IS SALVATION A GIFT OR AN INHERITANCE?
Let us begin by defining the terms “salvation” and “inheritance”. “Salvation” is to be saved from something. From what is the believer saved? He is saved from the grave. How is he saved from the grave? He is saved from the grave by resurrection. In other words, to be saved is to be resurrected unto resurrection life.
Now let us define the term “inheritance”. An inheritance is something that is received by an heir. With that in mind, I believe we may define “inheritance” as “that which is given” an heir.
THE OLD TESTAMENT
The Hebrew word translated “heir” and/or “inheritance” is, “yahrahs”. It is used 220 times. It is almost always translated “heir” or “possess”. But it is also sometimes translated “drive out” and dispossess”. The point of those translations is that that which is to be inherited in that context (the land of Canaan) requires the occupants of that land to be driven out and dispossessed . What is interesting in terms of this study is that in 202 of the 220 occurrences of the word, it is used of inheriting the Land of Canaan or those inhabiting that land. It is never used of inheriting salvation which does not, in and of itself, prove anything because the Old Testament has very little to say about salvation from the grave. So let us continue.
THE NEW TESTAMENT
Let us begin by considering Jn. 5:24, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him That sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life”. Note the present tense in the phrases “hath everlasting life” and “is passed”. In other words, once one believes, he is seen by God as having everlasting life. That means that the believer does not need to inherit everlasting life, he already has it.
That being the case, salvation is not an inheritance because the child of God is seen by God to have salvation at the moment of his acceptance of the truth.
The question we must ask is: what is the believers’ inheritance? In point of fact, there are very few passages which actually address that question. But let us consider those passages.
Acts 7:5, “And He gave him (Abraham) none inheritance in it (i.e. the promised land), no not so much as to set his foot on; yet He promised that He would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him when as yet he had no child”. This verse speaks obviously, of the inheritance of the land given by God to Abraham and to his seed. The importance of this verse is that it tells us exactly what the inheritance will be, i.e. the land.
Rom. 4:13, “For the promise that he (Abraham) should be the heir of the world (Gr. “kosmos”), was not to Abraham or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith”.
Acts 20:32, “And now brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified”. How are we to determine to what inheritance Paul was referring in this verse? I believe that the phrase “among all them which are sanctified” is helpful in that determination. The Greek preposition that is translated “among: in this phrase is “en” and is defined, in part, be Dr. E. W. Bullinger as, “has regard to place and space or sphere of action”. In my opinion, this tells us that the inheritance is not salvation, but the place wherein resurrected saints will live in resurrection.
Heb. 9:15, “And for this cause He is the Mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance”. What was this “eternal inheritance”? We also read of an inheritance in the context. Consider Heb. 11:8, “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and then went out not knowing wither he went. The “eternal inheritance” was not salvation, it was the “place” that Abraham was promised as an inheritance.
The passages quoted above all have to do with the inheritance of those in the previous dispensation. Let us now consider the inheritance of those of the dispensation of the mystery. In point of fact, we are not told in the prison epistles just what the inheritance will be. But in the previous dispensation, the passages that do tell us what the inheritance will be all speak of it being a place in which the saved will live resurrection life. Therefore, absent any evidence to the contrary, I believe we may conclude that so too, the believers of the dispensation of the mystery will inherit a place, i.e. heavenly places, in which they will live resurrection life.
In the interest of thoroughness I believe it would be wise to examine all the other New Testament passages which speak of the believers’ inheritance.
Rom. 8:17 reads, “And if children, then heirs: heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together”. I do not believe this verse needs further explanation.
There are two verses in the third chapter of Galatians that we will consider together because they concern the same basic point.
Gal. 3:18 reads, “for if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise”. The inheritance was not promised to Abraham’s natural seed, but to his spiritual seed, which is made clear in the Gal. 3:29 which reads, “And if ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”.
The basic point of chapter three, and indeed of the entire epistle, concerns salvation by faith, as opposed to salvation through the works of the law. Does that imply that the promise of verses 18 and 29 is the promise of salvation? In my opinion, it does not, and I say that for two reasons. 1) Nowhere do we read of salvation as an inheritance. 2) As stated above, Abraham’s seed, have passed from death unto life by virtue of their becoming a believer (Jn. 5:24), making an inheritance of eternal life redundant That is to say, as a son of God , the believer has life eternal, therefore, he does not need to inherit it because, again, he already has it. In point of fact, as is true of several passages that speak of an heir, it does not tell us what the heir of this passage will inherit.
Gal. 4:1“Now I say, that the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all”. This verse is not applicable to this study, but I included it for the sake of thoroughness.
Gal. 4:7, “Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ”. This verse is very clear. It is through Christ that one is a son of God and because he is a son of God he is saved and therefore does not need to inherit salvation. Again, just what that inheritance is, is not revealed in this passage.
Eph. 1:11, “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will”. Please note that this inheritance will be obtained. But we read in Eph. 2:8-9 that salvation is by grace through faith and not of works, therefore salvation is not obtained.
It should be pointed out however, that Paul does indeed use the word “obtain” in a prison epistle with respect to salvation. We read in II Tim. 2:10, “Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory”. Please see the paper on faith and works in God’s plan of salvation which will prove from Scripture that, while it is true that salvation is by grace through faith, even in the dispensation of the mystery that faith must be completed by works. However, the context of II Tim. 2:10 has to do with one’s walk, i.e. works that complete one’s faith, the same cannot be said of the context of Eph. 1:11. Further, Eph. 1:11 speaks of obtaining an “inheritance” whereas II Tim. 2:10 speaks, not of an inheritance, but of salvation. Given that in every passage (or in the near context) in which the inheritance is explained it refers to the place wherein believers will live resurrection life, I believe this verse also refers to the place, in this case, heavenly places.
