Do you read this as a warning that you might not go to heaven?
Ephesians 5 5 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. (NIV)
It didn’t mention heaven. Readers substitute heaven because that’s how kingdom of God has been understood. But the Bible’s narrative isn’t about us going to heaven; it’s about God’s kingship being restored to earth.
We’ll take it phrase by phrase, but first the backstory: the Bible’s narrative of the kingdom of God.
The Bible opens with two realms under God’s governance: heaven (where he lives) and earth (where we live). His decrees established the earth under heaven’s authority, with people as agents of the king. But the guards of the palace garden attempted a coup. Instead of becoming gods, we came under evil. Our eternal sovereign didn’t leave us to our fate; he’s been working with us ever since to bring earth back under heaven’s reign.
That’s the whole Bible’s story: Abraham, Israel, Moses, Sinai, Joshua and the Judges, David and his son Solomon, the failure of Israel’s and Judah’s kings to represent God, God’s nation disintegrating at the hands of the nations, the promises of the prophets that God will still act to rescue his people and restore them into his reign.
The New Testament opens with the claim that Jesus is the son of David anointed by God to restore his people from their exile into his reign (Matthew 1:1-23). By the end of Matthew’s Gospel account, Jesus has all authority in both realms (heaven and earth), with his kingship extending to the nations and our king present with us on earth until the age is complete (Matthew 28:18-20).
Jesus is the leader appointed by God (the Christ) to restore God’s reign on the earth (our Lord). In the Old Testament, the sons of David were appointed to represent God’s reign on earth, so the kingdom of God could be described as the reign of the Lord and his anointed (Psalm 2:2). That’s the language of Ephesians 5:5 — the reign of his anointed and of God.
This promise — the world restored into the reign of God through Christ — is the inheritance God has always intended for the earth. This inheritance is not yet fully present, but it is present in the people who give allegiance to God’s anointed, who are being raised up in him (Ephesians 1:18-20).
- The kingdom of Christ and God = the restoration of God’s reign on earth through his anointed (King Jesus).
- The inheritance = what God has always intended for the earth, namely restoration of relationship as sons of our heavenly sovereign.
- Missing out on the inheritance = remaining as slaves under evil, not being emancipated to live in the reign of God in Christ (present and future).
The restoration of the inheritance began with Abraham. But by the end of the Old Testament, Israel doesn’t have her inheritance because of disobedience. This is how the story unfolds:
Ephesians 5 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them. (ESV)
- Empty words = the belief that God isn’t sorting out the oppression on earth, so you can do whatever you want. (You can at least understand why some of God’s people took that approach after 600 years of exile and foreign rule.)
- God’s anger = the opposite of the empty words. The God of the Bible is not implacable, unfeeling, or disengaged. God was angered by the nations showing no regard for his decrees and taking the land. He was angered by the children of Abraham who proved to be children of the disobedience too. God may be slow to anger, but he is engaged and he does respond to injustice in his time.
- Sons of the disobedience = the lawless nations AND the disobedient sons of Abraham: “Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath” (2:3).
- Partners = the people of God in partnership with the rulers of this world under evil instead of remaining true to God’s kingship. The ultimate expression of this partnership was crucifying God’s anointed (compare Acts 4:27).
God’s kingdom in Christ cannot be like the nations (4:17). Harvey Weinstein responded to his conviction with, “How can this happen in America?” Whatever you expect in America, immorality, impurity, and greed cannot be the culture of the kingdom of Christ and God (5:5). We cannot live like that and inherit what God has promised.
God is emotionally engaged with his people. He knows those who recognize his anointed as our Lord and live under his kingship, and he is angered by those who reject his kingship and remain as the children of the disobedience.
There’s nothing here about going to heaven when you die. It’s about how we receive the inheritance God intended for the earth — life under his kingship, in his anointed ruler, the kingdom of Christ and God. Or not.
Bottom line: If you join yourself to the powers that resist God’s reign, you’ll never receive the inheritance God planned for us, the joy and justice of the world restored as the kingdom of Christ and God.
Ephesians 5:5-7 (compare NIV)
5 You must know that everyone who is immoral, unclean or greedy (devoted to idols) has no inheritance in the kingdom of God and his anointed. 6 Don’t let anyone mislead you with meaningless talk: these are the things that bring God’s anger on the descendants of the disobedience. 7 Do not become participants with them.
What others are saying
Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace electronic edition (Zondervan, 2009) emphasis original:
I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God. Isn’t God love? Shouldn’t divine love be beyond wrath? God is love, and God loves every person and every creature. That’s exactly why God is wrathful against some of them. My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry. …
Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.