The Spirit Seals

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To listen to today’s reflection as a podcast, click here

During the month of November we’re taking a look at 21 essential activities of the Holy Spirit, who represents God’s presence in and through every follower of Jesus.
The McDonalds recently passed the 40th anniversary of our moving from Indianapolis to the nearby town of Zionsville, Indiana. 
Back in 1983, it was our goal not to own two houses at the same time.  We were thrilled when a young couple agreed to buy our house in Indy.  They put down $1,000 in earnest money to reserve the purchase.  We took our house off the market, moved our things to Zionsville, and waited for the closing.
Then something went wrong.  They changed their minds.
“We don’t want your house after all,” the husband said.  “Oh, and one other thing.  We’d like our $1,000 back.”
“Excuse me?” I responded.  “There’s a reason it’s called earnest money.  That down payment meant you were in earnest about buying our house.”  “Well, that may be true,” he answered back, “but I have a brother-in-law who’s a lawyer, so we’re coming after the earnest money anyways.”
The dickering went back and forth for a while.  Ultimately we split the earnest money.  It took another six months to sell our house. 
Even though that happened four decades ago, I still cringe whenever I happen to hear that guy’s last name.  The irony is that a well-known coach in the National Football League has the same name – which appears to be God’s continuing reminder to me to extend forgiveness.
What generated my cringe factor?  He broke a promise.  He said he was in earnest, but he wasn’t.
God, however, is different.  God made a promise to remake this broken world by remaking us.  And he has never changed his mind.
God has even provided an earnest payment, just in case we begin to lose heart that he’s going to come through.  Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22: “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
The word translated “deposit” is the Greek word arrabon, which indicated a down payment or first installment.  The Spirit is like an appetizer – the first taste of God’s grace.  The rest of the meal – the fullness of what God has in store for us – is coming in the future. 
One day, at the closing – the closing of history, that is – he will deliver the complete experience of spiritual transformation.  The Spirit, in the meantime, is our assurance that he isn’t going to renege on his promise.
Paul expresses similar thoughts in Ephesians 1:13-14: 
“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit (there’s that word arrabon again) guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”
What does it mean to be sealed with the Spirit? 
Back in the days when people communicated by means of “snail mail,” you might have received an envelope emblazoned with the letters SWAK across the flap.  There might even have been the take-your-breath-away evidence of bright red lip prints.  

SWAK means “Sealed With a Kiss.”  This is not what one would expect to find on the back of a utility bill or a summons for jury duty.

If your snail mail is SWAK, it is personal.  Intimate.  And lovingly sealed by a very special person.  Receiving such a note has considerably greater impact on the human heart than a whole string of emojis at the end of a text.  

Seals were a very big deal in the ancient world.  

A seal was a visible sign that clearly identified the author of a particular correspondence.  After the document was carefully rolled up, hot wax would be dribbled on the seam.  Then the seal would be pressed into the wax, leaving behind a distinguishing mark.

Such a mark represented a signature. It demonstrated authenticity.

Since only wealthy or influential people could afford to create and distribute documents, the mere appearance of a seal commanded attention.  As soon as you saw such an emblem, you knew you were dealing with a person of significance. 

Seals also represented ownership.  To put a seal on something meant, “I authored this.  This belongs to me.”  

If you’ve abandoned yourself to Christ, you’ve been marked with a seal that trumps every other claim to ownership.  You belong to the One who loves you and died for you.  

It goes without saying that a distinguishing mark has to be pressed into something soft.  That could be wax, mud, or clay.  No handheld seal could make a lasting mark on metal or stone.  Likewise, the seal of the Holy Spirit can only be pressed into a soft heart.  A humble heart. 

The best news of all?  God’s stamp of ownership lasts forever.  It cannot be erased or deleted or accidentally shunted to a spam folder.
And his SWAK on our hearts has been sent to us in yet another way that letter writers of the past will remember with fondness:

Special delivery.   

A few notes at the end of the week:

  • A number of you asked if Mary Sue recovered from her pneumonia last spring.  She did indeed, notwithstanding my filling the house with smoke.
  • Some of you asked if the damper in our fireplace was actually open.  Nope – I was mistaken, which means I apparently need a course in Remedial Fireplace Management.  Others asked, “What’s a damper?”  A damper is a moveable metal plate at the base of a chimney.  If it’s open, the smoke can rise upwards.  If it’s closed, birds, raccoons, and assorted other undesirables won’t find their way into the fireplace.
  • I identified yesterday’s podcast as “Wednesday, November 2.”  I meant Thursday, of course.  On one occasion last year I actually got the month wrong, so perhaps my mistakes are getting smaller.
  • Many of you, responding to yesterday’s reflection, passed along stories of churches that forbid dancing.  It is strange indeed that many of the Church’s most respected theologians should imagine something akin to “dancing” at the heart of the Trinity, while a number of local congregations condemn it as a dreadful sin.

Thanks, as always, for all of your questions, comments, and words of encouragement!