The Guarantee of Our Inheritance
you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, (1:13b–14a)
Men have always wanted assurances. Because the promises of other men are so often unreliable, we demand oaths, sworn affidavits, surety bonds, guarantees, warranties, and many other such means of trying to assure that what is promised is received.
God’s simple word should be sufficient for us, but in His graciousness He makes His promises even more certain—if that were possible—by giving us His own guarantees. Here the Lord guarantees His promises with His seal and with His pledge. This is reminiscent of Hebrews 6:13–18, in which God gives His promise of blessing and then confirms it with an oath to provide what the Holy Spirit calls “strong encouragement” (v. 18) to all who hope in Christ.
Because we do not directly and immediately receive the fullness of all God’s promises when we first believe (since it is “reserved in heaven for us,” 1 Pet. 1:3–4), we may sometimes be tempted to doubt our salvation and wonder about the ultimate blessings that are supposed to accompany it. While we are still in this life our redemption is not complete, because we still await “the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:23). Because we have not yet received full possession of our inheritance, we may question its reality or at least its greatness.
As one means of guaranteeing His promises to those who have received Jesus Christ, God has sealed [them] in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise. Every believer is given the very Holy Spirit of God the moment he trusts in Christ. “You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you,” Paul declares (Rom. 8:9a). Conversely, he goes on to say, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (v. 9b). Incredibly, the body of every true Christian is actually “a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in [him]” (1 Cor. 6:19).
When a person becomes a Christian, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in his life. Life in Jesus Christ is different because the Spirit of God is now within. He is there to empower us, equip us for ministry, and function through the gifts He has given us. The Holy Spirit is our Helper and Advocate. He protects and encourages us. He also guarantees our inheritance in Jesus Christ. “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16–17). The Spirit of God is our securing force, our guarantee.
The sealing of which Paul speaks here refers to an official mark of identification that was placed on a letter, contract, or other important document. The seal usually was made from hot wax, which was placed on the document and then impressed with a signet ring. The document was thereby officially identified with and under the authority of the person to whom the signet belonged.
That is the idea behind our being sealed in Him [Christ] with the Holy Spirit of promise. The seal of God’s Spirit in the believer signifies four primary things: security, authenticity, ownership, and authority.
Security. In ancient times the seal of a king, prince, or noble represented security and inviolability. When Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den, King Darius, along with his nobles, placed their seals on the stone placed over the entrance to the den, “so that nothing might be changed in regard to Daniel” (Dan. 6:17). Any person but the king who broke or disturbed that seal would likely have forfeited his life. In a similar way the tomb where Jesus was buried was sealed. Fearing that Jesus’ disciples might steal His body and falsely claim His resurrection, the Jewish leaders obtained Pilate’s permission to place a seal on the stone and to guard it with soldiers (Matt. 27:62–66).
In an infinitely greater way, the Holy Spirit secures each believer, marking him with His own inviolable seal.
Authenticity. When King Ahab tried unsuccessfully to get Naboth to sell or trade his vineyard, Queen Jezebel volunteered to get the vineyard her way. “So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal” and sent the letters to various nobles who lived in Naboth’s city, demanding that they arrange false accusations of blasphemy and treason against him. The nobles did as they were instructed, and Naboth was stoned to death because of the false charges. The king then simply confiscated the vineyard he had so strongly coveted (1 Kings 21:6–16). Despite the deceptions contained in the letters Jezebel sent, the letters themselves were authentically from the king, because they were sent with his approval and marked with his seal. The seal was his signature.
When God gives us His Holy Spirit, it is as if He stamps us with a seal that reads, “This person belongs to Me and is an authentic citizen of My divine kingdom and member of My divine family.”
Ownership. While Jerusalem was under seige by Nebuchadnezzar and Jeremiah was under arrest by King Zedekiah for prophesying against the king and the nation, the Lord gave special instructions to His prophet. Jeremiah was told to buy some land in Anathoth for which he had redemption rights. The contract was agreed on, and the stipulated payment was made in the court of the palace guard before the required number of witnesses. In the presence of the witnesses the deed was signed and sealed, establishing Jeremiah as the new legal owner of the property (Jer. 32:10).
When the Holy Spirit seals believers, He marks them as God’s divine possessions, who from that moment on entirely and eternally belong to Him. The Spirit’s seal declares the transaction of salvation as divinely official and final.
Authority. Even after Haman had been hanged for his wicked plot to defame and execute Mordecai, Queen Esther was distressed about the decree that Haman had persuaded King Ahasuerus to make that permitted anyone in his kingdom to attack and destroy the Jews. Because the king could not even himself revoke the decree that was marked with his own seal, he issued and sealed another decree that permitted and even encouraged the Jews to arm and defend themselves (Esther 8:8–12). In both cases the absolute authority of the decrees was represented in the king’s seal. Those who possessed the sealed decree of the king had the king’s delegated authority set forth in the decree.
When Christians are sealed with the Holy Spirit they are delegated to proclaim, teach, minister, and defend God’s Word and His gospel with the Lord’s own authority.
who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, (1:14a)
The Holy Spirit not only guarantees our inheritance in Jesus Christ with His seal but also with His pledge. An arrabōn (pledge) originally referred to a down payment or earnest money given to secure a purchase. Later it came to represent any sort of pledge or earnest. A form of the word even came to be used for engagement ring.
