When we choose to believe the good news and accept the gift of eternal life that God offers us, it is not just our subjective decision. God himself acts. He marks us three ways – all through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is promise, seal, and down payment – our past, present and future are all covered by the Holy Spirit.
He is seal in the sense that cattle and even slaves in the Roman world were branded to indicate to whom they belonged. We are “sealed” not just in some external way but by the identifying mark of the Holy Spirit living in us and prompting us to live consistently with our identification “in him” (Christ). A further implication of being sealed is being saved from judgment. In both Ezekiel (9: 4 ff.) and Revelation (7: 4 ff.) those who had a seal on their foreheads were spared the destruction mandated by God’s judgment.
The Holy Spirit is also a long-awaited promise. The prophet Joel predicted that before the dreadful day of the Lord, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days (Joel 2: 28-29)
Jesus also promised the Holy Spirit (John 14-16) but it was to Joel’s prophecy that Peter referred when the Holy Spirit came in power on the day of Pentecost. God continues to promise the Spirit to all who receive Jesus by faith. What God promises God delivers.
Finally, the Holy Spirit guarantees our future – the inheritance which we have tasted now but which far exceeds anything we have even thought or imagined. As with a down-payment on a house or car, the initial payment is not just a guarantee, but the first installment toward full “ownership”. In the meantime, we have access to future blessings, but the mortgage will be burned only at our final redemption when Christ returns.
All this comes about when we believe. John Stott says of this passage,
"Let no one say…that the doctrine of election by the sovereign will and mercy of God, mysterious as it is, makes either evangelism or faith unnecessary. The opposite is the case. It is only because of God’s gracious will to save that evangelism has any hope of success and faith becomes possible…the assurance that God is thus active in the lives of his people is given through the Holy Spirit." (The Message of Ephesians, page 48)
Further, the Holy Spirit makes real what otherwise seems only “virtual”. Earlier Paul told us of all the blessings we have in Christ “in the heavenly realms” (1: 3). That can seem pretty remote in practice as we live out our lives here on earth. But Jesus taught us to pray, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. It is the Holy Spirit in us who brings into our experience the reality of what is true in heaven.
The Holy Spirit is God’s power that makes men realize, hear, obey, and enjoy what God has done for them.…For the author of Ephesians, the gift of the Spirit is the evidence of Christ’s resurrection….In works of the Spirit, God is still operating in the midst of history and experience, in the community of men, and In their psyche. (The Broken Wall, Markus Barth, pages 62-64).
What might otherwise seem “pie in the sky by and by” is made real by the Holy Spirit here and now. What a gift for mission is the Holy Spirit!
When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance, until the redemption of those who are Godâs possession â to the praise of his glory.