the human perspective
to the end that we who were first to hope in Christ … In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, (12a, 13a)
In the Greek text this passage is continuous, the last part of verse 12 leading directly into verse 13. Here we see the believer’s divine inheritance in Jesus Christ from our own human perspective. Throughout Scripture there is tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s will, a tension that, in his limited and imperfect knowledge, man is incapable of fully reconciling. As with all the other antinomies and paradoxes in God’s Word, our responsibility is to believe both sides of them without reservation, just as they are revealed. We know the truths are in perfect accord in God’s mind, and that knowledge should satisfy us.
Someone has pictured the divine and human sides of salvation in this way: When you look toward heaven you see a sign that reads, “Whosoever will may come,” and after you enter heaven you look back to that same sign and read on the other side, “Chosen in Him before the foundation of the world.”
Whatever God’s reasons for designing such humanly irreconcilable truths, we should thank and praise Him for them. For the very reason that they are completely true while seeming to be contradictory, we are humbled in His presence as we stand in awe of that which to us is incomprehensible. To the trusting believer such truths are but further evidence that Scripture is God’s doing, and not man’s.
To the end that we who were first to hope in Christ is the first statement given here about the human side of our divine inheritance in Christ. The Greek has a definite article before Christ, and a more literal translation is hope in the Christ. The meaning is not changed, but the definite article emphasizes the uniqueness of our hope: it is in the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. It also stresses the idea that the apostles and other first-generation Jewish believers were the first to receive the Messiah.
A rich factor in man’s believing the gospel is the hope He is given in His Savior and Lord. Though Paul mentions hope before belief in this passage, the chronological as well as theological order is faith and then hope. In this context, however, hope is used primarily as a synonym for faith. The first to hope in Christ were the first to believe in Him.
Therefore, Paul continues, In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, … As the apostle explains in his letter to the Romans, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (10:17). Faith comes from a positive response to the message of truth, the gospel (cf. Gal. 1:6–9)—the good news that God has provided a way of salvation through the atoning work of His Son, Jesus Christ. To “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). Man-made systems of religion, which rely on ritual or works or both, not only do not lead to God but can become great barriers to finding Him. The only way to come is through His Son. “For with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed’ ” (Rom. 10:10–11). Having also believed not only stresses the means by which salvation is appropriated but also the uniformity of such means by the use of also.
Faith is man’s response to God’s elective purpose. God’s choice of men is election; men’s choice of God is faith. In election God gives His promises, and by faith men receive them.
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.
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 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, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
As I was preparing this study of Ephesians 1:11–14 late one year, the Philadelphia papers and the news broadcasts were filled with talk of the move of the city’s professional football team, the Eagles, to Phoenix, Arizona. The story broke on a Tuesday, and for the rest of the week every minor development was reported exhaustively. On Friday night one television channel gave the first fifteen minutes of its thirty-minute news allotment to this story and even returned to it later in the program. This is the kind of thing that interests the people of this world.
In Ephesians 1 Paul presents the greatest news story there has ever been, as he traces the plan of salvation that began in the mind of God even before the beginning of this world and which will be continued throughout all eternity. As he tells it, it is bigger and wiser and grander than anything we can possibly imagine. This story has three movements, like a symphony. The first movement is the sovereign election of God according to which he has chosen to bless a special people with every possible spiritual blessing in his Son Jesus Christ. The second movement is the accomplishing of that purpose through the redeeming death of Jesus. It is through that death that these especially chosen people have forgiveness of sins and are brought under Christ’s lordship.
The final movement—the one we are to study now—concerns the work of the Holy Spirit by which those who have been chosen by the Father and redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ are actually “linked up” to salvation. The theological term for this is “application.” The Holy Spirit is said to “apply” the benefits of Christ’s work savingly.
The Effectual Call
We have already seen enough in our study of the opening paragraph of Ephesians to appreciate how comprehensive and profound this is. As I pointed out earlier, Ephesians 1:3–14 is actually a single sentence that embraces most of the essential doctrines of Christianity. It deals with the doctrines of God, the Trinity, election, the work of Christ, forgiveness, the gospel, grace, creation, the consummation of world history when all things are brought together in subjection to Christ—and others besides. In this collection of doctrines Paul also talks about the Holy Spirit, and his elaboration of this subject is even more comprehensive than the ideas presented previously. What we have in verses 11–14 is a rich statement of the chief doctrines of the Holy Spirit and his work.