As believers, we have the Holy Spirit as the divine pledge of our inheritance, God’s first installment of His guarantee that the fullness of the promised spiritual blessings “in the heavenly places in Christ” (v. 3) will one day be completely fulfilled. They are assured and guaranteed with an absolute certainty that only God could provide. The Holy Spirit is the church’s irrevocable pledge, her divine engagement ring, as it were, that, as Christ’s bride, she will never be neglected or forsaken (cf. 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5).
The Goal of Our Inheritance
with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. (1:14b)
Although our divine inheritance in Christ is a marvelous, awesome, and guaranteed promise to us from the Lord, it is not the primary purpose of our salvation. Our salvation and all of the promises, blessings, and privileges we gain through salvation are first of all bestowed with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
The great, overriding purpose of God’s redemption of men is the rescuing of what is His own possession. All creation belongs to God, and in His infinite wisdom, love, and grace He chose to provide redemption for the fallen creatures He had made in His own image—for His own sake even more than for their sakes, because they do not belong to themselves but to Him.
As Paul has already twice declared (vv. 6, 12), God’s ultimate goal in redeeming men is the praise of His glory. We are not saved and blessed for our own glory but for God’s (cf. Isa. 43:20–21). When we glorify ourselves we rob God of that which is wholly His. He saved us to serve Him and to praise Him. We are saved to be restored to the intended divine purpose of creation—to bear the image of God and bring Him greater glory.
This is fully accomplished at the believer’s glorification, when we receive full glory and redemption and are made the perfect possession of God.
His Present Faithfulness (1:13)
After recounting God’s purpose for “we [Jews] who were the first to hope in Christ,” the apostle speaks to the Ephesian Gentiles and says, “And you also were included in Christ” (Eph. 1:13). Whereas the earlier portion of this passage was the “we who …” section, this is the “you, too” section.
Expanding His Covenant (1:13a)
“In Christ” we were chosen and you, too, were included, says the apostle. The plan that was worked through the Jews to glorify Christ has now been extended to other nations. In the Greek both verses 11 (focusing on Jewish believers) and 13 (focusing on Gentile believers) begin the same way: “In him also.” Both Jew and Gentile are found to be “in Christ” (also see Eph. 1:12). This says much about how Paul conceived of the nature of salvation, of the Christian life, and of the covenantal promises to the Jewish nation extended to the Gentiles. This co-inclusion in Christ also serves as a theological basis for Paul’s argument that Jews and Gentiles now are fellow members of the body of Christ (see Eph. 2:13–22).
The plan “to bring all things … together under one head, even Christ” (Eph. 1:10) is being worked out in this present age. This is Paul’s reason for using the continuing present tense to say that God “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:11). God’s plan is for the present age, our time. We who hear the gospel now are as much in God’s purpose of bringing praise to Christ as were the Jews. From the beginning God purposed to work everything together in order to bring all things under the headship of Christ. This includes past and present, heaven and earth, Jew and Gentile (as is stated more explicitly in Eph. 3:6).
Extending His Mercy (1:13b)
God’s involvement of “all things” in his plan is more than an expansion of the covenant; it is an extension of mercy. What did the Jews do to be the chosen people? Nothing. God’s blessing was based in his mercy, not on their merit. And what do Gentiles now have to do to qualify for this mercy and be granted the same privileged status as the covenant people?
Will Gentiles have to swim seven seas, perform feats of great sacrifice, or read a hundred books? No. The apostle’s language is very precise. “You also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation” (Eph. 1:13). The Gentiles’ inclusion does not even rest on their doing what the Jews were supposed to do. But simply hearing—actually having the ears to hear and really hearing—the gospel marked these Gentiles as those included in the covenant. Note that they could not have heard spiritually, if God had not already worked in their hearts and tuned them to receive his Word (John 6:44, 65). Truly hearing the message of God’s mercy was itself a sign of inclusion in the covenant before anything else had been, or could be, done.
This unconditional covenant inclusion is a great mercy. The greatness can be comprehended only by remembering the pagan context of the Ephesians’ world. Human pride, false morality, and deceitful idolatry all thrived in Ephesus. For God to call people from this place his own before they had done anything to qualify for his love is a sign of great grace—of God’s willingness to be faithful in the face of great human frailty and sin. And thus, just as Paul can say that it was for “the praise of his [God’s] glory” that those who first believed were from the Jews, the least distinguished of the peoples of the world (Eph. 1:12), so also when Paul concludes his thought about the Ephesians, he says that their inclusion in Christ is likewise to the praise of God’s glory (Eph. 1:14). Christ is glorified both because more persons are subject to him and also because his caring for them signals the wonders of his mercy.
There are many ways that these truths apply to us. First, there is the big picture: if we are included in Christ, then we are part of the eternal plan that began with the covenant people of old. All things are being worked out so that we, too, will be for the praise of his glory. Everything is being worked out for our good and his glory.
Second, there is a big mercy. More are being included who do not get everything right. We are part of the big picture because of God’s mercy, not our merit. Our accomplishments would never qualify us for his mercy. There are forces greater than we that are at work throughout history, and presently, to make us God’s own. Our salvation could never be dependent on our getting everything right—not yesterday, not today, not ever.
Third, we are part of the big plan to make everything right. There is a type of Calvinism that so emphasizes God’s sovereign eternal plan that it virtually shuts out any role of human participation in the spread of the gospel. But when we properly understand what the apostle says here, we are compelled to put our lives in God’s service for the sake of the gospel. We are instruments of his glory, not mere observers of his sovereignty.
