(From a message preached at Faith Bible Church, Pastor Kurth’s home church in Steger, Illinois)
“And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30).
What does it mean to be “sealed” by the Spirit, and how secure does this seal make us? Words mean things, and we are not allowed to ascribe arbitrary meanings to Bible words. But a careful study of the Bible use of this word “seal” will develop it’s meaning for us and fortify our faith.
In Esther 8:8, the king of Persia ordered that a decree be issued, and commanded: “seal it with the king’s ring.” When the king’s ring was pressed against the hot wax that sealed a document in those days, the sealed scroll then bore an imprint that identified it with the king. Similarly, when you and I were baptized into Christ the moment we believed the gospel, we were identified with Christ, and to this day we bear the unseen imprint of the Holy Spirit. And while I like to identify with our Chicago sports teams only until they start losing, how good to know that God remains identified with us even when we grieve Him!
Esther 8:8 also teaches us that a decree sealed with the king’s ring “may no man reverse!” Not even the king himself could overturn an order sealed with his ring. How reassuring to know that no matter how we grieve His Spirit, God Himself cannot reverse the eternal destiny of a believer that bears His seal. When Daniel was tossed into the lion’s den, the king sealed the den with his own signet “that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel” (Dan. 6:17).
Moving on in our study of the seal, we see that Job enjoyed absolute confidence in his security (Job 19:25-27) because he knew that his sin was “sealed up in a bag” (14:17). He knew that no one could break the seal of God and release his sin. But how much more secure should we feel! Christ has done more than seal our sins in a bag, He has “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb. 9:26) and sealed us with His Spirit!
Next in our study of the seal, Jeremiah 32:9,10 tells us that Jeremiah bought some land and “sealed” the deed, here called “the evidence of the purchase” (v. 11). Well does this writer remember as a young boy sending away for prizes advertised on the back of cereal boxes. The prizes were “free,” but required two or three “proof of purchase” seals found on each box of cereal. That’s what the Spirit is for us, proof that our pardon has been purchased by the blood of Christ, “evidence” that could be presented were we ever to be called to stand before God’s bar of justice.
Just as there were “witnesses” (v. 10) to Jeremiah’s purchase, we know that there were angelic witnesses to the purchase of our redemption, holy ones who watched in wonder as the Son of God purchased our redemption on Calvary, then rejoiced when we believed the gospel (Luke 15:10) and sealed the deal.
The evidence of purchase in Jeremiah’s day came in two parts, “both that which was sealed according to the law and custom, and that which was open” (v. 11), an open deed left available for examination in the event of land disputes, and a sealed deed kept safe for security purposes. These deeds were identical. We know that criminal embezzlers often keep two different sets of books—one to show the authorities, and one that accurately reflects their wrongdoing! But Jeremiah’s land deeds were the same, “both that which was sealed…and that which was open,” reminding us that, while our Spirit seal is invisible (since “your life is hid with Christ in God”—Col. 3:3), our public lives should read the same as our title deed, for our open seal is “known and read of all men” (II Cor. 3:2,3). The Apostle Paul put it this way:
“Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this SEAL, The Lord knoweth them that are His. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (II Tim. 2:19).
Jeremiah’s land deeds were placed “in an earthen vessel” for safekeeping (Jer. 32:14). Likewise, God placed the proof of our purchase within us, within these jars of clay that make up our physical bodies (Gen. 2:7; II Cor. 4:7). Wouldn’t Jeremiah’s deeds have been safer in the temple? Well, which lasted longer, Israel’s temple or the Dead Sea Scrolls found recently after nearly two thousand years—in earthen vessels! God knows precisely what He is doing when He leaves your seal in the earthen vessel of your physical body, for it is secured by the power of His almighty arm.
Jeremiah was told to place his deed in an earthen vessel, “that they may continue many days” (Jer. 32:14). How many days? Well, Israel was about to be overrun by Babylon, meaning that even though Jeremiah held the deed to the land, the property would be out of his control for seventy years. When Jeremiah questioned the Lord about the wisdom of His command to buy the land (v. 24,25), the Lord assured him that the captivity would someday end, and the land would no longer be out of his control (v. 44). How this reminds us that when the Lord Jesus redeemed us, He knew that even though He would hold the deed to our hearts, we would be out of His control for about seventy years (Ps. 90:10). Thankfully He, like Jeremiah, went ahead and made the purchase anyway!
