Does Ephesians 1:13 contradict the Calvinistic principle that man is unable to do anything righteous, including believe in Christ?
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 . . .
Paul wrote the first chapter of Ephesians to underscore the ultimate purpose of our salvation—The praise of God’s glory. What makes salvation a source of Glory for God is the simple fact that it is at every stage his own work, and not our own. If any part of it were our own, we would have something to boast about, and so it is all God’s work, as the passage makes clear.
In order to attribute this glory to God alone, he praises God the Father and the Son in verse 3. The following verses show how this glory is due to God alone. This glory is due to him because he chose us before the creation of the world. In love, he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Christ, and he did this for no other cause than his pleasure and will. All this monergistic (God alone does the work) action is to the praise of his glorious grace, given to us freely in his Son. Our redemption is in accordance with the riches of his grace, that is, once again, lavished upon us for no other cause than his wisdom and understanding. He is the one who revealed his will, according to his good pleasure, purposed once again before the foundation of the world in Christ Jesus. This revelation was at a time of his choosing, and according to no other purpose and cause than what he has determined for his own glory.
Verse 11 says that the first Christians were chosen for the praise of his glory. This choosing was an act of predestination. This predestination was planned by the one who works out everything exactly as he desires it to be, once again, to the praise of his glory. Verse 13 tells us that those who became Christians later were just as much a part of this purpose. They were included in Christ when after they heard and believed the Gospel of their salvation, the Word of truth. Having believed, they were marked with a seal, the Holy Spirit, as a guarantee that they would receive the inheritance that God has promised when he completes that work of redemption for all those who are his possession. To underscore the simple fact that this is all God’s work, and that no one but God deserves the glory, he closes this section by stating that God alone does all this, so that it will be to the praise of his glory.
An obvious implication of all this is that to reserve any part of this work for one’s own self, including the act of believing, is to steal praise from God that he alone deserves and reserves for himself.
Someone has asked me—Doesn’t the fact that Paul says in verse 13 that they were sealed after they believed mean that the work of the Holy Spirit comes after faith? I can only see this as a question that desperately attempts to contradict everything that Paul has said in the previous verses—that God has done all this, from start to finish, for his own sovereign purposes, according to his plan, by his own good pleasure, so that he alone will receive the praise and glory for salvation. The desperate attempt to deny this through verse 13 is simply another effort to retain some glory for man.
There is no glory for man in salvation. Every last bit of it is for God and God alone.
John Calvin on Ephesians 1:13—
But is it not faith itself which is here said to be sealed by the Holy Spirit? If so, faith goes before the sealing. I answer, there are two operations of the Spirit in faith, corresponding to the two parts of which faith consists, as it enlightens, and as it establishes the mind. The commencement of faith is knowledge; the completion of it is a firm and steady conviction, which admits of no opposing doubt.. Both I have said are the work of the Spirit. No wonder, then if Paul should declare that the Ephesians, who received by faith the truth of the gospel, were confirmed in that faith by the seal of the Holy Spirit.