When Calvin preached in Geneva, he did not push merely for doctrinal understanding. Visit his church and you can still learn how the great expounder of God’s sovereignty welcomed people from all over the world, and then prepared them to gush forth from Geneva to take the gospel to others. Where confidence in the sovereign working of God was greatest, there were the greatest delight and zeal to participate in God’s plan.
Paul says that the Jews were chosen in order that they might be to the praise of God’s glory, and that when those who first believed from among the Jews told others, they might help fulfill God’s plan to bring all things under Christ. God’s people can be a part of extending God’s mercy and glory. Those who have apprehended how great is the mercy of God desire that his glory spread, and they recognize that God uses human means to do this. Those most aware of the eternal plan are those most anxious to be a part of it, because they know that their efforts are not futile and even their failures are not determinative of God’s final intentions. God will still use people who believe that they are part of his design to bring glory to his Son—and who know that his design will prevail.
I am always chasing rainbows. When a rainbow appears in the sky, I will run for a camera as well as whatever family member or pet I can get to pose in the picture. The beautiful colors, the contrast of darkening rain and glistening sun, the wonder of light in nature’s prism, the reminder of God’s mercy and covenant—all call to me to pay attention and relish the glory of God’s design. But my ability fully to appreciate the glory is always incomplete. Because of the way that rainbows are formed I will never see a complete rainbow from the ground. You may be thinking that you have seen a complete rainbow because you have seen either all its colors or a complete arc that touches the ground on both sides. But from the ground you have not seen a complete rainbow. Because of the sheering effect of the rain and the angle of the sun, a person beneath the rainbow cannot see all of God’s design where the legs come together and the rainbow is a complete circle. As long as our view is from the ground, earth gets in the way and we never see God’s complete design.
Yet, you can see a complete rainbow. I have. If you get above the earth in a plane or on a mountaintop, when the sun is just at the right angle, you can see the whole rainbow, the full circle—the completeness of God’s design. When earth does not get in the way, you can see all of God’s design.
In this portion of Scripture, Paul moves earth aside so that we can see God’s entire plan. He lifts us above earthly perspectives and lets us see our lives from the perspective of heaven. There we see the whole design of human history. We are raised above the limitations of our sin and finitude so we will see that from the beginning God chose to love us. He made a people for his very own and promised that from them would come those who would believe in Christ. These would be his instruments for telling others, so that all the world would come together in praise of his glory. And just as it was from the beginning, so it is now: all things are being worked together in conformity with Christ’s purpose so that by his mercy all is to the praise of his glory.
The Bible’s claim of divine purpose in all things puts Christians at odds with differing earthly viewpoints. First, it puts us at odds with the secular world. We do not accept the premises of the secular scientist at the university who refuses to let students use language of purpose and design in describing the world around us. Everything is part of God’s design—not random, not developed by chance, but divinely designed.
Second, a heavenly perspective puts us at odds with much in our personal world. Our limited and finite perspective does not always confirm divine purpose for us. We question and doubt God’s design because the things of earth get in the way: our troubles, our questions, our sin—yes, even our pain and suffering. How can they fit into his purpose? It is so hard to see divine designs when your child is ill, when the church seems troubled by needless debate, when you are struggling to hold a family together, or simply to make financial ends meet. Yet when our eyes see the full rainbow in Scripture—the completeness of God’s plan—and know by faith that our lives are a part of God’s design no matter what happens, then we can take whatever comes because we know that we are for the praise of his glory.
Our hearts naturally and understandably question, “Is there really purpose in all of this?” The apostle answers by taking us to heaven’s heights to let us see from God’s perspective the complete picture of his working all things together for Christ’s glory and our good through no merit of our own. From the beginning he made a world good and to his glory. But then, like a balloon punctured and deflated, the glory was left in crumpled remains of human misery and earthly corruption by the fall of Adam. But ever since, according to the nature that is in him, the Lord has been following a predetermined plan to refill the balloon with his mercy, ever expanding and extending the balloon to its original glory. First, the mercy was extended to a chosen people through no merit of their own. From them came those who were the first to believe in Christ, and they carried the message of mercy to other nations who now also are included in the plan of mercy until the expansion of the kingdom purposes of God are fulfilled.
Paul writes this epistle so that we would grasp that such a vast, intricate, and, at the same time, intimate plan is true and applies to us. What a difference it makes in my life and yours when we believe that the trials as well as the accomplishments, the difficulties as well as the joys, are not simply the products of brute forces in the universe but actually are all part of God’s eternal plan for his glory and our good. Do we have any assurance that such astounding truths do apply to us? Yes. Our assurance of God’s abiding care rests not only in his past and present promises, but also in his Spirit’s faithfulness.
His Spirit’s Faithfulness (1:13c–14)
Paul says to the Ephesians, “You were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is the deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory” (vv. 13b–14). Those who are part of God’s redemptive plan are marked with a seal that guarantees their receiving the full rights of God’s heirs in a kingdom redeemed and made right.
The “inheritance” concept is found elsewhere in Paul’s prison epistles (Eph. 5:5; Col. 1:12; 3:24) and in his speeches in Acts (20:32; 26:18). This is an important continuity. Jesus spoke of the inheritance of the kingdom and of eternal life (Matt. 19:29; 25:34), and his followers continued this expression (1 Cor. 6:9–10; 15:50; Gal. 5:21; Heb. 1:14; 9:15; 1 Peter 1:4). But Jesus’ words do not originate the concept. The Old Testament people were also promised an inheritance from God. Now, as God’s people, this inheritance is “ours,” but we are not the sole recipients of blessing. God also has his own inheritance in the saints (Eph. 1:18; and see comments on verse 11 above).
