Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 11/16/1997
" . . . In whom [Christ] also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his will."
The story is told of an Irishman, an Englishman, and a Scotsman who went out to eat. The got along famously until it came time for someone to pick up the check. "Sure and you've been a-kissin the Blarney Stone if yer thinkin' I'll be a-payin!" said the Irishman. "I say, old chaps," the Englishman replied, "Surely you don't expect me to preform such a plebeian function, I say!" Then the entire restaurant turned in astonishment to hear the Scot saying, "Hoot mon, dinna ye make sick a dither aboot it. I'll take care of it a' meself." The next day the headlines read, "Irish ventriloquist found murdered."
This story illustrates an attitude opposite to the generosity and grace of God, who, when we were yet in our sins, having done nothing to merit his favor or any response from him other than wrath and judgment, nevertheless chose us to be holy and blameless before him in love, predestined us to adoption, redeemed us by the blood of Christ, shared with us the mystery of his will, and included us in his great and glorious plan for the ages, to sum up everything in Christ. After the grand climax of v. 10, you might think there was nothing more to be said. Well, there isn't anything greater that can be said, but there is something more: " . . . In whom [Christ] also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his will."
This is one of the more difficult verses to translate in all the Bible, so bear with me as we wrestle through it. The verb translated "inherit" appears only here in the NT. In the middle voice, as used here, it can mean "be made an inheritor," "be made an inheritance," or "have one's lot cast with." The translations and the commentators are evenly divided over how to understand it in this context. J. B. Philips says we are "promised a share." NASB and KJV say we have "obtained an inheritance." NIV cops out, saying we were "chosen" (to be inheritors? to be God's portion? It doesn't say). The Living Bible says we "became gifts to God." The Amplified has us being "made God's heritage."
The translations and commentators are divided because the evidence is evenly divided. Both ideas conform to biblical teaching elsewhere: we are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, but we also become a people for HIS possession. Both fit the immediate context. To be given an inheritance is echoed in v. 14a ("the earnest of our inheritance"), while becoming God's inheritance is echoed in 14b ("the purchased possession"). Both ideas are true; both are in the text. So which one did Paul mean here? I would suggest it is "be made an inheritance."
Why? Because the notion of one people being made out of two (Jews and Gentiles) is being introduced here. The identity of the Gentiles is at stake. Israel had enjoyed the great privilege of being God's special people, the apple of his eye, his chosen portion. The message now to the Gentiles is, "You too!" Seen in this light, Paul is preparing for their explicit inclusion in chp. 2. Also, in this light, being made God's inheritance, his special portion, most magnifies his grace (for how could we ever deserve such a position?), and magnifying grace is the overall purpose of the whole passage. Therefore, with a fair amount of confidence, I go with what is actually the minority translation: We were made God's inheritance.
To understand Paul's meaning here brings it home again: All this truth in vv. 3-14 is for YOU. It is hard for us today to imagine the impact the words "you also" must have had for Paul's original Gentile audience. Jews would not even eat with a Gentile; even some Jewish Christians had a hard time with that. For the Jews, the burden of proof was on the Gentiles that God could even save them. Why? Because salvation was of the Jews. They were the chosen and privileged race. Paul then attacks not the fact of that privilege but the exclusive attitude it had engendered. The privilege itself is actually magnified, but then he turns to the Gentile and says, "You too!"
This emphasizes the universal offer of the Gospel. No one has the right to exclude himself from the reach of God's saving purpose. (We have the ability to do so, yes, but not the right.) God wants all men to be saved and has determined that all sorts of men will be, some from every tongue, tribe, and nation. "But you don't know how bad I've been." Yes, your sin is indeed a terrible thing; it has merited eternal damnation in hell. But don't you know that in Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of those very sins? (v. 7). "But I could never be good enough." No, YOU couldn't. But what if GOD has chosen you, predestined you, redeemed you, made known his will to you? What then? The Jews were his special possession among all the sons of men. But Paul insists you can be too, if you will only listen and believe (v. 13).
All this brings home in a special way the grace, the unmerited favor of God. The God should give US an inheritance (and he has--every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ) is incomprehensible grace. That to those who deserve justice he should give justification; that to those who deserve wrath he should give redemption; that to those who deserve capital punishment he should give complete pardon; that to those who deserve expulsion from his sight he should give adoption as his sons; that to those who deserve an eternity of hell he should give the encouragement of hope; that to those who deserve everlasting lostness he should give eternal and abundant life; that to those who deserve nothing he should give every spiritual blessing; this is grace, and more: It is "the riches of the glory of his grace."
But if all that is so, then what shall we say to this: that we are God's inheritance? That he who needs nothing and contains a universe of bliss in himself should nevertheless desire us and take us as his portion, as his inheritance; that he should woo us as a lover would woo the woman of his dreams; that the Lord Jesus Christ should desire us to be his bride and perform the whole great work of redemption that we could be; that all this flows, not from any loveliness seen or foreseen in us (for it was while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us), but simply from the inexplicable and ultimate Love which is his nature: for this there is no word in any language of men or angels that is adequate.
But though there is no word adequate and no deed sufficient, though we must eternally remain debtors to his grace, do you not feel with me the absolute and undeniable necessity of giving him everything you can--everything you have--everything you are? Let us do so indeed, for this is to walk worthily of our calling. Can we do any less?
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams