Sealed in baptism?

Ask a Pastor
04/22/2013

Sealed in baptism?

I have heard it said that the Holy Spirit seals me in baptism. What does this phrase mean? I know that God gives us Holy Baptism as a gift rather than a work that we are to obey. Yet, I have trouble understanding things since I came to believe in God and read the Bible from cover to cover before I ever joined a church. -- Tracy Craft

Monica: Dear Tracy -- awesome question! There is a lot I could say about the work of the Holy Spirit in baptism. But what I will share is what it means to me to be "a child of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever."

For me, these words are a reminder that I belong to God. No matter what I do or fail to do, God's salvation is a gift to be received. Being marked with the cross of Christ is a once and forever thing -- nothing and no one can take that away. God's love for me and the world is unconditional. The promise then of these words is that we will never be without God. 

David: Tracy, near the end of the service of Holy Baptism, the pastor makes the sign of the cross on the forehead of the baptized and says, "(Name), child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever."

There is a great deal of meaning in that one little sentence. As Lutherans, we use this phrase to talk about a) being adopted as a child of God, b) being given the gift of the Holy Spirit, and c) being united with Jesus Christ. All of which are God's irrevocable gifts, given to us in Holy Baptism.

In particular, being "sealed by the Holy Spirit" is how we talk about the gift of the Holy Spirit. To borrow words from another, being sealed by the Holy Spirit shows that "You were anointed by the Holy Spirit and received him by God's grace. He is yours, and remains within you" (Theodore of Mopsueta). To put it simply: Being sealed by the Holy Spirit is God's promise of faithfulness -- God's Spirit will dwell within you and will not abandon you. 

Anne: Great question! I find it helpful to think of it less like sealing a piece of Tupperware and more like putting an official seal (like a beautiful gold sticker or a wax stamp with an imprint on it) on a letter or a certificate. It's a way that God puts a mark on us, a signature that says, "This one is mine!" 

Ron: Great question. In the baptismal service, after the child/adult has been baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, there is a prayer regarding the gifts of the Spirit. These gifts are listed in Isaiah 11. Then the pastor takes oil and makes the sign of the cross on the baptized person's forehead, as per the rubrics stated:

The presiding minister marks the sign of the cross on the forehead of each of the baptized. Oil prepared for this purpose may be used. As the sign of the cross is made, the minister says: (Name), child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Amen.

The Greek word (sphraizo) used in the following two passages has its roots in the whole notion of a signet ring. If a ruler "signed" or "sealed" a document with that ring, it meant there was the influence or even authority or ownership of the Royal One conveyed upon the person who was "sealed or signed."

So, this phrase means that because we are God's child we have been "marked/sealed" with that Holy Spirit. We are connected. We belong to God and each other.

Our congregation has produced a video as to what this all means. Check it out here.

In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13).

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30).


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You might also want to read:
Affirmation of Baptism in word and sacrament
The challenge (and promise) of baptism
A welcome at the end of the day

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