What is the Apostle Paul actually talking about when he brings up the topic of inheritance? Pastor Dan walks us through the two meanings of inheritance as used in Ephesians: God’s inheritance and our inheritance.
Ephesians 1:11-14 (ESV)
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Paul is writing to Gentile Christians in Ephesus. This passage was written to assure Gentile believers, that when Christ comes again, they will receive the same spiritual inheritance as those Jews who had already believed in Christ. So let’s look at what Paul says about this inheritance – what it is, how we received it, and why we received it.
1. What it is
Verse 11 tells us literally “we were claimed as his portion” but it is rendered in a variety of ways in our Bible….
(ESV) In him we have obtained an inheritance,
(NAS) In Him also we have obtained an inheritance,
(NKJ) In Him also we have obtained an inheritance,
(NLT) we have received an inheritance from God,
(NIV) In him we were also chosen,
(NET) In Christ we too have been claimed as God’s own possession,
So which is it? Have we been claimed as God’s inheritance, or have we received an inheritance from God? The answer is both. **The word “inheritance” is used in this chapter both of God’s portion in his people (11) and of the everlasting portion which he has reserved for them (18).
God’s portion in his people.
I’d like a portion of that! A portion is a part of the whole, a section or quantity within a larger thing; a part separated from a whole, a part that is allotted to a person or group, like: A helping of food; The part of an estate received by an heir; A woman’s dowry; A person’s lot or fate
God has reserved for himself a portion of all the peoples of the earth to be his special possession, his treasured possession, his chosen people. F.F. Bruce in his commentary believes the best rendering for verse 11 is “we were claimed as his portion” because it corresponds best with OT passages.
In the Song of Moses (Deut 32.8-9), the various nations of the world are assigned to various angelic beings (called “the sons of God”), but Yahweh retains Israel as his personal possession, When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.
Portion and heritage are synonymous here. A heritage is something that comes to or belongs to a person by reason of birth; an inherited lot or portion; something reserved for someone; something that has been or may be inherited.
Israel and by extension, believers are those whom God has claimed as his portion or heritage out of all the peoples of the world. This is the same sense of what we will see later in chapter one, verse 18, “what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” Notice that it says “his glorious inheritance.” An inheritance is hereditary succession to an estate or title; the right of an heir to succeed to property on the death of an ancestor; something that may legally be transmitted to an heir.
So the words “portion,” “heritage,” and “inheritance” are synonymous. Believers are those God has claimed out of all the people of the earth as his portion, his heritage, his inheritance, his heirs. To return to our previous lessons in this chapter: by choosing us before the foundation of the world in Christ, by adopting us into his family in Christ, by redeeming us through the payment of a ransom price through the death of Christ, God has claimed us as his portion, his heritage, his inheritance, and as we will see later, his treasured possession.
That leads us to the other sense of inheritance in this passage.
The everlasting portion God has reserved for his people.
Since God has claimed us as his inheritance, his heritage, his portion, therefore it can be said that we have obtained – passively, the verb is passive here – we have obtained an inheritance, a heritage, a portion, the possession of all the benefits of salvation offered in Christ.
In vv 13 and 14 we read, “[you] were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
This is the noun form of the word. It’s earliest use is found in Gen 31:14 when Rachel and Leah ask, “Is there aany portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house? (Gen 31:14 ESV) This is obviously a reference to an earthly inheritance.
But there is a heavenly inheritance that God has promised to us. Listen to these verses which all use the same Gk noun for inheritance found in this passage.
God promises to his Son in Ps 2:8:
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and athe ends of the earth your possession. (Psa 2:8 ESV)
The Psalmist writes:
5 The LORD is amy chosen portion and my bcup; you hold my clot. (Psa 16:5 ESV)
6 aThe lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. (Psa 16:6 ESV)
9 Oh, save your people and bless ayour heritage! bBe their shepherd and ccarry them forever. (Psa 28:9 ESV)
In Hebrews we read:
15 Therefore he [Jesus] is athe mediator of a new covenant, so that bthose who are called may creceive the promised eternal inheritance, dsince a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.1 (Heb 9:15 ESV)
8 By faith aAbraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place bthat he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. (Heb 11:8 ESV)
And in 1 Peter:
3 According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, (1Pe 1:3-4 ESV)
Our inheritance is the sum total of all God has promised us in salvation which is being reserved for us in heaven, and we are being preserved until the time it will be given to us. It will surely be awaiting us and we will surely receive it.
