A reflection on Ephesians 2 for Sunday, August 9 at Mosaic Baptist Church.
You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through 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 ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards 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 the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by those who are called ‘the circumcision’—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.
Ephesians 2 (NRSVA)
The passage above breaks nicely into two parts – corresponding to the two paragraphs presented. The first simply reminds the church where they have come from and where they are going – from death to life. The second, that they were a divided people and are now united.
It is a message for every member of the Ephesian church – Jew and gentile.
In the middle of both these sections, we have what I like to call a ‘But God Moment’. The first: ‘But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…’ The second: ‘But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.’
‘But God Moments’ represent a point of change that is initiated by God. They point to the action or work of God in us and our world.
So what has God been doing? In the first paragraph, God has been raising the dead.
Paul goes out of his way to ensure that we understand where his readers once were: ‘…dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived…’ Here Paul essentially makes two points: first, sin is not true living, but the destructive path of death, and; second, this predicament is common to everyone – Jew and gentile.
And so we come to our first ‘But God…’ Here Paul uses a number of vital descriptors of God’s stance toward us: ‘mercy’, ‘love’, ‘grace’. As a result of our engagement with sin, God is not seeking our demise and death, but our life.
In fact quite startling language is used here: ‘Christ…raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places…’ Through faith we take the same life-path taken by the resurrected Christ – leading to the same seat of authority.
As if to emphasise what our first ‘But God…’ has already implied – Paul states that we have not earned this: ‘…this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.’
Importantly, however, God‘s work leads to our action. What God has done – by this extraordinary grace – leads us into purposeful, God ordained work: ‘…we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.’
Unsurprisingly, this call to be all that God has made us leads beautifully into our second paragraph. What might a people saved by grace for a pre-ordained work do?
Perhaps many things. Paul, however, sees one overarching call, or work, for the grace-saved people of God: Reconciliation.
Once again there are two parts: a description of life before – and then one after – the action of God.
The first is a picture of division: circumcision vs uncircumcision; the nations (gentiles) vs Israel (Jews).
The experience for both groups is one of being ‘aliens and strangers’ to the things of God. This is not simply something understood by those outside Israel – it is also understood – and defended – by those inside. The uncircumcised are named as such by those who call themselves the circumcised.
A dividing wall is being built between the two that diminishes the vision of God for both.
If reconciliation is the goal, both parties are in need.
Here is another equaliser!
And so we come to the second ‘But God…’ No doubt you will have noticed that this one is not actually credited to God. Rather, Paul points to an action by Jesus: ‘But…Christ’. Given Paul’s excitement in Ephesians 1 over the action of the trinity for the cosmos, we should have little difficulty with this. The Father, Son, and Spirit are all working in the same direction!
And that direction is one of unity. As Paul says, ‘…you who were far off have been brought near…’; ‘…he is our peace…’; ‘…he has made both groups into one…’, and; he ‘…has broken down the dividing wall…’
What is this division? Hostility.
The blood of Christ has won our peace by reconciling ‘both groups to God in one body through the cross…putting to death that hostility through it.’ Through Jesus we are all ‘citizens and saints’ and ‘members of the household of God’.
Is it any wonder Paul falls into temple imagery here – a ‘household’, founded on the apostles, and aligned by Christ the cornerstone, a structure joined and growing ‘into a holy temple’.
So this – I suggest – is our God-ordained work: reconciliation to the point that we are a ‘dwelling place’ for the God who, as Ephesians 1:10 says, is reconciling everything!
Do you have a ‘But God Moment’ in your life? How similar is it to the hinge moments Paul describes in the churches he writes to?
What evidence is there for the church as a reconciled people? What evidence do you see against this stand?
How do you work toward reconciliation? To what extent do you see this as your call as a follower of Jesus?