Sealed and Guaranteed

Ephesians 1:13-14 

Sometime back the Associated Press carried this dispatch: “Glasgow, Ky.–Leslie Puckett, after struggling to start his car, lifted the hood and discovered that someone had stolen the motor.” Kind of silly, isn’t it? It is rather obvious to say that a car will not run without its engine. But it is equally true to say that we cannot live the Christian life without the Holy Spirit working in our lives, being the engine. Paul says that the life he lives is no longer him living, but Christ living in him. Christ lived in Paul by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit also lives in us, if we are united to Christ by faith. Here in our text, the metaphor is that of a seal. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit.

What is a seal? I suppose that if we were asked that question, we would probably think of the seal of the President of the United States, and use that as an analogy. There is truth to that analogy: the seal of the President is used to indicate that something is genuinely belonging to the President. You know that the President is coming to speak, if the podium has his seal on the front. In the same way, you know if you are a Christian if you have this seal of the Holy Spirit. What is the seal? It IS the Holy Spirit. It is not as if the Holy Spirit seals you with something else. No, the Holy Spirit IS the seal. Let me explain.

The Holy Spirit works in the Word of God to bring someone to faith in Jesus Christ. This is called regeneration. In that act of the Holy Spirit, we are given new hearts instead of our old, dead hearts. This happens because of the Word of God, which the Holy Spirit makes alive in us, as a seed that sprouts and starts to grow. That is what the Word of God does.

In that same instant in which we are saved, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit. He puts His mark on us, which is He Himself. God can then look at us and call us His possession. Just as the presidential seal is on that podium, marking the podium as belonging to the President, so also the Holy Spirit puts His mark on us, Himself, so that everyone in the world can know who owns us.

The second way a seal is used is to secure something. The Holy Spirit is a seal for us in this way as well. When the Holy Spirit acts in a person’s life, there is no going back. There is a certain finality to being sealed by the Holy Spirit. When the stone was placed over the tomb of Jesus, the thought was to secure the tomb from the disciples, lest something happen to the body, and the disciples claim that Jesus was resurrected. Of course, that seal didn’t work very well, given the fact that the power of God was inside that tomb, and unleashed the full force of resurrection power against that seal. Still, when the high priests put that seal on the tomb, the idea was to make it secure. How much more secure are we when we have the seal of the Holy Spirit! It is magnificently secure, absolutely secure. No one can gainsay the power of God to keep his people. Does that give you some comfort in this insecure world?

We live in a world that wants security. They want to know what is going to happen in the future. Unfortunately, they look in all the wrong places for this security. They look to money, and pleasure, and land, and power for these things. Those things are not very helpful for security, since they can blow away with the brush of a hand. However, the Holy Spirit, which seems less tangible, less physical than these other things, is, however, much more secure than these worldly things. The reason for this is that the Holy Spirit seals us into Christ. That is what the first part of verse 13 tells us. The basic sentence is this, “In Christ you were sealed with the Holy Spirit.”

Thirdly, a seal marks something off as genuine. People used to seal envelopes with wax, putting their signet ring into the melted wax, such that the mark of the ring would seal the envelope and seal the letter. The person receiving the letter would see the seal, and know that it could only come from that person. They knew that the letter was genuine. In the same way, when the Holy Spirit seals us, He testifies to our hearts and minds that we are genuine believers in Christ. This happens to every person who becomes a Christian. Every Christian has this seal. Are you sealed in Christ with the Holy Spirit?

Paul then switches metaphors. Now, instead of a seal, Paul describes the Holy Spirit as the deposit guaranteeing the inheritance. Now, “deposit” is an unfortunate translation, since many deposits can be returned. That is not true of this kind of deposit. It is more like a down-payment that ensures that the rest will also be paid. A very important characteristic of this kind of down-payment is that the rest of the payment is in the same kind. One does not pay this kind of payment in money, and then the rest of it is in land. No, if the Spirit is the down-payment, then the rest is also by the Spirit. What is the rest of the inheritance? It is the resurrection body. The Scriptures say that the new resurrection body will not breathe normal air, but will breathe the Holy Spirit. This is from 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul says that God breathed into Adam the breath of life, but into Christ the Holy Spirit. We will live, move, and breathe in the Holy Spirit in the future world. Sound scary? It shouldn’t. It means that we will have the same kind of body that Jesus has. The Spirit breathes into our soul right now, the breath of spiritual life. The Spirit will breathe into our bodies physical Holy Spirit-breath when our bodies are resurrected on Judgment Day. We have a down-payment on our souls. The rest of it is coming in the form of the new body. However, the down-payment means more than just the resurrection body. It also means that the curtain between heaven and earth will no longer exist. We will then see God face to face. We will see Him as He is, for we will be like Him, says John the apostle.

