Official seals have been in existence as far back as human history goes. They were utilized as emblems of authentication and their significance could be grasped by even the most illiterate and primitive of peoples. Some of the oldest artifacts unearthed by archaeologists have been carved/engraved cylindrical stones used for marking possessions or to ratify covenant treaties. Most folks know what signet rings are. Their unique embossed image would be pressed into a glob of hot wax on whatever envelope a document was to be transported in so the recipient would trust it hadn’t been fooled with along the way. And, if some high-ranking despot put their personal seal on something, anyone who dared break it would be putting their life in jeopardy. In other words, for the vast majority of time humans have walked the earth, a seal plastered on something meant it held enormous importance and its legitimacy was not to be questioned. Even today a notary public’s seal grants legal papers acceptance in the eyes of the law. What I’m getting around to is this: In God’s courtroom the only souls spared from the wrath of His righteous judgment will be those who bear the seal of the Holy Spirit. This “sealing” is one of a series of events that happen simultaneously the instant we repent of our sins and receive Christ as our Savior whether we’re aware of them transpiring or not. The first is when God renews our hearts and pronounces us “not guilty.” Second, the Holy Ghost baptizes us into the body of Christ. Third, the Holy Spirit enters and takes up residence in our very being.
The fourth is what the Scriptures call “the seal.” It’s a translation of the Greek word that means to confirm or to impress upon and it’s used three times in the New Testament in conjunction with Christians. It’s also found in the narrative about the life of Jesus. John 6:27 reads, “For God the Father has put his seal of approval on him.” When we surrender to Christ we likewise receive a seal courtesy of the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13 states, “And when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation) – when you believed in Christ – you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit…” Many scholars think Paul wanted to impart two central concepts to the believers in Ephesus concerning the Holy Spirit’s seal: security and ownership. “Sealing” (as it pertains to securing something) reminds me of the story of Daniel when the king sealed him inside the lion’s den to prevent any chance of escape. In the book of Esther we’re told that King Ahasuerus used his royal ring to seal letters and documents in order to secure them from tampering. Pilate figured the placing of his seal on the tomb of Jesus would insure no one could possibly steal the body. (Ironically, no one did.) He said to the chief priests who were voicing their concern, “’Take a guard of soldiers. Go and make it as secure as you can.’ So they went with the soldiers of the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.” (Matthew 27:65-66) Sealing something large like a heavy boulder was accomplished in those days by stretching a cord across it and attaching an insignia onto each end. In this particular case it was done in the presence of the no-nonsense Roman troops whose necks were on the line should anyone succeed in burglarizing the sepulcher. That’s still about as secure as you can make anything on this planet, yet the seal the Holy Ghost affixes to every believer in Jesus is a million times stronger and wholly unbreakable.
It’s a great relief that, because I’ve received God’s divine seal, Satan can’t touch me. Romans 8:38-39 confirms it: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul also said the seal indicates ownership and the Ephesians would’ve had no problem understanding what he meant. Their city was a vital seaport for the lumber trade and there was in place a well-defined method for determining who owned what. A buyer would select the timber he needed and stamp it with his personal emblem, a procedure akin to modern-day branding of cattle. Later the wood merchant would send a trusted foreman to claim and gather what he’d purchased. The point of this corollary is that, because of the work of the Holy Spirit, all Christians are separated and set apart as God’s forevermore due to our bearing the seal distinguishing us as His property. Not property as in involuntary slavery, but as in adored children who’ve been adopted by the most loving Father anyone can imagine belonging to.
