In the first part of Ephesians chapter two, Paul reminded the Ephesians (and us), they (and we) had been spiritually dead. Sin separated the Ephesians (and us) from God. BUT…God made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:4)! We are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus (2:8). Notice the importance of being in Christ (review Lesson 2 for this important concept).
In this lesson we will build on the points from Ephesians 2:1-10. In the second part of chapter two, verses 11-21, we are going to focus on three points:
- Separated…then brought near
- Christ, our peace
- Part of God’s building
11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Separated then brought near
In the beginning of chapter two Paul reminds the Ephesians (and us) that outside of Christ, a person is spiritually dead because of sin (read Lesson 6 and Lesson 7 for a review). When a person is separated from God, how can they be “joined again,” or to use a Biblical term, how can they be reconciled? The separation from God because of sin, was really a problem for Gentiles (remember, many of the Christians in Ephesus were Gentiles), because they had no means by which to be reconciled with God.
Before the time of Christ, the Jews were the only people chosen by God, the only people who had access to God through the covenant God made with Abram (see Genesis 12:1-3 and Genesis 15). When Paul addresses the Ephesians and “Gentiles” and as “uncircumcised,” he is making a distinction between Jews and those who were not Jews.
In verse 12 the phrases, “…citizenship in Israel…” and “…foreigners to the covenant…” are references to the Jewish nation that God chose by calling out Abram (Genesis 12), and building a nation through his family line. The covenant refers to the relationship God established with the Jews. The covenant included the civil laws, the sacrificial system, and God’s promises to bless His people. [The blessings were based on obedience; there were also curses for disobedience-but that is a different lesson.] Circumcision was given by God to Abraham (and the future generations) as a reminder, as a sign, of the covenant (the promises) God had made to the Jews (see Genesis 17:1-11 for the origin of the sign of circumcision).
A key point is that without Christ, Gentiles had no access to God. They were, “…without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).
Let’s think about this…have you ever had a feeling of helplessness? For example, have you ever been lost? I have been lost, at least I thought I was lost. My family went to an amusement park once while I was a child; later in the day, I was separated from my parents in a crowd for a few minutes. I looked all around and could not see my parents. Part of the problem was I could not very much because I was shorter than the adults around me. Thankfully my father did see me, even though I could not see him. Here’s another example…have you ever tried to solve a problem, perhaps a math problem, and no matter what you tried, you just could not solve the problem. Perhaps you felt helpless and frustrated.
Paul’s point in Ephesians 2 though, is more than just a feeling of helplessness. Before Christ, a Gentile was hopeless. A Gentile was dead in sin, separated from God. And there was no access to God. The only future a person separated from God has is eternal condemnation.
You might be thinking, “we just all need to be Jews.” The problem with that idea, as we learn from reading the Bible, is that the system of law the Jews followed did not lead to salvation from sin. Only grace provides salvation for ALL (remember Lesson 7, and more on this below).
Verse thirteen has a very important word, BUT. Gentiles were excluded from citizenship in Israel, without hope, and without God in the world. BUT, now in Christ Jesus, Gentiles are brought near to God.
We were in conflict with God, but through Christ there is peace.
Christ our peace
We have already learned that outside of Christ, we are dead in sin, and in conflict with God. In Ephesians 2 Paul is also writing about another conflict, the hostility between Jews and Gentiles.
God warned the Jewish people to be separated from Gentiles because of a concern the Gentiles would tempt the Jews with different Gods, and lead them to sin (see Deuteronomy 6:10-19; 7:1-8). And that is what happened. From the beginning period of the Jews taking possession of the promised land (i.e., Canaan), the Gentiles (the other people) led them astray (for a refresher, read Judges). The failure of the Jewish people to remain faithful to God eventually led to the exile in Babylon (see 2nd Chronicles 36:15-21).
After the return from the period of exile (70 years), the Jewish people lived among Gentiles, but they rarely got along. As you might expect, if you know someone does not like you, likely you will decide not to like the person. The result, hostility between Jews and Gentiles.
Is there such hostility between Jews and Gentiles today? It is unlikely you will encounter any direct conflict; many people may not even recognize the term “Gentile,” much less realize if they are not a Jew then they are a Gentile. While we might not experience hostility from Jews today, we have plenty of other problems with hostility toward others.
People with different religious beliefs often do not get along, or at least are suspicious of different beliefs. There are frequent references to Islam in media outlets in our time. Do you really know much about Islam? If we are honest, probably not. Yet, I would not be surprised if many were suspicious or had negative thoughts about Islam. That is the power of hostility.
Unfortunately throughout the history of the United States of America, there have been many experiences of differences dividing and separating people. Some of the problems persist even today. In the U.S. we still struggle with racial differences, gender differences, even socio-economic differences. We might think someone is different (by which we mean “weird” and we distrust them) because of how they dress, how they speak, or how they act. Let me be honest, I really do not understand the Goth subculture. I have to tell myself while someone dressing a certain way and in certain colors may look different, that does not mean I should distrust them or think negatively of them. Let to our own natural (i.e., sinful) responses, we are more likely to at least be suspicious if not distrusting, of people that are different from us in any way.
It is easy to focus on differences and to let differences separate us. Again, that is our natural response. BUT, in Christ we are brought together, and together we are brought near to God!
Christ breaks down the barriers, the walls that separate people. In Ephesians Paul emphasizes the separation between Jews and Gentiles is abolished by Christ. One particular barrier was the law of commandments, the system of legalism that dictated separation between Jews and Gentiles.
Christ came to bring the Gentiles (those far off) and the Jews (those near, near in the sense of having an existing relationship with God) together. Having been brought together, through one Spirit (think unity here, which is a topic we will cover in a later lesson) we all have access to God.
BUT…Christ is not done. There are reasons why Christ draws people together, He draws us together to build something new and amazing!
Part of God’s building
It is fantastic that Christ has brought peace to Jews and Gentiles, and reconciliation with God. Christians are all fellow citizens (we should not be separated or divided for any reason), we are all members of God’s household. This household, this building (i.e., the church) is growing, is becoming a temple in the Lord.
The building of this spiritual temple, the church, has been and is God’s plan. Christ’s work to bring salvation, to establish the church, is the predestined plan of God (see Lesson 3). The prophets foretold the work of Christ, He came and is the cornerstone of the building, a building which the apostles continued to build.
Christ came to bring the means of salvation, to bring us back to God. He continues to work, to “build His church.” We are a dwelling place for God – no more separation. The building of this temple, the drawing together of Jews and Gentiles to form one building (the church), was Paul’s purpose for preaching and teaching. That purpose is the focus of Chapter 3, which comes next in Lesson 9.