Some Thoughts on Ephesians Two and the Christian Community

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

John 3:16 is probably the most famous passage in Scripture, whether or not you are a Christian the fact is that everybod knows it, or at least knows that John 3:16 is significant for Christians. Another famous passage is found in Ephesians 2:8: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” The truth is that we can become so familiar with this verse that its hard to understand how radical it really is. We can become so familiar with this verse that its hard to imagine what it would be like for 1st century Christians to hear these words.

Reading this entire passage, 2:1-10, one thing jumps out at me in particular…. namely the fact that its so radically different from our individualistic gospel. In this passage Paul makes much of the plural “you” and “we.” Who is this “you” and who is this “we?” The answer to that question comes in 2:11-22. Paul tells us that Christ has broken down the dividing wall and that he has made Jews and Gentiles one. Christ has taken these two radically different groups and has created one new group. Notice what this means, it doesn’t simply mean that now Jews and Gentiles can now get along, it means that Jews no longer find their identity in being Jewish and Gentiles no longer find their identity in being Gentiles. This new group’s identity is found in Christ alone. This is a brand new group who is identified in Christ alone.

This chapter which so eloquently describes God’s plan of son ship for his people through Christ simply cannot be read through an individualistic gospel lens. This passage shows us that salvation is not merely to be understood in individualistic terms, nor as a private decision;  it does something to us corporately. Paul tells us that salvation brings us into God’s family, it makes us part of God’s holy temple.

Bringing this notion, that God has given his people a new identity, one that goes beyond any racial/cultural/socioeconomic lines, forward into our own day we need to make a couple of observations. First, the Church no longer faces the question of the integration of Jews and Gentiles into one group. Paul is vehemently opposed to a church that experiences division along racial/cultural/socioeconomic lines. Since Paul was so insistent on the fact that those who are in Christ form a completely new group, no longer identified by their cultural identity markers, we must ask ourselves if our churches today are still divided in any way along racial or cultural lines. If they are then we don’t have an adequate grasp of the gospel. If they are then we have not really grasped one key aspect of what Jesus’ death means for humanity.

The following are some questions based off N.T. Wright’s Ephesians For Everyone Bible Study Guide:

  • Consider how those receiving this letter from Paul might have reacted to these verses. How easy or difficult do you think it was for them to live out the oneness they were called to as fellow believers in Christ?
  • What challenges often come up when groups of people who used to be separate come together to form one group?
  • Is there a modern parallel to this issue of Gentile-Jew problem that Paul is facing?
  • Is your Christian community divided along racial/cultural/socioeconomic lines? Or better yet do you see people from different races/cultures/socioeconomic within your community?
  • Paul describes our equality in Jesus by using three images: citizens, family, and building. What are the implications for being citizens of God’s Kingdom? How should our interactions with each other be different because we are members of God’s family?
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