Do you often think of your inheritance? Do you think about your resurrection body? As I have said before, it is quite possible to be so earthly minded, that you are of no heavenly good, to reverse the more common proverb. We can be so earthly minded: we love to think about our land, and increasing how much land we have. Do we know that our heavenly inheritance is not only infinitely greater, but so much more important? If we were to compare how much time we think about our land versus how much time we think about our heavenly inheritance, how many of us would score high on thinking about our heavenly inheritance more than our earthly inheritance? I would venture to guess none. And yet, how much more important is it to be concerned about our heavenly inheritance! Instead of fighting and clawing your way to more land, you should fight and claw your way to sharing the Gospel in love with your neighbor, for that would increase your heavenly goods. I’m not talking about earning salvation. Salvation is a gift from first to last. What I am talking about is rather the reward that people can get in heaven. Do you think about that? You know, thinking about heaven and the resurrection body that we will have in the new heavens and the new earth is one of the very best antidotes to greed. I use greed as an example, but there are many other sins to which this would apply as well. Use your creativity in applying these truths to your entire life. What you will find is that if you are a signed, sealed, and delivered Christian, then you are a pilgrim in this world, just passing through. You do not belong here. This is not your home. The story is told in C.S. Lewis’s book The Last Battle, where the children are in the land of Narnia, but the land ends. Aslan destroys the land, and takes His children into the new land of Narnia, the heavenly land of Narnia. When reflecting on this change, it is said in that book that the only reason we liked the old Narnia so much, is that it reminds us just a little of the real Narnia. As Lewis would elsewhere put it, we live in the shadowlands right now. This land is but a poor reflection of the new heavens and the new earth. That is the real thing. This is only a dim copy. So, let’s stop acting like this is the real thing, and the future world only a dim copy. Don’t hold on so tight to possessions, relationships, your own ego or social standing, your grudges, your land, or anything else which is tempting to turn into an idol. Instead, trust in Christ that you have been signed, sealed and delivered for the new heavens and the new earth.

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21 Comments

  1. Xon said,

    February 26, 2007 at 10:01 am

    Can’t resist, Lane….Trying…..just….can’t…..

    Baptism is a seal, right? :-)

  2. Craig Phelps said,

    February 26, 2007 at 10:07 am

    Great sermon.
    Xon…no, not in that way. Sacerdotalism anyone?

  3. Xon said,

    February 26, 2007 at 10:32 am

    So, “seal” is open to various interpretations? Why doesn’t this hold for Ephesians 1, then?

  4. greenbaggins said,

    February 26, 2007 at 10:45 am

    Sounds like you tried really hard to resist, Xon! ;-)

    I thought about baptism in this context, but I don’t think that it is there. You see, it is so completely tied to the moment of *belief,” having *heard* the word of truth. The sealing can certainly (and I believe does) happen at the same moment in time as the hearing/believing. But it cannot happen before by the very terms of the passage. Furthermore, it is the Holy Spirit Himself who is the seal. In baptism, the thing signified is Christ’s blood, not the Holy Spirit. But in this passage, the Holy Spirit is Himself the seal. Therefore, I do not think that baptism is the point here. Although, you are not the first to suggest it.

  5. Todd said,

    February 26, 2007 at 10:48 am

    But why understand belief in terms of a single moment?

    “In baptism, the thing signified is Christ’s blood, not the Holy Spirit.”

    The blood of Christ isn’t the only thing signified, is it? Regeneration, too.

    Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church; but also, to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life.

  6. greenbaggins said,

    February 26, 2007 at 11:10 am

    The terms of the passage are one-time events. Not to over-read tha aorists, but they are aorist participles which therefore indicates, not a process, but an event. The sealing is the main verb, on which all the aorist participles depend. Therefore, there are two interpretations of the participles: either they occur before the main verb, or they occur simultaneously with the main verb. Most commentators take the aorist participles to be simultaneous action (which I also hold). While “point-like action” may be an over-reading of aorist participles (on occasion), the aorist almost never refers to a continuous action. For your theory to be right, they should have been imperfect tense finite verbs (they were believing). Rather, these are three events that are (at least relatively) simultaneous. Not processes, Todd.

  7. Todd said,

    February 26, 2007 at 11:17 am

    You’re right about the aorists. You were sealed when you believed. Specific point in time.

    But why couldn’t sealed still be a reference to baptism? For this first-generation, Gentile church, baptism will have followed faith for most of Paul’s readers.

    But I’m just wondering. I don’t think I would bring up baptism in a sermon on this passage either.

