MLJ Monday – Sealed with the Spirit – Eph 1

Today I begin a new tradition inspired by the Pyro’s Spurgeon on Monday series. I loved what they said about this week’s Spurgeon quote towards the end of their post:

Study any era of revival or the style of any great preacher and you will discover that boldness and clarity were their hallmarks — never qualities like vagueness, ambivalence, hesitation, wavering, apprehension, a cloudy message, fickle opinions, obsessive self-criticism, or any of the other qualities postmodernism falsely equates with “humility.”

You may not like the material I am sharing from Lloyd-Jones today, but you certainly can no more accuse it of being vague and hesitant than you could Mark Driscoll — I am really enjoying some of his sermons right now! Just as an example, in a sermon on boasting in Jesus, after quoting and criticizing two prominent church leaders (without naming them — which I thought was gracious) he said ‘You’re the mail man. Don’t mess with the mail, don’t change the mail. Just deliver the mail!’

So, while you might not like this message, I’m convinced that it is the mail — God’s mail to us — one reason why we are so far away from the kind of Christians, and hence the kind of churches, we ought to be!

‘In whom 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.’ (Ephesians 1:13)

‘I am increasingly persuaded that it is our failure to understand this precise statement that accounts for so much lethargy and failure among us as Christian people at the present time. At least I will go so far as to assert that any Christian who is not experiencing the joy of salvation is in that state very largely because of a failure to realize the truth taught in this particular verse of Scripture, for in it we are brought face to face with the way in which we can enter into the fullness which we should be experiencing in Christ. To ‘rejoice in the Lord’ . . . is an essential part of God’s purpose for us in Christ. Our Lord Himself, at the end of His life on earth, said not only, ‘My peace I give unto you’, but also ‘My joy’ (John 15:11). That is the heritage of a Christian. Christian people should be full of joy and of peace and of happiness . . . but if we feel that we are ineffective as Christians and that our usefulness is not very evident, then I suggest it is . . . [because of] our failure to realize what is meant by God’s sealing of His children by ‘that holy Spirit of Promise’ . . . .

There is no beating around the bush with the Doctor. He has put his finger on the diagnosis — we lack joy because we lack both an understanding of and an experience of the sealing with the Spirit.

‘Sealing is a subject that has caused much controversy. It is not an easy subject, therefore; nevertheless, we must face it . . . .

Let us first take ‘sealing’ in its ordinary meaning . . . a seal is that which authenticates or conveys authority. Two men may draw up an agreement; it may be to sell a house or arrange a business . . . .

Another meaning which attaches to ‘sealing’ is that it is a mark of ownership . . . . It is to indicate that something, whatever it is, belongs to and is the property of the person who has used that particular seal . . . .

Furthermore, a seal is also used for the purpose of security . . . If [the] seal has in any way been broken or marred it is an indication that someone has been tampering with [it] . . . .

Thus we find that there are three main meanings to this term ‘sealing”authenticity and authority, ownership, and security and safety’and these will help us to understand what is meant by our being ‘sealed by that holy Spirit of promise’.

Bishop Westcott sums up very well the meaning of ‘him hath God the Father sealed’ by saying that it means ‘solemnly set apart for the fulfillment of (a) charge, and authenticated by intelligible signs’. The Father had authenticated the Son by intelligible signs’the miracles, the works, the words, everything about Him. Having been given the Spirit in all His fullness He had been ‘sealed’, had been authenticated . . . . In the case of our Lord we are told that a declaration was made saying ‘This is my beloved Son’, and that that was confirmed by His works and His words . . . . He is authenticated as the Son of God and the Savior . . . God’s purpose is to be carried out in Him and through Him. ‘Him hath God the Father sealed.”

If we are to define the sealing or baptism with the Spirit as something that happens at conversion and is imperceptible, then just how does this event function as a seal? If we accept that a seal is intended to be meant in the way the Doctor explains it above, we have to accept that the seal is something that communicates to us. The Spirit MUST be in some way experientially ours and in being ours he must communicate to us that we belong to God.

‘This is . . . helpful as we come to consider the meaning of this term with respect to ourselves. It obviously must mean for us what it meant for the Lord Himself. It means that we can be authenticated, and that it can be established by intelligible signs that we are indeed the children of God . . . .

Now in order to get at the meaning of the this term ‘sealing’ still more clearly, let us consider when it takes place . . . . Does it take place at the same moment as one believes, or is it subsequent to belief? . . . Is this sealing of the Holy Spirit a distinct and separate experience in the Christian life, or is it something that happens inevitably to all who are Christians, so that you cannot be a Christian at all apart from this sealing?

The prevailing common teaching . . . especially in evangelical circles, is that the second alternative is the correct one . . . . But I cannot accept this, and to substantiate my opinion I mention the teaching of the seventeenth-century Puritan, Thomas Goodwin, and to a lesser extent that of his contemporary, John Owen; also the teaching of Charles Simeon of Cambridge two centuries ago, and of Charles Hodge of Princeton, U.S.A., in his commentary on this Epistle in the later nineteenth century. These teachers draw a sharp distinction between believing (the act of faith) and the sealing of the Spirit. They assert that the Scripture teaches that, while it is true to say that no man can believe without the influence of the Holy Spirit, nevertheless this is not the same thing as the sealing with the Spirit, and that sealing with the Spirit does not always happen immediately when a man believes. They teach that there may be a great interval, that it is possible for a person to be a believer and therefore to have the Holy Spirit, and still not know the sealing of the Spirit . . . .

