Living in God's New Society
Series: Ephesians Scripture: Ephesians 2:11–22
Ephesians 2:11-22 contains a breathtaking picture of the church that is almost too vast to take in: the church as the beginning of a new humanity, a new society. The first humanity sinned and fell – and is still falling – apart. In Christ, a new humanity has been redeemed and is being brought together.
The gospel truth is that God is now bringing people from every race and nation and tribe and language into this new humanity. There is a great coming together in Christ. And this is part of a bigger plan, the ultimate plan, which is spelled out in the key verse of this letter (Ephesians 1:10): “…to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” Glory to God!
Because our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, has come and lived, and suffered, and died, and risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven, in our glorified humanity, sending the Holy Spirit to us, a new world order has been inaugurated from the Father, through Jesus the Son, and in the Holy Spirit! A new humanity is breaking in and rising up in believers who share in the responses of Christ in the Holy Spirit, through Jesus, and to the Glory of the Father! This New Humanity, or New Creation, breaking into our present is what it means to be a part of the Church, a part of the Triune God’s New Society.”
In our last study from Eph. 2:1-10, we explored biblical salvation which must be experienced individually. But once you’re born from above, your new life in Christ joins you to a new humanity. The Christian is of a new kind, a new race, a new society altogether.
I. The Remembrance of Our Past Alienation – 2:11-12
The importance of the principle of remembering what we formerly were is firmly rooted in the Old Testament and is repeated in the New Testament. Moses repeatedly issued the warning to the second generation coming out of Egypt to remember. In fact, I counted 13 times in Deuteronomy, where Moses’s calls Israel to remember that they were once slaves, to remember Pharoah’s destruction by God, etc.
Yet a word of caution is in order. This remembrance of our past condition is not to be a regretful, self-accusing thing that will kill hope and heart, but rather that which leads onward to a higher joy and a more complete dedication to the Lord’s work.
The word “remember” in our text is a present tense, imperative mood verb. This means that it is a command involving the ongoing practice of recalling their former spiritual state. Paul has already reminded them in Eph. 2:1-3 that they were dead in sin, drifting with society, directed by Satan, dominated by self, and depraved from the start. Summing up their condition in 2:3, he writes: “and we were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”
What was true of them is true of us all by nature. So many Christians who were brought up in a Christian home and saved at an early age, tend to feel that they were not as bad off as really “wicked sinners.” So, Paul’s word is “Remember” whether you were 7 or 70 when you got saved, it took the same price and power to save any and every lost person.
The Ephesian believers are commanded to remember 5 things about their former condition that William Hendrikson stated as:
1. Christless – v 12a – “separated from Christ.”
They were in a Christless condition, without the knowledge of the Messiah, and without any saving interest in him or relation to him. This is true of all unconverted sinners. It would be better to be without health or wealth, without a home or a family, than to be without the Messiah.
2. Stateless – v 12b – “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel.”
Eph 4:18, “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.”An alien in ancient times had no rights or privileges. To the Jews of Paul’s time and alien, or Gentile was despised and denigrated. They are called the “uncircumcision” in 2:11, which is a derogatory term.
The Jew had an immense contempt for the Gentile. The Jews said that the Gentile were created by God to be fuel for the fires of hell. God, they said, loves only Israel of all the nations that he had made … It was not even lawful to render help to a Gentile mother in her hour of sorest need, for that would simply be to bring another Gentile into the world. Until Christ came, the Gentiles were an object of contempt to the Jews. The barrier between them was absolute. If a Jewish boy married a Gentile girl, or if a Jewish girl married a Gentile boy, the funeral of that Jewish boy or girl was carried out. Such contact with a Gentile was the equivalent of death.
Of this double Gentile alienation - from God and from God’s people Israel - the so-called ‘middle wall of partition’ (verse 14, AV) or ‘dividing wall of hostility’ (ESV) was the standing symbol. In Solomon’s temple there was an outer court called the Court of the Gentiles. This was a spacious court running right round the temple and its inner courts. From any part of it the Gentiles could look up and view the temple but were not allowed to approach it. They were cut off from it by the surrounding 6 feet high stone barricade, on which were displayed at intervals warning notices in Greek and Latin. They read, in effect, not ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted’ but ‘Trespassers will be executed.’
3. Friendless – v 12c – “strangers to the covenants of promise.”
While the blessing of the Gentiles is included in God’s covenant with Abraham (Gen 12:1-3), God did not make any covenants with the Gentile nations. The Gentiles were “aliens” and “strangers” - and the Jews never let them forget it. Many of the Pharisees would pray daily, “O God, I give thanks that I am a Jew, not a Gentile.”