When we put all our trust in Christ the Holy Spirit moves in with us not only as a secure seal indicating ownership but also as a pledge, or, as some translations read, a “down payment.” 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 proclaims, “But it is God who establishes us together with you in Christ and who anointed us, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment.” It’s correct to think of a pledge in that way. I reprint an informative footnote I found in the excellent NET Bible: “The Greek word denotes the first payment or first installment of money or goods which serves as a guarantee or pledge for the completion of the transaction. In the NT the term is used only figuratively of the Holy Spirit as the down payment of the blessings promised by God (it occurs later in 2 Corinthians 5:5 and also in Ephesians 1:14). In the ‘already – not yet’ scheme of the NT, the possession of the Spirit now by believers (“already”) can be viewed as a guarantee that God will give them the balance of the promised blessings in the future (“not yet”).” In other words, the Holy Spirit’s arrival confirms God’s purchase of us while His ongoing indwelling represents God’s intent to redeem us completely. The presence of the Holy Spirit inside us, transforming our minds and softening our hearts, is a foretaste of what eternity in heaven will be like. In the 13th chapter of Numbers the story’s told of Israelite scouts dispatched into Canaan to scope things out. They came to “…the valley of Eshcol and from there cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes” to tote back with them (verse 23). In a way those succulent grapes represented a pledge of the Jews’ promised inheritance. It was proof positive that, if they ventured forward in faith and fidelity, God would give them not just a tantalizing taste but a huge bounty of His blessings.
In Texas when spring’s on its way the roadsides come alive with gorgeous wildflowers that seem to appear out of nowhere. They’re a palpable preview of what’s to come when the pastures turn green and the roses bloom spectacularly during the weeks ahead. We’d do well to consider the Holy Spirit as the same sort of harbinger. In the New Testament we see three references to pledges. (1) 2 Corinthians 1:22 (cited above) informs us that the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives is God’s pledge that He’ll fulfill His promise to us. (2) 2 Corinthians 5:5 states, “Now the one who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment.” In this verse the Holy Spirit is the pledge that we’ll receive new, perfected bodies upon Christ’s return. (3) Ephesians 1:14 calls the Holy Spirit “…the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.” Here the Holy Spirit is characterized as the reliable assurance that someday all Christians will be made holy. These Scriptures emphasize when we’re baptized into the body of Christ the Holy Ghost enters us and permanently marks us as belonging exclusively to God. What this tells me is that no matter what difficulties befall me, no matter what trials I have to endure, no matter how distant and uninvolved God may seem at times I can hang on to my Savior’s promises that one fine day I’ll bask in His everlasting light. That in heaven I’ll be sanctified and ensconced as a joy-filled, spotless servant of the great I AM. My purchase was set in stone by the blood shed on my behalf by the innocent Lamb of God. Yet, because we believers exist in a fallen world, we must exercise patience and faith as we wait for Jesus to return and redeem our souls in full.
So it’s made clear in the Bible the Holy Spirit is our seal and our pledge. But He’s still more, not the least of which is His function as a bona fide witness who constantly attests to the genuineness of our salvation in Christ. While the Master walked the earth He often spoke encouraging words of assurance to His disciples. Now that He sits at the right hand of the Heavenly Father it’s the Holy Spirit who’s assumed that duty for all followers of Jesus. Don’t take my word for it, check out the Scriptures where we’re taught the Holy Spirit is a dependable witness to the surety and sufficiency of Christ’s atonement for our sins. Hebrews 10:16-17 features a throwback to the prophet Jeremiah’s prediction: “’This is the covenant that I will establish with them after those days,’ says the Lord. ‘I will put my laws on their hearts and I will inscribe them on their minds,’ then he says, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no longer.’” Here we’re presented with a contrast between the overall ineffectiveness of the stop-gap Levitical sacrifices and Jesus’ sacrifice of His life which was offered one for all and once for all. As Pastor Kirk Shelton often pointed out, the annual sin-cleansing rites the Jews performed had to be a frustrating drag because everybody had to go through the same old ritual year upon year for as long as they breathed. Jesus put an end to us having to participate in that pedantic chore and the Holy Spirit is a living testament to His atonement’s veracity. Hebrews 10:14-15 reads, “For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are made holy. And the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us…” If you believe the Bible is God’s infallible Word then the fact that this profound statement is in its pages should comfort you.
