Today what stood out to me in this chapter was the way Paul presented the Gospel of salvation in two components. The first component, is forgiveness of sins … by faith in Jesus Christ (vs. 18). This component is very familiar to us who have been raised in the Christian church. This is the essence of the Gospel as we have been taught it.
But there is information in the section that was excised by the three dots, that was, and is, part and parcel of what it means to be saved. By faith in Jesus Christ, forgiveness of sins was not the only thing that we were to receive with our salvation. We were also to receive “an inheritance among those who are sanctified.”
What does this mean? Paul was speaking to King Agrippa, a Jew, who was very familiar with the culture, mindset and worldview of the Jews. Words like “inheritance” and “sanctified” meant something to Jews of the first century. Those words were defined by their Hebraic culture, and the source of their Hebraic culture was the Word of God – the Old Testament (the New not existing yet).
I looked up the word “inheritance” in a Strong’s Concordance, in the Old Testament, and the vast majority of the time, it was referring to the people of Israel inheriting the land of Israel that God had promised Abraham (Gen 12:1-3). There were two parts to the promise God made Abraham: He promised him land, and He promised him descendants from his body. In fact, Abraham reminded God that he remained childless when God renewed His promise to him (Gen 15:1-3). The land and children is the inheritance as defined by the Word of God, which is the way Paul and Agrippa would have understood it.
So what does Paul mean, when he says that the Gentiles would receive along with forgiveness of sins, an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus Christ? We just saw that “inheritance” has to do with the promise of land and children that God made to Abraham.
In the Hebrew mindset, the promise given to Abraham cannot be divorced from the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. Because God was, at that point in history, fulfilling His part of the promise: He had brought them out of slavery, and He was taking them to the land that He had promised to give Abraham’s children as an inheritance:
“So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone. And the LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might observe them in the land which you cross over to possess.” Deu 4:13-14
God’s commandments were given to God’s people, who were Abraham’s children, to live by when they came into their inheritance, the land God was giving them to possess. Those who kept the commandments were the righteous, in the Hebrew mindset, because the commandments defined for man what God considered righteous and unrighteous (or sinful) behavior.
“Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Eph 2:11-13
Do you see it? Those who were born Gentiles in the flesh, were born with no hope and without God in the world. Why? Because God had only made a covenant of promise with one nation – the nation that came from Abraham through the son of the promise (Isaac) – the commonwealth of Israel. All the other nations were out of luck. They had no access to God, because access to a Holy God only comes by the way of His covenant. And His covenant, He commanded Israel to perform.
Now how did those who were born Gentiles in the flesh, who were once Gentiles (apparently Paul did not consider them Gentiles any longer), get brought near to the covenant of promise by the blood of Jesus Christ?
“And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree,” Rom 11:17
There is that word “among” again (as we first saw in Act 26:18). By the blood of Jesus Christ, God has grafted the Gentiles in among the cultivated olive tree which is Israel. The church does not replace Israel. But through Jesus Christ, we enter in to the covenant of promise God has established with Israel. We too, as Paul said to Agrippa, receive, along with forgiveness of sins, an inheritance among those who are sanctified, or made holy, by faith in Jesus Christ.
So faith in Jesus Christ, as Paul is explaining the Gospel, is our open door in. It makes us a partaker of the covenant of promise with Israel. Now we have access to a holy God! The second part to the Gospel as Paul explained it, is found in verse 20: once a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ, through a process the Scriptures term “repentance,” then he does works befitting repentance (we saw Peter place this same emphasis on repentance on the day of Pentecost, Act 2:38-39).
This is the pattern throughout Scripture. God makes you His, and delivers you from slavery in Egypt (the kingdom of darkness), and after you have been set free from from your chains and are free to follow Him, then He gives you the rules of the house (Ten Commandments), as any good father does his children. Anyone who carefully reads both the Old and New Testaments, sees right away that we were not set free from the kingdom of darkness to live for ourselves or to indulge the flesh! We were set free from one kingdom to live in another kingdom – the kingdom of heaven. And in the kingdom of heaven, there is a King! And citizens, whether of the kingdom of darkness or the kingdom of heaven, bow their knee to the word of their king!
The difference in God’s kingdom, is that before the advent of Jesus Christ, God’s citizens – Israel – His people, His children – could only obey His Word (do works as Paul says in verse 20) by obeying tablets of stone without the heart. But since the advent of Jesus Christ, now God’s children, including the Gentiles too, can obey His Word (do works) by the Spirit who has written His Law upon the heart (Eze 36:25-27). It is our delight to live for Him in a manner that pleases Him!
It is the second part of the Gospel, the part about repenting of the sins of the flesh and now doing works that befits repentance, that sometimes get left out of the Gospel as it is presented in our churches. By God’s Spirit He is changing that!