Does Ephesians 1:11-14 mean we are saved merely by having the word of God preached?

I’ve been thinking about Ephesians 1:11-14 and baptism. Ephesians clearly states that a person is included in Christ when they hear the word of God preached. In addition it states that they’re marked and sealed with the Holy Spirit once they have heard the gospel. How would you explain this scripture in comparison to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit or salvation through baptism?


In any question of biblical interpretation–especially one so important as one’s doctrine of salvation, we need to look at all passages on a topic and consider carefully what all of them, taken together, teach. It is a terrible mistake to take one passage out of context, ignore all others on the topic and to use this to establish our doctrine or theology. Unfortunately, this is a very common problem in Christianity.

For example, it is absolutely true that we were included in Christ when we “heard the word of truth.” The question is what does Paul have in mind when he reminds them of the time they “heard the word of truth”? We should bear in mind that his audience is Christians. Everyone in his anticipated audience had already heard, repented and been baptized for forgiveness of sins, upon which they also received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). If we interpret this passage to say that we are saved when we (merely) hear the message (ie without including faith or repentance or baptism) then this is clearly a mistake. If this is the interpretation, then all we need to do to get the entire world saved is to pay a few million dollars for an ad campaign in which the content of the gospel is broadcast to everyone. If this is the correct interpretation, then the mere act of hearing the truth is sufficient for salvation–independent of faith. OBVIOUSLY we are not saved by merely hearing the message.

Paul is reminding them of the time when they were saved (remember, all the members of his immediate audience are assumed to be saved). His shorthand for describing their conversion is “when you heard the word of truth.” So, what is implied by the phrase “heard the word of truth”? I assume that anything which is included in salvation is implied, which would be hearing the message, receiving it as true, as a response, choosing to make Jesus Lord of one’s life, repenting of sins and being baptized into Christ. How do I know this, because in other scriptures it is made clear that these are things which precede salvation.

In another famous passage, John says that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son so that all who believe in him will have eternal life? Does this mean that (mere) belief, in other simply ascenting to the claim that Jesus is who he said he is, is sufficient for salvation? Of course it is not. We have plenty of passages which show that the kind of belief he is talking about is one which includes repentance and baptism. Faith which does not include works is not the kind of faith which saves us (James 2). I hope this helps.

John Oakes

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