The proper understanding of the gospel should drive us to deep, deep humility and reliance on God (particularly those who claim to be Reformed). As such, this understanding should foster unity among the church.
If you’re new to the blog, you can catch the cliff notes version of Ephesians 2 before you continue reading.
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.
Here, Paul is basically saying “Remember, you’re Gentiles!” This is his Holy Spirit inspired, long-winded way of saying “You’re not Jews! Remember this story doesn’t start with you.” There is a history to the gospel that starts before the Christmas Story, an entire people group looking and waiting for a Messiah to come for generations. Furthermore, God chose Abraham, a gentile among gentiles, to begin to form for Himself a people that would worship Him and reflect His glory among the nations (Isa. 56:7), so they might turn and worship the God of all creation. In the Old Testament, we see this play out in the Israelite nation. It was to this nation that the “promises of covenant” were given. It was to this nation that the coming of the Messiah was proclaimed. It was to this nation that the promise of hope in this broken, fallen world was given. And the Gentiles were not part of it. They were utterly without hope, content to follow their worldly passions on their way to death (Eph. 2:1-2), as was Abraham before God called him out from among the gentiles.
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.
The beauty and wonder of the gospel is that in Christ two people groups who were completely alienated from one another, two people groups who despised each other, can be made one. Those who were once enemies of one another are now made to be at peace with one another through the broken body and spilled blood of Christ, our Lord and Master. We see this first in that we were once enemies of God and are now reconciled to Him (Col. 1:21) and are made to be at peace with God (Rom. 5:1). Then we see this when God crushes the hostility between nations, making for Himself one nation, bought and forged by the blood of Christ.
It is easy for us to look at the Jews and Gentiles in history and consider this issue resolved. “Of course, anyone can come to Christ, God’s power is not too small to save one who isn’t of Jewish decent!” we confess. Yet, we forget that not too long ago, American history was given a black mark by slavery. They could come to Christ and have spiritual freedom, but couldn’t experience legal freedom. Again, we may look at history and disdain the thought of slavery, as we should, and think we are past those days. Yet, how many of us shudder inside ourselves when we see an inter-racial couple? How many of us only welcome men and women of other races into our churches, into our lives, if they talk and act just like us? Shame on us! Indeed, we still have much room to grow in experiencing the unity and peace the gospel promises and provides.
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.
Paul moves on to tell us how all of this actually happens. All those who confess Christ as Lord and Savior have the same Spirit working in them to conform them to the image of Christ, and giving us access to the Father. We have the same Spirit, and the same Father. We are not foreigners to one another anymore. We have the same citizenship. We belong to the same household. This means that those who were once enemies throughout all of history are now family. This family, this new nationality, is built on the gospel the apostles and prophets proclaimed, with Christ, the fulfillment of the prophecies and the gospel, being the cornerstone, holding it all together.
This next point is crucial. Once Paul establishes the humility and unity the gospel calls for and provides, and the foundation [Christ] that holds all of it together, he goes on to say “in whom [Christ] the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” The whole Church, the universal body of Christ, is being joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. Paul rephrases, “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” We aren’t just at peace with each other from a distance. We are joined to each other, grafted into one another. We are intrinsically connected to one another by the power of the Holy Spirit. Why? So that we may be a dwelling place for God. So, what happens then when we have Christians who live in isolation, outside of community, not connected to the body of Christ and the fellowship of the saints? Not only does the body of Christ suffer, but they suffer. The body suffers because it goes without the unique gift sets these people have, and these people suffer because they do not have the benefit of the mutual encouragement that exists in the body of Christ (Rom. 1:11-12).
Do we do community perfectly? No. Will people be burned by sin and recoil away from community? Yes. But we must remember that the goal of the gospel is to kill the hostility among the body of Christ. We will be wounded, but God heals. We will feel lost and betrayed at times, but God saves and puts us back on track. We will feel neglected and overlooked sometimes, but God is always with us and always cares. When we go through these times, it is crucial that we seek reconciliation and offer forgiveness. And sometimes seeking reconciliation may mean apologizing and owning more than your share, so that anger and bitterness do not take hold in our hearts, or the hearts of others involved.