Possessed and Possessing

When writing to the saints at Ephesus, Paul referred to the Holy Spirit on several occasions, Eph. 1. 13-14; 2. 18, 22; 3. 5, 16; 4. 3-4, 30; 5. 9, 18; 6. 17-18. This article is concerned with just the first of these references. Paul pointed out that Gentile Christians, “believing, were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (who is the earnest of our inheritance) unto the redemption of the possession”, 1. 13-14 lit.

The Christian is “sealed” by God with His Spirit as an indication, among other things, that he is owned by God. That the Christian has received the Spirit as an “earnest” indicates that he has a glorious inheritance in store for him. The first is the proof that, in the present, he is possessed; the second is the proof that, in the future, he has possessions’.

1. The Seal-Possessed. We are

sealed “with” and “in” the Holy Spirit, 1, 13; 4. 30 lit. Two points should be noted. First, it is not the Holy Spirit who seals. It is God who does the sealing; cf. 2 Cor. 1. 22. Second, it is with the Holy Spirit Himself that we are sealed and not by means of any special act, work or experience of the Spirit.

When are we sealed? The tense of the verb “believing” (misleadingly translated “after that ye believed” in the A.V.) “marks the time when the act of believing first took place”, H. Alford. It indicates that the sealing took place at the point of believing and not on some subsequent occasion. The same tense of the verb occurs also in Acts 19. 2 ("since ye believed”, A. V.) to which the same comments apply. We were sealed with the Spirit the moment we were converted.

The title employed by Paul when referring to the Spirit is interesting. He spoke of “the Holy Spirit of promise”. This signifies “the Holy Spirit who was promised”. God’s promise to bestow His Spirit can be traced back to the Old Testament, Joel 2. 28-29; Ezek. 36. 26-27, and extends through the ministry of John the Baptist, Mark 1. 8, to that of the Lord Himself, John 14. 16-17; 15, 26; 16. 7, 13. The Lord spoke of the Spirit as “the promise of the Father”, Acts 1. 4; cf. 2. 38-39.

The mention of “ye”, Eph. 1. 13, in obvious contrast to the earlier “we”, v. 12, indicates that the apostle had Gentile believers particularly in mind, in contrast to Jewish believers. As Gentiles, we should thank God that, whereas we were altogether outside the range of “the covenants of promise”, 2. 12, we were not outside the range of “the Holy Spirit of promise"!

Many ideas are conveyed in Scripture by the use of the words “seal” and “sealing”. The main emphasis, however, appears to be that of confirmation. A seal (sphragis) often served to attest a fact or claim as true, John 3. 33; Rom. 15. 28. Sometimes it confirmed that a person held a certain office or possessed certain authority, 1 Kings 21. 8; Esther 3. 12; 8. 8; 1 Cor. 9. 2. On occasions, it added the idea of security also, Jer. 32. 10; Dan. 6. 17; Matt. 27. 66.

All objects suitable for sealing could be marked by that means as the property of the owner. The same applied also to cattle and even to men (in particular, to soldiers and slaves). The brand-mark served as a claim to ownership.

When God gives His Holy Spirit to a believer, He marks the believer out as His own inseparable possession. By giving His Spirit to us, God bears “witness” that we are His, Acts 15. 8. “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us”, John wrote, “because he has given to us of his Spirit”, 1 John 4.13. The Spirit within moves us to practise righteousness, to love the brethren and to believe that Jesus is the Christ-the three distinguishing characteristics of those who are born of God, 2. 29; 4. 7; 5. 1. By means of the fruit which He produces in us, Gal. 5. 22-23, the Holy Spirit furnishes one of the grounds of our assurance that we have eternal life.

Concerning Himself, the Lord Jesus said, “him hath God the Father sealed”, John 6. 27. This probably refers to the way in which, through His own witness, together with that of His works, that of John the Baptist and that of the Scriptures, 5. 31-39, the Father had given testimony to the fact that He was His Son. The Lord Jesus, then, was sealed by God the Father as a testimony to who He was; we are sealed by God the Father as a testimony to what we have been made! We are sealed “unto the redemption of the possession”, 1. 14 lit. The point is restated later, “in whom you were sealed unto the day of redemption”, 4. 30 lit. The word translated “unto” in both cases denotes purpose. We have been sealed “for”, “with a view to” the day of redemption. In these verses “redemption” points to something yet future. The same is true of Romans 8. 23; “waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body”. In one sense, our spiritual adoption remains incomplete until it is crowned by the final emancipation of our bodies from all that is sinful. Praise God-we do not wait in vain! Then we, who are God’s possession, will experience the full realization and enjoyment of our redemption. For the description of God’s people today as His “possession” (peripoiesis), see Acts 20. 28; Titus 2. 14; 1 Pet. 2. 9. Compare also Exod. 19. 5; Deut. 7. 6; 14. 2; 26. 18.

2. The Earnest-Possessing. The word translated “earnest” {arrabori) occurs just three times in the New Testament. Each reference is found in the writings of Paul, and in each case the word is used concerning the Holy Spirit, 2 Cor. 1. 22; 5. 5; Eph. 1. 14.

The word was borrowed from the world of commerce, and was very common in business documents and agreements of New Testament days. Its significance would have been readily understood, therefore, by people from mercantile communities such as Corinth and Ephesus. The word indicated the partial payment which was made in advance of the full sum. The “earnest” was the assurance and guarantee that the remainder would be forthcoming at the appointed time. It made an agreement binding.

One quotation from the papyri will be sufficient to illustrate the nature of an “earnest”. Somebody wrote, “concerning … the mouse-catcher, I paid him eight drachmae on your behalf, as an ‘earnest’, that he would catch the mice while they were with young”. The advance payment was made, as a guarantee that the rest would follow in due course, to encourage the mouse-catcher to get on with the job at the most effective time!

The word “earnest” was used also of betrothal gifts which young men gave to their intended brides. W. E. Vine observes that, “In modern Greek arra-bona is an engagement ring".In effect, therefore, the gifts of gold and silver which Abraham’s servant bestowed on Rebecca constituted an “earnest” of the riches of Isaac, which she was shortly to share, Gen. 24. 35, 53.

Another scriptural illustration is found in Numbers 13. When Israel were at Kadesh, the pomegranates, figs and grapes brought from Eshcol were an “earnest”, a sample, of “the fruit of the land”, vv. 20, 26, 27.

The Holy Spirit has been given to the believer as a foretaste of the future glorious inheritance which God has reserved for His saints, Eph. 1. 14. The fact that we are now indwelt by God’s Spirit is the guarantee that, when the Lord comes, we will receive changed, glorious and eternal bodies, 2 Cor. 5. 5. The gift of His Spirit is God’s promise to us of our final and eternal blessedness. Compare the kindred expression, “firstfruits of the Spirit”, which conveys the assurance of a larger harvest to follow, Rom. 8. 23.


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