Jan 14, 2013

Sealed by the Spirit

"Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts." (II Cor. 1: 21, 22)

There are four things that the apostle says that God was doing, or had done, to the Corinthian believers.  They are anointing, sealing, pledging, and stablishing

He first mentions the stablishing of believers.  That work was still going on in the life of those believers, for it is in the present tense.  The Greek word for "stablisheth" means "confirmation of a bargain."  Paul is looking at the salvation of the believer under the typology of contracts and covenants.  God has made a promise and given a pledge. 

"Stablish" is also translated "confirm."  To confirm something means "to support or establish the certainty or validity of; verify."  And the word "establish" means "to place or settle in a secure position or condition," to "install."  It also means "to make firm or secure."  It also means "to introduce and put into force," and "to prove the validity or truth of something."  It literally means to "certify." 

Paul pictures God as continuously confirming his covenant with believers.  So we read in Dan. 9: 27 - "he shall confirm the covenant."  "Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto...And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect."  (Gal. 3: 15, 17)

"...the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ."  (I Cor. 1: 6-8)

The way the Lord confirms believers is by confirming the testimony in them.  Now, the word confirmed, bebaioō in Greek, is the same word translated "stablish" and is a legal term used in a courtroom context. It means to authenticate, or to make reliable, to clearly show that something is true, to put beyond doubt or dispute.  It involves the providing of a guarantee, a certifying.  Making an oath is one way that a thing may be established in law.  Wrote Paul:

"For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us."  (Heb. 6: 16-18)

God made promise to believers before the world began but he also confirms his promise when he saves them.  And, to confirm that promise, he swears to them, makes an oath to them.  Salvation involves a legal transaction.  God enters into covenant or makes a deal with us based upon the work of Christ.  How the Lord confirms his promises to the believer is by the witness of his word and Spirit in their hearts and consciences.  Paul says that the purpose of God's oath, of his confirming and establishing of believers, is to "put an end to all strife," to put an end to all doubt and uncertainty, to all conflict.

The stablishing or confirming of the believer, which results from God's anointing and sealing the believer, has for its purpose the removing of doubt, and removing legal objections, and also for giving a "strong consolation" and "refuge," or place of safety, to the believer, for strengthening hope and expectation.   

This work of confirming and establishing the believer is an ongoing work in the lives of believers. Not only does Paul say that God is presently stablishing believers but says that this is the result of his having previously "anointed" the believer.  This anointing takes place when one is saved, born again, or regenerated.   John wrote of this when he wrote:

"But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things."  (I John 2: 20)

"But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him."  (vs. 27)

The word unction means to anoint, a ceremony for consecrating one into office, such as priests and kings experienced when being inaugurated.  In the Old Testament this anointing was done with oil and oil is a symbol for the Holy Spirit.  This oil was mixed with spices, spices which are symbols of the gifts and graces of God.  We read of how God "anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power."  Further, to be anointed implies a prior choice.  God anoints those who he chooses.  Thus, we read in scripture of king Cyrus who was anointed and chosen by God for performing a mission service for the Lord.  (Isa. 45: 1)  But, not only are people anointed, but so are things.  Thus, in scripture we read of monuments being anointed and of God anointing the most holy place. 

This anointing or unction signifies that the believer is gifted with the indwelling Spirit of God and is what brings saving faith and understanding.  It is the reason why believers "know all things."  Not, that they literally know everything, but they know the reason or purpose of all things, which is the glory of God through Christ.  God's people are priests and kings and as such they are anointed.

Paul says that this anointing or giving of the Spirit is an "earnest," a downpayment or pledge, a way of gauranteeing the fulfillment of his promise and contractual obligations.  By the use of the word "earnest" there is allusion to real estate or mercantile agreements. 

Are the words stablish, anoint, and pledge somehow connected?  God anointed us with the oil of the Spirit and in doing so gave us a pledge of a future inheritance.  Are these terms not all related to the idea of a covenant or contract, to a legal transaction?  Lawyers speak of legal establishment, or to establish something in law.  The anointing and pledging were the means for the stablishing.  But, not only is the legal nature of the work of salvation in a believer demonstrated by the terms anointing, pledging, and stablishing, but also by the word "sealed."

Legal documents are always affixed with a seal.  In deeds the word "seal" is now placed beside the line where one puts his signature.  Sealing is not restricted to legal transactions, but they are an integral part of them.  Certainly justification is a strictly legal term and Paul no doubt has justification in mind when he speaks of the believer being established in law.  When the Lord saves his people he at the same time justifies them and makes promises to them, and enters into covenant with them.  He makes an oath to them.  And this oath and promise has God's own seal affixed to it.  Redemption is also a legal term.  Before we talk more fully about this sealing, let us notice a couple other passages where Paul speaks of this divine sealing.  Further, even the idea of anointing cannot be divorced from a legal context seeing that installing men in governmental office is a legal ceremony. 

"And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption." (Eph. 4: 30)

Paul says that this sealing is with a view to "the day of redemption."  Redemption is a mercantile term and literally means to buy back, or to repurchase.  Pawn shops may well be called "redemption houses."  You go to a pawn shop and you exchange goods for money but with a "right of redemption," that is, with a right to buy it back at a certain specified period of time upon specified conditions.  In Israel God had instituted laws concerning redemption.  We read in scripture of the "right of redemption." 

