Pneumatology Series: The Holy Spirit's Sealing, Deposit, and Restraining Ministries
Another ministry of the Holy Spirit is his being the seal of our salvation. In Ephesians 1:13, it says, “And when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation)—when you believed in Christ—you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.” Likewise, 2 Corinthians 1:22 (NIV) says God “set his seal of ownership on us.”
What does the sealing ministry of the Holy Spirit refer to?
1. As a seal, the Holy Spirit represents authenticity—he proves that a believer’s salvation is genuine.
John MacArthur said this:
The sealing of which Paul speaks here refers to an official mark of identification that was placed on a letter, contract, or other important document. The seal usually was made from hot wax, which was placed on the document and then impressed with a signet ring. The document was thereby officially identified with and under the authority of the person to whom the signet belonged.
Today, official brands will often have a logo—a mark of authentication (cf. Coke vs. cola), which proves its genuine and not a fake. Likewise, the Holy Spirit is God’s official seal on a believer—proving his or her authenticity. Romans 8:9 says, “…Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him.” The Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom 8:16). He authenticates us by changing us and making us more into Christ’s image (cf. 2 Pet 1:5-10). He gives us new desires—desires to pray, serve, love God and others, and to read his Word (cf. Matt 5:6). If professing believers don’t have these types of holy affections, then they are not truly saved—they are missing the seal of the Holy Spirit.
2. As a seal, the Holy Spirit represents God’s ownership.
In those days slaves and cattle would bear the seal of the owner. The Holy Spirit not only authenticates us but demonstrates God’s ownership of believers.
3. As a seal, the Holy Spirit represents the security of a believer.
Seals also were used as a form of security. Often kings or those in authority would seal something to say that it should not be touched or tampered with. John MacArthur’s comments are helpful here as well:
In ancient times the seal of a king, prince, or noble represented security and inviolability. When Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den, King Darius, along with his nobles, placed their seals on the stone placed over the entrance to the den, “so that nothing might be changed in regard to Daniel” (Dan. 6:17). Any person but the king who broke or disturbed that seal would likely have forfeited his life. In a similar way the tomb where Jesus was buried was sealed. Fearing that Jesus’ disciples might steal His body and falsely claim His resurrection, the Jewish leaders obtained Pilate’s permission to place a seal on the stone and to guard it with soldiers (Matt. 27:62–66).
This is one of the reasons we know that a true believer’s salvation is secure. The Holy Spirit seals him. Consider what Paul said in Ephesians 4:30, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Even though we were redeemed from slavery to sin at salvation, our ultimate redemption awaits our resurrected bodies. The Holy Spirit seals us until that final work happens and so does Jesus and the Father. Jesus said this in John 10:27-30:
My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”
God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit work to secure and protect a believer’s salvation.
4. As a seal, the Holy Spirit represents authority.
To have a king’s signet ring or seal meant to hold his power and authority (cf. Esther 8:8-12). For example, when Joseph was promoted to second in command over Egypt, he was given Pharaoh’s signet ring (Gen 41:41-42), which enabled him to make decisions with Pharaoh’s full power and authority. In the same way, God’s seal on believers represents their authority to teach the Word of God, defend it, use their spiritual gifts to build God’s kingdom, and conquer Satan, among other things. Christ said this when he ascended to heaven:
Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Because we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit, we have the authority of the King to do his ministry.
The Holy Spirit is also called the believer’s deposit, earnest, or down payment. In Ephesians 1:14 (NIV), Paul says the Holy Spirit is our “deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of his glory.” Second Corinthians 1:22 (NIV) says God “put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
What does the Holy Spirit being a believer’s “deposit” refer to?
1. As a deposit, the Holy Spirit guarantees our future inheritance.
The word deposit can be translated earnest or even engagement ring. An engagement ring is a promise for future marriage. An earnest is “the down payment to guarantee the final purchase of some commodity or piece of property.” When people bought a piece of property in those times, they put down earnest money. This money guaranteed that the rest of the money was coming. If one failed to pay, they would lose their earnest. It is often similar in purchasing property today. A person will put down 10%, 20%, or more as a guarantee that the rest is coming.
The Lord gave us the Holy Spirit as our earnest. He is our guarantee that we will fully receive every spiritual blessing in Christ, including eternal life.
2. As a deposit, the Holy Spirit is a foretaste of our inheritance in heaven.
An earnest is part of a future payment. In the same way, the Holy Spirit is a foretaste of our future heavenly inheritance. In Romans 14:17, Paul said, “For the kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Heaven will be full of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. These are all things that the Holy Spirit wants to give us now. He wants to fill us with righteousness and get rid of sin in our lives. He wants to give us peace and joy—no matter the trials we encounter. Our experience now in the Holy Spirit is a taste of our heavenly future.
Another ministry of the Holy Spirit is that of restraining sin and evil on the earth. Tony Evans said this about the Spirit’s restraining ministry:
The Holy Spirit's restraint of sin is like the atmosphere around us. It's helping to sustain this world as we know and experience it. The only reason sin isn't as bad as it could be worldwide is because of the Spirit's restraint.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:3-7, Paul seems to be referring to this ministry as he talks about the end times. He says:
Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not arrive until the rebellion comes and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, and as a result he takes his seat in God’s temple, displaying himself as God. Surely you recall that I used to tell you these things while I was still with you. And so you know what holds him back, so that he will be revealed in his own time. For the hidden power of lawlessness is already at work. However, the one who holds him back will do so until he is taken out of the way
In the end-times, the Antichrist will launch the greatest onslaught of evil and destruction the world has ever seen, but currently, Satan’s work through him is being held back by a person (v. 7). It is evident that no human could hold back Satan’s work and that only God can do it. For this reason, many believe that Paul is referring to the person of the Holy Spirit. Currently, the Holy Spirit is restraining Satan’s full destructive, plan for the earth, but one day the Spirit will be taken out of the way to allow Satan’s evil plan to happen.