This passage tells us that not only does the Word of God guarantee we will finally possess our inheritance, but also the Holy Spirit guarantees that we will finally possess what God has promised.
This leads us to the second point.
2. How we received (and will receive) our inheritance
We have received this inheritance…
By God’s purpose and will
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,
We saw earlier in Eph 1 that has chosen us according to his purpose and will, (Eph 1:4 ESV) 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. We are chosen not because of anything we have done or any good thing we will do or because God forsees that we will one day have faith, but according to God’s gracious will and purpose in Christ. He chooses who will receive the promised inheritance and who will not receive it. We can’t understand the mystery of it, we must simply bow to it in thanksgiving and praise.
We have received this inheritance also…
By hearing the word of truth, which is the gospel, and believing in Christ
13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him,
Remember that Paul is seeking to assure Gentile believers in Ephesus that they are co-heirs with Jewish believers in Christ. So he sets up a comparison of the two groups when he writes, 11 In him we [Jewish Christians] have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we [Jewish Christians] who were the first to hope in Chris] might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also [Gentile Christians], when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him…
Paul is saying here that the faith of the Jewish Christians is the same as the faith of the Gentile Christians. The “hope” of the Jewish Christians is the short form of what he writes of the Gentile Christians, “you also when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him.” Gentile believers in Ephesus, because they too had heard the gospel of Christ as taught in the word of God and had believed in him, were now co-heirs with Jewish believers. They too had received and would receive the promised inheritance.
Hearing the gospel in the word of God is not enough. It must be accompanied by believing that it is true, by placing your faith in Christ for salvation. Paul writes elsewhere, “faith comes by hearing a hearing by the word of God.” This is true whether a person is a Jew or a non-Jew. Today you are hearing the word of God, the gospel of salvation in Christ, but you too must exercise the gift of faith to receive the promised inheritance, all the blessings of salvation. Have you done so? Will you do so right now?
We have received this inheritance finally…
By the sealing of the Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we take possession of it
Again, Paul is seeking to assure the Gentile believers in Ephesus that they will receive the promised inheritance in Christ along with Jewish believers.
He writes, 13 you also…were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,
He is saying you too – you Gentiles – have received the Holy Spirit. In Acts we read a number of accounts in which Jewish Christian leaders became convinced that salvation was also for the Gentiles.
When Peter preached at Cornelius’ house – he didn’t want to go there because Gentiles were considered unclean by the Jews, but God convinced him to go through a dream in Acts 10. After Peter preached the gospel to them we read in Acts 10:44-46 (ESV) While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God.”
Later, Paul on his missionary journey to Ephesus in Acts 19:2 (ESV) asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul preached the gospel to them and seeing that they had faith proceeded to baptize them and when he had finished. Acts 19:6 (ESV) picks up here, And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.
So Paul could confidently write to them later, 13 you also…were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit
Calvin, in a sermon on this passage, writes in so many words, “even today deeds are endorsed by seals. A seal is placed on a document to assure the bearer of the endorsement of an official person or office.” For example, when you receive a title for a car, or a title for a home, it bears a seal of the state in which it is purchased or the seal of an official notary endorsing the document as authentic and true. Calvin writes, “In previous days, instead of signing a document with their own hands, they delivered their seal or ring to endorse a will, or document or covenant.”
Likewise, the sealing of the Spirit endorses us, authenticates us, marks us as true Christians. Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?
We can know that we have been sealed by the Spirit in two ways.
We can know intellectually because the Bible tells us so. In Romans 8:9 (ESV) we read, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” The converse of that says, Anyone who belongs to him has the Spirit of Christ. In Gal 3:5 Paul writes, 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and aworks miracles among you do so bby works of the law, or by hearing with faith—That is, the Spirit is received when hearing is combined with faith.
We can know experientially. I’ve heard it said this way. We know because we know. But what should we look for? Again, the Bible tells us what to look for.
5 and ahope does not put us to shame, because God’s love bhas been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Rom 5:5 ESV) . You have an internal sense of God’s love.