The “seal” image that Paul is calling to mind is that of the wax that was affixed to an official document whose promises are guaranteed because of the authority of the one who marked the seal with a signet ring. The sign was the guarantee that what was promised would be fulfilled for those to whom it was promised.
But Paul is not ending the imagery there. The Holy Spirit is not just a mark of God that we are his possession; the Spirit also is a deposit guaranteeing the redemption that is to come. This deposit is similar to a down payment on a house that secures your position as the buyer, or the first fruits of a crop that indicate that the rest of the harvest is coming.5 The Spirit is the first evidence of the full grandeur of God’s completed purpose in our lives.
It all sounds so great. The Spirit marks us as God’s own and serves as the guarantee of God’s purpose for our lives. But does this satisfy all of our questions? No. We want to know how the Spirit marks us. What are the evidences of the deposit to assure us that God’s plan applies to us? The answer lies in the portion of the text not yet addressed: “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, the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1:13).
It is important to remember that in the original language (despite the periods in our English versions) this portion of our text is part of one long sentence that extends beyond this verse. If this sentence structure is forgotten, then one is likely to create a time sequence for this verse that reflects our preconceptions rather than what the words actually say. If one’s preconception is that some special expression of the Holy Spirit, such as charismatic gifts, will arrive in a second blessing weeks or even years after conversion, then the words might be read this way: “You were included in Christ, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed that, then at a later time you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.”
But what if the words are put as close together in time as the Greek sentence places the terms? Then the words do not indicate so much a separation of time as a sequence of logic. In this case, the words would be read this way: “You were included in Christ, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed that, then you were at that time marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” In this case, the proof of the presence of the Holy Spirit is not indicated by a distant expression of extraordinary charismatic gifts, but rather the immediate fact that God has brought the person to saving faith. Belief itself indicates the presence of the seal (mark) of the Spirit of God that guarantees we are God’s children because without the Spirit we could not and would not believe (Rom. 8:6–9; 1 Cor. 2:14).
We fail to recognize belief as the indication of the seal of the Spirit when we fail to remember how supernatural is the gift of our faith. The gospel says you are a sinner, and Jesus, the Lord of all and Lamb of God, died for your sins. The world doesn’t believe that. The gospel says that even when you are faithless, the faithful God has forgiven your past, laid claim on your life, and secured your future. The world doesn’t believe that. The gospel says that though you were dead in your trespasses and sins, Christ died for you, rose from the dead as the victor over your sins, gives purpose to your life now, and is coming to claim you eternally. The world cannot believe that. Not until the Holy Spirit comes and supernaturally changes a heart can anyone believe the truths of the gospel. Thus, says the apostle, your believing is the evidence that the Holy Spirit is in you.
The Holy Spirit who has already enabled you to taste the sweetness of God in the gospel of your salvation is giving you a foretaste of the glory that awaits you, guaranteed by his mark of belief in you. Already by the Holy Spirit’s using the gospel, your spiritual world has been turned upside down and made new. Your belief is the proof that the Bible speaks truth when it says that you are a new creation. In addition, this testimony of God’s Spirit in your heart affirms that what the Bible says about God’s work throughout creation can be trusted. The Bible says the entire creation is being conformed to God’s purposes and for his glory. Because we have witnessed the re-creating work of God in our hearts, we are able to trust that what the Bible says about God’s ultimate renewal of all things is also true.
These are precious truths that give meaning, purpose, and courage to our lives. I can know that nothing in my life is without purpose because I believe that the Savior died for me and now, as my risen Lord, he lives in me by his Spirit so that my life will be used for his glory. Such belief is itself the evidence (and guarantee) of the Spirit’s presence in my life and God’s purpose for my life. God has a purpose for me in all my weakness, frailty, sin, and fear. Does Paul say this because he does not understand the real challenges that we face? He is claiming that we can know everything will work out for God’s glory and our good simply because of the evidence of our belief as the Holy Spirit’s claim upon us. Does Paul live in the real world? Yes, he writes this letter while under Roman guard and awaiting trial. He knows the real world. And because he believes the gospel, he believes that even his suffering is part of God’s purpose of spreading the message of his faithfulness past and present until all of God’s precious people are gathered in to the glory of his name.
Because our weakness before the world outside of us, and our sin caused by the world inside of us, are so evident, we need the blessed assurance that our lives are not fruitless and that what we fail to achieve is not disqualifying of God’s love. Ultimately our confidence has to turn away from anything that we would offer and, instead, toward the faithfulness of our God that is confirmed by his Spirit’s work in us. Without these assurances the things that we must face until Christ comes again would be unbearable. But with the assurance that his purposes are secure and that we are in that plan, we can face whatever he calls us to endure and be secure even when our weaknesses are apparent.
A friend of mine recently shared that the high school graduation of his son Robby was filling the family with “new degrees of terror.” The reason for the terror was that Robby was born with multiple mental and physical handicaps. Once school was over, much of the government support for Robby would disappear, and it was not clear how the family would take care of him.
Robby was on my mind when, a few days later, the pastor of my church was pronouncing that Sunday’s benediction—the promise of God to give his blessing to his covenant people. As our pastor finished the benediction, a slurred voice rose in the back of the sanctuary and joined him in saying the final, oft-repeated words: “… to our God is the power and authority, now and forever, amen.” It was Robby, who, from his wheelchair, was testifying of the power and sovereignty of his God—past, present, and forever.
