This is a post written by Nathan Birr, author of various books, and former college roommate of Pastor Derek. Nathan has agreed to contribute from time to time. You can find out more by going to nathanbirr.com
Perhaps no two verses have been as comforting to me as a Christian as Ephesians 1:13-14:
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you 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.
This text is rich with words of incredibly significant meaning, and I want to explore a few of them with you today in the hope that they might provide you that same sense of assurance, identity, and comfort which they have provided me over the years.
Paul starts his letter to the church in Ephesus by thanking God for numerous spiritual blessings—being chosen before the creation of the world, adoption, grace, redemption, forgiveness, and so on. Paul seems almost unable to contain his excitement over what he is writing, such that verses 3-14 flow out of him in (at least in the original Greek) one long sentence. (There will be no grammatical study or sentence diagramming this week.) Given the breadth of these blessings, note how he starts verse 13: “You also were included.” This appears to be a statement to Gentiles, contrasting verse 12’s “we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ,” and thus a statement to the church today.
Two brief notes on the idea of inclusion. First, as Paul makes clear throughout his writings, we (Gentiles) don’t get spiritual leftovers or scraps. We are fully immersed. We get it all. There are no second-class citizens in the kingdom of God nor “redheaded stepchildren” in God’s family. Second, by the definition, if some are included, then some must be excluded. While it is not a popular message in this day and age, Scripture teaches that not everyone will be saved. So Paul moves on to underlining how one gets included: “When you heard the message of truth” and “when you believed.” This echoes his words in Romans 10: How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? Biblically, there is a prerequisite to salvation—hearing the gospel and believing the gospel. As noted above, it’s not possible to believe in something you don’t know to believe in. Likewise, it’s worthless to hear a message if you don’t also believe the message.
But look what happens when hearing and belief are combined. Verse 13 says, “When you believed.” Several translations, including previous iterations of the NIV, used the phrase “having [also] believed.” This is an important distinction because it recognizes that a transaction has taken place. It is not “When you believe” or “as you believe,” but “when you believed,” past tense. Jesus spoke to the subject when He said, “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” Note the change (“death to life”) and the tense (“has crossed”). I want to be clear that saving faith is not a one-time thing with no effect or evidence thereafter. But I want to be equally clear that, much as a person is born physically at a point in time, they are also born spiritually at a point in time. Like a physical birth, a spiritual birth can happen quite suddenly or can take a long time and be difficult. But there is a starting point, even if the person born can’t necessarily identify when it was. (It’s okay—God can.) Jesus told Nicodemus that he must “born again,” implying that no person starts off spiritually alive. Paul touches on this just a few verses ahead in Ephesians. We are physically born spiritually dead. Therefore, if we are now spiritually alive, there has to have been a change in status. I’m belaboring the point, perhaps, but as we go forward I think you’ll see why.
Note what comes next, and again note the tense: When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal. Paul is again writing of something that happened in the past to Christians. It is not something that will/might happen or that is in the process of happening; rather, if they—if you have placed your faith in Christ, if you are “saved,” then “you were marked” with that seal. It is already done.
So what does that mean? What is that mark, that seal, and why is it so important? This is not the only place in Scripture that references the concept. A few chapters later, Paul writes, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” And to the church in Corinth, he said, “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” and “Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” Commenting on II Corinthians 1:22, Albert Barnes writes the following:
The word used here means to seal up; to close and make fast with a seal, or signet; as, e. g., books, letters, etc. that they may not be read. It is also used in the sense of setting a mark on anything, or a seal, to denote that it is genuine, authentic, confirmed, or approved, as when a deed, compact, or agreement is sealed. It is thus made sure; and is confirmed or established. . . . In a similar manner Christians are said to be sealed; . . . God grants to them His Holy Spirit as the certain pledge that they are His, and shall be approved and saved in the last day.
Sealing has a double meaning. On one hand, it implies that something cannot be opened. In today’s vernacular, Paul might have written that “you were locked with state-of-the-art, unbreakable encryption.” In his language, he gave us Romans 8:38-39. But secondarily, a seal is also a means of authentication. Something that is sealed is owned; it belongs to the sealer and bears His mark. (See also John 6:27.) Paul asked, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?” Jesus stated that “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” The person who has believed in Christ has been authenticated as God’s and is locked and protected as God’s, and there is no power in the universe that can break the seal of God—except God, and we know from Scripture that He will not do so.
Two more things from the Ephesians 1 passage. First, we see what specifically the seal is—the Holy Spirit. Remember what Jesus told His disciples shortly before His death? “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.” Post-Pentecost believers have the benefit of the indwelling Holy Spirit, functioning in many roles, not the least of which is as a deposit. Other versions use the terms pledge, earnest, down payment, and guarantee. Another word might be assurance.
As we read all these verses, another phrase keeps standing out: redemption. This speaks to the culmination, when the seal will be opened because it is no longer necessary. At “the end,” the “last day,” at the “day of redemption,” we who have believed will dwell eternally with God. We will have full payment, that for which we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for . . . the redemption of our bodies.” Until that day, we are marked, protected, locked, sealed so that no one and nothing can undo what God has done.
To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.
Original blog post can be found here.
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 Romans 10:14
 Hebrews 4:2
 John 5:24
 John 3:3
 Ephesians 2:1-3
 Ephesians 4:30
 II Corinthians 1:21-22, emphasis added
 II Corinthians 5:5
 Notes on the Bible by Albert Barnes, Public Domain
 Romans 8:33
 John 10:28-29
 John 6:39, I Corinthians 1:8, Philippians 1:6, II Timothy 2:19
 John 14:16-17 (See also John 15:26; 16:12-15)
 Romans 8:23
 Jude 24-25