The Spirit: Sanctified, Anointed and Sealed
In the current dispensation the Holy Spirit plays a prominent role as does Christ Himself. As Jesus had been a comforter to the apostles in person, so “another” (Gk. allos, “another of the same sort,” cf. Vine) Comforter would be sent to assist them upon His departure (Jn 14:16-17). He is the “Spirit of truth” and “will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (Jn 14:26). Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6), but His death would come before He could impart the entirety of what they needed to know (Jn 16:12). Thus, “when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth …” (Jn 16:13).
As a result of that truth coming to all men via the apostles, those who respond to it are “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor 1:2), by faith in Him (Ac 26:18). Yet Paul gives thanks for the Thessalonians “because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Th 2:13). And Peter calls his readers “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit …” (1 Pet 1:2).
Boles observes, “Sanctification is distinguished from conversion as growth is distinguished from birth; sanctification is the perfecting of the saint; it is the bringing of the newborn babe up into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (The Holy Spirit: His Personality, Nature, Works 215). It is through the truth of the gospel that the sinner comes to learn how to rectify the breach of relationship with God and then how to live and act as a child of God (how to worship, serve, negotiate the pitfalls of life, aspire to spiritual maturity, hope for heaven, etc.). So the question arises: How does the Spirit help us fight and ultimately win this battle for our souls? Or, what shall we make of this sanctifying indwelling of the Spirit as asserted in the NT? What does He impart to us, and how?
Here is one view: “The indwelling Spirit is the key to our victory over sin. On our conscious level we are aggressively putting sin to death, but below the level of our consciousness the Spirit’s energizing power is making it possible” (Cottrell, The Holy Spirit: A Biblical Study 67). He continues, commenting on Ph 2:12-13: “God has indeed commanded us to pursue sanctification (Heb 12:14), but he has not left us to do this from our own resources alone. He himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit, is at work in us, to help us both to want to do what is right (‘to will’) and to help us actually to do it (‘to work’)” (ibid).
True, “he has not left us to do this from our own resources alone.” But how does the Holy Spirit help us want to do the right thing? Cottrell says it is through the subconscious indwelling Spirit. This assertion is a “soft Calvinism” and shifts responsibility for spiritual success ultimately onto God’s shoulders. Why should I ever fail if the Holy Spirit is in my sub-conscious willing me to be kinder, braver, more patient and loving?
It seems that the notion of an actively indwelling Spirit comes from a mentality of meritorious achievement, that an individual cannot be acceptable to God unless he has an energizing, enabling indwelling Spirit to prop him up. Conversely, it is also tinged with Calvinistic inability; man’s depravity of constitution – original sin – makes us unable, without the direct empowerment of the Spirit, to choose to do good.
I agree with Cottrell that God has not left us to our own resources, but the enabling power is via the Spirit’s revelation. Scripture is not merely a chemical blend of ink and paper. The word of God is “living and powerful” (Heb 4:12); it is “given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). Note especially the words complete, thoroughly and every. Paul commended the Ephesian elders “to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Ac 20:32).
The NT stresses the role of scripture to inform, correct, equip, inspire and warn the believer. A mysterious, empowering indwelling of the Holy Spirit that works on the level of our subconscious is only speculation.
As many tangible OT features convert to spiritual significance in the NT, so it is with anointing. Priests and kings were anointed with oil to signify their special sanctification or separation from others for God’s purposes. Today, “He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a deposit” (2 Cor 1:21-22). To the Ephesians Paul said, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory” (Eph 1:13-14). Is there anything tangible in this anointing?
Sealing is a mark of identification and ownership, and a deposit is a down-payment that reserves and promises future blessing. Boles again: “‘Earnest’ is a first payment to secure a transaction, to bind a bargain; it thus becomes a pledge of further payment until the whole purchased value is in hand. It is a pledge that God will continue to give that which is needed for complete sanctification” (ibid 216). How does the Spirit do that in us?
From the depths of sin, the depravity of morals, the torment of guilt and the futility of mind the Holy Spirit through His revelation revives and restores our spirit even as it inhabits a “body of death” (Rom 7:24). We are reborn and reoriented toward righteous values and goals. Thus a process is begun in earthly life that promises an ultimate fullness in heaven. The anointing and sealing is tangible in the sense that transformed lives exist where there was once hopelessness and doom. Those who were “dead in trespasses and sins” are now bearing “the fruit of the Spirit.” Such radical realignment is living proof; the Holy Spirit’s transformative work in us is itself the down-payment of God’s intentions to share with us eternal glory. It is not possible that we could make such changes on our own, and God is not some double-tongued snake-oil salesman peddling empty promises. Our own lives – if we are truly faithful – are living proof that the Father, the Son and the Spirit dwell in us and are bringing us to glory.