When and how will the Holy Spirit be taken out of the way? Some believe this refers to a time right before Christ returns during the end times. In John 16:7, Christ said this about the Holy Spirit’s coming to indwell the disciples in a new way: “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you.” Since the Spirit couldn’t come unless Christ left, it makes sense that right before Christ returns to the earth, the Spirit will again leave. He will be present in the same way he was in the Old Testament. No doubt, he will still be restraining sin in some manner but not in the same manner that he is currently doing it through Christ’s disciples, the church. It is for this reason that some believe this refers to the rapture of the church sometime before Christ returns. When Christ ascended to heaven, the Spirit began to indwell the church in a special way—empowering them to be salt and light to the world (Matt 5:13-14), aiding in restraining sin and promoting righteousness. Before Christ returns, the Holy Spirit will return to the Father with believers (yet still be present and ministering but in an Old Covenant way). After a period of Satan’s wrath on the earth through the Antichrist, Christ will return with his saints to judge the earth.
Is there any other evidence of God’s restraining ministry through the Holy Spirit? It appears that the Spirit was performing some type of restraining ministry right before God judged the earth by the world-wide flood. Because of the world’s great sins, in Genesis 6:3 (NIV), God said: “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.” The word for “contend” in the Hebrew also means to “shield” or “protect.” Essentially, God had for years been trying to protect humanity from sin and its consequences through the Spirit. But, because of their continual rebellion, God handed them over to their sin and rebellion—allowing them to reap the consequences of it in the flood.
In Romans 1:28-32, Paul describes something similar in the ancient Roman world. He says:
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done. They are filled with every kind of unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice. They are rife with envy, murder, strife, deceit, hostility. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, contrivers of all sorts of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, covenant-breakers, heartless, ruthless. Although they fully know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but also approve of those who practice them.
Essentially, because of the world’s continual rebellion, God hands them over to depraved thinking (v. 28), leading to worse sin and its consequences. This probably shows us another way the Holy Spirit restrains sin. (1) He restrains it through humanity’s God-given conscience (Rom 2:14). The conscience is meant to be a moral guide in humanity which affirms us when we do right and condemns us when we do wrong. When God hands us over to our evil desires, our mind and conscience cease to work properly, and we start to approve even great evils. People start to declare that right is wrong and wrong is right, as their hearts become hardened. As in Genesis 6:3, God’s Spirit will not contend with people forever, eventually he allows them to have what their evil hearts want, including reaping the consequences of it. Likewise, God’s Spirit will do the same during the end-times.
What are some other ways the Holy Spirit restrains sin? (2) Other than the conscience, the Holy Spirit restrains sin through the teaching, studying, and practicing of God’s Word, as he convicts believers and unbelievers of sin (2 Tim 3:16-17). (3) He restrains sin through government authorities, as they discipline wrongdoers and reward the righteous (Rom 13:1-7). (4) The Spirit restrains sin through families, as they discipline and raise children according to godly guidelines (Eph 6:4). (5) The Spirit restrains sin through direct intervention, as the Spirit simply sets boundaries on Satan’s work, as in the story of Job (Job 1:12, 2:6). (6) Finally, as mentioned previously, the Spirit restrains sin through the godly witness of the church (Matt 5:13-16). In the end times, all of these areas will be less effective, as the Spirit’s ministry is removed to some extent.
How should we respond to the reality of the Holy Spirit’s restraining ministry?
1. The Holy Spirit’s restraining ministry reminds us to not resist the Spirit when he convicts us of sin, because there are drastic consequences for this.
To resist the Spirit’s ministry leads to God handing us over to our evil desires and reaping the consequences of it. Again Romans 1:28-29 says:
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done. They are filled with every kind of unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice. They are rife with envy, murder, strife, deceit, hostility. They are gossips…
Certainly, this is being experienced in many societies around us, as people continually reject God’s Word and embrace evil.
2. The Holy Spirit’s restraining ministry reminds us that God wants to use us, as believers, to restrain sin amongst our friends, family, church, and society.
When we compromise or remain silent when evil is practiced, we hinder the Holy Spirit’s work through us, which negatively affects those we are meant to bless. We are called to be salt and light to the earth (Matt 5:13-15)—restraining sin, promoting righteousness, and glorifying God through our lives.
What stood out most in the reading and why?
In what ways is the Holy Spirit the believers’ seal?
In what ways is the Holy Spirit the believers’ deposit?
What is the Holy Spirit’s restraining ministry and how should this ministry challenge us?
What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (p. 34). Chicago: Moody Press.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 34–35). Chicago: Moody Press.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (p. 36). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 13). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
 Evans, Tony. Theology You Can Count On: Experiencing What the Bible Says About... God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Angels, Salvation... Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.
 See NET Footnotes on Genesis 6:3