'Inclusive' is supposed to be a socially good word with a sort of moral 'ought to' about it. Yet, often, many are excluded because people simply choose only to associate with people who are like themselves. In the time of the Early Church, Gentile (a classification word for everybody who was not a Jew) Christians, who had once been despised in Jewish eyes, were sometimes still at a disadvantage compared to Jewish-background believers. Paul links this problem with the idea in the previous verse that all the believers were intended to be a 'colony of heaven', working out God's pre-prepared plans for His glory (Ephesians 2:10). Division in the church is never good, and especially when it separates different ethnic groups (2 Corinthians 12:20).
Certainly, the Old Testament taught that God had a special and exclusive relationship with His people, Israel, and this was expressed in rituals like circumcision. But even in those days, outsiders who really wanted to belong to God, could. Ruth was an ancestor of Jesus, yet she was a Moabitess (Matthew 1:5); Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute, but she also had faith in the living God and was welcomed as one of God's people (Joshua 6:25). There were many who had Jewish ancestry but had no faith (Romans 9:6). But true Israelites were those who had faith in the promises of God, as Abraham did (John 8:56). In the same way, New Testament Gentiles who trusted in the Jesus of the Gospel were welcome on equal terms to the Jews who believed.
So it is faith in the promises of God in Christ Jesus, (in particular the promises of mercy, reconciliation, grace and the new birth) which marks out those who belong to God from those who do not (Hebrews 4:2). Spiritually, it does not matter where you have come from, for all are sinners (Romans 3:12) - but where you are going to (Hebrews 10:23). Our eternal destiny does not depend on our religious background, but on trusting in Jesus and owning His shed blood as the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10). And that is available to all who will believe the gospel (Romans 1:16). The effect of receiving Christ is to be made a child of God (John 1:12); and therefore a spiritual sibling with all other believers. They are your brothers and sisters – do not despise them because we are all one Body in Christ (Galatians 3:28).
Being excluded is horrible. We were rightfully excluded from God's presence by sin and rebellion. But all those who trust in the promise of God, in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, are brought close to Him. They are no longer far away from him, but fully included (Ephesians 2:19). Once they had no hope, now they have God as their friend. That applies to all: from the most religious to the most seasoned crook, and people in the workplace too. The message is that whoever wants to come to God can do so through Christ (Revelation 22:17) - irrespective of background culture. It is a good message for friends in the workplace; to dispel the false myth that only good Christians are welcomed by Jesus - He died for everybody, and He will include all who want to come!
© Dr Paul Adams