4. Hopeless – v 12d – “having no hope.”
Historians tell us that a great cloud of hopelessness covered the ancient world. Philosophies were empty; traditions were disappearing; religions were powerless to help men face either life or death. People longed to pierce the veil and get some message of hope from the other side, but there was none.
5. Godless – v 12e – “without God in the world.”
The Greek word is “atheoi”, from which we get our word, “atheists.” They had no “God” in the sense that we use the word, i.e., the Eternal Being who made and governs all things. Paul writes in Acts 14:15, “…you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.”The Gentiles had plenty of gods, as Paul discovered in Athens (Act 17:16-23). Someone in that day said that it was easier to find a god than a man in Athens. “There are many gods and many lords, wrote Paul (1Cors. 8:5). But the pagan, no matter how religious or moral he might have been, did not know the true God.
II. The Reality of Our Present Reconciliation – 2:13-18
The “but now” in Eph 2:13 parallels the “but God” in Eph 2:4. Both speak of the gracious intervention of God on behalf of lost sinners. “Enmity” is the key word in this section (Eph 2:15-16); and we should note that it is a twofold enmity: between Jews and Gentiles (Eph 2:13-15) and between sinners and God (Eph 2:16-18). Paul describes here the greatest peace mission in history: Jesus Christ not only reconciled Jews and Gentiles, but He reconciled both to Himself in the one body, the church. The word reconcile means “to bring together again.” A distraught husband wants to be reconciled to his wife who has left him; a worried mother longs to be reconciled to a wayward daughter; and the lost sinner needs to be reconciled to God. Sin is the great separator in this world. It has been dividing people since the very beginning of human history.
.The Barriers Banished through the Blood of the Cross – 2:16 -“…and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”
You were - Christless, stateless, friendless, hopeless, and Godless - But Now – Salvation involves a radical change.
It’s somewhat like getting married. You were single, an individual who basically did what you wanted to when you wanted to. But now, your individuality has given way to interdependence. It’s no longer doing your own thing, or my way or the highway.
In salvation we are all saved individually as revealed in Eph. 2:1-10. But individuality is gone as we get married to Christ and become a part of His Bride, the church. This is what Eph. 2:11-22 is about. Thus, we see the absolute necessity of the church. Yet, especially in America, the trend is to make religion “a private affair.” In fact, 81 percent of Americans surveyed felt that one could be a good Christian without attending church. Paul is showing in this passage and in many others as well, that this is not the case. Church is an absolute necessity.
Notice the barriers or walls that have been broken down by the blood of the cross:
- Distance Done Away – 2:13, But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Typically, in Scripture the Gentile nations were seen as “far off” (Deut. 28:49; Is 5:26) while Israel was seen as “near” (Ps 148:12). Now, we are near “in Christ”, not by becoming a Jew, but only “in Christ Jesus”. It is the redemptive substitutionary act of Jesus’ death on the cross that brought us near, nothing else! We don’t find our inclusion into this new race based upon any other factor than in the central act of the atonement of Jesus on our behalf. We are not brought near, or nearer, to God based upon any self-formed, religious works, but completely upon the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ given to us by grace alone, through faith alone. We obey Him, not out of fear or to gain favor, but out of faith because we want to know Him more intimately.
- Disunion Done Away – 2:14, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” He is our peace. We did not, and do not, make peace with God or become reconciled to God because of our race, our religion, our socio-economic status, or the sacrifices that we made. It is in Jesus Christ alone that we are given reconciliation. He is our peace, not the principles, not the laws, not our ability to conform to biblical commands, but HIM, the Christ of the Cross!
- Division Done Away – 2:15a, “by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances,” King Jesus destroyed the barrier of hostility by nullifying (rendered inoperative) the power of the law's commandments in ordinances. The term “abolished” as used by most English translations, would be better translated as “rendered inoperative”, thus “nullify” when relating to a law or decree. The Law of the Old Covenant had put a difference between Jews and Gentiles so that God’s purposes in salvation might be accomplished. But once those purposes were accomplished, there was no more difference. In fact, it was His purpose that these differences be erased forever, and they are erased through the work of Christ in reconciliation. How was this accomplished? Jesus did it by fulfilling the Law, in both obeying it’s precepts fully and earning its blessing, and by bearing it’s penalty in taking our sin upon himself. He destroyed all that we stand on for acceptance before God (race, religion, rituals, sacrifices, good deeds, etc.)
