A Threat or a Promise?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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But among you there must not be any sexual immorality, or greed... Nor obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Ephesians 5:3-5

When you first read Ephesians 5:5, you might wonder if this verse is a threat. Is Paul threatening us with exclusion from Heaven if we engage in sexual sin or greed? Is this threat meant to motivate us to get our act together and avoid especially bad sins?

Verse 5 reads: "For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." It intentionally echoes verse 3, where it says, "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, or of greed." When we look at the original Greek, we find these parallels: sexual immorality/immoral person (porneia/pornos), impurity/impure person (akatharsia/akathartos), greed/greedy person (pleonexia/pleonektes). So, verse 5 underscores the thought of verse 3 while adding a new perspective.

One way to read this verse turns it into a threat. It could mean, "If you're a Christian and you engage in sexual immorality, impurity, or greed, then you will lose your salvation and be excluded from Heaven." But this reading neglects all of the earlier teaching of Ephesians, in which salvation is by grace, not works (see 2:8, for example). In Paul's prayer in chapter 1, he asks that we may know "the riches of [God's] glorious inheritance in his holy people" (1:18). These riches have come to us, not because of anything we have done (or not done), but because of "the riches of God's grace" (1:7, see also 2:7). When we receive God's grace through faith, we are saved and newly created in Christ (2:8-10). If, after this time, we sin, we do not thereby become excluded from the inheritance that is ours in Christ because this inheritance has come by grace.

A better way to read 5:5 sees it as a promise. "No immoral, impure, or greedy person . . . has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." This is true. Moreover, from earlier in Ephesians we also know that we do in fact have a glorious inheritance in God's future kingdom (1:18). This inheritance is guaranteed, not by our actions, but by the seal of the Holy Spirit (1:13-14). So then, if we do have an inheritance in the kingdom, and if we know for sure that we have this inheritance because of the Spirit, then it must mean that we are not immoral people, impure people, or greedy people. Yes, we may sometimes engage in immoral, impure, or greedy behavior. But we are not defined by these actions. Rather, our essential identity comes from God and his grace in Christ. We are God's special people, God's children, God's creations, God's beloved.

So, verse 5 reminds us of the truth, the truth of who we are in Christ, the truth of who we are not in Christ, and the truth of our assured inheritance in Christ. It becomes a promise of our future, of the fact that we will be welcomed into God's kingdom and showered with our grace-based inheritance.

Because of this truth, we are motivated to live it, to be in action who we are in Christ. Thus, we avoid immorality, impurity, and greed, not out of fear of exclusion from Heaven, but out of joy over our inclusion in Heaven. This promise, held in confident faith, moves us to live as new people.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever been motivated in your life by the fear of Hell? When? Have you ever been motivated to do what is right because of God's grace? When? What might help you to live today in light of the promise of your future in God?

PRAYER: Gracious God, how I thank you for your saving, renewing work in me. Thank you that I am no longer a sinner at my core, but rather one who has been claimed by your love and grace. Thank you, Lord, for the good work that you have begun in me.

Help me, I pray, to live out who I am. Help me to avoid sin, not out of fear, but out of gratitude for what you have done for me and out of joyful hope for the future. May everything I do and say, no matter where I am, give you glory. Amen.


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Image above by Abishesh Joshi. Used with Permission. Via Flickr.