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What can fire, water, wax seals, and guarantees teach us about the Holy Spirit?

The previous post introduced metaphors as valuable insights for teaching us about who the Holy Spirit is and what he does.

I’ll presume you are up to speed on the previous post. If not, you can read it here

Now, let’s look at some more metaphors.

4.         Fire

In nature, fire is capable of great benefit and great destruction. How is fire a metaphor for the Spirit?

Acts 2 reports the coming of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. One phenomenon of that event was (2:3-4a):

They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit …

One comment is that fire conveys something of the Holy Spirit’s “purifying action, which judges and consumes all impurity” (R. Pache, 23).

Conviction or judgment is an activity of the Spirit (John 16:7-11). In the context of the future judgment of the works or service of followers of Jesus, fire reveals and eliminates everything that is not of or for Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). Here is what Paul writes to Christians:

his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each [person’s] work.

From these few instances, the metaphor of fire expresses the Spirit’s activities for purifying and revealing.

5.         Water

Water is essential for life.

In His dialogue with Nicodemus, Jesus states (John 3:5-6):

no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and [kai] the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

What does this metaphor of water teach us about the Holy Spirit?

The Greek conjunction, kai, usually means “and,” but can also be “even” or “also.” So, we can read the text as “born of water, even [or, that is] the Spirit.”

Here, water cannot be a reference to baptism, as some suggest. That would be making a symbol (baptism) of a symbol (water).

Perhaps the most helpful understanding of this metaphor is as a medium for birth. If the medium of physical birth is the water of the womb (amniotic fluid), in the same kind of way, the Holy Spirit is the medium or environment of spirit birth or new birth.

The Festival of Tabernacles provides another dimension to this metaphor. In John 7:37-39a, we read that:

On the last and greatest day of the Feast [of Tabernacles], Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him [that is, Jesus].” By this he meant the Spirit … .

What does Jesus mean?

I conclude with Bible scholar Gary Burge that “The water which would flow from beneath the temple would now flow from Jesus, the new temple. … The inexhaustible Mosaic supply of life-giving water in the wilderness could now be found in Jesus. … In Jesus’ person one can find the fulfillment of all the [Festival of] Tabernacles expectations.”

And so, in the imagery of water, we glimpse something of the Holy Spirit as the divine giver and sustainer of life.

6 and 7.           Seal and Guarantee

The following verses link the metaphors of sealing and guaranteeing:

God … set his seal [sphragizō] of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing [arrabōn] what is to come. (2 Corinthians 1:22)

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal [sphragizō], the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit [arrabōn] guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

In the ancient world, kings and other authorities possessed a seal or signet (a sphragis), worn as a ring or a necklace. The Greek word, sphragizō, was the formal action of impressing that seal or signet into melted wax.

This “sealing” was backed by the full power and authority of the official affixing the seal, signifying the security and permanence of the decree or contract. In this case, God Himself declares “ownership” of an individual who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ.

When you receive Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit—God’s sphragis—is impressed upon your life, saying you belong to God!

Connected with God’s sealing is His arrabōn. This Greek word, arrabōn, is rendered in English as a guarantee, pledge, deposit, and down payment. Vine’s Dictionary explains the commercial or legal origins of this term as the deposit or down payment for a purchase. It is the guarantee of the future completion of the transaction.

In addition to the two references already mentioned (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13-14), Paul also uses this word in 2 Corinthians 5:5:

Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit [arrabōn], guaranteeing what is to come.


God has “put his Spirit in our hearts,” sealed us by “the promised Holy Spirit,” and “given us the Spirit,” not only marking us as His but also guaranteeing our future with Him.

Summing up

Although these observations are basic and brief, they give us a little more insight into who the Holy Spirit is and what He does, including:

  • Fire teaches us something of the Spirit’s activities of purifying and revealing.
  • Among other things, water signifies the Holy Spirit as the divine life-giver and life sustainer.
  • The Holy Spirit marks the follower of Jesus as belonging to God and guarantees the future with Him. 

You may have something to add. I want to hear from you. You can contact me here.

In the following posts, we will examine the life-transforming activities of the Holy Spirit in the life of those who have received God’s Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

FORWARD TO 5 Benefits of God's Ownership of You through the Spirit

BACK TO 3 Metaphors for Knowing the Holy Spirit Better

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