How could Robby believe such things, and how could his parents? His suffering and their anguish have been so great. There is little on this earth that would confirm the truth of the words he repeated. Only faith affirms that Robby’s hope is not in vain. But such faith rises above the earth and sees all things from God’s perspective. There he shows himself to be the God of all power who is able to conform all things to his purposes. There he promises that every valley shall be lifted, every injustice will be made right, every tear will be wiped away, hearts will be healed, bodies will be made whole, and all that now happens will lead us and others to an eternity of these blessings with our Savior. The weakest of vessels and the vilest of sinners are part of this eternal plan, as are all who believe in him. How do you know that you are included? Because you believe in him and, having believed, you have the testimony of his Spirit in your heart that he is able to bring all things together for his glory and your good.
The universe of your soul is already different, and this is the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the deposit of God of the full redemption that is ahead, given to assure you that what you face is not without purpose and what you most cherish is not in jeopardy. Neither is in your hands. Rather, all is in the hands of the wonderful God who called and made you his own out of his mercy alone. Even when you cannot do everything right, even when things seem all wrong, you are all right with God because he who chose you is working out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glory.
13 Paul explains yet another facet of the readers’ inclusion “in Christ.” Twice more he repeats the prepositional phrase “in whom” (i.e., in Christ); this final action occurs in the same arena as the prior ones. After the first “in whom,” Paul inserts the conjunction kai (“also,” functioning as an adverb) and the emphatic personal pronoun “you” (hymeis) as though to shout, You also were sealed. Not only are the previous acts accomplished, but you, yes you, were also sealed with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not an agent who stamped us with a seal; the Spirit is the seal. Believers possess the Spirit.
The central verb in this verse, sphragizō, “seal,” has two participial modifiers; the verb and the participles are all in the aorist tense. The position of the participles prior to the main verb and the tense probably signal contemporaneous actions: sealing, hearing, and believing (cf. Hoehner, 237). The passive voice of “seal” no doubt implies the divine agent: God sealed the believers. The relationship between the participles and the main verb could be causal or temporal, i.e., God sealed either when or because they heard and when or because they believed. Though these present different nuances, the resultant meaning remains certain. Hearing the word of truth, i.e., the gospel of salvation, and believing it result in God’s sealing. When and because coalesce.
Thus Paul clarifies the means by which a person secures salvation, namely, hearing and believing. It matters what is heard and believed, for truth is at stake. They have heard the word (logos, GK 3365) that may also be termed “the truth.” Paul was strongly committed to following the way of truth (2 Co 4:2) and to proclaiming a saving message that embodied God’s truth. In 2 Corinthians 5:19 Paul terms his message the “word” (logos) of reconciliation and in Philippians 2:16 “the word of life,” both salvific terms. Paul defines the word of truth here as “the gospel of your salvation.” Employing the term “gospel” (euangelion, GK 2295), made famous by Mark (1:1), Paul believes the “word” represents “good news” about salvation. Consequently, Paul saw his entire career as propagating this gospel that brought salvation (Ro 1:1, 16; 15:16, 19). As 1 Thessalonians 5:8 makes abundantly clear, Paul saw “salvation” in ultimate and eschatological terms. People were headed to one of two outcomes—wrath or salvation. So Paul labored to bring people to God’s eschatological rescue (2 Ti 2:10).
But only hearing the salvation-bringing word is insufficient; people must believe the word, or more specifically, believe in Christ. Confession of and belief in Christ are the bases for salvation (Ro 10:9–10). For Paul, belief was no mere assent to a proposition or even to an acknowledgment that Jesus was Messiah or Lord. Belief entailed accepting not only that the gospel of Christ is true but that it is true for me. That is, saved ones live out in their experience the reality that Christ is Lord. Accordingly, in the second half of Ephesians we find Paul’s insistence on the lifestyle that must characterize true believers: “live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (4:1). So here the two processes must combine: hear and believe the word, for that word of truth is the good news that alone brings salvation.
When and because the believers heard and believed, God sealed them with the Holy Spirit of promise. The Spirit has an important role in this letter (2:18, 22; 3:5; 5:18; 6:18). Elsewhere Paul links the gift of the Holy Spirit to the point of acquiring salvation (Ro 8:9–11; 1 Co 12:13; Gal 3:2). A “saved” person possesses the Holy Spirit (Ro 5:5; 1 Co 6:19). Paul may be thinking of the gifts of the Spirit or the fruit of the Spirit (or both). Some see a hint of baptism here, but no evidence in the text suggests that rite. But what is the point of sealing here? “Sealing” could pinpoint a security measure or the need to seal something up, but probably here Paul intends the seal as a mark of ownership or possession (cf. BDAG, 980). In that case, the presence of the Spirit in the believers’ lives marks them out as God’s property (also confirmed in 2 Co 1:22). The Spirit here is called literally “the Holy Spirit of promise.” This genitival connection probably conveys a descriptive meaning (as in the NIV)—the promised Holy Spirit (Gal 3:14; cf. Ac 1:5, 8; 2:4, 17). As he promised, when God takes ownership of a person he marks that person with the Spirit, a seal for the day of redemption (Eph 4:30). The Ephesian believers enjoy the same status as all members of Christ’s body. They have God’s seal on them, the same one that identifies all believers.
