Biblical Doctrine: When Are We Sealed By the Holy Spirit?
We learn the truth about assurance especially from three passages, or kinds of passages, of Scripture. The first is those texts that teach the sealing work of the Spirit. Several texts teach that the Spirit seals the believer, including II Corinthians 1:21, 22; Ephesians 1:13, 14; and Ephesians 4:30. Ephesians 1:13, 14 is the most complete teaching, as it is the most important in the controversy over assurance.
In whom [Christ] 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.
The passage teaches that those who believe in Christ, according to God’s eternal predestination, are sealed. Sealing is a work of grace within those who trust in Christ that makes them sure and certain.
The question is, in what sense? Are they sealed objectively, as though God does something in them that guarantees that they will persevere in faith and holiness unto everlasting life? Or, are they sealed subjectively, as though God works in them a conscious certainty that they are saved and shall forever be saved, that is, as though God gives them personal assurance of salvation?
The latter is the meaning: sealing is God’s work in those who trust in Christ of assuring them; sealing is a work of God in their consciousness. That this is the meaning of the sealing is evident from the fact that sealing in the text follows hearing the word and believing in Christ, which are conscious spiritual activities.
Besides, Scripture knows of no special work of God following our believing that uniquely establishes that we will persevere in faith and holiness unto eternal life. Our salvation is objectively sure in God’s eternal purpose of election: “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his” (II Tim. 2:19). With regard to the permanency of the work of grace in us, this is certain already in regeneration, which precedes our hearing the word and believing. If God begins the work of salvation in one, He will finish and perfect it. There simply is no need or place for a work of grace following our believing that guarantees that God will not abandon the work of salvation He has begun. What follows hearing and believing is assurance of salvation in the soul of the one who hears and believes.
Not only is the Spirit the one who accomplishes the sealing, but He Himself is the seal in one who hears and believes. The Authorized Version’s translation of Ephesians 1:13 correctly gives the sense of the text: “with that holy Spirit of promise.” That the Spirit Himself is the seal is indicated by the related statement that immediately follows: “which [the Holy Spirit] is the earnest of our inheritance” (v. 14). This is confirmed by Ephesians 4:30, the literal translation of which text is, ‘in whom [the Holy Spirit of God] ye were sealed.’ The sphere in which the sealing took place was the Holy Spirit Himself.
The Spirit Himself in the one who hears the word of God and believes in Christ is the assurance of salvation to the believer, just as the presence of the loving mother holding her child in her arms is the assurance to the child that she is the beloved child of that mother.
How mistaken, how impossible, the doctrine that the Spirit dwells in many, if not most, of the children of God, while they go on, year after year, lacking the sealing, that is, assurance of salvation! As though it is possible, indeed normal, that people have the Comforter, but no comfort!
– David J. Englesma