  8. greenbaggins said,

    February 26, 2007 at 11:30 am

    You know, Todd, I don’t think that the passage is totally unrelated to baptism, as if there are no connections at all. Of course, baptism is a sign and seal. I might possibly use baptism as an illustration of the text. But it is not the meaning of the text. That’s all I’m saying, I guess.

  9. Xon said,

    February 26, 2007 at 11:49 am

    To be clear, I’m not suggesting that Ephesians 1 is referring to baptism. (Coyly, I’m not suggesting anything at all…just “asking questions”). I’m suggesting that the Westminster Standards call baptism (as well as the Supper) a seal. Given what you have said about seals in this post, I’m wondering if you think baptsim is a seal.

    I’m not worrying so much about whether Ephesians 1 intends to talk about baptsim. I’m wondering what we must say about it, given that we are trying to conform to the Confession. The Confession, for whatever variety of reasons the Westminster divines had, calls baptism a “seal” of the covenant of grace, of our ingrafting into Christ, etc. Is this a “guarantee”? Uh-oh!

    Or does “seal” in the Confession mean something different than “seal” in Ephesians 1. You know I’m up for that if that’s the way you’re going here…I’m just curious.

  10. greenbaggins said,

    February 26, 2007 at 12:03 pm

    I would say that baptism is a seal, saying that the person baptized belongs genuinely to the visible church. It is proof positive that the person is part of the visible church. So, in terms of the uses of a seal that I have enumerated in the sermon above, certainly the first use pertains (genuinely belonging to the people of God (in the visible sense), although baptism says nothing about whether the person has faith in Christ or not).

  11. Todd said,

    February 26, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    “I would say that baptism is a seal, saying that the person baptized belongs genuinely to the visible church.”

    But the WC says it is a seal of many other blessings as well. In fact, it doesn’t use seal language for admission to the visible church, but waits for the other stuff. It’s a seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life.

    The question is whether it is a seal of all these things for everyone who is baptized, or only for some.

  12. greenbaggins said,

    February 26, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    No, the question of the efficacy of sealing has to be discussed first, “grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it; or , that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.” This plainly says that regeneration, in being “sealed” by baptism, does not necessarily happen at the same time as baptism. The improvement of baptism only comes to those to whom the grace belongeth unto (WCF 28.6), i.e., the elect. The improvement of baptism comes with faith in the grace of God, according to His own time. Therefore, the sealing of 28.1 *cannot* mean that regeneration always happens at the time or before baptism. Baptism acts like an arrow-sign: this way to salvation (to Christ). It is not the thing itself, but the sign that points us there. Beware of ascribing to much efficacy to the seal. After all, one has to factor in sacramental language (27.2).

  13. Josh said,

    February 26, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    Unless your a baptist :-)

  14. greenbaggins said,

    February 26, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    Right, Josh. :-)

  15. Xon said,

    February 26, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    Lane, unless I am very badly misunderstanding you, I think your view of the sacraments is very close to the FV view (assuming there is only one FV view, of course, which there’s not…) In fact, you even seem to be lining up pretty closely with Lusk (one of the ‘dark’ ales) on this.

    In other words, while the sacraments genuinely offer Christ to all who are baptized, and confer Christ upon those who receive the sacrament in faith, our response to baptism is part of God’s eternal counsel. The objective meaning of baptism is not softened, but our subjective response determines what we actually get from the sacrament. And that response is subject to God’s foreordination. Baptism is the offer; faith is the receptor. If we receive in baptism in faith, it is because of his eternal election (that is to say, faith is a gift, given through the Word and sovereign work of the Spirit, per WCF 14.1). If we do not exercise faith, it is because of his eternal reprobation. Everything is ultimately conditioned by the counsel of his will, however mysterious that may be….

    Nevertheless, the Westminster divines have given us a strong doctrine of the instrumental efficacy of baptism. Baptism is not in competition with faith because baptism is what God does, while faith is what we do. Baptism is God’s instrument in giving new life and forgiveness; faith is the instrument on our side for receiving these things. The person baptized has every reason to exercise faith, and no excuse for not doing so. After all, his baptism is “unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his engrafting into Christ, or regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Christ Jesus, to walk in newness of life” (28.1). The Confession is very clear: every baptized person should regard himself as a member of the covenant of grace and united to Christ. The imperative (“Improve your baptism! Live faithful to the covenant!”) is grounded in the indicative (“You have been united to Christ!”). In other words “Improve your baptism” amounts to saying, “Be who you are!” Note that the benefits listed in 28.1 are spoken of in reference to the administration of baptism and the covenant, not to eternal election, which remains secret to us (cf. Dt. 29:29). In other words, they are objective and applicable, in principle, to every baptized person. The blessings belong to the one baptized, regarded as a member of the visible church, not as someone who is “secretly elect” or “genuinely regenerate.” (This just reiterates the earlier views of Calvin and Bucer, both of whom insisted that the promise of baptism has reference to the covenant as such, not to the secret decree. It’s also just another way of “viewing election through the lens of the covenant,” as Norm Shepherd was apt to put it.)