17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Rom 14:17 ESV). You have a desire to pursue right living, and an internal sense of peace and joy.
3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and cno one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. (1Co 12:3 ESV) You are able to confess with assurance that Jesus is Lord.
6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, (1Th 1:6 ESV) You have joy even in affliction.
5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, (Tit 3:5 ESV). You have a sense of being cleansed and renewed.
20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, (Jud 1:20 ESV) You are enabled to pray and believe that God hears your prayers.
But must a person speak in tongues in addition to these other evidences in order to be assured that he or she has the Holy Spirit as we saw in Acts?
No. Those were signs to demonstrate to the Jewish leaders that God intended to include the Gentiles in the covenant of grace as well as the Jews. I don’t deny the possibility of speaking in tongues, just that speaking in tongues is the sign of receiving the Spirit by every believer.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians in chapter 14 that he wished all spoke in tongues, but even more that they would all prophesy in order to build up the body of Christ. But earlier in verse 12 he says so many words that not all believers actually do speak in tongues because God has distributed his gifts among us as he wills for the edification of the church. He asks, 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? [The implied answer to all of these is “No.] (1Co 12:29-30 ESV).
So we are sealed by the Holy Spirit when we believed, but there is something else the Spirit does or is.
It says he is the guarantee or down-payment of our inheritance in Christ.
14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it…
A guarantee is something that assures a specific outcome. In modern terms, usually something in writing the assures us that the product will perform as described, and if not, the owner will replace the defective product. The Spirit is God’s guarantee to assure us of that God will in fact perform what he has promised.
A down-payment is a part of the full price of something paid at the time it is bought, with the remaining part to be paid later. The Spirit is a partial payment of the full inheritance that God will give us later.
Some call this the “already and not yet.” One commentator (FF Bruce) says it this way, “Redemption is already ours through the sacrifice and death of Christ according to v7, but one aspect remains to be realized. On the day of resurrection God will redeem his own possession, and the proof of his commitment to do so is the sealing of the Holy Spirit.
Calvin writes of our inheritance, “we do not yet have the full enjoyment of it. We must wait for it. We walk in hope and faith.” We do not yet possess it, but we are sure of it. The HS is our pledge that we will have full possession of it at the last day.” He says, “Because of outward appearances and the many perplexities and heartaches of this world, the pledge of the HS is given to assure us of God’s promise to finally deliver us. The world tramples us, the Lord tries us, yet we have hope of finally receiving our inheritance.” Therefore, he says, “We should rejoice, mourn, grieve, give thanks, be content, wait. Romans 8:23 (ESV) And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
On the last day, we will take possession of our portion, our heritage, our full inheritance.
3. Why we have received it
We are told twice in this passage, in verses 12 and 14, it is “to the praise of his glory.” God’s purpose in redeeming a people, in claiming us as his portion out of all the peoples of the earth is that we should, and that the entire cosmos, both visible and invisible should give him praise.
We are told in Isaiah 43:20-21 (NKJ) The beast of the field will honor Me, The jackals and the ostriches, Because I give waters in the wilderness And rivers in the desert, To give drink to My people, My chosen. This people I have formed for Myself; They shall declare My praise.
And in 1 Peter 2:9 (NKJ) But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
That is God’s purpose for everyone whom he has claimed as his own possession, to whom he has promised an inheritance, to everyone who has received the gift of salvation. We should declare his praise. We should give him praise for the indescribable gift of salvation and all its benefits, because we have done nothing to deserve it.
We should declare his praise with our lips. Hebrews 13:15 (ESV) Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.
We should declare his praise with our lives. Romans 12:1-2 (ESV) I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
We should declare his praise even with our thoughts and attitudes. Psalm 51:15-17 (ESV) The sacrifices of God – or offerings of praise to God – are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Are you declaring God’s praise in any of these ways, in all of these ways? Is God’s purpose your purpose? That is why you were claimed as his own possession, his special treasure, that you might declare his praise with your whole life.
When we are in Christ, when we have received his Spirit, we are enabled to do this and to persevere to the end to receive our portion of God’s inheritance. We are enabled to give him thanks and praise even in trials and difficulties because we have his guarantee that we will receive what he has promised.