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.
13 But God’s portion is not confined to Jewish believers. “We who first placed our hope in Christ” have now been joined by “you also”—that is to say, by Gentile believers. It is to Gentile believers that this letter is specifically addressed, assuring them that their share in God’s heritage is as full and firm as that of their brothers and sisters of Jewish birth. Gentiles also heard the gospel, and realized that the salvation of which it spoke was for them as well as for Jews. The gospel is “the message of truth”—“the true message of the gospel,” as it is called in Col. 1:5—because it has God for its author; it is “the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1). The communication of the gospel to Gentiles was undertaken reluctantly by the first believers, who could scarcely entertain the thought that the fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel should embrace outsiders within its saving scope. Apart from Peter, who required a special revelation from heaven before he could bring himself to accept Cornelius’s invitation to visit him and tell him and his household the way of salvation, Gentile evangelization began as the result of private enterprise, when unnamed Hellenists of Cyprus and Cyrene came to Antioch and told the story of Jesus to Gentiles as well as Jews.92 From then on, throughout the provinces of the eastern Roman Empire, many more Gentiles than Jews believed the gospel, and the terms on which they might be admitted became a matter of serious concern in the mother church at Jerusalem. When, as Luke records, “the apostles and the elders” at Jerusalem “were gathered together to consider this matter,” Peter argued that it would be wise to follow the example of God, who gave proof of his acceptance of Gentile believers by “giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:6–9).
There is a remarkable similarity between Peter’s argument at the Council of Jerusalem and what is said here. The Gentiles, on believing the gospel, were “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” The figure of sealing is used by Paul in relation to the Spirit in 2 Cor. 1:22 where, associating his Corinthian converts closely with himself and his colleagues, he says, “it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us; he has also sealed us and given us the guarantee of the Spirit in our hearts.” Of the three figures used there—the anointing, the seal, and the guarantee—two reappear here: the seal and the guarantee.
The seal of the Spirit was received by the Gentiles here addressed as it had been received earlier by Jewish Christians—when they believed. The verbal form used here is identical with that found in Acts 19:2, where Paul at Ephesus asks a group of “disciples” if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed; it is a participial form meaning “having believed” or “on believing.” By giving believers the Spirit, God “seals” or stamps them as his own possession. The Spirit is variously called “the Spirit of God” or “the Spirit of Christ”; “if anyone has not the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to him” (Rom. 8:9). Here he is called “the Holy Spirit of promise.” This might mean “the promised Holy Spirit” (cf. Acts 2:33, “the promise of the Holy Spirit”); but more probably it indicates that the Holy Spirit brings with him when he is received the promise of glory yet to come. So, in Eph. 4:30, believers are said to have been sealed with the Spirit “for the day of redemption”—a statement which summarizes the words that follow in our present context.
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.
13. In whom ye also. He associates the Ephesians with himself, and with the rest of those who were the first fruits; for he says that they, in like manner, trusted in Christ. His object is, to shew that both had the same faith; and therefore we must supply the word trusted from the twelfth verse. He afterwards states that they were brought to that hope by the preaching of the gospel.
Two epithets are here applied to the gospel,—the word of truth, and the gospel of your salvation. Both deserve our careful attention. Nothing is more earnestly attempted by Satan than to lead us either to doubt or to despise the gospel. Paul therefore furnishes us with two shields, by which we may repel both temptations. In opposition to every doubt, let us learn to bring forward this testimony, that the gospel is not only certain truth, which cannot deceive, but is, by way of eminence, (κατʼ ἐξοχὴν,) the word of truth, as if, strictly speaking, there were no truth but itself. If the temptation be to contempt or dislike of the gospel, let us remember that its power and efficacy have been manifested in bringing to us salvation. The apostle had formerly declared that “it is the power of God to salvation to every one that believeth,” (Rom. 1:16;) but here he expresses more, for he reminds the Ephesians that, having been made partakers of salvation, they had learned this by their own experience. Unhappy they who weary themselves, as the world generally does, in wandering through many winding paths, neglecting the gospel, and pleasing themselves with wild romances,—“ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth,” (2 Tim. 3:7,) or to find life! But happy they who have embraced the gospel, and whose attachment to it is steadfast; for this, beyond all doubt, is truth and life.