    Just sayin’. Further, you say:

    Beware of ascribing too much efficacy to the seal.

    Right, if what you mean in warning of “too much efficacy” is that we should not make the seal a seal of things it was never intended to seal. So, for instance, the covenantal experience that is unique to the decretally elect (however exactly we describe that) is not something that is “sealed” in baptism. (Baptism doesn’t “seal” that we are going to Heaven, for instance.) Because baptism is not a seal of that kind of grace. But baptism is a seal of the grace of covenant membership, etc, and so it is, in and of itself, a guarantee that those kinds of things happen to the recipient. (All baptized people are indeed in the covenant of grace, etc.) It’s just not a guarantee that other further kinds of things are going to happen to the recipient (like, going to Heaven). As you have said. (And, I mention again to annoy you, as Lusk has said!)

    Now, the only problem is those other things the Confession says it is a “seal” of: ingrafting into Christ, regeneration, remission of sins, etc. The things Todd mentioned. Why not say that, since it is afterall a seal and seals are by definition efficacious towards whatever they are sealing, that there is a “weaker” sort of remission of sins, a “weaker” sort of regeneration, that is in view here? So, baptism DOES seal these things to all recipients–all baptized people can be said to have a sort of remission of sins, a sort of regeneration, etc. But they aren’t all eternally saved, so they aren’t regenerated in that sense.

    In other words, why not go with a (if not the) FV interpretation of this portion of the Confession? You say to Todd that 27.2 somehow qualifies the “sealiness” of baptism by making it less than a guarantee of things like regeneration. But then you are back to arguing that “seal” in WCF 28.1 and “seal” in Ephesians 1 mean different things.

    You have two choices, it seems:

    1. Allow different definitions of “seal” in Eph. 1 and in WCF 28.1. In Eph. 1 “seal” is being used to refer to something that always GUARANTEES the thing it is sealing. But in WCF 27.1 the word “seal” is being used in a weaker sense.

    2. Allow “seal” in WCF 28.1 to keep the sense of “guarantee”, and understand the “regeneration”, “remission of sins,” “ingrafting into Christ,” etc. that are being sealed accordingly. So WCF 28.1 is then teaching us that baptism guarantees that a person is regenerated in a sense (but not quite the same as the decretally elect), has remission of sins in a sense (but not quite het same as the decretally elect), etc.

    Or what am I missing?

  16. Craig Phelps said,

    February 26, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    Baptism is the sign and seal of the seal of the saving power of the Holy Spirit given to the elect alone. The elect are sealed by the Holy Spirit unto glory as Lane so awesomely wrote. In baptism, the external elements with the word by the power of Christ’s Spirit declare and confirm and administer the sealing of the Holy Spirit who moves when He pleases. For those regenerate before birth, the Spirit confirms His seal by baptism to the soul of the elect infant. That’s the fundamental problem of the fv, confusion of the sign and the thing signified. While less crass than Rome and Luther’s lord’s supper fiasco, the fv does confuse the sign with the thing signified.

  17. Xon said,

    February 26, 2007 at 10:26 pm

    No they don’t. There is a sacramental union in which the effects and names of the one can be attributed to the other (WCF 27.2). Notice this is not just a “way of speaking”. It is a “union” b/w sign and thing signified.

    Baptism is a seal of a seal? Huh? Or was that a typo? WCF 28.1 says that baptism is a seal of “ingrafting into Christ,” “remission of sins,” “regeneration,” etc. Lane says that seals are guarantees, at least in Eph. 1. (Hence my questions to him on this) What do you say about this, Craig?

