The Holy Spirit as Seal and Pledge
The figure of a roaring lion stretches across the little jasper seal. In ancient Hebrew letters it bears the inscription, “Belonging to Shema, servant of Jeroboam.” Recovered from the biblical site of Megiddo, the stamp seal was once the property of an official of Jeroboam II, king of Israel, 785–743 B.C. (2 Kings 14:23– 29). Shema may have been proud of his lion-seal, but for him it was not a decorative gemstone. Rather, he put it to daily use. Pressed on clay or wax it marked his ownership and authority. Wine jars, stoppered with fresh clay, would bear the stamp of his seal. He could seal a deed of purchase or a marriage contract; his stamp could serve as his signature.
Seals and sealing are often spoken of in the Old Testament: Queen Jezebel used Ahab’s seal to order a conspiracy against the life of Naboth (1 Kings 21:8); Queen Esther delivered the Jews when she was permitted to prepare a royal decree and seal it with the king’s ring—“for no document written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring can be revoked” (Esther 8:8).
The apostle Paul grasped this image to describe the sealing of the Lord: “Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:13b–14).
God’s seal is not, like the great seal of the United States, an emblem to be impressed on paper. God’s seal is His Holy Spirit, who is God Himself present with His people. To be sure, God has given us also outward signs and seals of His ownership. In baptism God seals us by giving us His name; in the Lord’s Supper we have the spiritual seal of His presence in the sacrament. Even these seals have a power beyond the outward sign: the reality of God’s presence provides the blessing. But God gives a seal that is even more than these gifts of blessing. His final seal is the gift of Himself.
By sealing us in person, God both claims us and gives us claim on Him. The Holy Spirit came on Pentecost to possess the new people of God; at the same time, He gave Himself to be their possession, their inheritance.
I. The Spirit Is God’s Seal
We belong to God because He created us: “It is He who made us, and we are His” (Psalm 100:3). The coin stamped with Caesar’s image could be claimed by Caesar; stamped with God’s image, we belong to Him. But there is more, much more. As rebels we exploited the very glory of the image God stamped on us. Through Adam’s sin, God’s image-bearers became His enemies. Had God, then, lost His possession? No, for God has bought back His people for Himself through Christ: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Ephesians 1:7).
Here is the incredible mystery that Paul celebrates in Ephesians. God not only defeats our rebellion to claim us again as His; He draws us even closer to Himself than His creation could make us. We are brought closer than Adam, for we are united to Jesus Christ, God’s own Son. We who were far off in sin are brought near, nearer than the cherubim beside the throne, as near as God’s Son, our Savior.
God had planned it that way from the beginning. He chose us in Christ before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). God’s people are God’s treasure (Exodus 19:5). God gave Israel an inheritance, but He took Israel as His inheritance: “The Lord’s portion is His people” (Deuteronomy 4:20; 32:9). How does the Lord mark us as His possession in Christ? By the Spirit of Christ in our hearts. We dare not underrate the meaning of the coming of the Spirit, as though after the Ascension the church had lost Jesus. Jesus said that He would not leave us orphans, but would come to us (John 14:18). He breathed His Spirit on the disciples after the Resurrection; He came in His Spirit from the throne of glory at Pentecost. Yes, Jesus will come again, when every eye will see Him, but we are not now bereft of our Lord. He told us that it was better that He should go away so that the Spirit might come (John 16:7), not because the Spirit is better than He, but because by the Spirit both the Son and the Father are also present in our hearts. In Ephesians, Paul speaks of the filling of the Spirit, the filling of Christ, and the filling of God (Ephesians 5:18; 1:23; 4:13; 3:19). These are not distinct acts of filling. To be full of the Spirit is to be full of Jesus, to be filled with all the fullness of God.
When we think of seals, we may picture the seal on a bottle of Tylenol. The elaborate sealing developed for that and similar products came after the deadly results of criminal tampering with the contents. God’s sealing also protects against tampering. The Spirit is our shield and guardian. The Lord knows and keeps those who are His (2 Timothy 2:19; John 10:27–28). God’s people are sealed with the living God (Revelation 7:2, 4; 9:4). The Spirit as our seal keeps us personally, not mechanically. He keeps us for our inheritance by keeping us believing (1 Peter 1:5–7). We may grieve the Spirit of God by whom we are kept till the day of redemption, and the Spirit may chastise us; He will certainly prove our faith through fiery trials, but always with the purpose of presenting us at last to God.
II. The Spirit Is Our Seal
By being present in the Spirit, God not only claims us for Himself, He also gives us claim on Him. The Spirit certifies His promise, His pledge to us. Indeed, the Spirit is God’s keeping of His promise. God’s deed of purchase is sealed to the day of redemption, not merely by an outward sign (as circumcision was a seal of Abraham’s faith [Romans 4:11]) but by the keeping of the “promise of the Father” as Jesus said (Acts 2:22, 33). The coming of the Spirit is the blessing promised to Abraham (Galatians 3:14). Paul therefore speaks of the Spirit as God’s “down payment” on full and final salvation.
If your credit is good, a car salesman may be happy to arrange a loan to fund your purchase. But you may be sure that he will also demand a down payment. The down payment is in the currency of the final payment; some of that final payout is made up front. That is the picture Paul gives. Heaven itself offers no blessing greater than that of personal fellowship with the Lord. That is precisely the blessing now brought to the church, to you, by the presence of the Lord, the Spirit. In our union with Christ we are “being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). The Old Testament tabernacle was filled with the cloud of God’s glory; the New Testament tabernacle is first the physical body of Jesus Christ, who was filled with the Spirit, and now is also the body of Christ, His church, which the Spirit fills with Jesus. God’s down payment is the glory of the Lord begun here below.
Because God gives us the seal of His presence in the Spirit of His Son, we cry, “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 4:6). We use the very word our Savior used, for we have received the claim of Christ’s Sonship. In death we are given the Spirit of life; in error, the Spirit of truth; in corruption, the Spirit of glory.
In giving us the deposit of Himself, God gives us the assurance of His love. “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (Romans 5:5). The love that God has for us is the love that He showed when we were His enemies and Christ died for us. Who, then, shall separate us from the love of Christ? The seal of love is on His heart of grace and His arm of power, love that is stronger than death (Song of Songs 8:6).