“You can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ . . . that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:4–6).
Various passages throughout the Old Testament tell us that the love God has for His creation moved Him to include people from all nations in His plan of salvation. He placed Israel at the center of the Gentile nations as a light to those outside the covenant with Abraham (Gen. 10; 12:1–3; Isa. 42:6). Our Lord also promised a day when the kings of the other nations would bring their resources into His kingdom and render Him service (60:10–14). This promise alluded implicitly to the fact that repentant Gentiles would be fellow citizens along with natural-born sons and daughters of Abraham.
The full inclusion of the Gentile nations as equal citizens in God’s kingdom was not explicit in the old covenant revelation, and so in today’s passage Paul speaks of Gentiles being “fellow heirs” with Jews of the divine promises as a mystery now made known clearly (Eph. 3:6). For the apostle, mystery typically refers not to something unintelligible but rather to a truth that was dimly revealed in the Old Testament such that it was not grasped until the coming of the Spirit in the new covenant. While in retrospect the Lord’s purpose to redeem even the Gentiles is evident in the prophets (Isa. 19:16–25; Zech. 14:16), even the prophets did not fully understand the ramifications of the salvation of the nations — Gentile believers would be on equal footing with Jewish believers in the kingdom of God. The early church father John Chrysostom writes, “The prophets therefore spoke but did not have complete knowledge at the time” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT vol. 8, p. 139).
Judaizing heresies in the early church show us that the Gentiles’ inclusion as full heirs of the new covenant with the privileges of faithful Israelites was unexpected. The Judaizers’ problem was not that they thought Gentiles could not join the people of God; rather, they could not conceive of Gentiles having an equal status with Jewish believers in the covenant community without adopting the Mosaic law, including circumcision, feast days, and more (Gal. 2:1–14). They perpetuated old divisions, giving uncircumcised Gentile believers a lower status than the circumcised. But as Paul tells us in Ephesians 3:1–6 and many other passages, the fulfillment of the Lord’s plan for the nations is that there are “no racial, social, or spiritual distinctions” in the church (Dr. John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1,689).
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
We receive individuals as full communing members in the local church based not on their ethnic background, income, social status, or any other category. Instead, all those who put their faith in Christ become full heirs of all the promises of God. If we have faith in Jesus, then, we should not think that we lack something — be it a spiritual gift, ethnic heritage, a church office, or anything else — that would make us “better Christians.”