In John 10, Jesus emphasizes that it is both God the Son (v28) and God the Father (v29) keeping us safe. God the Holy Spirit is also involved in our eternal security. In Ephesians 1:13, Paul tells us we “were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (ESV). It was the Lord Jesus who promised the coming of the Spirit (John 15:26; 16:7). Paul says we received the Spirit as a seal “when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him … .” God seals believers with none other than Himself! Why does He do this, and what is the purpose of such a seal?
Seals in New Testament times served at least three purposes, all of which can be applied to a believer in the Lord Jesus being sealed with the Holy Spirit.
A Seal Identified the Owner
God’s seal upon a believer is similar to a brand mark on cattle or a dye mark on sheep in the sense that these marks identify the owner. Christians are God’s property. We have been purchased by His Son (1Cor 6:20) and sealed by His Spirit, marking us out as His. This appears to be the emphasis in Ephesians 1:13-14 where the “purchased possession” refers to God’s people (i.e., those whom He has sealed). We will never become anyone else’s property. Paul makes this clear when he states that this seal of ownership lasts “unto the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30). There is no indication in these texts that His seal upon us can be removed. We are His and His forever.
A Seal Guaranteed Protection
The most common purpose of seals in Scripture was to give protection or security. The den of lions into which Daniel was cast had a seal upon it (Dan 6:17) to protect it from tampering, as did the tomb of our Lord Jesus for the same reason (Matt 27:66). Documents were sealed (as in Rev 5-6) to protect their contents from being altered. Today we seal jars to protect the food they contain. We seal envelopes and packages to keep out anyone but the addressee. We seal basement walls to keep out moisture. Our doors and windows are sealed to protect from wind and rain.
The seal of the Holy Spirit provides spiritual protection for the believer. We see an example of God giving a physical seal to provide physical protection in Revelation 7. A group of 144,000 Jewish believers are sealed with a mark upon their foreheads as they go into the Tribulation period. These believers will witness the most awful catastrophes, marked by more bloodshed than in any other period of human history (Dan 12:1; Matt 24:21). Comparing the judgment of the 4th seal (Rev 6:8), where ¼ of the population perishes, with the judgment of the sixth trumpet (Rev 9:14-15), where ⅓ is slain, means that at least ½ of the world’s population will have been destroyed at that point. This doesn’t even include the seven bowl judgments which occur later in the Tribulation (Rev 16) and appear to be even more severe. Yet none of the 144,000 sealed believers die. When the seven-year Tribulation period concludes, all 144,000 of them are seen standing on the literal Mount Zion with Christ the King (Rev 14:1-5). Not one of them was killed. Not one was lost. Not even the antichrist himself was able to take them down. God’s physical seal provided physical safety through the entire period. Again, there is no indication that this seal could ever be removed. Obviously, it was not removed, for all of them still have the seal when the Tribulation concludes (Rev 14:1).
The seal God has placed upon us is not physical, but spiritual. We have not been given a physical mark upon our foreheads, but we have been sealed with God’s Spirit in order to spiritually preserve us. Just as God’s seal upon the 144,000 physically protected them from evil forces seeking to destroy them, so God’s seal of His Spirit preserves us from spiritual forces seeking to destroy us. Our “life is hid with Christ in God” (Col 3:3).
A Seal Proved Authenticity
A further purpose of seals in New Testament times was to show something as genuine. In order to avoid forgery, documents in the first century were “sealed” with a signet ring, pushing its unique imprint into soft clay which would later harden. With this seal upon it, the document was considered to be authentically “signed.” Today, we place our ink signatures on important documents, making them official and giving them validity. The New Testament uses the word “seal” to indicate authenticity in John 3:33 and 1 Corinthians 9:2.
As believers sealed with the Holy Spirit, God’s mark of authenticity is upon us. People should be able to conclude by our behavior that we genuinely belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. Every Christian has the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9) and every Christian will give evidence of divine life (1John 3:10; 5:18). This is not to say that every Christian is perfect. The great blessing of our eternal security in Christ should never be an excuse to sin or to live as we please. If someone claims to be a believer in the Lord Jesus, yet gives zero evidence of it, that claim is invalid and the person is not a genuine believer. Paul said, “‘The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity” (2Tim 2:19, ESV).
John Baptiste Calkin (1827-1905) is most known for composing the music to “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” But a lesser known accomplishment is this hymn that he wrote which summarizes our subject like this:
The Holy Spirit is the seal,
The foretaste, earnest, and the pledge.
He designates us as God’s own
And guarantees our heritage.
‘Twas after we believed in Christ,
The Word of Truth, the gospel, heard,
The Holy Spirit us did seal
To show that we belong to God.
This Spirit as the living seal,
To us God’s image now imparts;
Conforming us unto the Son,
He stamps His image in our hearts.
Let us rejoice that we are sealed … sanctified … and safe.