A Commentary by John Stott
How did we become God’s people or God’s possession? There can be no doubt about Paul’s reply. It was by the will of God. He destined us to be his sons *according to the purpose of his will* (verse 5); he has made known to us *the mystery of his will according to his purpose* (verse 9); and we have become God’s heritage *according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will* (verses 11-12). The whole passage is full of references to God’s will (*thelema*), good pleasure (*eudokia*) or purpose (*prothesis*), and to the plan or programme in which these have been expressed. Paul could hardly have insisted more forcefully that our becoming members of God’s new community was due neither to chance nor to choice (if by that is meant our choice), but to God’s own sovereign will and pleasure. This was the decisive factor, as it is in every conversion.
Not that we were ourselves inactive, however. Far from it. In this very context, in which our salvation is attributed entirely to the will of God, our own responsibility is also described. For (verse 13) first *we heard the word of truth*, which is also called *the gospel of your salvation*; then we *believed in him* (Christ), and so *were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit*. Let no one say, therefore, that the doctrine of election by the sovereign will and mercy of God, mysterious as it is, makes neither 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 that God has appointed by which he delivers from blindness and bondage those whom he chose in Christ before the foundation of the world, sets them free to believe in Jesus, and so causes his will to be done.
And the assurance that God is thus active in the lives of his people is given through the Holy Spirit, who in verses 13 and 14 is given three designations – a ‘promise’, a ‘seal’ and a ‘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), (See e.g. Ezk.36:27; Joel 2:28; Jn.14 – 16; Lk. 24:49; Acts 1:4-5; 2:33, 38-39; Gal.3:14, 16).
Secondly, the Holy Spirit is not only God’s ‘promise’, but also God’s ‘seal’. A seal is a mark of ownership and of authenticity. Cattle, and even slaves, were branded with a seal by their masters, in order to indicate to whom they belonged. But such seals were external, while God’s is in the heart. He puts his Spirit within his people in order to mark them as his own.(1)
Thirdly, the Holy Spirit is our ‘guarantee’ or pledge, by which he undertakes to bring his people safely to their final inheritance. ‘Guarantee’ here is *arrabon*, originally a Hebrew word which seems to have come into Greek usage through Phoenician traders. It is used in modern Greek for an engagement ring. But in ancient commercial transactions it signified a ‘first instalment, deposit, down payment, pledge*, that pays a part in the purchase price in advance, and so secures a legal claim to the article in question, or makes a contract valid’ (AG). 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 or in a hire-purchase agreement, however, is more than a guarantee of payment; it is itself the first instalment 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, which, however, ‘is only a *small fraction* of the future endowment’. (Cf. 2 Cor.1:22; 5;5; Rom. 8:23).