The Seal and Pledge of the Holy Spirit

Dr. Brian Allison

This past week, I arrived at the Seminary early in the morning in order to teach my class. Shortly after I began to lecture, a student came and interrupted the class and insisted that I go with him. Walking down the hall with him, he informed me that my car had been broken into and that the police were waiting to receive some information. A vandal and thief had stolen my wallet from the glove compartment and my tape deck. I was disappointed, but I was not upset. One of my first thoughts was: "God is sovereign; He is in absolute control, and absolutely nothing happens by accident." This fact is true not only of our lives in general, but also of our salvation in particular. Because our salvation is wholly of God, we have the assurance that our salvation will remain. We have the assurance that we, as believers, will never lose our salvation.

The story is told of Martin Luther (1483-1546) who one day was encountered by the devil. Such accounts apparently were not uncommon. On one occasion, he was so upset and so frustrated with the attacks of the evil one that he picked up his ink well and threw it at the wall. Well, on this occasion, the devil came to Luther reminding him of how fallible human beings are. The devil sought to discourage him, by making him feel guilty, through rehearsing a list of his sins. When the devil had finished, Luther purportedly said, "Think harder; you must have forgotten some." And the devil did think, and he listed more sins. When he was done enumerating the sins, Luther said, "Now, with a red pen write over that list, 'The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses us from all sin.'" The devil had nothing to say. Luther knew the joy of the assurance of salvation.

When we talk about the assurance of salvation, we are, of course, referring to one of the works of the Spirit. The assurance of salvation is entailed in the sealing of the Holy Spirit.

The seal of the Spirit confirms salvation

We read in Ephesians 1:13,14. "In Him [Jesus], you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation – having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory." As this text clearly states, the seal of the Spirit takes place at conversion. At conversion, one receives the gift of the Spirit (i.e., one is baptized with the Spirit, and is brought into the mystical body of Christ); and with the receiving of the gift of the Spirit, one simultaneously receives the seal of the Spirit. Now, the Spirit not only seals us in Christ, the Spirit Himself is the seal in Christ.

What is the seal of the Spirit? It may be helpful to first consider what is meant by a seal? A seal is that which confirms or ratifies; it establishes or proves the truth of something. For instance, this past week I was speaking to one of my students and he mentioned that the university is sending him his degree; he did not attend the convocation. When you receive a degree from a recognized institution, you customarily find the seal of that institution stamped on the document. What that seal communicates is that the contents of the degree are authentic. The seal validates that one has accomplished a certain amount of work and has earned a certain level of creditation. So, a seal confirms or ratifies; it establishes or proves the truth of something. Thus, the apostle Paul, in writing to the Church at Corinth, could say: "If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord" (1 Cor. 9:2). In effect, he was saying, "You are the proof – your conversion (your response to the gospel by coming to, and obeying, Christ) is the clear evidence – that God has called me to be an apostle; the work of grace in you through my ministry, validates the fact that God has commissioned me to authoritatively minister His gospel."

Now, the seal of the Spirit is the Spirit Himself confirming that one is a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. The seal of the Spirit indicates and ratifies that one indeed is a true child of God. The Spirit's sealing is identified with His indwelling. We are sealed with the Spirit in virtue of being indwelt by the Spirit; and with the sealing (or indwelling), there is thus the definite guarantee that one belongs to Christ. So, with the seal of the Spirit, one becomes Christ's personal possession.

Do you see what is implied when we talk about the seal of the Spirit? What is implied is that there are those who believe who do not truly belong to Christ. Romans 8:6-9 reads, "For the mind set on the flesh [on worldly things, on the pleasures of this world, on the self-centred life] is death, but the mind set on the Spirit [on the will of God, on righteous and holy matters] is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh [acting worldly, yielding to the pleasures of the flesh] cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him." Hence, it does not matter about the intensity or the fervency of your profession of faith; it does not matter about the sincerity of your commitment or allegiance to Christ. If you do not have the Spirit, you do not belong to Christ; it is the seal of the Spirit which marks you out as His special possession.

This past week I was talking to a small group of people concerning televangelists. I know that some televangelists are being faithful to the gospel, endeavouring to clearly set forth the glory of Christ and to invite people to a saving knowledge of Him; and yet I suspect that there are televangelists who should be identified as false prophets. They are out to milk God's people for everything they are worth. The book of Jude indicates to us that these false prophets, and false teachers, who apparently profess some kind of faith in Christ, do not have of the Spirit. We read, "For certain persons have crept in [to the Church] unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ... These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly minded, devoid of the Spirit" (vss. 4,19). It is possible to be part of the body of Christ and to be identified with the people of God, and yet to be devoid of the Spirit. But if you have the Spirit, you are sealed in Christ.

