Controversy surrounds the discussion of the Holy Spirit. One of the reasons for that controversy is the never-ending quest of some to make the Bible say things it never said. We can go too far in several directions, and it is not my intention to answer all questions related to this topic. I will, however, explain some background and get into a little detail as it relates to the context of Ephesians 1:13-14. But first a little setup.
The Highest Ethic
The most important ethic in Christianity is love. We’re not talking about a romantic love, but one that is defined in the Bible as a sacrificial love. This love chooses to act in the best interests of another without regard for the benefits of the one acting. It seeks to be selfless.
That does not mean we receive nothing from loving in this way. There are great blessings involved! But the focus is not on us. We are showing love to others for their benefit. This is one of the greatest lessons Jesus’ death taught us. Act for the benefit of others in spite of what it might cost you.
The Root Element
The most basic element in this kind of sacrificial love is the concept of choice. Love cannot be expressed without choice being involved.
Your computer cannot love you. In the future, when robots are walking among us, if one steps in front of a bus to push you out of the way, we would not say that robot did it from love. It would be mere programming. There is no choice involved in such an action. But a human who does the same thing? He is a hero because of choice.
This is one of the strongest arguments against demon possession. Demons are not allowed to force people to sin. If you study the Bible closely as it talks about demon possessions, not once did a demon cause a person to sin. They inflicted pain and torments, but never took away freedom of the will regarding sin.
The truth is, God designed the world so that we would have this freedom. And He will not allow stronger beings to deter that. It is a God-given right that is the basis for every reasonable civilization.
With that in mind, we must realize that God will not act in such a way as to force anyone to obey Him. He could easily overwhelm us, but love would not be allowed to bloom in that case.
If witchcraft were real and someone put a “love spell” on you, would you really be in love with that person? Being forced to love is not loving at all.
The Holy Spirit
You may wonder what the point is. It’s simple really. The Holy Spirit is said to be “the guarantee of our inheritance” because we were “sealed” with Him (Ephesians 1:13-14). This cannot be interpreted to mean that the Holy Spirit moves into our bodies and controls our will.
I’ve heard people say they cannot sin because they have the Holy Spirit in them.
I’ve heard people suggest that the Holy Spirit speaks to them and reveals truths not found in the Bible.
I’ve even heard of some people who have said the Holy Spirit told them to commit sin.
I’ve also heard people say, “If you try to develop the Fruit of the Spirit [in Galatians 5:22-23] then you are not allowing the Holy Spirit to do that and you are trying to save yourself.”
There is a technical term for such ideas. “Hogwash.”
Whatever way you interpret Ephesians 1:13-14, you cannot do so by suggesting the Holy Spirit will force you to be godly, or make you godly without any effort on your own part. If any passage teaches that, this one does not fit that context.
What Does it mean?
One interpretation is that we were “sealed” as in we receive the Holy Spirit when we are baptized. Acts 2:38 says, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” In this case, the Holy Spirit is seen as an indicator to God that we are His children. (An illustration of this concept can be seen in Revelation 7:3.)
Another interpretation is that Paul was talking about the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit in the first century. During this time period there were many people endowed with the power of the Holy Spirit to do all kinds of miracles. This ability would be seen as a “gift” or evidence from the Holy Spirit that they were God’s children.
Closely related to that is the idea that the Holy Spirit is a “seal” in the sense that His Apostles received the “baptism” of the Holy Spirit. (This was recorded in Acts 2:3-4.) This is probably the most appropriate interpretation for the simple reason that it fits the language best.
Ephesians 1:13 said they were “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise”. That language is very similar to what Jesus said would happen when He poured out the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles.
Acts 1:4 says, “And being assembled together with them, [Jesus] commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, ‘which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me.'”
That is a direct reference to His words in John 16:7-15. He promised to send the Holy Spirit to the Apostles in order to remind them of all they had been taught and to guide them into all truth. This is how Christianity was able to grow and develop after the ascension of Jesus. The Holy Spirit taught exactly what Jesus wanted to be taught.
This body of doctrine that Jesus and the Spirit provided is called “the faith”. Jude 1:3 tells us that this faith was once for all times delivered to us. Through this knowledge we have “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). In this way we are “sealed” with the Holy Spirit. That is: people can look at us and see that we are Christians because we behave as Christ instructed.
To The Praise of His Glory
Whichever interpretation you choose, we must consider the point. Paul did not write about the Holy Spirit to create a new, controversial doctrine. The point is that this seal is part of the way we bring glory to God.
God created new beings when He made Christians. He created us in the spiritual realm as part of the “new birth” that Jesus introduced. The basis of this new birth is not some mystical or emotional criteria. It is based upon information that we believe and obey -information that was delivered by the Spirit.
This information, when acted upon, produces fruit in our lives. This fruit is cataloged in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.