“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.
“These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. John 14:23-26
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Ephesians 4:30
Do not quench the Spirit 1 Thess. 5:19
These verses are a great comfort to countless covenant marriage standers whose once-saved prodigal spouse has become deceived and has walked away from their covenant with the Lord. When well-meaning but false teachers add the injury of claiming that our one-flesh partners were “never born again to begin with” ( a speculation made just for the sake of defending the Reformers’ heresy once saved, always saved “OSAS“), hopefully the scriptures about being sealed with the Holy Spirit as a token of their salvation is our firm, unflinching answer back to them.
However, as we recently found out from the spirited arguments of one of the fans of our Facebook page (Unilateral Divorce is Unconstitutional), these verses about being sealed with the holy spirit can also be a source of false comfort, the erroneous idea that one cannot lose their inheritance in the kingdom of God, regardless of how they live or die, and in direct contradiction of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 or Galatians 5:19-21. This gentleman said he would never challenge anyone living in an adulterous, civil-only “marriage” (who was born again) to exit that state of ongoing sin because their sealing with the Holy Spirit was a “guarantee” of heaven, and the most that could happen to such an individual or couple was the loss of rewards associated with the bema seat judgment of the believers. He argued (quite correctly) that the Holy Spirit could never depart a sealed believer, but went on to assert this was the basis of the “guarantee” of heaven.
This person, by the way, is also a stander of some years according to his own account, and appears to be biblically literate to a greater degree than most. We were just wrapping up our 7-part series “Stop Abusing Scripture” which taught the application of sound hermeneutical principles to several verses commonly mis-rendered to prop up remarriage adultery in the evangelical church, when the news of the death of Joey (Martin) “Feek” (at the time of her death, adulterously married to another woman’s estranged and civilly-divorced husband) with all the headlines proclaiming that she was surely in heaven. We posted one such piece while posing the question, was this really so? No other post of ours to-date has ever drawn so much spirited discussion by such numerous commenters.
It seemed like a good idea to apply some hermeneutic rigor to examine the notion that a believer’s sealing with the Holy Spirit was a guarantee of heaven. The most basic principles involved in doing this are: CONTENT, CONTEXT, CULTURE, COMPARISON and CONSULTATION. In this blog, we’ll apply three of them in a shortened version of what we did in our earlier series. Our readers who are interested in this topic may want to delve into the other two principles on their own. For example, several key verses in the book of Hebrews make for a sound COMPARISON with the three scriptures where Paul discusses the permanent state of being sealed with the Holy Spirit: Ephesian 1:13-14, 2 Corinthians 1:22 and 2 Corinthians 5:5. In this blog, CULTURE and COMPARISON principles will be incorporated into the discussion of the other three.
The Principle of CONTENT
If we pull these three scriptures up in side-by-side comparison across various bible versions, we can see that some of them (notably, the progressively corrupted NIV and the Amplified Version) do indeed translate these verses to say that God gave us a guarantee of heaven. But is this valid, or is it going just a bit beyond? The first thing we must do to validate the meaning of any scripture is go back to the original text and literal language translation (Greek to English) to expose any liberties the bible translators may have taken, and strip them back to the original meaning. There are two online interlinear tools which are helpful for this task: www.scripture4all.org, and www.biblehub.com. We’ll link to both as we take our deep dive in.
The red-circled key words repeated in each of these verses are arrabōn (ἀρραβὼν)- “a pledge”, and sphragizó (σφραγίζω) – “to seal”. We’ll take a closer, cultural look at both of these words in their context, with some additional biblical examples.
All of the older bibles translated ἀρραβῶνα (arrabōna) literally as “earnest” rather than “guarantee” . A modern analogy would be “earnest money”, as in making the down payment on a house. Doing so substantially increases the likelihood that the deal will be consummated, and the buyers will take possession of the property, but does not absolutely guarantee it. The party accepting the down payment is legally bound, but there’s still a conditional element for the property acquirer who may not meet one of the other conditions of the sale or may actually change their mind if they’re willing to forfeit that earnest money, or there’s some other impediment to the sale going through – the underlying contract still has several conditional elements. Bible teacher Ray VanderLaan points out that biblical covenants absolutely bound the more powerful party, but made allowances for the event that the less powerful party was not able to absolutely fulfill their part of the covenant, making it important to understand whether the covenant was conditional or unconditional. Some additional biblical examples of ἀρραβῶνα (arrabōna):
Genesis 15:9-17 – the blood covenant God made with Abraham in the splitting of cow, goat, and ram, where the custom was to walk through the blood implying “so may you do to me, if I do not keep my covenant”, yet something unique happened in this situation. Abraham knew the minute he passed through he was a dead man, because his end of the covenant was to walk blamelessly before his God, yet the Lord had it covered for him:
“Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds….Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him…It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces.”