  18. Craig Phelps said,

    February 27, 2007 at 11:56 pm

    Xon, this “viewing election through the lens of the covenant” is actually burying the doctrine of election by an ubiblical view of the covenant.
    WCF XXVIII.1
    “Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.”
    Now for the reprobate, baptism is the savor of death. For the reprobate, baptism is no sign and seal of his ingrafting into Christ, because Christ never knew him. For the reprobate, baptism is the showing forth of the washing away of sins that only others have. For the reprobate, baptism marks them as members of the visible church, but not as members of the covenant of grace. The covenant of grace is with Christ and all the elect in Him.
    “Oooo, see that contradicts the wcf. You confession denier.”
    Just to make sure they were not understood to teach what the fv teaches the last point of this chapter reads:
    “VI. The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.”
    The efficacy of baptism:
    1. Does not depend upon the time of baptism. Is not always efficacious at the time of administration.
    2.The grace conferred by the means of baptism is for only the ones chosen by God to eternal life. Huh? Like this-“to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will.”
    3. The time of the grace signed and sealed in baptism is only when the Holy Spirit regenerates the soul and actually seals the one chosen to eternal life “in His appointed time.”
    In short the washing away of sins in the blood and Spirit of Christ is for the elect unto eternal life only and the sign and seal of the washing away of sins is God’s external pledge to infallibly bring to glory them alone. That’s what the divines meant and nothing else. How do I know if I am elect to the covenant of eternal life? To search for such knowledge is to fall into despair or exalt oneself in arrogance. To attain the knowledge of our election and experience the comfort of baptism, by faith we acknowledge ourselves to be the wretched sinners and the wicked fools that we really are and seek our salvation outside of ourselves entirely in the blood and Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  19. Xon said,

    February 28, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    “Now for the reprobate, baptism is the savor of death. For the reprobate, baptism is no sign and seal of his ingrafting into Christ, because Christ never knew him. For the reprobate, baptism is the showing forth of the washing away of sins that only others have. For the reprobate, baptism marks them as members of the visible church, but not as members of the covenant of grace. The covenant of grace is with Christ and all the elect in Him.”

    None of which is said in the portion of the Confession you quoted. It doesn’t say that baptism is a sign and seal of such-and-such only for those elect people who partake; it says it is a sign and seal for such-and-such for “the party baptized.” Yes, I do indeed say that you are denying the confession (or at best reading something into it that isn’t there) on this point.

    As to your points about the efficacy of baptism, (1) and (3) are uncontroversial if we are talking about the decretally elect. But your (2) is totally circular, assuming the very thing you need to demonstrate.

    2.The grace conferred by the means of baptism is for only the ones chosen by God to eternal life. Huh? Like this-”to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will.”

    But you are just assuming that when the Confession says “to those as the grace belongs unto,” it is speaking of the decretally elect only. This is the doctrine of some (Hoeksema, Engelsma, etc.), but you haven’t shown that it’s correct. The Confession does not say that “those as the grace belongs unto” are the decretally elect only. In fact, given that it says that baptism is a seal into the covenant of grace, and that all infants of believers are in the covenant of grace, then how can it possibly the case that the Confession is here limiting the grace of baptism only to the decretally elect? It can’t as I see it.

    I’ll let you have the last word on this topic, though. Steven W vouches for you as one of the nicest guys he’s encountered online, so you’re okay by me too. :-)

  20. Craig Phelps said,

    February 28, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    “But you are just assuming that when the Confession says “to those as the grace belongs unto,” it is speaking of the decretally elect only.” That is what it says, the grace of baptism belongs to such as are given it according to the counsel of God. This is a reference to election to eternal life. No circle here. This is not something to be proven, its what the words say. If I say the sky is blue, then someone who says that I said the sky is blue isn’t reasoning in circles when he says that I said the sky is blue. He understands what I said, even if someone wants to argue about proof of what was really meant when I said the sky is blue. Which brings up a point, Xon, the practice of going through the first year logic textbook to mine the list of fallacies to bring charges of errors in reasoning leaves your form of discussion stuck in the freshman class of fv advocates. The better advocates at least for instance openly deny the CoW and do so with entertaining vigor, even if they are wrong. One of us heard accurately what Westminster said. One of us did not. I do reject some of the Westminster Standards and when I do so I know what they meant by what they said and I still openly reject the doctrine they teach. Their insistance on making assurance of mercy something other than justifying faith is one such point. The heidelbergers were right on the money here to make assurance the essence of faith. Westminster made one of its rare slips here and I openly acknowledge that I could not sign that part of the confession and catechism, whatever ecclesiastical consequences may ensue, inlcuding me never being able to pastor a conservative presby church. So be it. In the case of what the divines wrote here in saying “to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will” I understand and agree with what they said and meant completely. The six days of creation doctrine of Westminster is correct and yet some presbyterian scholars reject the doctrine while saying that WS is open to interpretation and proofs and discussion in order the make room for the 800 pound gorilla of evolutionism. The point is that if you reject what WS said about the relation of election to eternal life and baptism, then you should say so and let the chips fall where they may. Framework advocates who play monkey games with WS should do the same.

  21. Todd said,

    March 1, 2007 at 7:02 am

    Craig, are you a pastor?


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