The first work of the Holy Spirit is what theologians term “the effectual call.” It is what is referred to in verse 11: “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” At first reading, this seems to be saying the same thing as verse 4, where Paul wrote that God “chose us in him before the creation of the world.” That is, it seems to refer to the eternal election of believers to salvation. But that would be redundant. Actually, in this verse Paul is carrying the argument a bit further, showing how, having first “predestined” to salvation, God now chooses those who have been chosen, thereby working out his purposes in their particular lives. This is accomplished by the Holy Spirit, who opens our eyes to understand what Christ has done for us, grants faith to believe on him, and moves our wills to embrace him as our personal Savior.
This effectual call by the Holy Spirit is necessary because, apart from it, no one would turn from sin to Christ. Instead, all would turn from Christ, deeming his lordship something to be repudiated and the just demands of God something to be abhorred. Apart from the Holy Spirit the world crucifies Christ. That is why Jesus sent the Holy Spirit: to “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned” (John 16:8–11).
Glorification of Jesus
The second function of the Spirit, according to these verses, is the glorification of Christ. In verse 12 Paul continues the thought of verse 11, saying that the Spirit calls God’s elect “in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” That sentence is written of Paul and his companions, but the same thing is said later of all Christians. All this is “to the praise of his glory” (v. 14).
In some ways the most important thing that can be said about the Holy Spirit is that it is the Holy Spirit’s work to glorify Christ, as he himself said in John 15:26 (“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me”) and John 16:13–14 (“He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears.… He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you”).
Whenever the church has forgotten this it has tended to call attention to the Holy Spirit rather than Christ and has fallen into an unhealthy and often divisive subjectivism. When people ask, “Do you have the Holy Spirit?” “Have you had a second experience of the Holy Spirit?” “Have you received the gift of tongues [or whatever other evidence of the presence of the Spirit is being particularly stressed at that time]?”—then the church is divided! When the church has remembered that the role of the Spirit is to glorify Christ, then all the other activities of the Holy Spirit—sanctification, inspiration, the giving of gifts, even the work of creation and anything else that might be mentioned—are seen within that framework, and the church is drawn together around Jesus.
We can learn a practical lesson at this point. Since the work of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Christ, we may conclude that any emphasis upon the person and work of the Holy Spirit that detracts from the person and work of Christ is not of the Spirit. It is the work of another spirit, the spirit of antichrist (see 1 John 4:2–3). On the other hand, wherever Christ is exalted—in whatever way—there the third person of the Trinity is at work, and we may recognize that work and thank him for it.
We may notice one more thing, namely, that the work of the Holy Spirit in glorifying Christ is not apart from us since, as Paul says in verse 12, “we … [are] for the praise of this glory.” Sometimes Christians fall into an overly subjective approach to Christianity, making their faith chiefly a succession of experiences. Sometimes they also commit the opposite error of making their faith abstract and viewing the work of God apart from their own involvement in it. They forget that God works through means. In conversion he works through the Bible and the Spirit who illumines its teachings to us. In glorifying Jesus he works through the Spirit and ourselves—by leading us to Christ and by increasingly producing the character of Jesus in our lives.
Are you glorifying Jesus in what you say and by the way you live? If not, you have no part in the Spirit, since that is what he is sent to do in Christians.
One New Man of Two
The third work of the Holy Spirit is the making of one new people, the church, out of those who were diverse peoples beforehand. This theme comes in for full and repeated treatment in chapter 2. But even here it is so prominent that John R. W. Stott, for one, organizes the outline of Ephesians 1 around it. He speaks of “the future blessing of unification” in verses 9 and 10, and of “the scope of these blessings” in verses 11–14, showing that the blessings given by God through Christ belong equally to Jewish and gentile believers. The parallelism is perfect. In verses 11 and 12 Paul speaks of himself and other Jewish believers, saying that such were “chosen … for the praise of his glory.” In verses 13 and 14 he speaks of the gentile believers, to whom he is writing the letter, saying that they “also were included … to the praise of his glory.”