14 Paul calls the Spirit the arrabōn (a Semitic word that passed into Greek; GK 775) of our inheritance (see also 2 Co 1:22; 5:5). BDAG, 134, describe this entity as the “payment of part of a purchase price in advance, first installment, deposit, down payment, pledge.” The sense is clear enough. The Spirit in believers’ lives constitutes God’s “earnest money,” a kind of deposit from him by which he assures that he will give them their full inheritance. In v. 18 Paul speaks of the “riches of [God’s] glorious inheritance in the saints.” The Spirit is the down payment; the remaining riches will follow. A Spirit-filled life is a foretaste of what heaven will be like (cf. 5:18–21).
The verse ends with more tortuous grammar—two prepositional phrases with genitival modifiers that describe the down payment of our inheritance. The first explains what will happen (and possibly when): (until) God redeems his possession. The second expresses its significance: God’s glory will be praised. Paul revisits the theme of redemption (recall v. 7) and adds an interesting descriptor for those redeemed: they are God’s possession or property (cf. 2 Pe 3:9). At the grand finale when God “pays up,” he will redeem his property—us—and we will acquire our inheritance. The response to this exorbitant grace comes as no surprise if we have followed Paul closely: God’s glory is praised! This repeats the outcome of v. 12 (cf. v. 6).
Assurance (vv. 13–14)
Then, in verses 13–14, Paul reminds his readers that this inheritance cannot be taken away. For, when we believed, we were “sealed … with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance.” The Spirit’s presence in our lives is a seal, an evidence of the fact that we really are God’s people. He is like God’s wax signature stamp on the scroll of our lives, indicating that we are the genuine article, that we really do belong to God. Further, if the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives is evidence that we belong to God, it is also “a pledge” (a promise) that, since we surely belong to God, God’s “inheritance” surely belongs to us! The Spirit’s presence in our lives—convicting us of sin, illuminating God’s Word, helping us to pray, ordering our daily steps, and so on, brings about an assurance that we really are God’s people and that we will, therefore, surely inherit all the blessings extolled in Ephesians 1.
So, says Paul, we have been given “every spiritual blessing” in Christ. Moreover, through his own excitement and exultation (v. 3), Paul informs us that, far from merely listing these blessings and mulling over each for a moment or two, we ought to bless God for them! Remember, Paul began this long sentence with the words, “Blessed be … God”! I hope you might pause, even in the middle of this chapter, to say, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing”!
Second, let us notice that we have “every spiritual blessing” …
Perhaps you noticed that the words “in Christ,” “in Him,” and other similar formulas are repeated over and again in Paul’s register of spiritual blessings:
- “Every spiritual blessing” is ours “in Christ” (v. 3).
- God chose us “in Him” (v. 4).
- He predestined us to adoption as sons “through Jesus Christ” (v. 5).
- God’s grace was freely bestowed upon us “in the Beloved” (v. 6).
- “In Him” we have our redemption (v. 7).
- The forgiveness of our trespasses comes “through His blood” (v. 7).
- The mystery of God’s will unfolds “in Him” (v. 9).
- “In Him” we have obtained our inheritance (vv. 10–11).
- “In Him” we believed and were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (v. 13).
Paul is emphatic about this point. Yes, God has given us spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing. But he does not snatch these blessings out of thin air. No: the blessings of God are all ours “in Christ.” He is the chest in which are stored the treasures of sanctification, redemption, forgiveness, and so on. We would not (and could not) possess any of these things had not Jesus come and lived sinlessly where we have not; had he not died the death that we deserve; had he not risen on the third day; and were he not seated at the Father’s right hand, even now, interceding for us. “Every spiritual blessing” is ours only because of what Jesus has done on our behalf; only because God loved us enough to give us his only begotten Son; and only if we ourselves are truly “in Him.”
We must never speak of heaven, of Christian growth, or of being God’s children without speaking of Jesus. We only possess these things “in Him”! Indeed, we must never even speak of the Holy Spirit divorced from Christ. For it is “in Him” that we have been “sealed … with the Holy Spirit of promise” (v. 13).
“Every spiritual blessing” is ours only “in Christ.” The Christian faith and the Christian life are all rooted and grounded in Jesus. This is what Paul is getting at in that difficult series of phrases in verses 9–10. In “the fullness of the times,” God made it clear that his whole plan, the whole mystery of his will for mankind, is summed up in Christ! Jesus is the key that unlocked our salvation. Jesus is the treasure chest from which all God’s blessings are drawn. Jesus is the axis point on the timeline of human history. Jesus is the center of heaven’s attention. God has ordered the world, Paul says in verse 10, so that “the summing up of all things” would be “in Christ.” And not least in Paul’s understanding of “all things” are the blessings of our salvation. We have “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”
We also have these blessings, Paul reminds us, …
“According to the riches of His grace” (v. 7)
God is the one who has blessed us, we are told in verse 3. And he has done so, not because we deserve blessing, but “according to the riches of His grace” (v. 7). He has blessed us, not because of some goodness in us, but “according to the kind intention of His will” (v. 5), “according to His kind intention” (v. 9). God treats us far better than we deserve! That is the definition of grace!
Grace is a theme that Paul elaborates famously in Ephesians 2. But even here in chapter 1 we are reminded of it again and again. We are “in Christ,” we possess “every spiritual blessing,” we have assurance of sins forgiven and heaven awaiting us—all simply because God is kind and gracious; because he is good and merciful. Instead of rewarding us according to the poverty of our characters, God rewards us “according to the riches of His grace.”
