Connections 01.05.2020: Heirs of God

Ephesians 1:1-14

The physical tradition of inheritance seems to be fading in our modern times. Over the centuries, it mattered greatly who was the main heir (usually a couple’s oldest child). Upon the parents’ deaths, this person would get the family land and home, the possessions, the wealth, and the position of leadership (or lack thereof). These days, some of us are more likely to talk about bequeathing traits or qualities than pieces of furniture or handfuls of cash, though that is certainly still a part of making wills.

When I think about what I want to leave behind for my daughters, it’s more about the qualities of compassion, service, perseverance, hope, and steadfastness than about the physical items of my house, my furniture, or my meager savings account. The actual items at the top of my list include the dozens of journals I wrote from elementary school through college, the external hard drive that contains photos of our little family through the years, and my laptop that holds more photos and all of my writing. These are much more than things because they communicate to my daughters, through stories and images, the qualities I listed above.

The Bible has several stories about fathers dying and leaving their sons an inheritance of property and money. But when Scripture talks about being an heir of God, material things aren’t part of the picture. In our passage from Ephesians, the writer says a lot about how God blesses us and what God wants us to inherit. We

• are “blessed…in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (v. 3)
• are chosen “in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love” (v. 4)
• are “destined…for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will” (v. 5)
• “have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us” (vv. 7-8a)
• “have…obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory” (vv. 11-12)
• are “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit” (v. 13)

God is gracious to give us these things. But how do we receive them? I’ve heard of parents who disinherited their children because of estrangement or bitterness or wild behavior. Regardless of how you feel about that, we do have a responsibility as God’s heirs. When God gives us blessings, we can choose whether to accept them. When God offers us salvation, we are responsible for hearing “the word of truth” and believing it (see Eph 1:13). When God calls us to take up our inheritance, we are to do it with the motive of being redeemed “as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory” (v. 14).

May we accept our position as the heirs of God, prepare our hearts to receive God’s blessings, and commit to sharing them with other people.


• Have you been named anyone’s heir? What has been bequeathed to you? What meaning lies behind the inheritance?
• What would you like to leave behind as an inheritance for your children or other loved ones? Why would you choose these things?
• Think of the stories and photos that demonstrate qualities you’d like to pass on to younger generations. What stories and photos come to mind? What qualities do they communicate?
• How does it feel to be chosen as God’s heir? What can you do with the many gifts and blessings God has given you?
• How can you use your inheritance as God’s child to bless other people?

Reference Shelf

Verse 3 [affirms]…that God bestows the complete array of heavenly benefaction on Christians through Christ. The phrase “in the heavenlies” is peculiar to Ephesians and carries profound soteriological meaning for the book’s initial readers. What has been accomplished in the heavens shall be repeated on Earth.

While the Greek…could be translated “in Christ,” I would translate it “through Christ”…. It connoted to the original audience that Christ had already secured their places in heaven through his death and resurrection. One should note that [the Greek phrase] does not have the same strong sense of identification and unity in Ephesians that one finds in Paul’s undisputed letters (e.g., 2 Cor 5:17). While in Paul it connoted a spiritual transformation as an end result, in Ephesians it denoted a process of transformation. Pauline language has become transformed in the hands of a well-meaning disciple. Verse 4 contains a strong statement of predestination. While it is clear that predestination (or determinism or preordination) leaves little room for free will, such a critique misses the point here. In the biblical tradition, determinism has two primary functions: (1) to affirm the complete sovereignty of God and (2) to encourage its target audience to remain faithful by assuring it of its ultimate vindication. These functions are mutually inclusive and complementary. For Ephesians, God chose those who were to be saved before creation. This means that salvation is not haphazard or accidental but planned and intentional. Such a claim would have been a strong word of assurance for those who saw themselves as the chosen ones.

For what have Christians been preordained? They have been preordained for salvation…. The passage has a soteriological dimension in that Christians shall be pure and faultless before God at the judgment (see 5:27; Phil 2:15), concluding the reference to election….

The words “in love” comprise the beginning of v. 5. Verse 5 continues to discuss predestination. Thus, v. 5 would convey to its original readership that God has willed to adopt them even before the creation of the world and that God did so with love…. These last two verses would have been a powerful message of encouragement to the original recipients to remain faithful regardless of their circumstances. Galatians 4:4-7 and Romans 8:18-23 both speak of God adopting children. In Roman society, adopted children had the same rights as biological children, and even adults could be adopted into a family.

In v. 6 the phrase “for the praise of the glory of his grace” (cf. Phil 1:11) connotes rather redundantly that adoption is entirely God’s gracious act…. Moreover, the purpose of salvation is the praise of God…. This grace has been given freely “through (dative of means) the Beloved.” Grace does not reside in Jesus Christ. Rather, it has been mediated through Christ to Christians: gifts are given to someone from Someone. In this instance, salvation (the gift) from God (the Giver) is given to Christians (the recipients) through Christ, the Beloved. This is an example of divine benefaction for Ephesians….

Verses 7 and 8 should be interpreted together. Verse 7 (cf. Col 1:13-14) reiterates the doctrine of grace denoted earlier and adds a reference to Jesus’ death as a sacrificial death (see Rom 3:25)…. The sacrificial lamb on the Day of Atonement is probably in the background. Numbers 6:14 states that a year-old lamb without defect shall serve as an atonement for sin. The LXX…[conveys] that the lamb is blameless and free of defect. It is the same adjective in Ephesians 1:4. Some might argue that Ephesians 1:7 refers to redemption, not atonement. Our author was more pastor than systematic theologian and probably saw little to no difference between the two. Apolytrøsis (lit., “buying back”) often referred to slaves retaining their freedom. Ploutos meant wealth or riches. In Ephesians it is often used figuratively to convey a sense of overabundance (see 1:18; 2:7; and 3:16). In this verse, it conveyed to the original recipients that God is more than capable for the task at hand. This imagery shall be repeated in v. 8. Again, divine love is the reason for this. Verse 8 adds that divine grace has been “lavished” upon the Christian community. The point is that there was more than enough grace to complete the job. There was an overflow.