Genesis 38: 16-19 – in the story of Judah and his widowed daughter-in-law Tamar, where because Judah did not follow through on his pledge to have his youngest son marry her and give her a son, she disguised herself as a prostitute and obtained certain tokens from him in pledge that he would send her a young goat in payment for her services as a prostitute, by which she would become pregnant with twin sons.
So he turned aside to her by the road, and said, “Here now, let me come in to you”; for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. And she said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?” He said, therefore, “I will send you a young goat from the flock.” She said, moreover, “Will you give a pledge until you send it?” He said, “What pledge shall I give you?” And she said, “Your seal and your cord, and your staff that is in your hand.” So he gave them to her and went in to her, and she conceived by him. Then she arose and departed, and removed her veil and put on her widow’s garments.
Esther 3: 10-11 ; 8 :8-10 – Another instance where the token or authentication of the King’s authority had strong force to compel the likelihood of a decree being carried out, but a good example that this did not guarantee the final result. Mordecai was able issue another decree rendering the first sealed decree secured by Haman moot.
“Now you write to the Jews as you see fit, in the king’s name, and seal it with the king’s signet ring; for a decree which is written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s signet ring may not be revoked.
– Esther 8:8
Matthew 27:62-66 – The seal of Pontius Pilate on the garden tomb where the dead body of Jesus was laid could not guarantee the intended outcome, even with a 2,000 rock behind it.
“Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.
Looking closely at the other key word in these verses, sphragizó (σφραγίζω), the lexicons say the following: properly, to seal (affix) with a signet ring or other instrument to stamp (a roller or seal), i.e. to attest ownership, authorizing (validating) what is sealed. Signifies ownership and the full security carried by the backing (full authority) of the owner. “Sealing” in the ancient world served as a “legal signature” which guaranteed the promise (contents) of what was sealed. We see this in most of the above cultural examples to which Paul’s assurances in these three passages appeal.
In the case of realizing our salvation, the Messianic covenant that seals us with the Holy Spirit is conditional on Jesus becoming both our Savior (justification – upon our acceptance of Him as such) and our Lord (sanctification, which is impossible without our being indwelt with the Holy Spirit, and obeying Him).
The Principle of CONTEXT
So, is the liberty taken by NIV and Amplified Version unreasonable in interpreting our sealing (spraghizo) as a deposit carrying a guarantee? Not as blatantly and outrageously so as was the libertine retranslation of porneia as general sexual immorality (rather than specifically, whoredom or prostitution, per older bibles), but they have overlooked some very important context in what Jesus said about it. Any study of the context of being sealed with the Holy Spirit must include Christ’s discussion captured in the book of John 14, which is then followed immediately in John 15 by His discussion of the necessity of abiding in the vine (remaining in Christ).
I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper (Paraklēton Παράκλητον) , that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. – John 14:16-17
In this verse, the words of Jesus tell us some very important things about this “earnest”, this deposit:
(1) He is person, not an inanimate object.
(2) He has a function, as verses 25-26 go on to tell us.
(3) He is referred to as a helper, a counselor, and an advocate, not a guarantor.
(4) He remains abiding within the born-again believer, as Paul also tells us in 1 Cor. 6:19.
Paul tells us a couple of other important traits of this Helper. He can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30). He can be quenched (1 Thessalonians 5:18-20), that is, hindered or delayed from completing His purpose in the believer’s life. The only thing that He cannot be is ejected or jettisoned by the backsliding believer, because He is an element of the Messianic Covenant, and God never breaks or reverses His covenants. Returned, redeemed prodigals often say this was a constant source of internal misery in the “far country”, it accounts for their rapid aging and the loss of joy in their eyes as they try to outrun Him.
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser….. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. ”
– John 15:1,6
Here’s a case where some are grafted in, they receive the sap (the presence of the Holy Spirit), but since there’s no guarantee they will continue to abide, there is no guarantee of an inheritance in the kingdom of God.
Scripture should always help confirm our understanding of a given passage since the God-breathed word cannot contradict itself. However, we need to be aware of the extent of tampering with that word by rogue translation scholars over the past 100+ years, in order to normalize sexual and marital sin. Take for example, Romans 8:1, where NIV, NASB, AMP (and most others) put a period instead of a comma, and critical phrase after “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
The full, faithful rendering of this passage per Wilbur Pickering’s “The Sovereign Creator Has Spoken” (2013- New Testament) is:
“Now then, there is no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit, because the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of the sin and the death.”
(Consistent with being sealed, isn’t it? Notice that we still have to walk in one or the other, the Spirit or the flesh, so guarding our heart and repenting of known sin can hardly be a “works-based” salvation effort, can it?)
Another truth warrior from an earlier day, Rev. Milton T. Wells, president of a Pennsylvania bible college in the 1950’s wrote, “etymology [word study] will kill you, but context will save you.” This passage underscores how crucial it is to take a diligent look at the context, as we’ve done.