Once again, we ought to pause, with the apostle, and simply revel in the kindness and graciousness of our God! Think, for a moment, about what your sins deserve. Think about how you have gone astray even in the last week. How might you feel about someone who snubbed, forgot, or ignored you over and over again? But how does God feel about us according to verses 3–14? How kind is he, really—especially when we consider what we actually deserve from his hands? No wonder Paul revels as he writes these verses! No wonder he can scarcely put down his quill or finish his sentence! The kindness of God is too great for words! Paul could go on and on, describing “the glory of His grace” (v. 6) and “the kind intention of His will” (v. 5). Surely we ought to do so as well. Surely we ought sometimes to lose all track of time, and perhaps even sentence structure, as we praise “the riches of [God’s] grace.”
Indeed, it is for this very purpose that God blesses us—that we might praise his name! Every spiritual blessing is ours in Christ, and according to the riches of God’s grace, for one purpose:
“To the praise of His glory” (v. 12)
Here is another refrain that is repeated in this first chapter of Ephesians. God has predestined and adopted us, and he is making us holy, “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (v. 6). He has given us our inheritance “to the praise of His glory” (v. 12). He has made us his very own possession “to the praise of His glory” (v. 14). God has bestowed every blessing upon us, he has opened up the treasure chest that is in Jesus and lavished gift after gift upon us, not merely so that we might enjoy the gifts, but so that we might praise and glorify the Giver! We have been made Christians, not first of all for our own sakes, but for God’s—“to the praise of His glory”!
So much of modern culture—even modern Christian culture—is geared toward the happiness and fulfillment of the individual. This is why the aforementioned televangelists have gained such a foothold. They say what we like to hear: “God wants to make me happy; to make me fulfilled; to give me blessings.” And they are not all wrong, of course. God does want to fulfill and delight his people. Nothing could be clearer when we read Ephesians 1! But where the prosperity teachers have erred badly—and where many other Christians fall into error as well—is by overlooking the fact that God blesses us and brings joy and fulfillment into our lives, not simply for the sake of our own joy and fulfillment, but so that we will turn around and bless him—just as Paul is doing from verse 3.
I say that many Christians—even those who see right through the sham of the prosperity gospel—miss this point. So what are some of the implications of that phrase “to the praise of His glory”? What does it mean, in practical terms? It means that we are made more holy (v. 4), not so we can admire our reflection in the mirror, but so that we will admire the One whose image we reflect more and more! It also means that we are adopted into God’s family (v. 5), not only so that we can revel in our possessing the rights of children, but also that we might revel in the Father himself! We are forgiven of sins (v. 7), not simply so we can feel a sense of relief from conviction, but also that we might praise and magnify the kindness of the God who forgives! And we will someday receive our inheritance in heaven (v. 11), not merely so that we will be able to sit back and think about how wonderful it is to live without sin, tears, or pain, but so that those blessings (and they will be spectacular!) will urge us to press as close as possible to God’s throne and praise him, the Giver of the blessings!
FOR FURTHER STUDY
- Does Paul’s teaching on election and predestination surprise you? Why is that? What other biblical passages speak on this subject? What do they say? Do they call for any rethinking on your part?
- Is there a spiritual blessing mentioned in verses 3–14 which you would like to understand or appreciate better? Using a concordance or online tool, do a study of all the places and ways in which Paul uses that word.
TO THINK ABOUT AND DISCUSS
- Was there any spiritual blessing in verses 3–14 that stood out as particularly moving or relevant to you? Why was that?
- Every Christian has a testimony of “redemption” (v. 7), of how God set him or her free from slavery to sin and self. What is your testimony? Spend some time marveling at how God redeemed you—and perhaps share the story with a Bible-study partner or friend.
- How do you react to the thought that God saved you from your sins and granted you a heavenly inheritance primarily to the praise of His own glory? Does that mean our happiness is unimportant? How are our happiness and God’s glory intertwined? Can they coexist? Can they exist apart from each other?
1:13 / Here the author turns to the Gentiles and affirms that they, too, were included in Christ. He then proceeds to outline the steps that were involved in their coming to Christ:
First, they heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. On some occasion these readers heard the message of the gospel, which resulted in their salvation. In this context, salvation probably signifies inner renewal and all the blessings and privileges available to believers because of their status in Christ (cf. 2:1ff.) rather than preservation from the wrath of God (cf. Rom. 5:9).
The phraseology of this opening statement is similar to Colossians 1:5 and to the ideas in Romans 10:14 and 17, which show that the proclamation of the gospel precedes faith in the gospel. A similar sequence takes place during Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost when he summons those who heard the gospel to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:37ff.).
Second, they believed in Christ, literally, “in whom also having believed.” Although the content of belief is not mentioned, it definitely must include the person of Christ (“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” Rom. 10:9) or the gospel that bears witness to him.
Third, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. The imagery behind this phrase comes from the ancient custom of sealing (sphragizō), in which personal possessions (e.g., animals, household goods, slaves) received a mark or stamp of ownership in much the same way that things are branded or identified today. This act also confirmed or authenticated something as genuine. A seal on a letter or document, for example, declared that it was legally valid. People belonging to religious cults often were sealed with marks that bore the image of their god(s). The Book of Revelation talks about those who have or do not have “the seal of God on their foreheads” (Rev. 9:4; cf. also 7:2–8; 22:4; 2 Tim. 2:19).
In the nt, there are a number of references that indicate that the Holy Spirit is the Christian’s seal: In Romans, Paul relates the inner witness of the Spirit to the believer’s sonship (8:15, 16; cf. Gal. 4:6), thus affirming that the presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer is a sign that he or she belongs to God. The apostle is even more explicit in 2 Corinthians 1:22, “[God] set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” Ephesians 1:13 confirms this by assuring the believer that the seal is the possession of the Holy Spirit. It is a visible attestation that one belongs to Christ.
