Some Further Reflections on the Nature of the Sealing of the Holy Spirit in Eph. 1:13 and 4:30

The quoted material below comes from my post, Perseverance of the Saints Part 12: Examining Passages Commonly Appealed to by the Advocates of Unconditional Eternal Security.  The bold sections in between these quotes are further reflections and exegetical notes on the quoted material.

In Him, 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….Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (Eph. 1:13, 14; 4:30).

Much has been made of the “sealing” of the Holy Spirit by defenders of unconditional eternal security.  The “sealing” of the Holy Spirit is clearly conditional since we can “grieve” and eventually “insult” the Sprit of Grace, which constitutes total apostasy without remedy (Eph. 4:30, and Heb. 10:29). The Holy Spirit is received by faith (Gal. 3:2, 14) and can only seal us as we remain in Christ through faith. We are, in fact, sealed in Christ, by the Holy Spirit, as a direct result of faith (Eph. 1:13). The sealing of the Holy Spirit presupposes the possession of the Holy Spirit, and only believers can possess the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9).  He is therefore the guarantee of an inheritance for believers and not unbelievers.

This is very important and must be understood in the context of our union with Christ.  Through union with Christ we are “predestined” to adoption and an inheritance as children of God, being “joint heirs” with Christ through faith union with Him (Eph. 1:5, 10-11, cf. Rom. 8:17; Gal. 3:29; 4:7).  This is what is in view when Paul speaks of being sealed “for the day of redemption”.  The Spirit seals us in Christ through Whom alone we can reach our final destination.  But we must not assume that this sealing is permanent or unbreakable (see below).  The text does not say this at all.

There may be a parallel with circumcision which was also a “seal” for those under the old covenant (Rom. 4:11). We know that that seal was broken and guaranteed nothing when those who were circumcised broke the covenant and were cut off from the people of God (Rom. 2:25). The seal was conditioned on continued faith and obedience (2:26-29). The Holy Spirit marks us as children of the new covenant through faith in Christ, but if we abandon the faith then the Spirit of God no longer remains in us and we are no longer sealed in Christ (partakers of the covenant blessings that are found in Him alone- Eph. 1:3, 7, 10,11).  Only those that continue in obedient faith remain sealed [by the indwelling Spirit] (Acts 5:32, Jn. 14:15-17; Rom. 8:5, 6, 9).

Romans 4:11 is devastating for any argument that insists that the use of the word “sealed” in Eph. 4:30 must have reference to an unbreakable and permanent seal; if that were the case then the “seal” (same Greek word) spoken of in Rom. 4:11 must also have been unbreakable and permanent.  But that is clearly not the case.  Instead, the sealing of circumcision was conditional and breakable through unbelief (see Rom. 11:20-23- circumcised Jews are broken off through unbelief, cf. Rom. 2:25-29).  The sealing described in Rom. 4:11 is directly connected to and entirely dependent on continued “faith”.  So it follows that as long as one believes, that person is sealed.  But it does not follow that the sealing guarantees continued faithfulness or the inevitable attainment of a future destiny. 

Notice that the sealing of the Holy Spirit is coupled with a warning not to “grieve” Him in Ephesians 4:30.  This would seem to indicate that there is danger in grieving the Spirit who seals us and the reference to sealing may be for the primary purpose of reminding the Ephesians that to grieve the Spirit is to grieve the one who unites us to Christ.  This makes the warning far more emphatic and cautions the believer to watch how he lives lest the sins which grieve Him lead to unbelief through which the seal is broken and the Spirit is finally “insulted.” The sealing of the Holy Spirit, therefore, applies only as long as we do not “grieve” (Eph. 4:30), and finally “insult” (Heb. 10:29) the “Spirit of Grace” through continued disobedience, culminating in outright apostasy.

This is very significant.  While Calvinists and proponents of eternal security emphasize the “sealing” unto redemption, they tend to overlook the significance of the attached warning of grieving the Holy Spirit.  Paul certainly attached the benefit of being sealed with the warning against grieving the Agent of sealing (the Holy Spirit) for a specific reason.  It is significant that in the Old Testament God speaks of the Israelites who “grieved” His Holy Spirit in their rebellion (Isaiah 63:10).  These Jews were cut off from the promise of entering God’s rest.  In their apostasy, they became God’s enemies,

“But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; therefore, He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them.”

But of the future and faithful generation Isaiah speaks of the Spirit of the Lord guiding His people to the place of “rest” (vs. 14).

In the New Testament the “rest” in view for believers is the eternal rest that all believers will attain on the New Earth and in the New Jerusalem. The writer of Hebrews continually spoke of the eschatological promise for believers of eternal rest, and warned his believing audience not to miss out on this promised rest through hardening their hearts in unbelief, just as the Israelites did who rebelled against God in the wilderness (Heb. 2:1-4; 3:5-4:11; 6:4-8; 10:26-31; 11:13-16; 12:15-25, etc.).

