Ephesians 1-3 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh

From Ephesians 1-3

Paul apostle thumb In today’s passage we learn a little more about the significance of salvation by faith, not by works and two accomplishments of Jesus on the cross. On the cross Jesus joined together Jews and Gentiles into the one family of God – one new man. He made peace between them. On the cross Jesus reconciled these Jews and Gentiles – one body now – to God.

This post is part of my bible in a year series.

Passage and Comments

One of Paul’s most famous statements about salvation by grace through faith is in Ephesians 2.

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 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. (Eph 2.8-10)

What a wonderful set of verses! Sharing the amazing gift God has given us. Believers can look back and realise when they came to faith, that was the time when God saved them by grace.

It gets better. God has planned in advance a whole stack of good works for his people to perform. His people will do every one of them! It’s not your fault God is going to get you to do this much good.

Today’s post builds on this set by spelling out the implications of what Paul has said and why he has said it.

Therefore. What is the ‘therefore’ there for?

NT Wright. One of my favourite scholars wrote the following on what the therefore is there for. He makes a great case for what Paul is talking about when he compares faith and works. Its a Jew Gentile thing.

“In this instance, the word [dio, therefore] connects together the two halves of the chapter, 2.1–10 and 2.11–21.

The first half provides a classic statement of the fact that all humankind, Jew as well as Gentile, is enslaved to sin in body and mind, and of the fact that it is by God’s mercy and love that we are forgiven our sins and saved from wrath.

‘By grace you have been saved, through faith; and this is not of your own doing, it is the gift of God; not because of works, lest anyone should boast’.

A central statement of a great Pauline theme [Salvation] to stand beside anything from Romans and Galatians.

Paul then immediately writes dio, ‘therefore’:

`Therefore remember that you Gentiles, having once been separated from the covenant family of God’s people, have been brought into membership through the sacrificial death, the blood, of the Messiah.’

I must do justice to that dio if I am to stand before God as a reader and interpreter of inspired scripture; and as I do so I discover, reading on to the end of the chapter and the start of chapter 3, that this coming together of Jew and Gentile is not one incidental spin-off from grace and justification, not just one interesting result among many, but that it lies at the very heart of Paul’s gospel, by his own definition: that the Gentiles

  • are fellow heirs, [covenant] members of the same body, and
  • sharers in the promise [of salvation] through Messiah Jesus.

I thus discover that my call, my Reformational call, to be a faithful reader and interpreter of scripture impels me to take seriously the fact, to which many writers in the last two hundred years have called attention, that whenever Paul is talking about justification by faith he is [in addition to Salvation] also talking about the coming together of Jews and Gentiles into the single people of God. I did not make this up; it is there in the God-given texts. (NT Wright, Paul in different perspectives)

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. (Eph 2.11-12)

The Gentiles are called to remember what it was like before they were saved.

The Gentiles were called the uncircumcision by Jews. A bit crude I know. The Jews distinguished and labeled people by their lack of minor surgery to their private parts. Circumcision represented their membership in the covenant (Gen 17.10), it anticipated their belief they would be saved (Acts 15.1-2) and signified cutting off the evil from their hearts (Dt ).

Paul makes an important list of what his Gentile audience did not have before they were saved. They were also separate from Christ, the king. They were not part of his kingdom. Nor were they beneficiaries of the covenant promise of salvation.

Paul paints a bleak picture of their state before they came to know Christ to remind them off what God has given them in Christ.

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, (Eph 2.13-15)

The cross has changed all this for them.

Jesus has brought them near. Near to the Jews and the blessings he has just described. Jesus’ has made a new family of Jews and Gentiles who believe he is the Christ. He made them both one. Like marriage, one body. Without the sexual connotations!

Jesus did this by his death on the cross. Through the cross he made peace (a covenant term) between them and God and with the Jews. He did this because the cross broke down the law of Moses. The commands and ordinances which created their record of transgressions (dividing them from God) and barred them from fellowship with the Jews.

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. (Eph 2.15-16)

Paul lists two accomplishments of the cross.

  1. On the cross Jesus joined together Jews and Gentiles into the one family of God – one new man. He made peace between them.
  2. On the cross Jesus reconciled these Jews and Gentiles – one body now – to God.

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, (Eph 2.17-19)

The work of God continues as the gospel bears fruit. The far off and the near are the Gentiles and Jews respectively. The word has gone out and the Ephesians have heard it. With the Jews who are near they both can be in relationship with the Father.

God has turned their situation around from Paul’s bleak description of it near the start of this passage (Eph 2.11-12).

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. (Eph 2.20-22)

Switching to building imagery this new household is built on the foundation of people as well. These are the starting founders: Jesus, the apostles and prophets. The bearers of the word.

49 wall cornerstone.jpegJesus is our cornerstone. He connects the two walls of Jews and Gentiles together. The building is a temple. Within it dwells the Holy Spirit.

For Believers

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Click to enlarge

Jesus not only reconciled us to God on the cross, he reconciled us to one another.

We don’t often recognise it enough that we come from many different walks of life and experiences. We have different skin colours, nationalities, languages, and customs. Different jobs and different roles in society.

But Jesus on the cross brought us together, whether near or far. We are all one big family. Brothers and sisters. One body. Praise Jesus for his wonderful gift and sacrifice.

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