SEALFour successful and wealthy brothers met for dinner one evening and began discussing the extravagant gifts they had given their elderly mother for Christmas. The first said, “I built her a big house.” The second said, “I installed a movie theater in her house.” The third said, “I bought her a new Mercedes.” And the fourth said, “Since mom loved reading the Bible and she can’t read anymore due to her poor eyesight, I reached out to this preacher who told me about a parrot that can recite the entire Bible. It took 20 preachers 12 years to teach him, and all mom has to do is name the chapter and verse and the parrot will recite it.” The other brothers were impressed, and asked, “How much did that cost you?” He said, “I had to agree to contribute $100,000 a year for 20 years to the church, but it was worth it.”

Shortly thereafter, their mother sent out her thank you notes. She wrote to the first son and said “the house you built is so big. I live in only one room, but I still have to clean the whole house. Regardless, thank you for the house.” To the second she said, “You installed a big, expensive movie theater with surround sound. Unfortunately, I’ve lost my hearing, and I’m nearly blind so I’ll never use it. Thank you for the gesture just the same.” To the third she said, “I am too old to get behind the wheel of the car so I have everything I need delivered. I’ll never use the car but I appreciate what you were trying to do.” To the last she said, “you were the only son to have the good sense to give a little thought to your gift. The chicken was delicious. Thank you.”

This story is a reminder that sometimes we receive gifts we don’t quite understand how to use, and, as a result, we sometimes misuse the gifts we have received. As we continue to examine some of the spiritual blessings with which God “has blessed us in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3), we turn our attention to a gift that goes largely misunderstood and at times misused—the gift that is the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians 1:13-14, Paul indicated that those who are in Christ have been “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.” This verse associates the gift of the Holy Spirit with two primary things.

First, the gift of the Holy Spirit is God’s seal of ownership on believers. Here, in Ephesians 1:13, Paul said that Christians have been “sealed with the…Holy Spirit.” Interestingly, this is not the only time Paul used the metaphor of a “seal” in conjunction with the Holy Spirit. Later in this same letter, Paul instructed the Christians in Ephesus to “not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” because He is the agent “by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). Then, in 2 Corinthians 1:22 Paul said that God “establishes us…and has anointed us” by “put[ting] his seal on us and giv[ing] us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”

In the ancient world, “a seal conveyed authenticity and ownership.”[1] Such a purpose for a seal is evident throughout Scripture. For example, when King Ahasuerus signed Haman’s genocidal plan into law, we are told that “it was written in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed with the king’s signet ring” (Esther 3:12). The king’s seal authenticated the law as coming from himself, and, as a result, demonstrated his ownership of the law. So, when Paul said that God put His seal on us and identified the Holy Spirit as that seal, He was saying that “the Spirit is the seal given to believers to verify that they belong to God.”[2]

Second, the gift of the Holy Spirit is God’s assurance of salvation for believers. Returning to Ephesians 1:14, you will notice that Paul referred to the Holy Spirit as “the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.” Once again, this is not the only time Paul used such a metaphor. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul was addressing the temporal nature of our earthly bodies as well as the internal longing we have for our eternal bodies, and he indicated that God not only “fashioned us for this very purpose” (i.e. to desire our heavenly dwelling) but also “ [gave] us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come [i.e. our heavenly dwelling]” (2 Corinthians 5:5).

Why did Paul use the metaphor of a “guarantee” in reference to the Holy Spirit? The Greek term translated “guarantee” (ESV), “deposit” (NIV), or “pledge” (NASB), is a “financial term referring to a ‘first installment’ or ‘down payment’ paid out as a pledge of faithfulness to a commitment.”[3] We understand deposits and down payments. We make a deposit or down payment on major purchases as a sign of good faith that we will uphold our end of the financial agreement. God is essentially doing the same thing. As one author summarized, “the Spirit given as a pledge is God’s guarantee to us that every promise He has made He will fulfill—the ultimate promise being heaven.”[4] This means that the Holy Spirit, as our “deposit” or “guarantee” or “pledge,” whichever term you prefer, is intended to create confidence in our salvation.

How does one receive the gift of the Holy Spirit? Notice Peter’s instructions on the Day of Pentecost. In Acts 2:38, when the audience asked Peter “what shall we do,” Peter responded with the following instruction: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” In this instruction, Peter indicated that there are two things one receives when he or she “repent[s] and [is] baptized.” First, he or she receives “the forgiveness of…sins,” and, second, he or she “receive[s] the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Thus, Peter identifies the Holy Spirit as a gift we receive in conjunction with the “forgiveness of sins” when we are “baptized…in the name of Jesus Christ.” This means that the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to those who have “put on Christ” by being “baptized” (Galatians 3:27). Therefore, if anyone wants to receive God’s seal of ownership and have confidence in his or her salvation, then her or she must be “buried…with [Christ] by baptism” (Romans 6:4).

[1]Klyne Snodgrass, The NIV Application Commentary: Ephesians(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996): 54.

[2]Klyne Snodgrass, The NIV Application Commentary: Ephesians(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996): 54.

[3]Scott J. Hafeman, The NIV Application Commentary: 2 Corinthians(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000): 86.

[4]Joe D. Jones, The Holy Spirit: A Biblical Study (Searcy, AR: Victory Publications, 1995): 68.