Eph. 1:13-14, “In Whom ye also trusted after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in Whom also after that ye believed ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory”.
Let us focus first on the phrase “holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession”. The phrase, “redemption of the purchased possession” refers to the resurrection of believers who have been bought with the blood of Christ.
Let us carefully consider the phrase, “ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.” The Greek preposition translated “with” in this verse is “en” and, as defined by Dr. E. W. Bullinger, “…has sometimes the force of by, denoting the instrument”. Eph. 4:30 tells us that we were sealed by the Holy Spirit. That verse reads, “Grieve not the holy Spirit of God whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption”. . Therefore, we may conclude that the “with” in the phrase, “sealed with” may be understood as “by”, i.e. we are sealed by the Holy Spirit. (See Eph. 4:30). In short, the “earnest”, i.e. the guarantee of that inheritance, is given by the Holy Spirit.
The believer is sealed by the “holy Spirit of promise until” the resurrection “of the purchased possession”. The question is: Is the inheritance resurrection, i.e. salvation, or is it heavenly places that will be inherited once the believer is resurrected? In point of fact, I do not see that we are given the answer to that question in this context. We must therefore answer it from other passages that do indeed answer that question. I believe that the passages from the New Testament quoted above (I have quoted all the New Testament passages that speak of an heir or an inheritance) that tell us what the inheritance is, will show that the inheritance is not salvation, but it is the place wherein the believer will live in resurrection.
Eph. 1:18, “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints”. This is, in my opinion, a profound thought. That is to say, this verse tells us that the church is God’s inheritance. We read a similar thought in Titus 2:14 which reads, “Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people….”. I do not see that that truth impacts our study, but I do believe it is worth considering.
Eph. 5:5, “For this ye know that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man who is an idolater hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God”. Obviously, one must be saved in order to enter the kingdom. This verse is saying that an unbeliever will inherit nothing in the kingdom of Christ. And the reason he will inherit nothing is because he will not enter into it.
Col. 3:24, “Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance; for ye serve the Lord. If one understands the inheritance spoken of in this verse as salvation there is a glaring contradiction with the fact that Eph. 2:8-9 is quite specific that salvation is not a reward (“by grace are ye saved through faith….. not of works…”). That is to say, a reward is something that is earned, salvation is not earned, it is a gift of God’s grace.
That leads to the question: What is meant by the phrase “the reward of the inheritance”? The “of” in the phrase “reward of the inheritance” is the Genitive of Relation which is defined by Dr. E. W. Bullinger, in part as “pertaining to”. In other words we may understand the phrase to mean, “the reward pertaining to the inheritance”.
But what is the inheritance? In point of fact, this verse does not answer that question. What then is the reward mentioned in this passage? The only reward spoken of that will be given to the faithful is to reign with Christ (see II Tim. 2:12). In short, this verse speaks of the reward of reigning with Christ in the kingdom of God.
Titus 3:7, “That being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life”. The Greek preposition translated “according to” in the phrase, “heirs according to the hope of eternal life” is “kata” and is defined by Dr. E. W. Bullinger in part as, “the destination to be reached”. In other words, this verse says that the hope of eternal life is the believer’s destination. Does that mean that eternal life is the inheritance? I believe it does not. If the hope of eternal life was the inheritance, this verse would have to read, “we should be made heirs of the hope of eternal life”. But it says rather that believers are heirs, the destination being, the hope of eternal life. In other words we may understand this verse to say that it is the justification by His grace that makes believers heirs, who have as their destination the hope of eternal life. Again, we are not told in this verse what the inheritance is.
Heb. 1:2, “Hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, Whom He hath appointed Heir of all things by Whom also He make the worlds”.
Heb. 6:17, “Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath”. What was the promise to the heirs that was confirmed by an oath? That question is answered in verses 13- 14, “For when God made promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no greater, He sware by Himself, saying, ‘Surely blessing I will bless thee and multiplying I will multiply thee (Abraham)”. In other words, the promise of Heb. 6 is not the promise of salvation, it was the promise that God made to Abraham that his seed would be blessed and multiplied.
Heb. 11:7, “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith”. We are told quite specifically to what Noah was made heir by faith, i.e. he was made heir to righteousness. Noah’s faith made him a child of God and as such he became the heir of righteousness.
Righteousness is certainly an important element of God’s plan of salvation, but it is not, in and of itself salvation from the grave (please see the paper on the terms used in God’s plan of salvation). Only resurrection saves from the grave.
James 2:5, “Hearken my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He hath promised to them that love Him?” Here too, we are told quite specifically that the poor who are rich in faith are heirs to the kingdom. One must, of course, be saved unto resurrection life in order to be an heir of the kingdom, but again, it is resurrection that saves, not being heirs of the kingdom, per se.
I Peter 1:3-4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you”. Here we read that the hope was through the resurrection of Christ to that which is “reserved in heaven”. In other words, because the believer is resurrected he will inherit that which is reserved in heaven. This suggestion is proved as we consider the phrase “hath begotten us…… to an inheritance”.
The Greek preposition translated “to” in this phrase, is “eis” which is defined by Dr. E. W. Bullinger as, “denotes motion to or unto an object with the purpose of reaching it…”. In other words, we are raised in Christ in order to reach the inheritance “reserved in heaven”. In short, in this passage we learn that resurrection is unto the inheritance. That is to say, the inheritance is not resurrection from the dead (which is exactly what salvation is) but rather resurrection is unto the inheritance.
Let us also consider how this inheritance is described, i.e. “incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away”. These are not the adjectives that one associates with resurrection life. So what is this inheritance? Given that this epistle is written to Israel, I believe that the inheritance is the same as is described in Hebrews 11, i.e. the new Jerusalem.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to respond please e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org