Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 12/7/97
" . . . In whom [Christ] also, after you believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise."
It has been thrilling to watch God's plan for the ages--and for us--unfold in this great opening section of Ephesians. We've seen the great privileges granted by God's grace: election, adoption, redemption, revelation, inclusion in His grand purpose of summing up all things in Christ. We've seen how these privileges, originally offered to Israel, have been thrown open to all nations since the Resurrection. Last week we began to see how we as individuals come into possession of them: through a miraculous work of God in our hearts which causes us to hear the Gospel and respond to it with a faith that takes hold of Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, and thus takes hold of all the blessings which are found in him. This work of conviction, calling, and regeneration is done by the Holy Spirit, and when it issues in the faith which forms a personal union between us and Christ, that Holy Spirit remains in our hearts as a permanent resident, the glue and medium of our relationship with Christ. He continues his work of transforming our hearts and empowering us for godly living and service as we walk worthily of our calling. And his continued presence and its effects are the earnest, the authentication, the guarantee--the seal, if you will, of our salvation.
What does Paul mean when he calls the Holy Spirit the "seal" of our salvation? In ancient times seals were used for authentication and protection. Imagine a letter, sealed not with yucky glue that you must lick, but with soft wax, like candle wax, dripped over the place where the outside edges of the paper meet. Before it hardens, the sender would take his signet ring, impressed with his family seal, and press it into the sealing wax. Once it hardens, no one can possibly open the letter undetected, for he would crack the wax and ruin the impression of the seal. The seal then both shows that the document is authentic (for only the sender has that particular signet ring) and protects it from tampering. Today a Notary Public performs essentially the same function for the same purpose, using not sealing wax and a ring but one of those pairs of pliers that impresses the great seal of the state of Georgia into a legal document to attest to its authenticity. In Mat. 27:66, the same process was applied to Jesus' tomb, with the seal of the Roman Governor Pilate pressed into wax poured into the seam between the rock and the opening of the tomb. It was a futile attempt to seal in those particular contents, but its intention is clear, and it illustrates the way seals were used.
The spiritual application Paul is making here then is astounding. The Covenant of Grace, like any other contract, becomes official and binding on the two parties when it is sealed. How do you know that the agreement is settled, that God means to keep his promise of salvation based not on works but on faith in Christ, and that you are the recipient? He seals the covenant by giving you his Holy Spirit. His presence, as evidenced by his work, is the seal, God's signature written in the blood of his Son on the deed to your soul. Its function is protection and authentication. What protects you for salvation, what is the guarantee that you will indeed persevere in faith to the end and be saved? It is the work of the Holy Spirit in you life. And what authenticates you, what are the credentials as it were proclaiming that you are a true disciple of Jesus Christ and that your faith is genuine, authentic Christianity? That same work of conviction, calling, regeneration, and sanctification.
How specifically does this work? Let me try to develop it by asking four questions.
The answer to this question is clearly yes. Eph. 1:13 assumes that all who have listened and believed have been sealed. Sealing is not, as some have tried to interpret it, a second stage or further step of faith and spirituality entered into only by special, gung-ho believers. It is the normative experience of all true disciples of Jesus.
Again, the answer would have to be yes. An invisible seal would be useless, superfluous, and irrelevant, completely contrary to the purpose of sealing. What good would a Notary Public be if his seal was blank and left no mark on the document? Verily, not one ha'penny worth of good.
It is first important to realize that it is not some particular gift of the Spirit such as speaking in tongues. Contrast Eph. 1:13 with 1 Cor. 12:7-11, 30-31. All are not intended to speak in tongues or have any other particular gift; but all are sealed with the Spirit if indeed they belong to Christ. What the marks of the Seal are then is the saving work of the Spirit, enabling faith in Christ. There are at least 10 elements present in the Seal.
These qualities are the indelible and unmistakable marks made on the soul by the impress of the Holy Spirit. Only by his work can they be truly present in fallen men. And therefore, taken together, they are the infallible sign of authentic Christianity. Their visible presence is God's official seal of approval, saying to you and to the world, "This is my beloved son or daughter, in whom I am well pleased." Their absence in the professing believer is the cause for greatest concern.
This time the answer is, unfortunately, no. The impression goes deeper into some people than others. Some are truly Christians yet carnal, saved by the skin of their teeth, saved yet so as by fire. The marks of the seal are not absent if they are truly Christ's at all, but they may be only faintly imprinted or covered over by the accumulated grunge of neglect or sin. Why? There are many reasons. We get our eyes off the Lord; we lose our first love; we may never mature properly because of poor discipling, false teaching, or any number of factors. This means we must be slow to judge. But we must not forget, we must be very clear, that our confidence in the credibility of any person's profession of faith (including our own!) is in direct proportion to the clear presence of the marks of the seal, which are the ones we have delineated and nothing less.
What the world needs--what the Church needs--is a generation of Christians who understand that the official Seal of authentic Christianity is the work of the Holy Spirit, which includes at least the elements we have seen today and cannot be present without leaving its marks upon the soul. Therefore renew your commitment to the Lord today, and ask him to make the seal shine brightly in you, to the praise of the glory of his grace.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams