What is the sealing of the Holy Spirit? What is the filling of the Holy Spirit? How are they different? These are the questions we will answer in this study of Ephesians 1:13. We will also look at a question from a listener about why I changed by beliefs about hell.
A Letter from a Listener
What prompted you to reject the traditional view of eternal conscious torment widely held by Conservative Christianity?
I grew up believing in the traditional view of hell, which is that unregenerate people go to a place of eternal conscious torment where they suffer and burn and scream in agony for all eternity. I attended a Bible College and a Seminary that taught this view as well.
The first step in rejecting this view was in realizing that Jesus fully reveals God to us. Jesus said, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9). Elsewhere in Scripture, we learn that Jesus is the exact representation of God and is the image of the invisible God (John 1:14, 18; 14:9-11; 2 Cor 4:4; Php 2:6; Col 1:15; Heb 1:2-3). See this article here for more.
So here is the question: Was Jesus right? Was Paul right? They said that Jesus fully revealed God to us. That if we want to know what God is like, all we have to do is look at Jesus and what He did and how He behaved during His life here on earth. Is this correct?
I hope you say yes. Jesus was not lying to us.
The ramifications of this are significant. It means, among other things, that if you cannot imagine Jesus doing something, this means God doesn’t do it either.
So … can you imagine Jesus torturing somebody in fire? Even for a few seconds? No. The one time His disciples asked Him to call down fire from heaven and burn a city, He rebuked them for such thinking (Luke 9:54-55). So if Jesus wouldn’t burn people or torture people in fire, and if Jesus fully reveals God to us, then God wouldn’t burn people or torture people in fire either. Not even for a few seconds, let alone for eternity.
If someone believe that God does torture people in fire for all eternity, they that person must also believe that Jesus didn’t fully reveal God to us, and therefore, Jesus was lying when He said He did.
I don’t want to call Jesus a liar, and so I was forced to re-think what I believed about hell. I wrote about my view on hell in my book What is Hell? if you want to learn more.
The Sealing of the Spirit vs. Filling of the Spirit (Ephesians 1:13)
This study is drawn from my sermon on Ephesians 1:13-14.
We are in Ephesians 1:3-14, one long sentence from Paul telling us what our Spiritual Possessions are in Jesus. In Ephesians 1:3-6 we saw that we have Security from the Father. This means that He promises to make us holy through election and make us heirs through predestination.
We saw last time in Ephesians 1:7-13a that our second blessing is Salvation from the Son. This salvation does not refer to going to heaven when we die, but instead points to the redemption and release from our captivity to sin so that we can live according to the will of God in our lives.
In Ephesians 1:13-14, we learn about Sealing from the Holy Spirit.
This sealing has special significance for the Christians. It is such an important topic, we will spend two podcasts discussing it. Today we will just look at the difference between the sealing of the spirit and the filling of the Spirit. We will answer the question “What is the difference between being sealed by the Spirit and being filled with the Holy Spirit?”
When someone believes, they are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. I want to comment on this word promised first, and then we will discuss the sealing.
The Spirit of Promise (Ephesians 1:13)
Have you ever wondered why Jesus Christ had to leave the earth? Have you ever wished that He was still here, walking around, teaching and training? Have you ever wished you could touch Him and eat with Him and talk with Him?
I know I have. Some days I just long to sit at Jesus’ feet and have Him teach me about God as only He can. This is especially a longing of mine when I struggle with the meaning of Jesus’ words in certain accounts from the four Gospels. I want to be able to go to Jesus and say, “Hey … what did you mean here?”
I still long for this, but Jesus knows what is best for us, which is why He says this in John 16:5-8.
Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.
Do you see it? If Jesus had not left, the Holy Spirit would not have come. I don’t know why this is, but it is what Jesus said, and we need to trust it. When Jesus was here, it was wonderful. He could be seen and heard, and touched. But the drawback was that He could only be in one place at one time.
But when Jesus left, He sent the Holy Spirit which He had promised, so that now, instead of Jesus being in only one place at a time so that those who wanted to hear or see Him would have to travel half-way across the world, we have the Holy Spirit, who is in every Christian all the time, every moment of every day.
So I would still like to have Jesus here, but I think it is better that we have the Holy Spirit. This passage in John 16 tells us that He is at work in the world convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. And the rest of John 16 tells us that the Spirit teaches Christians and guides us into truth. He can do this everywhere and all the time without growing weary or hungry as Jesus did. Yes, I sometimes wish Jesus was here, but I am thankful for the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come, and in Acts 2 He came, and has been with us ever since. That is the promise Paul refers to in Ephesians 1:13.
But the sealing of the Spirit should not be confused with some of the other things the Spirit does for the believer, and specifically, the filling of the Holy Spirit. I see so many Christians getting confused about being filled with the Spirit and being sealed with the Spirit. What is the difference?
Being Sealed by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13)
When discussing the difference between filled with the Spirit and sealed by the Spirit, we can talk about the conditions and the outcomes of both.
The Conditions of Sealing vs. Filling
As we have seen in Ephesians 1:13, the only condition for being sealed by the Spirit is believing. When we believe in Jesus, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit.
This means that every single believer is sealed with the Spirit. And this sealing is permanent. Once you are sealed with the Spirit, it is like being branded by the Spirit. The seal, or the brand, is a mark of ownership. It cannot be removed or taken away. We will talk more about this next week when we look at Ephesians 1:14.
Being filled with the Spirit is different, however. Paul writes about being filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18, and we will discuss it more when we get there, but for now, just recognize that you are not automatically and permanently filled with the Spirit when you believe in Jesus. Being filled with the Spirit is conditional upon you submitting yourself to the Holy Spirit.
To be filled with the Spirit is to let the Holy Spirit control you.
To be filled with the Spirit is to be controlled by the Spirit.
Think of sealing vs. filling as if your life were a car. When you buy a car, you register it and put license plates on it. This is sort of like the sealing of the Spirit. It shows ownership. It shows that you own the car and helps identify you as a legal driver. When you are sealed with the Holy Spirit, God puts His mark on you to show that He owns you, that you belong to Him.
However, you are still driving your car around. When you are filled with the Spirit, you let the Holy Spirit get into the car and drive it around for you. When you are filled with the Spirit, the Spirit takes control of the car. But you can kick the Holy Spirit out of the driver seat any time you want. If you don’t like where the Spirit is driving, you can say, “I’ll take over from here,” and the Spirit will let you. Of course, you’ll end up driving into a ditch, but hopefully that will teach you to let the Spirit keep control of your life.
So you are sealed immediately and permanently when you believe in Jesus, but you are filled, or controlled, by the Spirit whenever you let the Spirit take control of where your life is headed.
Ok, so what about the results of being sealed vs. filled?
The Results of Sealing vs. Filling
When you believe in Jesus for eternal life, four things immediately happen to you in relation to the Holy Spirit. They spell the acrostic RIBS.
The Spirit regenerates us (John 3:3; Titus 3:5). This is the act of God which gives us eternal life when we believe.
The Spirit also indwells us (John 14:16-17). This is the Spirit coming to live within us and abide or remain within us.
The Spirit baptizes the believer (1 Cor 12:13). This is a spiritual baptism, not a water baptism. Water baptism symbolizes what has already happened to us spiritually. This spiritual baptism gives us the basis for victory over sin.
We are also sealed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14). This is what we are discussing now.
It should be noted that all four of these things are one-time events that happen instantaneously the moment we place faith in Jesus for eternal life. Once they happen, they cannot be repeated and they cannot be reversed. In other words, during your life, the Holy Spirit will not repeatedly baptize you. Some people teach this, but that is because they do not understand the Spirit baptism. These events cannot be reversed either. You cannot become un-baptized any more than you can become unborn. You cannot become un-regenerated any more than you can become un-alive.
So these four actions of the Holy Spirit, regeneration, indwelling, baptizing, and sealing, are one time events that happen at the moment we receive eternal life, and which cannot be repeated or reversed.
But the filling of the Spirit is different. It is something that can be repeated and can be lost. It is not something mystical that takes place only when there is goosebumps, shivers, chills, and special miraculous signs. Being filled with the Spirit is most often not accompanied by miraculous signs and wonders.
As already stated, being filled with the Spirit is simply being controlled by the Holy Spirit. That’s all there is to it. We stop being filled with the Holy Spirit whenever we try to take over the control of our lives. Whenever we let sin get a foothold in our lives. We need to frequently be filled because as sinful humans, we leak.
The results of being filled with the Spirit are numerous. As the Spirit takes control of your life, you will learn to actually live your life. The Spirit does not want to take away your life, but to show you how to truly live life as God wants and intends. To use the analogy of the car from earlier, the Holy Spirit gives you driving lessons.
As the Spirit drives you around, you will start to be conformed to the image and likeness of Jesus. You will learn to walk by faith, not by sight. You will start to produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22-23. You will learn how to pray. You will start to understand Scripture more because the Spirit guides us into all truth.
Do you see? The sealing of the Spirit is mark of permanent ownership that gets put on us when we believe in Jesus for eternal life, but the filling of the Spirit is part of the ongoing, transforming, sanctifying power of God in our life to help us live and love like Jesus.
The reason Paul is talking about this now is because in Ephesians 4-6, he is going to give us a whole list of things we should be doing as Christians. And on our own power, by our own strength, these things are impossible. But with the indwelling and filling power of the Spirit, we are able to accomplish more than we ever thought or imagined.
We will learn more about this as we continue our way through Ephesians.