It is generally agreed that the Epistle does not say: ‘In whom also believing ye are sealed with the Holy Spirit.’ The word is in the past tense; it is not ‘as you believed’ or ‘when you believed’ . . . . What makes this so important is that it is assumed that the sealing with the Spirit, or the baptism with the Spirit, is something which every Christian must of necessity have experienced. It is maintained therefore that this is not something that happens in the realm of consciousness or in the realm of experience; it happens to all believers unconsciously. Therefore they are not to seek it. And the result of not seeking it is that they do not experience it; and the result of that is that they live in a state of believe-ism, saying to themselves that they must have had it, and therefore do have it. Thus they continue to live without ever experiencing what was experienced by New Testament Christians . . . .

So I assert that this ‘sealing with the Spirit’ is something subsequent to believing, something additional to believing, and I support my contention by reminding you of certain statements in the Scriptures . . . .’

At this point Lloyd-Jones describes various examples from Scripture, including the 14th chapter of John’s Gospel, where Jesus addresses His disciples and ‘tells them the Holy Spirit is to be given to them as another Comforter because they are God’s people . . . . The distinction is between believers and unbelievers.’ Lloyd-Jones then turns to the Book of Acts where ‘we find that the teaching is still clearer. Our Lord is addressing men on whom He has already ‘breathed’ the Holy Spirit, and to whom He has said, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost’ (John 20:22), yet we read in Acts chapter 1, ‘And being assembled together with them, he commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father . . . . They have already believed in Him fully; He has even breathed the Spirit upon them; yet He says, ‘Wait’ . . . .’

Lloyd-Jones also cites the story of Philip evangelizing the Samaritans in Acts 8. ‘They believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, and Philip was satisfied that they had done so, and therefore baptized them. But in the sixteenth verse we read: ‘for as yet he [the Holy Ghost] was fallen upon none of them, only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.’ Then Peter and John went down from Jerusalem to Samaria and ‘when they were come down they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Ghost, for as yet he was fallen upon none of them, only they were baptized . . . .’

It is interesting to note that although the Magician had seen miraculous healings it is not for the ability to heal that he offered the Apostles money. Instead, he offered to pay them so that they could enable him to also impart the Holy Spirit as they had done. As wrong as he was to ask that, it is of course striking and compels me to believe that the receiving of the Holy Spirit is a potent, vibrant, powerful experience that others can witness and is so remarkable it impressed even the charlatan.

Lloyd-Jones cites the example of Saul of Tarsus which is remarkable. ‘He believed on the Lord Jesus Christ as the result of what happened to him on the road to Damascus; but it was not until three days later that he received, and was filled with the Holy Ghost, as the result of the ministry of Ananias.’

It is vital to note that Ananias sees absolutely no need to preach the gospel to Paul in order to bring him to faith or regeneration- that has happened already. Paul makes it clear in Galatians that he had not received the gospel from a man. But to demonstrate that even the great Apostle is to be a member of a body, and dependent on others it is only through an anonymous believer that Paul receives the Spirit.

Paul’s experience makes a point about the sealing of the Spirit that I believe is critical for us to understand ‘ it is intended to be an initiatory experience- ie there is no requirement for the experience to take place months or years later, it is however distinct from faith and repentance. This is a point that I have made many times over and in particular in my post The Simple Gospel Explained.

There are similar happenings in Acts 15, and again in Acts 19. Lloyd-Jones continues:

‘Paul arrived at Ephesus ‘and finding certain disciples he said unto them’according to the Authorized Version”Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? (v. 2) But the Revised Version and the Revised Standard Version give a translation which reads ‘Did ye receive the Holy Ghost when ye believed?’ There can be no doubt that this latter translation is the correct one. Many feel that that settles the matter and proves that believing and receiving the Holy Spirit are synchronous.

But this does not solve our problem; indeed, I claim that, far from supporting the idea that receiving the Holy Ghost always follows immediately upon believing, this correct translation of Acts 19:2 does the exact opposite . . . .

When the Apostle put his question to these ‘disciples,’ ‘Did you receive the Holy Ghost when you believed?’ the implication surely is obvious. It is that men may believe without receiving the Holy Ghost. If the two things happen together inevitably, it is an unnecessary question, and the Apostle would simply be asking them whether they were believers. But that is not what the Apostle asks them. His question is, ‘Did you receive the Holy Ghost when you believed?’. In other words, when he spoke to these men he saw at once that they had not had the seal of the Spirit, they had not received the Holy Ghost . . . .

The subsequent events in this story about Paul and the ‘disciples’ in Ephesus makes this yet clearer. The Apostle begins to examine them and he asks: ‘Unto what then were ye baptized?’ They say, ‘Unto John’s baptism’. ‘Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus’ (v. 4) Paul would never have baptized them unless they had believed . . . ‘And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came upon them, and they spake with tongues and prophesied’ (v. 6). They had believed, but they still lacked the ‘sealing of the Spirit’ . . . .

‘However, let us make it clear that, though I am emphasizing that there is a distinction between these two things, and that there is always an interval’that sealing does not immediately and automatically happen at believing’I would not be understood as saying that there must always be a long interval between the two. It may be a very short interval, so short as to suggest that the believing and the sealing are simultaneous; but there is always an interval. Believing first, then sealing . . . . It is believing that makes us children of God, that joins us to Christ; it is the sealing with the Holy Ghost that authenticates that fact. Sealing does not make us Christians, but it authenticates the fact, as a seal always does.’

So there you have it. In terms at least of his understanding of the receiving of the Holy Spirit, Lloyd-Jones was as charismatic as they come. I am certainly with him, and surely even if you disagree with his arguments you can feel the weight of them and understand why they could almost inspire an entire movement!

Excerpts in this post have been quoted from:
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, An Exposition of Ephesians 1 – God’s Ultimate Purpose, “Sealed With the Spirit,” Baker Books, October 2003, chapter 21, pp.243-254.

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