In whom, also, after that ye believed. Having maintained that the gospel is certain, he now comes to the proof. And what higher surety can be found than the Holy Spirit? “Having denominated the gospel the word of truth, I will not prove it by the authority of men; for you have the testimony of the Spirit of God himself, who seals the truth of it in your hearts.” This elegant comparison is taken from Seals, which among men have the effect of removing doubt. Seals give validity both to charters and to testaments; anciently, they were the principal means by which the writer of a letter could be known; and, in short, a seal distinguishes what is true and certain, from what is false and spurious. This office the apostle ascribes to the Holy Spirit, not only here, but in another part of this Epistle, (Eph. 4:30,) and in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, (1:22.) Our minds never become so firmly established in the truth of God as to resist all the temptations of Satan, until we have been confirmed in it by the Holy Spirit. The true conviction which believers have of the word of God, of their own salvation, and of religion in general, does not spring from the judgment of the flesh, or from human and philosophical arguments, but from the sealing of the Spirit, who imparts to their consciences such certainty as to remove all doubt. The foundation of faith would be frail and unsteady, if it rested on human wisdom; and therefore, as preaching is the instrument of faith, so the Holy Spirit makes preaching efficacious.
But is it not the faith itself which is here said to be sealed by the Holy Spirit? If so, faith goes before the sealing. I answer, there are two operations of the Spirit in faith, corresponding to the two parts of which faith consists, as it enlightens, and as it establishes the mind. The commencement of faith is knowledge: the completion of it is a firm and steady conviction, which admits of no opposing doubt. Both, I have said, are the work of the Spirit. No wonder, then, if Paul should declare that the Ephesians, who received by faith the truth of the gospel, were confirmed in that faith by the seal of the Holy Spirit.
With that Holy Spirit of promise. This title is derived from the effect produced; for to him we owe it that the promise of salvation is not made to us in vain. As God promises in his word, “that he will be to us a Father,” (2 Cor. 6:18,) so he gives to us the evidence of having adopted us by the Holy Spirit.
13. In whom ye also—Ye Gentiles. Supply as English Version, “trusted,” from Eph 1:12; or “are.” The priority of us Jews does not exclude you Gentiles from sharing in Christ (compare Ac 13:46).
the word of truth—the instrument of sanctification, and of the new birth (Jn 17:17; 2 Ti 2:15; Jam 1:18). Compare Col 1:5, where also, as here, it is connected with “hope.” Also Eph 4:21.
sealed—as God’s confirmed children, by the Holy Spirit as the seal (Ac 19:1–6; Ro 8:16, 23; 1 Jn 3:24). see on 2 Co 1:22; A seal impressed on a document gives undoubted validity to the contract in it (Jn 3:33; 6:27; compare 2 Co 3:3). So the sense of “the love of God shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost” (Ro 5:5), and the sense of adoption given through the Spirit at regeneration (Ro 8:15, 16), assure believers of God’s good will to them. The Spirit, like a seal, impresses on the soul at regeneration the image of our Father. The “sealing” by the Holy Spirit is spoken of as past once for all. The witnessing to our hearts that we are the children of God, and heirs (Eph 1:11), is the Spirit’s present testimony, the “earnest of the (coming) inheritance” (Ro 8:16–18).
that Holy Spirit of promise—rather, as the Greek, “The Spirit of promise, even the Holy Spirit”: The Spirit promised both in the Old and New Testaments (Joe 2:28; Zec 12:10; Jn 7:38, 39). “The word” promised the Holy Spirit. Those who “believed the word of truth” were sealed by the Spirit accordingly.
Ver. 13.—In whom are ye also, having heard the word of the truth, the good news of your salvation. A.V. has “in whom ye also trusted,” or hoped, supplying a verb from προηλπικότας in ver. 13, but without the prefix. This seems hardly natural, because the prefix πρὸ is characteristic and emphatic in ver. 12. It is a much less strain to supply simply ἔστὲ, the important point being that you are now in him—in Christ. This expression, “in Christ,” is one of the hinges of the Epistle; it occurs times almost without number, denoting the intimate vital union through faith between Christ and his people, as of the members to the head in virtue of which they not only get the benefit of his atonement, but share his vital influences, live by faith on the Son of God. Having heard and received the truth as it is in Jesus, the glad tidings of salvation through a crucified Jesus, they became one with him, just as freely as did the believing Jews, and to the same blessed effects. More than that—in whom also having believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of the promise; thus receiving a new ground for thankfulness, a new proof of the riches of the grace of God. Many explain this seal of baptism, which undoubtedly seals Christ and all his blessings to believers. But though the seal of the Holy Spirit may have been given in and with baptism, it is not identical with baptism. The impression of it is partly within believers and partly without. Within, it is the felt result of the working of the Holy Spirit—the feeling of satisfaction and delight in the work and person of Christ, of love, confidence, and joy flowing out toward God, and the desire and endeavour in all things to be conformed to his will. Without, it is the fruit of the Spirit, the new man, created in righteousness and holiness after the image of Christ. Within, the Spirit bears witness with their spirits; without, the transformed life corroborates the inward witness, and gives it to the world. The first is never complete without the second, nor the second without the first. The spiritual history of believers is thus presented: (1) hearing the truth; (2) believing; (3) being sealed. The Spirit is called the Spirit of the promise, because he is often promised in the Old Testament (Isa. 32:15; Ezek. 36:20; Joel 3:1, etc.).
