemed, and adopted, God puts His mark on you. That mark, that seal, is the Holy Spirit. It is not possible to be His and not have this seal. Rom. 8:9 says, “¼Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” There is yet one more thing.
Sealed unto His glory
In this passage (Eph. 3:14ff), there are five elements of our sealing in the Holy Spirit. When we examine these five elements, it will be good to look at both the positive and the negative. This is because, without the seal of the Holy Spirit, the inverse would be true. That is, the indwelling and sealing Spirit changes these five things from their negative to the positive.
We are sealed unto strength in the inner man, v. 16. First, before your conversion, you were not only weak in the inner man; you were dead. If there was any strength, it was in sin. Proverbs 6:18 describes it as, “A heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief¼“ But with the sealing Spirit, we are strengthened to fight the good fight of faith. And that strengthening is absolutely imperative if we would fight against our ancient enemies—the devil, the world, and our own flesh.
We are sealed unto communion with Christ, v. 17a. Second, before you were sealed with the Spirit of promise, peaceful fellowship with God was impossible. The only possible outcome was death and hell. But with the sealing Spirit, we have glorious communion with and through Christ. Remember the reference in Leviticus? The heart of the promise was restored, close communion with God. The seal of the Holy Spirit is the assurance that the promise is fulfilled and will be fulfilled.
We are sealed unto loving stability, v. 17b. Third, before you were sealed with the Spirit of promise, you “were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” You were driven by the basest of motives in all things. But with the sealing Spirit, you have experienced the love of Christ and you have been planted in that rich and fertile ground. The apostle will build on this in verse 19.
We are sealed unto knowledge of the extent and quality of our inheritance, v. 18. Fourth, before you were sealed with the Spirit of promise, you and your spiritual father, Adam, had squandered any inheritance. Like the prodigal son, you were far away and lunching with the swine. But with the sealing Spirit, you can open the pages of God’s Word and it will be like the treasure hunter who, after finally reaching his goal, opens the chest to reveal gems and gold. How wide, how long, how deep, how high is your inheritance? “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31–32)
We are sealed unto knowledge of the surpassing love of Christ, v. 19. Fifth, before you were sealed with the Spirit of promise, the love of Christ was an empty platitude. But with the sealing Spirit, that emptiness is changed into fullness. And so, to put the final glory on top of glory, the promise of the fullness of God is ours. The promise of Leviticus is fulfilled in our filling. God is truly Immanuel—God with us in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” (1 Cor. 3:16–17)
You who have experienced the love of Christ; you who have experienced the change from a stony heart to a lively heart; you who have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise—you are the residence of the Holy Spirit. Glory to God! He has been faithful to fulfill the promise of the covenant in such a people as we are. Glory to God!