In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
The first chapter of Ephesians clearly teaches that certain individuals are predestined to eternal life. It further tells us that those who have been predestined are guaranteed that they cannot fall away. Unconditional Election and Perseverance of the Saints are firmly established by this passage.
(This is the second post on Ephesians chapter 1; to read the first post press here.)
Again we must keep in mind the corporate context of Ephesians chapter 1 when we consider Calvinism’s misunderstanding of verses 13 and 14.
In him you [Gentiles] also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our [the Body of Christ] inheritance until we [the Body of Christ] acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Israel was confident that they would inherit the Promised Land because God’s presence led them out of Egypt. They confidently marched around the walls of Jericho expecting them to fall because the Ark of the Covenant, with God’s holy presence, was among them. The Church has this same confidence. Jesus promised the Church, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). The presence of God by his Spirit is the Church’s guarantee that we will inherit the kingdom of God.
In Ephesians chapter 5 Paul confidently writes, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot of wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and with blemish” (vs. 25-27). Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18). Because of this we can be sure that the Church will inherit the promises of God. In Revelation 19:7 we read that Jesus’ “Bride has made herself ready” for the marriage supper of the Lamb at the return of Christ. But doesn’t this all confirm the Calvinist doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints? No, it teaches the perseverance of the Church!
God will definitely give the prepared eternal inheritance to the Body of Christ just as he gave the Promised Land to Israel. But this does not mean that every individual who is a member of Christ’s Church is guaranteed continual membership in God’s chosen people anymore than every Jew was unconditionally promised a continual place in Israel. In the Old Testament individual Israelites could forfeit their right to partake of the blessings of Israel’s, and in the New Testament individual Christians can forfeit their place in the Body of Christ. The Bible says, “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion’” (Heb. 3:14-15). Those that rebelled in the wilderness did not inherit the promises made to Israel. And those that do not continue to submit to the Spirit of God will not inherit the kingdom of God. The place of the Church in God’s plan is unmovable, but our personal participation in that place is dependent on whether or not we continue in our faith.
Every individual member of the Body is sealed when they receive the Holy Spirit. The presence of the Holy Spirit is the guarantee that whoever has the seal has eternal life. God has assured us that the Church will always have the Spirit in her midst. But God’s word does not teach that every individual who has received the Spirit will continue to walk with the Spirit. The presence of the Spirit is a guarantee of the inheritance, but the presence of the Holy Spirit is not guaranteed. Those with the Spirit have the guarantee of eternal life, but having the Holy Spirit today does not guarantee that we will have him tomorrow.
Romans 8:14 makes it clear that only those “who are led by the Spirit are Sons of God,” it does not say, “Those who were led by the Spirit are Sons of God.” Our past experience with the Spirit is not the right place to look for assurance of our salvation. This is why Paul says, “We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:1-2). We can’t find assurance for our salvation in our past experience with God, we have to examine ourselves “to see whether we are [presently] in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5).
Romans 8:14 also does not say, “Those who were led by the Spirit will continue to be led by the Spirit.” In Romans 8 Paul teaches that receiving the Spirit does not unconditionally “guarantee” that we will continue to walk in the Spirit and experience the salvation he came to bring us. He warns, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will life” (vs. 12-13). Paul warns Christians, not the world, that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Again he warns Christians who have the Spirit, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:7-8). This is why the individual Christians who had received the Spirit in Ephesians were warned, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). The individual members of Christ’s Body can find confidence from the presence of God in their lives; but this presence only confirms that they are members of God’s people, not that they will unconditionally persevere in the faith.
Receiving the Spirit encourages us that we have the power to overcome sin in our lives and inherit the kingdom of God. But it does not ensure that we will automatically walk in the empowering grace of God. Paul urges the Ephesians and us, “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires” (Eph. 4:22). He continues, “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 5:5-6). Having the Spirit of God and submitting to him guarantees that we belong to God’s holy and elect people. But receiving the Spirit does not ensure that we will certainly walk in him.