The seal of the Spirit entails assurance of salvation

If you are a true believer, you are sealed in Him. Be encouraged! The sealing of the Spirit provides you with a spiritual authenticity; again, there is the guarantee that you belong to Christ and that Christ belongs to you. You have the assurance of salvation. This truth of spiritual assurance certainly relates to the truth of eternal security. The true child of God is truly saved and thus he or she will never fall away from the faith. That is what the seal implies, and that should give us confidence and hope. So, we read, "And do not grieve the Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption" (Eph. 4:30). Though we have difficulty and hardship in this world, though the onslaught of Satan comes, though the storms of life threaten to undo us, the seal of the Spirit guarantees us that we are destined for glory and that we can never lose our salvation; that is the hope of the gospel.

C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) is quoted as having been so sure of his salvation that he said that he could grasp onto a cornstalk, swing over the fires of hell, and look Satan in the face and say, "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine." That ought to be the testimony of every true believer. We are saved, and saved for all eternity, because we are kept unto the day of redemption through the seal of the Spirit. 'No one, no thing, can snatch us out of the Father's hand' (Jn. 10:29). 'Absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus' (Rm. 8:39).

Now, those who believe and do fall away, reveal that they did not have the Spirit in the first place. What the Scriptures would have us to believe is this: there are many professing believers in the Church, but there are fewer true believers. Remember, you can believe and not have the Spirit. Is that not what the apostle John alludes to? He writes, "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us [if they had been of the same spiritual root and stock as we are], they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us. But you [in contrast to them] have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know [the truth]" (1 Jn. 2:19f.). What is John saying here? There are those who had left the fellowship of believers, those who had returned to the world; and they went out because they really did not have the same spiritual origin as John and his company. The difference between them and those who remained, who continued to be faithful, was that they had an anointing, that is, they had the Holy Spirit; and that makes all the difference in the world! These ones who left the Church fellowship demonstrated that they did not have the Spirit.

Now, I am not suggesting that you, as a true believer, will always feel saved; you probably won't. But I am stating that even though you don't feel saved, you should know that you are saved; that is not a contradiction in terms. Maybe this past week, you fell into some sin. Maybe you realized that you were being unfaithful; that you were not being obedient to the Word; that you were not evidencing a good testimony in the work place or at school. You simply let the Lord down. Even though that was the case (and I am not excusing sin), when you turn to the Word of God or when you hear the Word of God preached and the truth presented (as a true child of God), your faith should answer to that truth, and through that faith you should know that you are saved. When faith is confronted with the Word, it should confirm the truth of that Word. So, we read, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hb. 11:1). And so, by faith you should know that you are saved, even though you do not feel it. The knowledge of the assurance of salvation is entailed in the sealing of the Spirit.

The seal of the Spirit has evidences

Maybe you are asking yourself the question, "How do I know if I have the Spirit, especially if one can believe, and yet not have the Spirit. How can I be sure?" Romans 8 provides us with an answer. This chapter provides us with at least three evidences of the Spirit's sealing (or indwelling). First, you know that you are sealed with the Spirit when you have a desire towards, and are engaged in the practice of, progressive sanctification. We read, "So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh [we are not bound to give in to our passions and our desires, our worldly thoughts and ambitions because we have been delivered from the flesh – the principle of sin has been canceled. We are brought into that freedom and grace that are in Christ] – for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die [it is either/or; you are either in the realm of the Spirit or you are in the realm of the flesh; and as a Christian you have been delivered from the realm of the flesh and have been brought into the realm of the Spirit]." (Rm. 8:12f.). To have the Spirit means that there ought to be a change in your life; it ought to be demonstrable that you are a new creation in Christ. So, we read, "But if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God" (Rm. 8:13bf.). You know you have the Spirit if you are waging war against the flesh; if you are engaging in progressive sanctification (i.e., you are concerned about, and advancing in, holiness and righteousness). As a true believer, you must steadily assume the image of Christ. You must deliberately and self-consciously seek to eradicate from your life (by the Spirit's help) every transgression and every form of evil. You cannot have the Spirit and be morally indifferent to sin.

Second, you know that you are sealed with the Spirit when you are sustaining a filial relationship with God the Father. Romans 8:15 reads, "For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit [i.e., the Spirit] of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba, Father.'" The Spirit who is given to believers is the Spirit of adoption, making them children of God. The true believer recognizes and acknowledges God as his or her Father. Do you simply see God as some higher, impersonal power that governs the universe? Do you simply see God as some absolute force of principle through which the world came to be? Or, do you know that this Creator God is your Father; and, accordingly, are you approaching Him as your Father?

The Spirit of adoption reveals himself by crying out through us, 'Abba, Father.' The point is this: If you see God as your Father, you will constantly seek Him and call upon Him. Because He is your Father, you are wholly dependent upon Him; and you will display a disposition of dependency, which means that you will be engaged consistently and constantly in prayer. The language of 'Abba, Father' is the language of prayer. Hence, if you are not praying, and you have no compulsion to pray, you may not have the Spirit.