This was an important thing in Paul’s day because of the hostility that existed between Jews and Gentiles—between Greeks and Romans, rich and poor, slaves and free men, too, for that matter. In Paul’s day (as in ours) the world was sharply divided along many scores of lines. People were divided by distrusts and hatreds. But into this divided world came a new breed of people, people whose lives were transformed by the Holy Spirit and who were united in Christ in spite of their differences. In chapter 2 Paul speaks of a “barrier,” a “dividing wall of hostility.” But that has been broken down by Jesus Christ. Now those who once were many rival peoples have become “one new man” and “one body” (Eph. 2:15–16).
What a great thing this is! And what a great way for the Holy Spirit to glorify Jesus Christ, in whose name this new society is founded!
I am sorry for churches made up of one class of people, as many American churches are, for they lack opportunity to show this new unification of people effectively. Church growth specialists tell us that this is the best way for churches to grow, people being most attracted to those who are like themselves, and it may be so. Churches may grow fastest when everyone they are working with is alike. But at what cost is this growth purchased! I would rather have less growth and more glory given to Christ. I would rather have smaller totals but a larger body in the sense of a larger number of the types and conditions of people who are included in it.
Word and Spirit
The fourth aspect of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in these verses is the connection between the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, the Bible, which Paul alludes to here in speaking of “the word of truth, the gospel” (v. 13). Just as the Holy Spirit glorifies Christ and may not be separated from him, so also does the Holy Spirit always speak through and with the Word of God, the Bible, and is not to be separated from it. The Holy Spirit never speaks or works apart from Scripture.
This was one great discovery of the Protestant Reformers. Luther, Calvin, and others had a strong belief in the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing men and women to faith and in leading and preserving them in that faith once they had believed. They believed in the Holy Spirit’s work because the Bible taught it. They rejoiced in such verses as John 3:8 (“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit”), 1 John 5:6 (“The Spirit … testifies, because the Spirit is the truth”) or 1 Corinthians 2:12–14 (“We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned”).
But when they thought of these verses, with their strong emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit, the Reformers also remembered many other verses that taught the importance of the Bible in knowing the mind of God, and they recognized that it is through the Bible, as the Holy Spirit illumines it to our minds, that God speaks.
Apart from a general revelation of God in nature (which by itself saves no one), we may say that God reveals himself in three ways: (1) there is a revelation of God in history, centered in the atoning work of Christ; (2) there is a revelation of God in writing, the Bible, which tells us of God’s acts; and (3) there is a revelation of God to the mind and heart of the individual by the Holy Spirit, who interprets the written revelation to us and applies its blessings to our hearts. None of this happens apart from the Bible or the truth of the gospel, which it contains, which is what Paul says here. So we can never give too much attention to the Bible. The Bible is the means God uses to call and bless people, as the Holy Spirit, who is God, reveals the Lord Jesus Christ and his work through its pages.
Marked with a Seal
The final work of the Spirit mentioned here is his work of sealing God’s people. The text says, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” (vv. 13–14).
In his commentary Charles Hodge points out rightly that there are three purposes for which a seal is used and that each illustrates the Spirit’s work: (1) a seal is used to confirm an object or document as being true or genuine, (2) a seal is used to mark a thing as one’s property, and (3) a seal is used to make something fast or secure. The first may be illustrated by the seal of the United States which appears on paper currency or by the seal affixed to a passport. The second is like a nameplate on the flyleaf of a book. The third is illustrated by the seal of the Sanhedrin placed upon the tomb of Christ.
Each of these illustrates something important about the Spirit’s work. The Holy Spirit verifies that the one receiving him really is God’s child, as Paul says in Romans 8:16 (“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children”). D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones thinks that this is the chief point of Paul’s reference in Ephesians 1:14 and spends five chapters on it.
The Holy Spirit is also God’s claim on us that we truly are his possession. The phrase “God’s possession” is used explicitly in verse 14.
Finally, the Holy Spirit makes the Christian secure in his new faith and relationship. This comes through in the idea of the Spirit’s being “a deposit [or down payment] guaranteeing our inheritance” until our full redemption. Like a down payment on the purchase of a property, he is proof of God’s good faith and an earnest of the full amount to come.
Sealing with the Holy Spirit answers to all our needs. It assures us of God’s favor. It shows that we belong to him. It renders our salvation certain.