The Holy Spirit also serves to witness that, due to Christ’s sacrifice and our belief that He was exactly who He said He was, we’re now beloved offspring of God. Romans 8:16 proclaims, “The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children.” Think of that! We’ve not only been saved from oblivion and selected to be part of the body of Christ, we’ve been anointed as heirs to the glorious kingdom of God! Galatians 4:6-7 states unequivocally, “And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, who calls ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if you are a son, then you are also an heir through God.” How generous and merciful is our God! We’ve been liberated from the power of sin and handed the keys to paradise for the simple reason that our Creator loves us without condition. A fan of C.S. Lewis, I humbly acquiesce to his brilliant conclusion: “To put ourselves thus on a personal footing with God could, in itself and without warrant, be nothing but presumption and illusion. But we are taught that it is not; that it is God who gives us that footing. For it is by the Holy Spirit that we cry ‘Father.’ By unveiling, by confessing our sins and ‘making known’ our requests, we assume the high rank of persons before Him. And He, descending, becomes a person to us.” Thus, each Christian carries within him or her unimpeachable evidence of their redemption. 1 John 5:10 says, “The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself…” We can openly proclaim that our sins and transgressions have been erased by the death and resurrection of Christ, making it possible for us to confidently stand before our Heavenly Father clothed head to toe in the holiness of our Lord and be mustered into the eternal fellowship of His grateful sons and daughters.
Finally, the Bible tells us the Holy Spirit is a witness to the truth imbedded in every one of God’s solemn promises to mankind. The same Holy Spirit that inspired the men who wrote the Scriptures works in our hearts and consciences to assure us God’s plan for His children is proceeding on schedule and nothing can hinder its completion. He personalizes what we read in the Holy Word, that Christ is our Savior and His love for us never wanes. Our Lord is with us every step of the way and He communicates with us through the Holy Spirit He sent to abide in our hearts. Jesus said in John 16:13-14, “…when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come. He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you.” Billy Graham commented that he sometimes encounters people who tell him they feel they need more assurances of their salvation. When he questions them about it he invariably finds they’ve been negligent in opening up their Bible. He then quotes to them 1 John 5:11-13; “…God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. The one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” I take that to mean the closer we are to God’s Holy Word the farther away from having to slog through seasons of doubt we’ll be. The Bible is our irreplaceable connection to the Holy Spirit living inside us. Non-believers may scoff at that notion but we who’ve experienced the unmistakable stirrings of the Holy Spirit as we study the Scriptures know His rejuvenating and energizing presence as a reality.
John Wesley commented, “It’s hard to find words in the language of men to explain the deep things of God. Indeed, there are none that will adequately express what the Spirit of God works in His children. But by the testimony of the Spirit I mean an inward impression on the soul, whereby the Spirit of God immediately and directly witnesses to my spirit, that I am a child of God; that Jesus Christ loves me and has given Himself for me; that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God.” I share his astonishment. The Bible teaches when we give our lives to Christ God places a permanent stamp on us. Not a material seal made of atoms and molecules but a divine person – the Holy Spirit – who unfailingly secures us as a possession of God for all time to come. Not only that but He’s our personal pledge, guaranteeing us an indescribably bright future to anticipate and that our relationship with Him is but a sampling of the intimate walk with Jesus we’ll cherish in the heavenly realms. How can we be so positive of this? Because the Holy Spirit is a living witness to its unvarying truth. When we read in our Bibles that Christ died in our place and by our faith in Him we’re transfigured into children of the Father it’s the Holy Spirit who enables those words to plunge into the deepest part of ourselves and foster in us a hope we can’t get anywhere else. We tend to take the Holy Ghost for granted but He’s our seal, our pledge and our witness to the truth that is Christ. I never want to experience what it’s like not to have Him dwell in me so I’ll try to be more mindful of His supernatural blessings. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 9:15, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”