- Distinction Done Away – 2:15-18 - God has made a new way to be human – a new man, a new basis for significance NOT based on nationality or income or gender or tribe or political affiliation. The unmistakable language of Paul in Ephesians 2 requires that all distinctions, all spiritual privileges, all grounds for separation and alienation based on one's ancestry/race, have been abolished by the blood of the cross. One's genetic history no longer has bearing or weight or significance in the sight of God. One's ethnic identity no longer has relevance when it comes to the experience of spiritual privilege. The focus of God's presence, the source of his power, is no more and never again will be an ethnically united people-group as was Israel in the old covenant, but rather a spiritually united community of faith who share a common faith in Jesus Christ.
Believing Gentiles do not replace anyone as recipients of God's covenant promise. No believing Jew in any age has been either displaced or replaced by a believing Gentile. Rather, believing Gentiles have been admitted into the commonwealth of believing Jews to share equally in the promised blessings, the two (believing Jew and believing Gentile) now comprising "one new man", the Church.
The new society God has brought into being is nothing short of a new creation, a new human race, whose characteristic is no longer alienation but reconciliation, no longer division and hostility but unity and peace. This new society God rules and loves and lives in.
Therefore, it’s not as though Gentiles are transformed into Jews or Jews into Gentiles. Rather "the resulting new humanity transcends the two old entities, even though unbelieving Israel and disobedient Gentiles continue to exist.” For Paul, there are but three groups of people in the world: unbelieving Jews, unbelieving Gentiles, and the Church (cf. 1 Cor. 10:32; see esp. Col. 3:11; Gal. 3:28; 6:15). Believers constitute the Third Race of the Twice Born!
Before moving on, it’s imperative that we consider the implications of the little word translated "access" (cf. Eph. 3:12; Rom. 5:1, 2). Notice the emphasis: "we both have our access..." As O'Brien points out, "it is not simply that individual Gentiles and Jews have unhindered entry into the presence of God, wonderful as this is. In addition, both of them as one new humanity can come into his presence. Jew and Gentile stand together as one people in God's presence with old distinctions no longer having significance:" That’s big stuff!
III. The Residences of Our Permanent Location
Paul wants the believers at Ephesus to especially remember their new locations in God’s New Society.
1. A Subject in the Kingdom Over Which God Rules - God is Our King - 2:19-20
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,” Paul says that they are no longer refugees; now they have kingdom citizenship. The Gentile believers are not second-class citizens in someone else's territory. They are full members of the kingdom.
Our security as citizens of the kingdom of God stands or falls on the foundation truths which God revealed to his apostles and prophets, and are now preserved in the New Testament. The Word of God is our kingdom passport.
2. A Son in the Family Which God Loves – God is our Father – 2:19
In the second half of verse 19, the imagery shifts from the political realm of citizenry and its rights to the intimacy of a family and a home. It is not simply that Jews and Gentiles are fellow-citizens under God's rule: they are now children together, brothers and sisters, in God’s family. The church is not a building we go to or an event we attend. The church is family, living life together on mission. Be careful not to treat the church as a hotel—visiting a place occasionally, giving a tip if you are served well. Rather, see the church as part of your Christian identity, and understand that we all have a role in God's household.
3. A Stone in the Temple in Which God Dwells – God the Spirit indwells us – 2:21-22
Paul likens the people to stones. He says that in the Lord "you also are being built together for God's dwelling." Peter calls us "living stones" (1 Pet 2:5). We are carefully shaped building blocks fitted to build this temple. Each new member is added to it. In 1 Corinthians 6:19 Paul refers to individuals being a temple of the Spirit, but here (and in other places like 1 Cor 3:16-17; 2 Cor 6:16) the people make up the temple. Practically, this means every person counts. If a stone is missing the Temple is made weaker and less beautiful. We need one another's time, talent, treasure, love, resources, encouragement, and rebuke. We are to live the Christian life together as a multiethnic temple, centered in Christ, rooted in the teaching of Scripture, empowered by the indwelling, infilling Holy Spirit.
Back to Paul’s opening command – Remember – remember that Christ died to take enmity and anger and disgust and jealousy and self-pity and fear and envy and hatred and malice and indifference away from your heart toward all other persons who are in Christ by faith - whatever their ethnicity or skin color.
Unfortunately, as the late John Stott sadly observes: “When we turn from the ideal portrayed in Scripture to the concrete realities experienced in the church today, it is a very different and tragic story. For even in the church there is often alienation, disunity, and discord. And Christians erect new barriers in place of the old which Christ has demolished, now it’s a skin color barrier, or racism, or tribalism, or personal animosities produced by pride, prejudice, jealousy, and the unforgiving spirit. It’s a divisive system of caste or class, now a clericalism which sunders clergy from laity as if they were separate breeds of human being, and now a denominationalism which turns churches into sects and contradicts the unity and universality of Christ’s church.”
But the church’s future is big, bright, and blessed. Before history ends, What John saw in Revelation 7:9-10, will become a reality: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
other sermons in this series