A few other relevant scriptures for comparison, bearing in mind that the indwelling holy spirit is a reinforcement and enabler to live holy lives, rather than either a guarantor of heaven or a waiver from living in full repentance and obedience to His word:
Matthew 7:21; John 10:28-29; Philippians 2:12; Hebrews 4:6-11; 6:4-6; 10:26-31
The Principle of CONSULTATION
.’This section draws in what other scholarly commentators have said about these passages that remind us that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit.
2 Corinthians 5:5-8. Now he that hath wrought us for — Or to, this longing for immortality; is God — For none but God, none less than the Almighty, could have wrought this in us; who also hath given us his Spirit — In its various gifts and graces; as an earnest — Of our obtaining the heavenly habitation. We are confident, therefore — Or courageous in all dangers and sufferings, and dare venture even upon death itself; knowing that while we are at home — Or rather sojourn (as ενδημουντες here signifies) in the body, we are absent, εκδημουμεν, we are exiles; from the Lord.
The earnest (see 2 Corinthians 1:22) The quickening life imparted by the Spirit of life is a pledge and part payment of the incorruptible eternal life. The Spirit is “the Earnest of our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 4:30).
(22) Who hath also sealed us.—Better, who also sealed us. The thought thus expressed is that the gift of the Spirit, following on baptism or the laying on of hands, is as the seal of the covenant which God makes with His people, attesting its validity. (Comp. Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30; and, for the Jewish use of seals, Jeremiah 32:10.)
And given the earnest of the Spirit.—Better, for the same reason as before, gave. The Greek word for “earnest” (arrhabôn), which occurs here for the first time, and is used only by St. Paul in the New Testament (2Corinthians 5:5; Ephesians 1:14), has a somewhat interesting history. Originally a Hebrew word, from a verb meaning “to mix,” “to change,” “to pledge,” and so used, as a cognate noun, with the last of the three senses, it appears simply transliterated in the LXX. of Genesis 38:17-18. It would seem to have been in common use among the Canaanite or Phoenician traders, and was carried by them to Greece, to Carthage, to Alexandria, and to Rome. It was used by the Greek orator Isæus, and by Plautus and Terence among the earlier Latin writers. The full form came to be considered somehow as pedantic or vulgar, and was superseded in Roman law by the shortened “arrha,” the payment of a small sum given on the completion of a bargain as a pledge that the payer would fulfil the contract; and it has passed into Italian as “arra;” into modern French, as “les arrhes;” into popular Scotch even, as “arles.” As applied by St. Paul, it had the force of a condensed parable, such as the people of commercial cities like Corinth and Ephesus would readily understand. They were not to think that their past spiritual experience had any character of finality. It was rather but the pledge of yet greater gifts to come: even of that knowledge of God which is eternal life (John 17:3). The same thought is expressed, under a more Hebrew image, in the “firstfruits of the Spirit” in Romans 8:23. Grammatically, the “earnest of the Spirit” may be taken as an example of the genitive of apposition, “the earnest which is the Spirit.”
2 Corinthians 1:22. Ἀῤῥαβῶνα, earnest) ch. 2 Corinthians 5:5. ἀῤῥαβὼν, Genesis 38:17-18, is used for a pledge, which is given up at the payment of a debt; but elsewhere for earnest money, which is given beforehand, that an assurance may be afforded as to the subsequent full performance of the bargain. Hesychius, ἀῤῥαβὼν, πεόδομα. For the earnest, says Isid. Hispal., is to be completed [by paying the balance in full] not to be taken away: whence he who has an earnest does not restore it as a pledge, but requires the completion of the payment. Such an earnest is the Spirit Himself, Ephesians 1:14 : whence also we are said to have the first fruits of the Spirit, Romans 8:23. See Rittershusii, lib. 7, sacr. lect. c. 19.
Why does all of this matter? We believe it is imperative that pastors and other church leaders grasp the balanced truth about our eternal security or there will never be any national or denominational repentance from institutionalized serial polygamy in the church, including adulterous weddings, disastrous apostate counseling, and apathy toward restoring biblical morality to our national laws. Those who falsely believe that salvation cannot be lost or abandoned by men have no incentive to address the states of sin that Paul specifically listed as leading to forfeiture of one’s inheritance in the kingdom of God. With around 1,000,000 civil divorces a year in the U.S., and an approximate 70% remarriage rate, the church is unwittingly misdirecting millions to perdition for the sake of upholding remarriage-friendly Reformation dogma that is false and is contrary to what Jesus and Paul both consistently taught.
We all know or have read accounts of backslidden prodigals who have fallen into the devil’s trap, and have returned from the “Far Country” only coming to their senses after a decade or two. It is the Holy Spirit who terrifies them with warnings as they lay their heads on the pillow, who brings back the word of God hidden in their hearts but repressed, as some divine appointment triggers the memory.
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