"Behold, Hanameel the son of Shallum thine uncle shall come unto thee saying, Buy thee my field that is in Anathoth: for the right of redemption is thine to buy it."  (Jer. 32: 7)

If I hock my watch at a pawn shop, not just anyone can come and redeem it.  Only I can do that or only the one who has the pawn ticket can do so.  The one who is designated as having the "right" to redeem my watch is the Redeemer. 

In both I Cor. 1 and Eph. 4 sealing is connected with redemption, and with receiving the earnest or pledge of the promised inheritance. 

"And I subscribed the evidence, and sealed it, and took witnesses, and weighed him the money in the balances." (Jer. 32: 10)

Notice also these words:

"In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory."  (Eph. 1: 13, 14)

What is meant by the Ephesian believers being "sealed with that holy Spirit of promise"? The answer to this question can only come by 1) looking for information in the context that would help one to understand what Paul has in mind by the term, and 2) looking at the general teaching of the scriptures on the nature and purpose of "seals" and "signets." 

"sphragis" (seal)
"sphragizō" (sealed) - to set a seal upon, mark with a seal, to seal

When we speak of God's confirming or stablishing of believers as a result of his anointing and sealing of believers we think of these words of the Lord to his covenant people in Isaiah 10: 27.

"And it shall come to pass in that day, that his burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing." 

Because of the anointing God lifts the burdens and delivers from slavery.  Because of God's anointing, which is the result of his choice, God's people are established in liberty.

Believers are marked with the signet of God. A signet is a seal or personal mark of indentification. Cattle ranchers call their seals "brands." Each cattle owner had his own brand, his own symbol, his own mark, his own seal. Kings often wore their seals on rings and would use them for sealing documents.  Throughout the O.T. we read of "the engravings of a signet."

Letters and documents are sealed.  Regeneration is described as being the work of God in writing a letter on the heart of believers.

"But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people."  (Jer. 31: 33)

God says that he will write his covenant in the hearts of his people.  Paul also speaks of this.

"Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart."  (II Cor. 3: 3)

To this writing upon the heart God affixes his seal.  He attests the writing.  Confirms it.  Authenticates and certifies it.  All agreements in Israel were to be attested by a signature and a seal.  This is true of redemption and marriage agreements.  When believers enter into a marriage covenant with the Lord, the covenant is written in the heart and sealed with the signature of the Lord.

Is this "sealing" progressive and linear, or, like regeneration, an instantaneous once for all action? Is this sealing a part of regeneration or an experience that comes after regeneration has been completed?

In Eph. 1: 14 -  "Ye were sealed" - First aorist passive indicative of spragizw, old verb, to set a seal on one as a mark or stamp.  "After you heard" is from a Greek aorist participle. akouō = heard.

Since the main verb “you were sealed” (esphragisthēte) is the aorist passive of sphragizō (“to seal”), we should understand that the sealing is simultaneous with the hearing and believing.

Both the ESV and the NRSV translate this “when” not “after.” Therefore, the sealing of the believer by the Holy Spirit occurs simultaneously with hearing the gospel and believing.

When the bridegroom in the Song of Solomon expresses to his beloved his desire that she give her love to him alone, he uses the figure of a seal of ownership. He asks that she put him “like a seal over your heart, Like a seal on your arm” (Song 8:6 NASB). He mentions love and jealousy as the reason for his request. She is to be sealed exclusively to him. Thus, sealing serves the purpose of confirming ownership.


Sealing also refers to the protection of property in the Scriptures. Sealing protects items from tampering, and makes them safe and secure.

"So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch."  (Matt. 27: 66)

When the Lord saves his people and the Spirit takes possession of them, he seals their hearts and sets a watch upon their souls.

"And a stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords; that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel."  (Dan. 6: 17)

"And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season."  (Rev. 20: 3)

"He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes; Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm."  (Psa. 105: 14, 15)

AUTHENTICATION & Certification

The seal also serves as proof of identity. It is put with a signature or in place of it in letters, agreements and private or public instructions. As such, circumcision, as a seal, authenticates, certifies, and attests to the veracity of the inward faith that Abraham possessed and believers possess (Rom 4:11). 

The image of sealing also refers to God’s approval (John 3:33; 6:27; 1 Cor. 9:2). Thus we speak of a product or document having a "Seal of approval."

"Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his." (II Tim. 2: 19)

"He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true." (John 3: 33)


Since seals served as proof of identity and ownership, they also convey the authorization of the seal owner. This custom is well attested in Scripture.  Therefore, sealing also conveys the authority of the owner of the seal.

Goods were sealed as a guarantee indicating not only ownership but also the correctness of the contents.

In the Hellenistic world, a man’s seal, a carved insignia pressed in wax, had legal significance. Stamped on possessions the seal indicated ownership and served as a ward against theft. On a document, the seal authenticated the message it contained, and symbolized the full authority of the person who sent it. Further, a sealed document could be opened only by the one to whom it was addressed.

"Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples."  (Isa. 8: 16)

"He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true." (John 3: 33)

Authenticate it.  Confirm it.  Certify it.  Attest to it.  Impress it upon my disciples. 

"Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed."  (John 6: 27)

Making Impression

Seals make impressions on the paper and God's seal makes an impression upon the heart of the believer.

Misc. Verses and What They Show

"...the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed." (John 6: 27)

"...the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord." (I Cor. 9: 2)

With what has been discovered about the nature and purpose of sealing in Scripture, it is much easier to see all that is involved in such verses.


Salvation is having the image of Christ stamped upon the heart, soul, and mind.

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