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Monday, June 16, 2014

No Longer Strangers Ephesians 2

Ephesians 2

            In last week’s lesson on Ephesians 1, we found out that God pre-ordained and chose us before He created the world to be in a relationship with Him. He loves us so much that He created us for a relationship with Him. He loves us so much that He provided a way for us to return to Him even though we are sinners and He cannot be in the presence of sin. The way He made for that to happen was to give the perfect redeeming sacrifice that removes the sins of our past and of people since the beginning of time. The sacrifice of animals as prescribed in the Old Testament was not enough to remove sin completely from a person, from their consciousness as well as their hands. Jesus sacrifice of His life for our sins wiped away the taint of our sin from our hands and removed our guilt and consciousness from sins (Hebrews 10:2). So in chapter one we find God loves and cherishes us so much that He gave His Son, Jesus Christ, die as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. This shows how God lavishes His love on us.

            In chapter 2, Paul began by directing attention to the Ephesians Christians. Remember, they are Greek (Gentile) Christians. Also, remember that Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesian Christians and to every faithful follower (Eph. 1:1). At the beginning of chapter two Paul spoke to the Ephesian Christians when he said, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the principles of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” Paul addressed these Ephesian Christians and reminded them who they were; they were dead eternally and spiritually because of their trespasses (lapses from truth and righteousness) and their sins. They were not any different from any of us “faithful followers” now. We each lapse and have lapsed from truth and uprightness (godliness). We each miss the mark and wander from God. These trespasses, Paul said, come from walking in this world where the dark forces of wickedness wander. These dark forces of wickedness, on which Paul expounds in Ephesians 6:12, are from the “prince of the power of the air.” They are of the “spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience" (2:2), the people who are obstinate to God’s will. Remember, God gave humankind a gift when He created us. He gave us our own will to choose to follow Him or our own desires. That is where sin entered and continues to mislead us from the perfect path.

            When Paul arrived at verse three, he included all Christians in his teaching here. He said among sinners, “we, too, all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind and were the nature of the children of wrath, even as the rest.” That is a powerful statement. It reminds me of what Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The lusts of which Paul spoke are strong internal sexual desires or desires for something. When we allow these lusts to control us instead of God, we are sinning. The indulging of which Paul spoke is external actions of filling the desires. Sinning is both internal, lusting (such as coveting), and external, acting upon those lusts. Jesus said in Mark 7:15, "There is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.” This is what makes a people “children of wrath.” When a person chooses to turn away from God’s right ways, he or she is a sinner even as the rest of humankind. No one is immune from temptation and sin.

            The good news, and the point of this whole chapter, is what God did and is doing. The world and life are not about us, but about God, Creator and Redeemer. Verses four through seven say,

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ, 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 surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. [NASB]

That is a mighty mouthful. It speaks about God. It begins with “But God,” which draws our attention back to the main thing, God. What did God do that is so important? He did not just make us alive, raise us up with Him, and seat us in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus. He lavished his mercy on us because He loves us. The Greek word used for mercy means the kindness and clemency of God choosing not to give us what we deserve, punishment. Paul spoke of this in Ephesians 1:7. His mercy came from His great love. This sounds somewhat blasé so let us go deeper. God’s grace and mercy come from His insurmountable and unlimited kindness and love. This love, as Paul said in chapter one, is “lavished” upon us. Lavished means to be over and above measuring, to be abundantly overflowing. His love, Paul stated in Ephesians 3:18-19, is higher, wider, and deeper than we can ever comprehend and surpasses knowledge. Even when we were dead in our transgressions, our misdeeds/deviation from truth and uprightness, He loved us. What did He do for us because of His love? The practicalities are that God made us alive in Christ. He raised us up with Christ from mortal death to new life dedicated to God. He gave us hope of being raised up from death. God seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. He placed us together with Him. God did this so that “He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (vs. 7). He did this to show the transcending exceedingly great beyond imagining riches of His merciful loving-kindness and favor. Because of God’s immeasurable, merciful loving-kindness, He made us alive, raised us up with Christ, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ.

            Paul stated it succinctly in verses eight and nine when he said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” God’s action of providing salvation from death, eternal separation from God, Paul again stated, comes from His grace. We can do nothing to save ourselves or earn God’s grace. God’s grace comes because of His exceeding and abundant love and mercy. Because we can do nothing to gain our salvation from death, we cannot boast of having achieved it. Even faith is a gift from God. Remember when Paul wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 12, he listed spiritual gifts that God gives. One of these gifts given by God is faith. God gives us faith to believe. What is faith then if not something we have, but is important for salvation? The writer of Hebrews said in 11:1, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.” We must choose to exercise the faith that God gives when we ask for it as we seek Him. We must believe and then we will receive salvation from God, a salvation that is not from ourselves. Salvation is a gift of God, nothing we can ever do. Salvation comes from God. Faith comes from God.

