Summary: Paul discloses a progression in the Christian pilgrimage to the Ephesian believers in that they had Heard the Truth then Believed in Jesus and went on to be Sealed by the Spirit.
HEARD, BELIEVED, SEALED
Today we celebrate the Day of Pentecost. What a wonderful day it was for the first disciples of the risen, ascended and glorified Jesus. It was the inauguration of the Church of Christ. But what does the coming of the Holy Spirit mean to us nearly 2,000 years on from that great day? It was the same for the new believers in Ephesus that Paul wrote to. It was probably 20 years on from the Day of Pentecost. They would, like us, regard it as an historical event. But it’s far more important than just a day in the Christian calendar.
When St Paul wrote to the young church at Ephesus he was really fired up with the glory of the gospel – what Jesus had accomplished for those who would believe on Him. Paul is summarizing the blessings that were available to them: "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" (Eph 1:13,14).
The apostle discloses a progression of development in the Christian pilgrimage - first, they Heard the Word of Truth, then they Believed in Jesus, and finally they were Sealed by the Holy Spirit - each is a vital stage in entering into what Paul described as "the gospel of your salvation". We see first what was involved when the people of Ephesus:
HEARD THE WORD OF TRUTH
The "word of truth" doesn’t simply mean that it’s a true word that they heard. It is true, of course, but more than that, it’s a particular truth - it’s revealed truth. This is more than a religious philosophy, some vague feeling about a force outside of nature. It is God who has entered human history in the Incarnation of His Son, the second person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ. This indeed is the Gospel, the "good news" that the world had been waiting for, ever since the Fall of mankind.
Human history shows that mankind has a built-in need for something beyond himself. When tribes have been discovered in remote parts of the Earth, they invariably have some form of religion. It could be the worshiping of ancestor spirits or some gods of their making, perhaps a powerful external force like the Sun. They are often in fear of their lives because, as the apostle Paul told the people of Athens, they are worshiping "an unknown god". As has been said, human beings have been created with a "god-shaped gap" in their lives. Religion of itself, though, is an enemy of what Paul called "the truth".
The message that Paul and the evangelists of the first century preached was the irreducible minimum necessary to come to an understanding of the gospel. They told their hearers very clearly that they were guilty before God. The only way of escaping from judgement was to repent and to trust in the redemption purchased by the Lord Jesus on the Cross of Calvary. In the words which the apostle wrote to the Corinthians, "God was reconciling the world unto himself in Christ ... God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:19,21). That is the message of salvation. They "heard the word of truth", but there was more, for they:
BELIEVED IN JESUS
It’s not only a matter of knowing about Jesus in a general way, as a figure in history. God’s great desire is that "all men (and women) should be saved" but to do that they must "come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4). Paul is careful to tell the people he was addressing in his letter that they "believed in Jesus". That is essential because, as Jesus told His disciples, He is the only way into the kingdom of God. And how does that come about? It’s through the operation of the Holy Spirit. The apostle tells us that "No-one can say, Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 12:3). It is the Spirit who convicts us of sin, of our need of the Saviour, who creates faith in our hearts, and brings the truth to sight. We see it and so we believe. You’ve heard the word of truth and you’ve believed in Jesus. But is there more? Oh yes, there is! Paul goes on to say that the believers in Ephesus were:
SEALED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT
What does he mean? Paul tells us that "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ" (Rom 8:9). When we are converted, are born again, believe in Jesus, we become a member of His kingdom. The Bible term for this is that we are baptized by the operation of the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ, that is, His true Church (1 Cor 12:13). This is wonderful, we’re Christians, but the teaching of Jesus, confirmed by the experience of believers recounted in the Acts of the Apostles, is that God has more to give us in our Christian pilgrimage - it is being “sealed by the Holy Spirit”.