In December 2015, professor Eilat Mazar and her team of archaeologists in Jerusalem unearthed an impression of the royal seal of King Hezekiah, who ruled Judah 2,700 years ago. The impression was found in a dump site near the southern wall of the Temple Mount. The oval-shaped seal, pictured below, was pressed into a half-inch piece of clay and was likely used to secure an official letter from the king. Typically, only the king was allowed to use the royal seal. So that makes this discovery even more important: Hezekiah himself—one of the holiest and most faithful kings in Jerusalem—most likely made this impression.
The royal seal was used to guarantee the authenticity of a letter or document. It carried great authority, and no one disputed the importance of the document bearing the seal. It’s this image of a king’s seal that St. Paul was referring to when he told the believers in Ephesus that they were “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13). It’s also what he meant when he told the Corinthians that God has “put his seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment” (2 Corinthians 1:22).
According to Paul, this seal of the Spirit is “the first installment of our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:14). In other words, the gift of the Holy Spirit is just a foretaste of the glory we will experience when we are with God in heaven. We have already examined Paul’s theology of justification by faith and his theology of sanctification. Now, by examining the gift and seal of the Spirit, we want to look at Paul’s teaching that God wants to glorify us as well. This is the final gift that God wants to give us, and it is the greatest one.
A Great Treasure. When she was interviewed about her discovery in Jerusalem, Professor Mazar said, “This seal is the greatest single item I have ever found.” She treasured this find because she knew how valuable it was. But it seems that other people couldn’t see the value in this seal, so they threw it away, and it ended up in the dump site. This contrast only proves the popular saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
Some see the seal of the Spirit as the greatest single gift they have ever received because they have begun to experience the joy, the hope, and the glory of heaven. The Spirit has opened their hearts, and they feel a new closeness to God and a greater desire to live for him. Other people, however, have a hard time grasping the value of this seal because they don’t understand the indelible gift God gave them at their Baptism.
Of course, we know that everyone can come to a deeper experience of the Spirit. The key is asking Jesus to help us recognize the treasure we have received. As St. Paul said, “Whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is removed” (2 Corinthians 3:16). It’s a simple formula: we ask, and Jesus opens our eyes. Paul then went on: “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit” (3:18). It’s this ever-deepening cycle of holiness that changes our hearts and fills us with the glory of God.
God’s Own Handiwork. Paul used many different expressions to convey what we have to do if we want to experience this glory. He told the Romans to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (13:14). He told the Colossians to “think of what is above, not of what is on earth” (3:2). And he told the Ephesians, “Put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, . . . and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth” (4:22, 24).
Who among us can really keep our minds set on the way God wants us to think and act all day? But growing in holiness is not just about trying hard to do the right thing. It is also about asking the Holy Spirit to change our hearts. It’s about trusting that “the Lord knows those who are his” and that “the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:19; Philippians 1:6).
Always remember that you have been sealed by God with his own Holy Spirit. That seal makes you his prized possession. He has called you by name, has sealed you with his own name, and has promised to love you “with age-old love” (Jeremiah 31:3). This seal is a far greater treasure than the treasure Professor Mazar found when she unearthed Hezekiah’s seal.
Nothing Can Separate Us. A fellow named Jim recently wrote to us to tell us about his experience of the Holy Spirit and the glory of God. Even though his family had been faithful churchgoers, Jim never really felt close to God. When he was twenty years old, his parents told him they were divorcing.
The news devastated him. An only child, Jim was especially close to his parents, and now he felt lost, unloved, and alone. His pastor saw how much Jim was struggling, and pulled him aside one day before Mass. He told Jim that Jesus wanted to comfort him and help him through this troubling time, but that Jim had to first reach out and invite the Lord into his heart. “Just spend a few minutes every day talking to God in your own words,” his pastor told him. “And keep repeating Paul’s promise to yourself: Nothing can ‘separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:39).”
That very day, Jim stayed behind after Mass, knelt in the pew, and repeated this passage over and over again. As he did, he felt something stirring in his heart, and he began to cry. A new sense of peace washed over him, and he felt God’s love fill his heart. That day Jim began a new journey with the Lord. He set aside a few minutes every day to pray and read Scripture. He began to go to Confession regularly, and asked his pastor to suggest a couple of books he might read to help himself.
“Nothing can separate me from God’s love,” Jim told us in his letter. “I finally know who I am—a child of God. I still keep in touch with both of my parents, and every day I pray for them to reconcile. I have a wife and three kids now, and I try to be as good and loving toward them as I can. I owe it all to being filled with the love of God.”
What happened to Jim can happen to you. You can read a similar story on page 61 of this magazine—the story of a college student whose life is being changed “from glory to glory” as she pursues her relationship with God (2 Corinthians 3:18).
The Great Good News of the Gospel. St. Paul tells us that God gave us the Holy Spirit so that he could bear “witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). We experience this when we accept the justification Jesus won for us on the cross.
Paul then says that the Spirit also tells us that we are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). We grow into our inheritance as we take up the process of sanctification.
Finally, Paul reassured us that “the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us” (Romans 8:18). Life can be hard. Temptation can be strong. Challenges come and go. But each one of them, if we stay close to the Lord, can bring us to a greater experience of the glory of our heavenly life.
A Taste of Heaven. Clearly, there is more to Paul’s theology than believing in Jesus and trying to live a holy life. There is also the promise of a heavenly inheritance. There is the promise that Jesus “will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body” (Philippians 3:21). Knowing that we are destined for heaven means knowing that our heavenly Father has nothing but good in store for us. It means that we can be filled with his glory—even here and now—and radiate that glory to everyone around us.
You have been justified by God’s grace. You are being sanctified by your cooperation with his Spirit. One day you will be glorified with the glory of Jesus. This is why the good news of the gospel is such good news!