Although Paul connects the giving of the Holy Spirit to the acts of “hearing” the gospel and “believing” in Christ, there are credible reasons to believe that verse 13 has the baptismal event in mind, even though the term is not mentioned explicitly. First, there is an inseparable connection between faith and baptism in the nt. Baptism is believers’ baptism, and those who believed in Christ expressed their faith almost immediately in baptism (Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12, 35–38; 9:18; 10:47, 48; 19:5). Faith and baptism went so closely together that they were regarded as one act rather than two. Peter, for example, instructs his hearers to repent, that is, to have faith, believe, and to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (2:38). When Paul becomes a Christian, he is told to “Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). Within the framework of the nt, one was not baptized unless one believed; nor did one believe without being baptized.
Second, the nt connects baptism with the reception of the Holy Spirit. Peter summons his audience to be baptized and receive “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Paul associates baptism and the Holy Spirit on several occasions in his letters (1 Cor. 6:11; 12:13; Titus 3:5). And when Luke describes some of the major epochs in the life of the early Christian church, he includes faith, baptism, and the reception of the Holy Spirit as essential parts of becoming a Christian, that is, of Christian initiation (Acts 2:38ff.; 8:12–17; 19:1–6; cf. 10:44–48). There is no need for a “Spirit baptism” or a rite of confirmation apart from the reception of the Holy Spirit at the time of water baptism.
On the basis of these observations it appears legitimate to interpret 1:13 within the context of baptism. The aorist participles “having heard” (akousantes) and “having believed” (pisteusantes), followed by the aorist passive (“you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise”), are reminiscent of the faith, baptism, Holy Spirit pattern noted above. The author does not envision a sequence of events separated by a long period of time.
Although the Holy Spirit is the seal (1:13; 4:30; 2 Cor. 1:22), and 1:13 is a strong allusion to baptism, it is by no means certain that sealing is used as a technical term for baptism in Ephesians. The first definite reference to the “seal of baptism” occurs in the second century (ca. a.d. 150) in the Second Letter of Clement (7.6; 8.6). From this time onward, sphragis is the seal received by all Christians at baptism and thus becomes a term for baptism itself.
The effect of the Holy Spirit is to mark the believer with a seal. As a seal, the Spirit marks one out as belonging to Christ. It is interesting to note that this is virtually the same effect that baptism “into Christ” has. To be baptized into the name or person of Christ is to become Christ’s possession, to be placed under the Lord’s authority and protection.
1:14 / In addition to ownership, the Holy Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing that believers will receive God’s promises. Most commentators suggest that the idea of guarantee (arrabōn) came into the Greek world from the Phoenicians who, in matters of trade, often would make a deposit or an installment as earnest money with the balance to be paid in full at some later date. This act obliged both buyer and seller to complete the transaction. But “the deal” included a sense of “quality” as well, for the person receiving the down payment looked forward to receiving full payment with goods of the same quality (Mitton, pp. 62–63). In the Christian life, the Holy Spirit is a pledge that God will complete his promise to deliver our inheritance. The statement in 2 Corinthians 5:5 is more specific about this idea: “God … has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” One’s present life in the Spirit is a foretaste of one’s future and eternal life with the Spirit!
Beyond guaranteeing one’s inheritance, the Holy Spirit assures believers of the redemption of those who are God’s possession. Included in this translation are the two important theological concepts of redemption (apolytrōsis) and possession (peripoiēsis). Some commentators (cf. Abbott, p. 24) believe that the context (our inheritance) requires that possession likewise be “our possession.” Thus, believers are redeemed, but await a future time when they will take full possession of their redemption. This view has led to the ambiguous and inadequate translation in the rsv, “which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
Most commentators—and as a result most English translations, like the niv—think the verse is stressing that God is the agent of redemption and that believers are God’s possession (niv, nasb), “his own” (neb), or “those who are his” (gnb). Although redemption is a present gift, the Holy Spirit assures the believer that ultimately God will redeem completely those who are his; he is a guarantee until the complete freedom (redemption) of God’s own people (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9).
These thoughts recall the “already” and the “not yet” aspect of the Christian life. Believers have been given the Holy Spirit, enjoy new life in Christ, have been redeemed, but still await the fulfillment of these blessings at the second Advent. The sealing of the Holy Spirit has an eschatological function that points toward the final day, when their bodies will completely be freed (redeemed) from all the effects of sin. Ephesians 4:30 expands this concept more fully when it refers to “the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” A similar thought concerning redemption is expressed in Romans 8:23, where Paul discusses the future glory of God’s people and God’s creation: “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
This great hymn of praise (vv. 3–14) ends with a note that has been sounded several times before with respect to God’s elective purpose for humanity. Hence, election and sonship are to the praise of his glorious grace (v. 6); redemption, and all of its benefits (vv. 7–11), are to culminate in a life of praise (that we … might be for the praise of his glory—v. 12); finally, the pledge of the Holy Spirit is presented in relation to the unfolding plan of God. This, also, is to the praise of his glory (v. 14).
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 33–36). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Chapell, B. (2009). Ephesians. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (pp. 49–58). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.
 Klein, W. W. (2006). Ephesians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 54–55). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Strassner, K. (2014). Opening up Ephesians (pp. 29–35). Leominster: Day One.
 Patzia, A. G. (2011). Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (pp. 157–161). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.