We learn more about the Bible meaning of the word “seal” in Ezekiel 28:12, where it is said of Lucifer, “Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty.” Here we learn that something that is sealed is perfect and complete. Not a single thing could be added to Lucifer to make him wiser or more beautiful. Similarly, God has not needed to add a single star since the original creation, since in the beginning He “sealeth up the stars” (Job 9:7). And wonder of wonders, not a single thing needs to be added to believers today who are sealed with the Spirit, for we are “complete in Him” (Col. 2:10).
In Jeremiah’s day, both the seller and the buyer of land had to affix their seal to the deed to testify to the transaction. But what about the transaction of our redemption? John 3:33 says:
“He that hath received His testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.”
How does a man “set to his seal” that God is true? Simply by receiving His testimony and believing on Christ (v. 36).
And speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, John 6:27 says, “Him hath God the Father sealed.” To what could John be referring to but our Lord’s experience at His baptism when “the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon Him” (Luke 3:22). If this be the case, the conclusion we can draw from this is almost too precious to believe. If the “seal” with which God the Father sealed our Savior is the Holy Spirit, then you and I are sealed with the same seal with which the Lord Jesus Christ was sealed. If that doesn’t make you feel secure, I’m not sure what will!
But why would the Lord need such a secure seal? Perhaps in some sense this would enable Him in His humanity to bear the awful load of sin that was placed upon Him at Calvary. If this be so, we have further proof that we need never fear the loss of salvation due to our sin. If all the sins of all the world were not sufficient to break His seal of the Spirit, then surely your comparatively small load of sin will never avail to break your seal of the Spirit.
Romans 4:11 teaches us that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised.” Abraham’s seal was a wonderful illustration of our own in two blessed ways. First, circumcision was irreversible, re-inforcing our conviction that our seal is likewise permanent and irrevocable. Second, Abraham’s seal went with him wherever he went. I’d forget my head if it weren’t attached to my shoulders! And just as sure as getting pulled over by a policeman the day you forget your wallet, you know you’d die the day you forgot your seal, if it was something you had to remember. Bless God, it isn’t!
In Revelation 7:1,2, John describes how in the coming Tribulation four angels will be given power “to hurt the earth and the sea.” But before they can act, they are told, “Hurt not the earth….till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads” (v. 3). Imagine how secure those believers will feel with the visible seal of the Lord “written in their foreheads” (Rev. 14:1). Many believers today refuse to believe in their seal because they cannot see it, but I don’t know of any believer today who refuses to breathe the air because he cannot see it. Believers today can and should enjoy the same assurance as these 144,000 (v. 4), for while our seal is not visible, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (II Cor. 5:7). Our spiritual seal is just as real as their visible one, just as our spiritual circumcision and our spiritual baptism (Col. 2:10-12) are just as real as Israel’s visible circumcision and baptism.
These 144,000 sealed ones offer us dynamic proof of the security of our seal. Revelation 12 describes how in the middle of the Tribulation they are “caught up unto God, and to His throne” (v. 5). We see them next standing with the Lamb in the heavenly Mount Sion (Rev. 14:1), “redeemed from the earth” (v. 3), just as we will be someday (Rom. 8:23; 13:11), and they haven’t lost a single sealed one! They still number 144,000! Likewise, at the Rapture, the Lord will not misplace a single sealed member of “the church which is His body.” Talk about “signed, sealed and delivered!”
Sometimes the doctrine of the eternal security of the believer is challenged with the notion that while our seal renders us safe from external dangers such as Satan and his host, God’s seal of the Spirit cannot protect us from within, from ourselves. An alligator’s powerful jaws can exert 3,000 pounds of pressure per square inch when closing, but once closed can be held shut with a man’s bare hands. It is argued by some that God’s seal works the same way, protecting us mightily from without, but helpless to keep us sealed should we sin too much from within.