So it seems very likely that Paul had these motifs in mind when writing Eph. 4:30. The Spirit seals believers for the “day of redemption” (the day of final eschatological rest for God’s people).  It is for this reason that believers must be on guard so that they do not grieve the Holy Spirit who seals them to the point of effectively breaking that seal through unbelief, again making themselves enemies of God, and effectively missing the promised rest guaranteed to all believers on the condition of enduring faith.  So when we understand Paul’s purpose in coupling the warning with the promise in Eph. 4:30, we see that the passage does much more to support conditional security than it does unconditional security.

[Therefore], there is no Biblical reason to see the sealing of the Holy Spirit as unconditional or irrevocable, while there are plenty of reasons to see it as conditioned on continued faith. Indeed, warnings against apostasy alone imply the conditionality of the seal.

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9 Responses

  1. Ben,

    Great reflections on an important text in the debate. I like the new stuff you added. You really beefed it up.

    I think something could be said about Ephesians 5:1-11, that could tie into this discussion.

    1 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them. 8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.

    If one is eternally secure, then why command people “do not be partners with them?” Why say “do not be deceived” — deceived about what? Can Christians be self-deceived or deceived by others
    into thinking that one is eternally secure even if they participate in the same sins of the disobedient? What is at stake here? Ones eternal destiny is at risk if we persist in the sins of the disobedient. I think it was Arminian Scholar I. Howard Marshall who said something to this effect concerning passages like this (i.e., 1 Cor 6:9-11; Gal 5:19-21; cf. Rev 21:7-8; 22:14-15) –if believers live like the unbelieving they will eventually become one of them and share in their same destiny.

    Of course, as Paul states,

    12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh– 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

    The same Spirit who is given as a pledge of our inheritance is the same One who enables us to live out this new life in Christ and experience resurrection to life everlasting and inherit the kingdom of God when it comes in all its fulness. Thus, we need to keep on being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18).

    Forgive me Ben for saying stuff you already know. It is hard to believe that Paul is teaching eternal security in Eph 1:13-14, and then, in Eph 4:17-5:11, commanding believers to pursue a holy and loving way of life and also warning them about grieving the Holy Spirit and being deceived about the eternal consequences associated with a lifestyle of sin.

    Thanks for the excellent revised exposition of this text. Are you updating other sections in your series?

    Blessings,
    Steve

  2. Steve,

    Thanks for the great comments and additional insights. I think it is very clear that Paul saw habitual sinning as extremely spiritually dangerous, even for Christians (or perhaps, “especially” for Christians). It really makes no sense for Paul to warn his believing audiences of such things in connection with the wrath of God that will be poured out on those who behave this way, if he did not intend for them steer clear of such behavior for the purpose of avoiding that same wrath.

    I do hope to update and add to various sections when I finally get it into a PDF format, whenever that will be. Basically, I just wanted to give some additional thoughts on the sealing described in Eph. and rather than re-writing much of what was written previously, I just used it as a spring board to make further observations.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  3. Hi Ben,

    I’m been debating with myself about whether I wanted to jump in with a comment (I don’t consider discussions about circumcision my forte)—but I guess I do have at least one question. Is circumcision in the O.T. really analogous to the Spirit’s seal upon the believer? I don’t see how.

    I do realize their shared trait, i.e., that both circumcision and the seal of the Spirit both find their origin in the mind of God. But I don’t see how they both point to belief. For while it IS the case that some who received circumcision were adult believers (e.g., Moses, Abraham)who understood its meaning (whatever that meaning was), the many babies who received circumcision upon the 8th day would have been too young to have understood God and believed. So though I would agree with you that some who received circumcision ultimately did not believe (and so rejected that to which circumcision pertains i.e., the Law, the prophets, the adoption, etc.), including some unbelievers who may at one time have believed, it seems to me that circumcision must stand for something other than a designation of belief. And so I don’t see how circumcision is analogous to the seal of the Spirit in Ephesians 4, since only the latter, not the former, identifies the believer.

    I’m wondering if Arminians hold to the kind of covenental community view of infant baptism that Presbyterians do, in which case I could see why it might be thought that circumcision in the O.T. stood for the idea of babies standing in grace, something which by proxy might be thought to represent belief. I didn’t think Arminians held to such a view, but I’m doublechecking with you. But if not, then I don’t understand why it would be thought that circumcision and the seal of the Spirit are analogous of belief. Again, I understand the idea of why someone might think that both the circumcised and the one sealed by the Spirit rejected the “seal,” so to speak, but unless circumcision stands for present belief, it doesn’t seem that circumcision is really analogous to the sealing of the Spirit.

