Sealed by the Spirit

In 2 Cor. 1:21-22, we read, "Now he that established us with you in Christ, and anointed us, is God; who also sealed us, and gave us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts." In Eph. 1:13-14, we read, "in whom ye also, having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation, -- in whom, having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is an earnest of our inheritance, unto the redemption of God's own possession, unto the praise of his glory." Ephesians 4:30 says, "And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption."

Calvinistic theologians take these passages to mean that one who has ever believed in the Lord is at that moment granted salvation from sin and its punishment, and that salvation is secured so that there is no possibility of it being lost, for he is "sealed and secured" by God and given a pledge that he can never be lost. It is often styled "eternal security of the believer," or "impossibility of apostasy."

We would have no argument with the idea of the eternal security of the believer if those who use the terms would use them as God does. That is, a "believer" is a faithful child of God who is "walking in the light, as He is in the light (1 Jn. 1:7), a sheep in the fold of Christ who is "hearing the voice of Jesus and following Him" (John 10:27-28). We contend that all the powers of evil on earth or in hell cannot cause a person to be lost who is following the voice of Jesus and doing His will. He has "eternal security." The questions, however, are: May a person who is a believer ever fall away from the faith or cease to be a believer? May a person's love for Christ grow cold? (Mt. 24:12). A person who was a 'goat' ceased to be a goat and became a sheep. May a person cease to be a sheep, and leave the fold? When we consider all the Bible warnings, we know that he can. So, in order to better understand the idea of being "sealed" and having an "earnest of the Spirit," let us examine those terms and see their meaning more completely.

There is little doubt that the term "earnest," from the Greek "arrabon" originally referred to what we call "earnest money" deposited by a purchaser as a down payment, and to be forfeited if the purchase was not complete, or the agreement broken. In the New Testament it is suggested that the Holy Spirit is given to a Christian as a divine pledge or down payment on the future blessings that God has in store for us.

Surely every Christian is at least dimly aware that every spiritual blessing he now has in Christ is but a foretaste, a sort of "down payment," of the life and blessings God has reserved in heaven for us "who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation reserved in heaven for us, ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Pet. 1:4-5). Note that we are kept by the power of God, but it is through faith. The basic question with which we are dealing is, "Once the earnest money was given, did it necessarily follow that the thing purchased was unconditionally guaranteed?" The answer should be apparent whether one looks at any purchase today, or how the term applied in either the Old Testament or the New. There were and are terms of any contract, will or covenant. If one party does not abide by the terms, the earnest money that was put down is forfeit. Anyone who ever put up "earnest money" to buy a house may have discovered that.

1 John 3:23-24 is one among many passages that teach that abiding in Christ is dependent upon keeping His commandments. If we grieve the Spirit (Eph. 4:30, quench the Spirit (1 Thes. 5:19), do despite to the Spirit (Heb. 10:29), then we may break the contract or the relationship that existed when the earnest was given.

Now let us examine briefly what is meant by the "seal." The noun "sphragio" and the verb, "sphragizo" are used in various ways to indicate ownership, security, authentication, etc., in a way that is very similar to how we use the word "seal" in the English language. We seal a letter by moistening the glue. A notary puts his seal on a document to attest to the fact that the party or parties involved actually gave the testimony indicated, or that the signatures are valid. When the tomb of Jesus was sealed (Mt. 27:66), it was for the purpose of fixing it so the body could not easily be removed. It was not meant to be broken, but note carefully that although it was not meant to be broken, it was. When we seal a letter, it is not meant to be opened before it gets to its destination, but it can be. When a notary puts his seal on an agreement, the agreement is not supposed to be broken, but it can be.

When God gives the Holy Spirit to His children as an authentication that He has bought us, and we belong to Him, that seals an agreement that we have made with Him that we accept the authority of Jesus as Lord, and belong to Him forever. That in no way implies that we cannot break that agreement, and be unfaithful. When Abraham received "the sign of circumcision, as a seal of the righteousness of faith which he had" (Rom. 4:11) God was attesting to the fact that Abraham and his descendants who kept the ritual properly, and obeyed the law would be His special people. It did NOT signify that they could not break His covenant, be disobedient and be cut off from the blessings promised. Surely no person who reads the history of Israel could logically conclude otherwise.

To summarize: God has put His "stamp of approval" (seal) on us as His children by giving us His Spirit (Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 3:16). If we demonstrate that we are His by producing the fruit of the Spirit, then this seal shows that we are owned by Him and are under His protection and authority. We may fail to do that, "break the seal" and be lost. Even in the context of Ephesians 4:30-32 when Paul says we are sealed unto the day of redemption, he warns us not to grieve the Holy Spirit, and to be kind and forgiving. Jesus said that God will not forgive us if we do not forgive others (Mt. 6:14-18). So we must conclude that though He has sealed us with the Spirit, and the Lord knows who are His (2 Tim. 2:19), if we do not depart from unrighteousness we will be lost, or as we might put it, the seal will be broken.

The Holy Spirit is both an earnest (a foretaste of what God has in store for us) and a seal, but those terms do not refer to the same function or purpose, for the Holy Spirit as a seal is showing that we belong to Him and are under His authority and care, and the Holy Spirit as an earnest is to give us an idea of what we shall have as a result of belonging to Him.

T. Pierce Brown

Published in The Old Paths Archive