To God Be Glory
The last words of this great opening sentence of the apostle Paul are “to the praise of his glory.” It is an appropriate end, just as it was an appropriate beginning. In verse 3 Paul began by exclaiming, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Then, after he has enumerated those blessings, he returns to the place from which he set out, saying that this is “to the praise of his glory.”
And there is this too. When Paul began to speak of God’s blessings to us in salvation he went back before the creation of the world to God’s eternal will, saying that salvation began when God chose us in Jesus Christ (v. 4). He then showed how that will of God unfolded itself in history, first in the work of the second person of the Godhead in providing redemption from sin, and then in the work of the third person of the Godhead in applying that work to the individual. At this point he introduces the idea of God’s purpose, showing it to be that God himself might be glorified. In other words, everything we have in Christ comes from God and returns to God, beginning in his will and ending in his glory. It is God-centered from beginning to end.
The Spirit’s Seal or Down Payment (1:13–14)
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).
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.
14 The word rendered “guarantee” is of Semitic origin; it was probably borrowed by the Greeks in the early days of trade with the Phoenicians. It was a commercial word denoting a pledge—some object handed over by a buyer to a seller until the purchase price was paid in full. The Hebrew word (identical with the Phoenician) is used in Gen. 38:17–18 of items of Judah’s personal property which he handed over to Tamar for the time being, until he had opportunity to send her the agreed price. In the NT it is used only in the Pauline writings, and only with reference to the Spirit. In 2 Cor. 5:5, where Paul looks forward to the “heavenly dwelling” which is to replace the present mortal tenement, he says, “he who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” The gift of the Spirit, then, is the guarantee of coming immortality. This is Paul’s distinctive contribution to the NT doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Another term which he uses to express the same thought is “first fruits”: in Rom. 8:23 the Spirit is the “first fruits” of the eagerly awaited “adoption, the redemption of our bodies,” where the resurrection of the people of Christ at his parousia is meant. The same word for “redemption” is used there as here, and the same future hope is in view.
The Spirit consciously received is “the guarantee of our inheritance,” the pledge given to believers by God to assure them that the glory of the life to come, promised in the gospel, is a well-founded hope, a reality and not an illusion. The word “inheritance”103 is used in this chapter both of God’s portion in his people (vv. 11, 18) and of the everlasting portion which he has reserved for them. They can enter into the enjoyment of this everlasting portion here and now by the ministry of the Spirit. Redemption is already theirs through the sacrifice and death of Christ (v. 7), but one aspect of that redemption remains to be realized. On the day of resurrection God will “redeem” his own possession, and the evidence of his commitment to do so is given in his “sealing” that possession with the Spirit.
The word translated “possession” occurs in the same sense in 1 Peter 2:9, where believers (again, as it happens, Gentile believers) are called “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] possession.” Language is there deliberately applied to Gentile believers which in the OT is used of God’s people Israel—notably in Exod. 19:5, where Yahweh calls Israel “my own possession among all peoples.” The verb corresponding to the noun “possession” is used in a similar sense in Acts 20:28, where Paul directs the elders of the church of Ephesus to “feed the church of God, of which he obtained possession through the blood of his own [Son].” These words also echo an OT passage—Ps. 74:2, where God is entreated: “Remember thy congregation, of which thou hast obtained possession long since.” That such language should now be applied to Gentile believers is a token of the security of their new standing within the community of God’s own people, fully sharing present blessing and future hope with their fellow-believers of Jewish stock.
As those who first placed their hope in Christ are designed “for his glorious praise,” so it is with “you also”—believers of Gentile origin. Here too there is perhaps an echo of OT language—more particularly of Isa. 43:20–21, where God speaks of “my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.”
The liturgical note on which this eulogia opened in v. 3 has been sustained throughout, not least by means of the recurring refrain of glorious praise. Such a liturgical passage does not lend itself well to comparative analysis in terms of epistolary usage, whether Paul’s or anyone else’s. But it strikes the keynote for the rest of the letter, with its emphasis on the inclusion of Gentiles together with Jews within the new society of the people 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.
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. 32–36). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Boice, J. M. (1988). Ephesians: an expositional commentary (pp. 27–32). Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library.
 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. 264–267). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Chapell, B. (2009). Ephesians. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (pp. 49–58). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.
 Patzia, A. G. (2011). Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (pp. 157–161). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.