Wisdom and insight, synonyms in this verse, were classical virtues. Wisdom was one of the cardinal virtues. The two virtues connoted to Greco-Roman culture that one was intellectually gifted. In Ephesians, they connote the rationality and propriety of God’s saving grace.

Verse 9 refers to the divine plan as a mystery. The purpose of life was not any clearer to the ancients than it is to us. For many, there was no doubt that there was a plan. Discerning the plan was the problem. Our author asserts that this plan, this mysterion, has now been made known (see Col 1:27). In biblical terms, a mystery referred to something revealed by God (e.g., Isa 48:3-6). In Greco-Roman society, “mystery” brought to mind the many “mystery religions.” They were given this label because their respective devotees were forbidden from sharing their rituals, teachings, and practices with outsiders. The New Testament redefines the concept by repeatedly stating that God reveals the mystery through the Christ event (e.g., Mark 4:11; Rom 16:25-26; Col 1:26-27; Rev 17:1-14). Thus, NT writers used a familiar term but redefined it. The term occurs six times in Ephesians (1:9; 3:3, 4, 9; 5:32; 6:19; cf. Col 1:26-27; 2:2; 4:3). In all but one instance (5:32), God has revealed the mystery through Christ. God has done this out of his love for the creation.

Verse 10 tells us that God has “a carefully designed strategy”1 that involves Christ. This fullness is “identical with the summing up of all things in Christ” (see Eph 1:22-23; 2:21; 3:14-19). It is within this fullness that “time attains its meaning.”2 Oikonomia referred to the management of a household or the administration of an office. It could also refer to stewardship or to a plan. In this instance, “plan” is probably the best rendering. The point is that God has established a means by which God shall culminate human history. “The fullness of the times” is a literal translation, not “the fullness of time.” …It is already a completed act as the use of the infinitive of anakephalaioø [Verses 11-14] conclude this section. Verse 11 tells us again that God’s plan was predestined (see 1:4) and that the Christ event was central to the plan. Again, the goal is the praise of God (v. 12).

While Colossians 1:12 emphasizes how Christians have been transformed so that they may share an inheritance with the saints, Ephesians 1:11 states that God bestows on the faithful an inheritance, their salvation…. The point would be to assure the faithful of their salvation and that God was in complete control of history. Verse 12 repeats the ideas found in vv. 5-6….

Verse 13 is an interesting passage. The first followers of Jesus were Jews, and some commentators argue that the reference to “you also” probably refers to Gentiles, “assuring them that their share in God’s heritage is as full and firm” as those of Jewish ethnicity.3 Others argue that this dichotomy is false and is never employed in such an uncomplicated manner in Ephesians. Rather, the author speaks here to new converts. Such an old/new divide might not have occurred to the author…. [It] might be better to argue that the dichotomy is between sustaining members and new converts and that most of these new converts were probably Gentiles.

The expression in v. 13 “having heard the word of truth, the good news of your salvation” has a Semitic ring (cf. Col 1:5; 2 Cor 6:7). Hebrew poetry operated on parallelism in which a second line either restates, complements, or contradicts the first. In this instance, “the word of truth” is complemented by “the good news of your salvation,” a parallel not found in Colossians 1:5. This word of truth has led to their salvation. Similar parallels between truth and gospel/good news are found in 2 Corinthians 4:2 and Galatians 2:5, 14. This truth/good news combination would have been intended to reinforce the positive message of divine love and grace found in vv. 4-9, 11. Elsewhere, Ephesians asserts the superiority of the Christian message in general (4:14-15, 21-24). …I prefer to translate “good news” instead of “gospel” in this instance because it emphasizes the personal nature of salvation within a context (1:3-14) that focuses on divine grace and human salvation.

Being “sealed by the promised Holy Spirit” (v. 13) conveyed the certainty of salvation to the original readers. Traditionally, sealing denoted ownership and/or being set apart. For example, Ezekiel 9:4 relates the identification of those who deplore debauchery, those righteous people who have not yielded to sin. One finds similar passages in 2 Esdras/4 Ezra 6:5 and Revelation 7:2-8 (cf. Rev 3:12 and 9:4) where sealing connoted both God’s ownership and protection. Additionally, some have argued that sealing also referred to the ritual of baptism. However, …if it refers to baptism, it is to the baptism of “the promised Holy Spirit” (see Acts 2:17; Gal 3:14). While the identification of sealing with baptism occurs more frequently in the second century, the identification of a seal with ownership and protection are also found in 2 Esdras and Revelation. Revelation, 2 Esdras and Ephesians were all written in the second half of the first Christian century. The Holy Spirit (v. 14) then guarantees a Christian’s salvation, i.e., “inheritance,” so that God might be praised. The present experience of the Holy Spirit is but a foretaste and assurance awaiting the faithful at the end of time.

1. C. L. Mitton, The Epistle to the Ephesians (Oxford: University Press, 1951), 55.
2. E. Best, Ephesians: A Shorter Commentary (New York: T. & T. Clark, 2003), 25.
3. F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (NICNT; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1984), 264.

Excerpts from Thomas B. Slater, Ephesians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2012), 41–47.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition to this work, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (15) and Natalie (12), and her husband John. Occasionally, she appears onstage in community theater productions and can sometimes be found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel movies, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who, and she’s still trying to write a young adult novel that her girls will enjoy.


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