    I guess if I were pressed, I might say circumcision was a sign of sanctification, that is, a setting apart, something signifying those physical descendents of Abraham whom God entrusted with the Law, the prophets, the adoption, etc. (Romans 9:1ff).

    Anyway, I guess those are my questions: 1) How are the two analogous as regards belief? 2) does Arminianism hold to a similar view as the Presbyterians regarding babies?

    Cordially,

  4. Ben,

    Don’t turn 50! Or have you reached that age but escaped the inevitable memory loss that seems to come with that age, in which e.g., though one writes of Abraham circumcising only his physical descendents, would otherwise have responded correctly, had someone stopped him midstream in his writing to ask whether or not Abraham circumcised all his household, or just his physical descendents? Scary.

  5. Dan,

    I think you misunderstood the points I was trying to make. In Romans 4:11 Paul is primarily speaking of the circumcision of Abraham which Paul equates with, “a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised…” The point was that the sealing was dependent on faith and not the other way around. Paul isn’t really getting into the details of circumcision of children. However, their circumcision marked them as the covenant people of God even from a young age just as the Holy Spirit marks believers as the covenant people of God.

    The difference would be that all of the Israelites were marked as God’s children at a young age while believers are marked only upon faith at which time we are sealed by the Holy Spirit.

    Even so, the seal of circumcision, though initially unconditional for the Israelites (except for the condition of being born an Israelite) was still made ultimately meaningful through remaining in that covenant through faith. If one became unfaithful and was cut off from the people of God, the seal of circumcision availed nothing. So in the OT one became a member of the covenant through natural birth and that covenant status could still be revoked through apostasy later in life (despite the “seal of circumcision”). In the NT one becomes a member of the covenant through spiritual birth conditioned solely on faith at which point one is sealed by the Holy Spirit. Yet, one can be cut off from the covenant people of God through later apostasy (Rom. 11:20-22). So I think the analogy holds though it may not be as tight as you would like. In both cases the sealing marks the covenant people of God and in both cases the seal can be broken through unbelief.

    The other point had reference simply to the nature of sealing. Some suggest that the word itself suggests that the seal cannot be broken. Rom. 4:11 makes it clear that this is not the case especially when we compare it to Rom. 11:16-24. Whatever you want to say about the sealing of circumcision we can conclude that the sealing was not unbreakable since it did not guarantee one’s permanent place in the covenant people of God. Hope that helps.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  6. Oh, and with regards to your #2 question I do not think Arminian belief is incompatible with either view of baptism. I think that most Arminans today hold to adult baptism but Arminius and Wesley held to child baptism.

  7. Ben,

    Thanks for the insights! I have been reading several of your works, and I’ve found them to be very beneficial towards my understanding of Jesus through the biblical framework of Arminianism, a theology of which I am a strong proponent. I’m only 18 years old and have been researching the Cal v. Arm debate for a little over a year now, and every day it seems like I’m learning more and more about God and His divine qualities.

    I just had a quick question about the OSAS debate in general: Whenever I tell my Supralapsarian Calvinist friend that the Bible says it’s possible for a genuine Christian to commit apostasy, he basically fires back, “Well, then you’re basically saying the sacrifice of Jesus wasn’t enough!” How exactly would you respond to such an accusation? This is obviously a blatant straw-man argument, which can rather irk me sometimes. Jesus paid for the sins of the whole world on the Cross (1 John 2:2), but will only save those who believe in Him and continue in the faith (Phil 2:12-13, Cor 1:22-23, Heb 3:14, etc). I would greatly appreciate any advice you might have.

    Thanks, and God bless,
    Kyle

  8. Hello Kyle,

    I would ask, “Not enough for what?” It was certainly enough to do just what God designed it to do, save believers. As the passages you mention well demonstrate, the atonement is a provision available to all, but appropriated through faith in accordance with God’s sovereign choice to apply the provision only on the condition of faith in His Son.

    Your friend is begging the question. He is assuming that God designed and intended the atonement to save unconditionally. But that is an assumption that he must prove in order for his argument to follow. Since the passages that address the scope of the atonement use universal language and also speak of the conditionality of the application, he has a real uphill battle on his hands. He is letting his philosophy dictate his exegesis, rather than allowing his exegesis to dictate his philosophy (notice how he immediately appeals to a philosophical protest).

    I would bring him to the passages that teach that true believers can fall away and challenge him on an exegetical level. If he refuses to engage the exegetical evidence and just appeals to question begging (circular) arguments, then I would point that out to him and try to get him back on track

    Hope that helps.

    God Bless,
    Ben

    BTW, you might also want to point out to him how his position leads to the elect being saved prior to faith since they were supposedly atoned for unconditionally at the cross. If that is the case, then the elect are born with their sins already forgiven (based on the unconditional application of the atonement at the cross), and that certainly contradicts justification by faith.

  9. Alright, I will make sure to keep all that in mind. Thank you very much!

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