13. As the center of interest shifts once more, this time from the Son (“Christ,” mentioned at the close of verse 12) to the Holy Spirit, here again instead of an abrupt change there is a gradual transition (cf. the beginning of verse 7, with its stair-step transition from the Father to the Son). Paul writes, in whom you also (are included), having listened to the message of the truth, the gospel of your salvation. The Ephesians must not doubt their inclusion in Christ and all his benefits. They have heard, have listened attentively to, the message of the truth. Did not Luke report, “All those who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks”? (Acts 19:10). Such hearing was necessary in order that by faith they might be saved. The answer to be given to those who say that men who can properly be considered objects (or potential objects) of missionary activity are able to be saved without hearing the gospel is, “And how will they believe in him whom they did not hear?” (Rom. 10:14; cf. Matt. 1:21; John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Of course, it makes a difference how men hear. Some hear and become gospel-hardened. As men may become deaf because of a constant pounding noise, so also hearers of the gospel may become completely immune to the preaching of the truth. (“And I heard him a bumming away like a buzzard clock over my head.”) Moreover, to some the proclamation of the gospel is like a love-song sung beautifully and played well (Ezek. 33:32).They hear but do not take to heart (Mark 4:24; Luke 8:18). Christ told his audiences to take care how they heard. By means of unforgettable parables he emphasized this lesson (Matt. 7:24–27; 13:1–9, 18–23).
Christ, however, also stressed that men should give heed what they heard. The Ephesians had listened attentively to “the message of the truth.” There were many errors abroad in those days, many false gospels (Col. 1:23; 2:4, 8; cf. Gal. 1:6–9). The Ephesians, by and large, had ignored or rejected them. They wanted to hear only the very best. It is called the message of the truth because it reveals man’s true condition, proclaims and advocates the only true way of escape, and admonishes saved sinners to show true gratitude in their whole lives. It is, accordingly, “the gospel of your salvation,” not in the sense that in and by itself it saves anyone, but thus that, when accepted by true faith in Christ, its good tidings of great joy become “the power of God for salvation” (Rom. 1:16). This true faith the Ephesians had shown, for Paul continues: and having also believed in him.… They had surrendered their lives to their Lord, had reposed their trust in him. The better they knew him, the more they had trusted him. The more they had trusted him, the better they had learned to know him. Hence, Paul says: you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. A seal—not stamped on but attached to an object in ancient times—was used a. to guarantee the genuine character of a document, etc. (Esther 3:12), or, figuratively, of a person (1 Cor. 9:2); b. to mark ownership (Song of Sol. 8:6); and/or c. to protect against tampering or harm (Matt. 27:66; Rev. 5:1). The context (see verse 14) would seem to indicate that the first of these three ideas, that of authentication or certification, is basic in the present passage. The Spirit had testified within their hearts that they were children of God (Rom. 8:16; 1 John 3:24), and “if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17), people whom nothing can harm, and to whom “all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). It is immediately apparent that in such matters the three aforementioned purposes for which a seal is used combine: authentication implies ownership and protection. In this connection see also N.T.C. on I and II Timothy and Titus, pp. 266–270.
When the very practical question is asked, “How did the Ephesians—or how does anyone—get that seal, that inner assurance?” the answer is: not merely or mainly as the result of agonizing self-searching to see whether all the “marks” of having been elected are present, but rather by a living faith in the triune God, as revealed in Christ, a faith “working through love” (Gal. 5:6). That those addressed had indeed received it in no other way is a fact to which the apostle immediately calls attention (Eph. 1:15).
The Spirit who had given them this seal is here called by his full name, “the Holy Spirit,” to indicate not only that he is holy in himself but also that he is the source of holiness for believers, a holiness which in the case of the addressed was expressed not only by their inner disposition but also by their loving words and deeds. Moreover, this third person of the Trinity is here called “the Holy Spirit of promise,” that is, the promised Holy Spirit, the One given in fulfilment of divine promises (John 14:16, 17; 15:26; 16:13: Acts 1:4). Does not the very fact that in his coming and work divine promises were gloriously fulfilled indicate that promises of future blessings for believers will also attain fruition?
 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.
 Bruce, F. F. (1984). The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (pp. 264–265). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Patzia, A. G. (2011). Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (pp. 157–159). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (pp. 207–208). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 343). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
 Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Ephesians (p. 5). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Ephesians (Vol. 7, pp. 89–91). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.