Third, you know that you are sealed with the Spirit through the inner testimony of the Spirit. We further read, "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God" (Rm. 8:16). If you have the Spirit, there will be an inner testimony provided by the Spirit, confirming in your own heart that you belong to God. To be sure, there is a subjective dimension to our salvation experience. The Spirit actually testifies spiritually that we are the children of God. He convinces us of our spiritual status. That is why I said earlier that the seal of the Spirit entails the assurance of salvation. As the Spirit bears testimony, as He witnesses to our spirits, we know that we are saved. If you do not possess this inner testimony, could it be that you do not have the Spirit?

There is a cute story told of a little boy who was flying a kite one day, and the kite went higher and higher and became lost in the clouds. A stranger came by and asked, "Young man, why are you holding that string?" And the little boy answered, "There is a kite on the other end." The man looked up and said, "I don't see any kite." The little boy responded, "Oh, yes, I know there is a kite there; I know from the tug." So it is with the witness of the Spirit. There are times when you may not see the evidence of the Spirit's presence, but there should be that constant tug in the heart, whereby you know that you are in constant touch with God.

The seal of the Spirit entails the pledge of the Spirit

The seal of the Spirit provides us with the certainty that we are the children of God. Now, because we are the children of God, we are entitled to an inheritance. Again, Ephesians 1:13b,14a reads, "Having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance." The pledge of the Spirit goes hand in hand with the seal of the Spirit. With the seal of the Spirit, there is the certainty that we are the children of God. With the pledge of the Spirit, there is the certainty that the children of God will receive an inheritance. The seal naturally and logically leads to the pledge. Yet, we receive the seal and the pledge simultaneously at conversion. The Spirit not only gives the pledge, the Spirit Himself is the pledge.

What is a pledge? It is a down payment or a first installment. For example, every September my wife and I receive an insurance bill for our cars, somewhere in the neighbourhood of $1,300.00 or $1,400.00. Of course, we cannot afford that amount in one lump sum; and so we have typically arranged with the insurance company to pay in installments. We divide the sum over a period of three months. Now, with the first installment, there is the guarantee that more will follow (it is assumed by way of contractual agreement). But further, with the first installment of a certain amount, it is expected that the subsequent installments will be of the same amount. These two ideas are involved in the Biblical concept of a 'pledge.' It is a first installment guaranteeing that more will come; but also, it guarantees that future installments will be similar in kind to that of the first.

So, when we think of the pledge of the Spirit, we are looking at the 'first installment' of the Spirit's presence and grace, guaranteeing to the believer the future and complete blessings of His presence and grace; as well as guaranteeing that the future and complete blessings will be similar in kind to that of the first (i.e., spiritual). We read that the Spirit "is given as a [first installment] of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession [with a view to that final and eternal glory when we will enter into the fullness of salvation, when we will enter into the liberty of the sons of God], to the praise of His glory" (Eph. 1:14). In other words, we now have the first fruits of the Spirit; but having received those first fruits, we have the guarantee that there will be second fruits, third fruits, etc; if you like, the full harvest.

We now have the pledge of full redemption, particularly that which pertains to the glorification of the body and entrance into the eternal kingdom. We read, "For indeed while we are in this tent [i.e., the physical body], we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now He that prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge" (2 Cor. 5:4f.). Again, the language of pledge must be understood in relationship to the coming glory, the full redemption, particularly involving that of the glorification of our bodies.

So, to have the seal of the Spirit is to have the pledge; and again there is the note of certainty. We are assured that we are going to be glorified; we are assured that if we die we will rise again from the dead; we are guaranteed that the full spiritual harvest will come. If the Lord tarries, you and I will die one day, and we will be buried; and worms will consume our flesh. Yet, we have this assurance as true believers in Christ: one day we shall rise and be changed, and enter into the full inheritance of the Spirit, who now gives us the assurance that this awaits the children of God. So, we live in hope. Are you living in hope? Do you have the seal of the Spirit? Do you have the pledge of the Spirit? If you were to die today, die tonight, die this week, can you say with all confidence, "I know where I am going and I can view death squarely in the eyes and not be afraid, nervous, or upset 'because I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed unto Him against that day.' That is the hope of the Christian and the good news of the gospel.

My non-Christian friend, you have no hope in your natural condition. You have nothing to look forward to. You are afraid of death and though you may not fully realize it, there is something bearing witness in your soul that one day you will stand before the judgement seat of Christ. You will stand before God and you will have to answer to Him – "It is appointed for men [and women] to die and after this comes judgement" (Hb. 9:27). Although you may not realize it, that is why you are afraid of death. Deep down inside at the core of your being, you are afraid of meeting God and receiving His judgement; and you will have no rest or peace until you rest in Him. I want to offer you the gospel freely. Come, believe in Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour and Lord; and in your belief in that truth, you will be sealed by the Spirit unto the day of full and eternal redemption.