Obviously, our Lord’s seal in John 6:27 was designed to protect Him from external dangers, for there was certainly no danger that He would sin from within and break the seal. So what assurance do we have in Scripture that God’s seal cannot be broken from the inside out? Surely this is powerfully answered in Revelation 20, where we are told that during the millennial kingdom God will take the devil and “shut him up and set a seal upon him” (v. 1-3). Imagine Satan’s frustration when after a lifetime of failing to break the seal of individual believers from without, he finds himself sealed up and helpless to break the seal from within! My dear Christian friend, if even the devil with his awesome power of evil can’t break God’s seal from within, what makes you think you can with your comparatively puny power of evil? In a great type of Christ, Noah was told to seal the ark “within and without with pitch” (Gen. 6:14). Once “the Lord shut him in” (Gen. 7:16), no water was going to get in, and no one was going to get out until it came time for God to break the seal and release the sojourners into the new world.
Will God ever break our seal? Not until it is time to usher us sojourners into our new world! We have a dramatic picture of this in Romans 15:26, where Paul talks about the collection that he had taken among the Gentile churches “for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.” Whilst this money was in Paul’s hands, it was sealed and absolutely safe and secure. Even though Paul was “in prisons more frequent” than just about anyone (II Cor. 11:23), and bribing your way out of prison was commonplace in that day (Acts 24:26), you wouldn’t catch Paul missappropriating funds for his own personal use to save his life! Speaking then of his plan to deliver this money personally to Jerusalem, he tells the Romans in Verse 28:
“When therefore I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain.”
Paul determined to make sure that the transfer of this sizeable collection was sealed air-tight to the possession of the people for whom it was taken. What a lesson for all those who handle the Lord’s money today! And what a picture of the sacred transfer that will take place at the Rapture! We have seen in this study that the seal of the believer in this life goes infinitely beyond what the world calls “hermetic,” but what happens when it comes time for us to be ushered into the new world? Ah remember, Paul says that you and I are “sealed unto the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30), that is, “the redemption of our body” at the Rapture (Rom. 8:23). There will be no last minute fumble when the Body of Christ is joined to the host of heaven, for the Lord Jesus Himself will have “sealed to them this fruit,” this fruit of the church which is His Body. Just as our nation’s space shuttle remains sealed until it docks with the space station, even so the individual believer today will remain sealed unto our rendezvous with eternity.
The very honor of God is at stake in this matter of the security of our seal. II Corinthians 1:20 says that “all the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.” What are some of these unconditional promises that we have in Christ? Well, Verse 22 speaks of God….
“Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.”
If God’s promise were broken and sealed believers were somehow lost, God would get no glory “by us.” Indeed, the loss of a single Spirit-sealed saint would be a thrust at His integrity, for the soundness of the believer’s seal depends not on his works but on the solemn promise of God. We know this is so because Paul does not make mention of the Spirit’s seal exclusively to the spiritual Ephesians, but here includes the carnal Corinthians when speaking of this precious blessing. Thus we know that the most backslidden believer need never fear that he has sinned too deeply, broken his seal, and endangered his soul.
This is why we must be careful to “grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” When God’s Spirit was “grieved” at man before the Flood, God vowed to “destroy” man from the face of the earth (Gen. 6:6,7). When Israel “grieved” the Lord for forty years in the wilderness, God swore in His wrath that that generation would not enter the Promised Land (Ps. 95:10,11). But, when you as a believer grieve Him at His heart, your seal remains intact as the Spirit just stands there and takes it, choosing to respond with grace, not wrath. How it behooves each blood-bought believer to tremble at the thought of presuming upon such grace.
Imagine a Christian Secret Service agent, assigned to protect a president that continually took the Lord’s name in vain. This president knows that his speech grieves the agent, but he could care less! Until one day the agent saves his life! Surely now he will amend his speech! But no, he continues to blaspheme and the agent, though grieved, continues to keep him safe. Before you holler, “What an ingrate!”, remember that when you sin against the Spirit that saved you and keeps you sealed, you have more in common with this ungrateful president than you would care to admit.
What is it specifically that grieves the Lord? Well, if Paul had warned us not to grieve “the Lonely Spirit,” we would know not to ignore Him and make Him to feel left out. If Paul had cautioned us not to grieve “the Shy Spirit,” we might grieve Him by showering Him with the same attention as our Pentecostal friends! But it is “the Holy Spirit” that Paul tells us not to grieve, and His name says it all! It is the ungodly and unholy behavior of the context (Eph. 4:25-31) that grieves Him at His heart. Thus may each of us determine in our hearts to “grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.”