God’s goodness, grace, and mercy, come from His surpassing and abundant love. This love is why God created us to be in relationship with Him, why He predestined us to be His children from the foundations of the world, and why He prepared a way for us to return to Him through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. We are God’s workmanship. He created us. God recreates us, transforms us back to His image, in Christ Jesus for excellent and upright works, which God prepared beforehand (vs. 10). God created us to be in a love relationship with Him. He gave us the gift of free will, knowing our inclination to choose to follow our lusts and act upon them. Because of this and His great surpassing love, God prepared beforehand a way for us to return to relationship with Him through the death and resurrection of His Son. He wants us to walk with Him and to work with Him. He created us and prepared a way for us to be transformed back into the image in which He created us.

Paul said in verse eleven, “Therefore, remember,” and repeats it in verse twelve for emphasis. Remember that you, the Gentiles, the Ephesian Christians, who did not follow the Laws of the commandments and the rules and doctrines that came from them, remember that you did not circumcise your boys. You were “separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth and strangers to the covenants of promise having no hope and without God in the world” (vs. 12). The Greek word for our English word “excluded” means alienated and estranged. The Ephesians were aliens and estranged from the citizenship of Israel in Yahweh with the rights that engenders. They had no claim to God because they were outside the covenant of promise; they were not Israelites. The Ephesians were strangers outside of Israel without the knowledge or any share in the covenants of promise. They had no hope and were without joy, having no confident expectation of eternal salvation because they did not have God in their lives.

Paul, then, stated, “But now” (vs. 13). Something great was about to be spoken to the Ephesians, something to give them hope. Paul said, “But now in Christ Jesus, you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” These Ephesians, because they believed in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who came to take away the sins of the world, now had an inheritance with the Israelites.

How does this happen? Paul said,

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of the commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. (vs. 14-16, [NASB])

 Wow, a mouth and mind full. Let us look at this closer. The peace that verse fourteen speaks of is tranquility, surety, and safety through salvation. This peace is the state of a tranquil soul that knows of its salvation, no fear of eternal separation from God. Later, Paul spoke of both groups. These groups were the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians, the circumcised and uncircumcised. Before the Jewish Christians followed the Law of the commandments given through Moses from God from which the Jewish leaders made rules and regulations of life. So the Jews circumcised the foreskin of the boys in obedience to God to show they were in relationship with God. A covenant relationship, what the Israelites had with God, means a relationship that to which both parties contract themselves and requires both parties to fulfill their side. For the Jews, they had to follow the Ten Commandments and the rules that came from them to be in relationship with God. Because of the Gentiles did not have a covenant relationship with God, shown in their flesh by uncircumcision, they were outside the promises of God that the Israelites enjoyed. Christ came to fulfill the covenant between the Israelites and God. Since the Israelites could not fulfill their side of the covenant because of their sinfulness, the covenant never could be fulfilled and they would be separated from God forever. God provided the way for the covenant's fulfillment by providing the perfect sacrifice in the death of His Holy Son, Jesus Christ. The cows and sheep mandated to be the sacrifices for the sins of the Israelites never were effective to remove the sin of the people. The sacrifices cleansed them for that point in time, but they continued to be sinners carrying the guilt and consciousness of sin. Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself as the ultimate and perfect sacrifice removed our sins from the past and forever, from our hands and our consciousness. His sacrifice was perfect and fulfilled the covenant. Only God could completely fulfill the covenant and in His love, He did that through the death of His Son. Because Jesus is the fulfillment of the covenant God made with the Israelites, no wall or barrier separates Israelite from Gentile. Any person who believes in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior for our sins becomes a recipient of the new covenant, the Messianic covenant. This is how Christ “broke down the barrier of the dividing wall by abolishing in His flesh the enmity” (vs. 14-15). The enmity was the separation of Jew and Gentile because of the Mosaic covenant before the Messianic covenant.

            Paul returned to what God did when He provided salvation and why. He became more specific each time he spoke of this. He said God did this so “He might make (create) the two (Jewish and Gentile believers) into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by having put to death the enmity” (vs. 15-16). God’s new covenant through Jesus Christ made one people out of all His believers. This is the “one new man” Paul mentioned in verse fifteen. By doing this, Jesus established peace. He brought tranquility through salvation. Instead of there being dissension between Jewish and Gentile believers, they had Christ’s covenant in common and became unified through Him. He reconciled them back to a former state of harmony, before the fall of humankind through the cross. God wanted to reconcile humankind and bring them back into harmony with one another. He put enmity to death with the new covenant brought into being through Christ’s death and resurrection. Paul quoted Isaiah 57:19 to highlight that this was God’s intention from the beginning. He quoted, “And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near.” Isaiah prophesied of this tranquil state of humankind when he spoke this to the Israelites. Paul recalled it for them.

