Although Paul attributes our salvation entirely to the will of God, in the same context he describes our own responsibility. We “heard the message of truth,” which is also called “the gospel of . . . salvation.” Then we “believed” and were sealed with “the promised Holy Spirit.” Let no one say that the doctrine of election by the sovereign will and mercy of God, mysterious as it is, makes either evangelism or faith unnecessary. The opposite is the case. It is only because of God’s gracious will to save that evangelism has any hope of success and faith becomes possible. The preaching of the gospel is the very means God has appointed by which he delivers from blindness and bondage those he chose in Christ.
We are assured that God is active in the lives of his people through the Holy Spirit, who is given three designations— promise, seal, and guarantee. First, he is literally the Spirit of the promise because God promised through the Old Testament prophets and through Jesus to send him (which he did on the Day of Pentecost), and God promises to give him today to everyone who repents and believes (which he does).
Second, the Holy Spirit is God’s seal, a mark of ownership and authenticity. Cattle, and even slaves, were branded with a seal by their masters in order to indicate who they belonged to. But such seals were external, while God’s is in the heart. He puts his Spirit within his people to mark them as his own.
Third, the Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee to bring his people safely to their final inheritance. In ancient commercial transactions, a guarantee signified a first installment or down payment. In this case the guarantee is not something separate from what it guarantees but actually the first portion of it. An engagement ring promises marriage, but is not itself a part of the marriage. A deposit on a house is more than a guarantee of payment; it is itself the first installment of the purchase price. So it is with the Holy Spirit. In giving him to us, God is not just promising us our final inheritance but actually giving us a foretaste of it.
Adapted from Reading Ephesians with John Stott. Copyright © 2017 John Stott's Literary Executors. Used by permission. For more information, please visit www.ivpress.com/reading-ephesians-with-john-stott.