Paul continued by stating how God made Jew and Gentile unified and established peace in verse eighteen. He said, “For through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.” We have a relationship to God where we are acceptable to Him because our sin does not keep us away (Eph. 3:12). We have assurance He is favorably disposed toward us because Jesus’ perfect sacrifice took our sins completely away. When we accepted Him as our Savior, He put His Spirit in us. His Spirit in us intercedes for us to the Father.

To wrap this up, to restate who we were and who we now are, Paul wrote,

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus being the corner stone, in whom the whole building is being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together through the Spirit. (vs. 19-22, [NASB])

The Gentiles of Ephesus and non-Jewish believers are no longer strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens with the saints. We have knowledge of God and share in the covenant with the Jewish Christians. Before, we Gentiles did not have citizenship in God’s kingdom, but now we are included in the promise and covenant through Christ in eternal salvation. We are fellow citizens with those who have gone before us, the saints, the holy ones dedicated to God for His purpose who had a relationship with Him. We now belong to and are devoted to God’s household. As a part of God’s household, citizens of His kingdom, God built us on the foundation of believers who went before us, the apostles and prophets (Eph.3:5), even on Christ Jesus, the chief corner stone of the building. This building is the act of God, not of our doing. God continues building even now because the temple is still being fitted together. His holy temple is growing. The temple, the building made of faithful followers into one body, is active and continues to grow in the Lord. Christians are being built together into a dwelling of God through the Spirit. We do not accept God’s grace and mercy in the form of Jesus perfect sacrifice and leave it at that. Christians are to grow and keep on growing in our relationship with God and in our likeness to Christ. That will stabilize the building of God’s temple, the Church.

Salvation is a onetime occurrence. It happened once for all humankind when Jesus died on the cross in our place. Sanctification is a continuing occurrence throughout the rest of our lives as we walk with God becoming more Christlike. We must continue to be active in becoming like Christ so that the holy temple is growing. To consider that I am counted as worthy to be added on top of the saints who went before me is unimaginable; I am not worthy. I do not want to let God down, fail to grow in Christ, and not become more like Him. I do not want to fail to continue to build or grow the temple together with other Christians through Jesus Christ.

God chose us and predestined us to be in a love relationship with Him before He created the world. He chose to give us free will because of His love. Knowing that we would choose to walk away from Him, to sin, God provided a way, from before He made the world, to bring us back into relationship with Him, to transform and recreate us in His image. The way God did this was through the offering of His Son, Jesus Christ, the pure and sinless One, as the substitute for our death, due because of our sin. God planned this before He created the world. He loved us so much that He accepted the great pain of having His Son crucified as the sacrifice for our sins. We did nothing to offer the perfect sacrifice. God prepared it beforehand. We did nothing to earn the sacrifice of the pure life of Jesus Christ. For we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. God loves us with His great, unlimited, immeasurable love.

His love is His own doing. God’s creating and re-creating us is His own doing. The perfect sacrifice is God’s own doing. Christ’s resurrection from the dead to give us eternal life with Him is God’s own doing. We are sinners. If we are “faithful followers,” we still sin, but are forgiven and assured of our salvation. We are powerless, but God adopted us as His children. We rest assured knowing God made us alive, raised us up, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. He did this to show the surpassing riches of His grace, His undeserved love for us.

As Paul told the Ephesian Christians, before they were spiritually and eternally dead living according to the lusts of their flesh and indulging their flesh and minds. When they believed in and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior, God made them alive, raised them up with Christ, and seated them with Him in the heavenly places. They were no longer strangers, but fellow citizens in God’s household. God gives this to each follower of Christ. He adopts them as His children and gives them an inheritance in His kingdom.

This leaves us with a few questions.

  1. Are you a “faithful follower” of Jesus Christ?
    1. If you are, are you growing in Christlikeness and being built upon the foundation of His temple?
    2. What do you need to do to continue in your relationship with God?
  2. If you are not a follower of Jesus Christ, have you asked God to show Himself to you and give you faith to believe so that you will be adopted as His child?

We each must come to this point in life.

We each must decide if we will accept God’s gift of unlimited and immeasurable love and salvation.

Will you ask God to show Himself to you today?