Friday, December 05, 2008

Ephesians 2:19-22

19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. 21In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.

In v19-22, Paul uses three descriptions of the church in this passage: Calvin says, “The high value of that honor which God had been pleased to bestow upon them, is expressed in a variety of language.” In v19a, he uses the image of citizenship in a kingdom. Then in v19b, he speaks of being a member of the family of God. Finally, in v20-22, Paul describes the people of God, the church, as a temple, or a building, the very dwelling place of God. Whereas Israel was made up of the descendants of Abraham and was a national community, a state, so God’s new people is trans-ethnic: it’s made up of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

First, there is one citizenship in one kingdom. We are God’s people, distinct from those who are not God’s people. We are to live differently, and that comes not by eating differently as Israel did compared to the nations in the Old Testament, but by thinking differently. Christians have a different worldview and different priorities than those of the unbelieving world. Our worldview is informed by the teaching of Scripture. We live by a different moral code than the world around us, and by this the world is to see that God’s rule is manifest in our midst. This is our witness to the kingdom of God in which we live. Our citizenship in God’s kingdom has already begun; it is not merely a future kingdom, but it is not of this world. We need to be in the world but not of the world, to live Coram Deo. The great challenge for us is to live like we are citizens of God’s kingdom and not of the passing kingdoms of this world.

Second, there is one household in one family. We are members of God’s family. We are part of a family that stretches across all racial, national, political, and cultural boundaries, and that is to be expressed in our love for all Christians, especially in our local congregation. Remember what Paul said about peace? We not only have peace with God through Jesus Christ, but we also have peace with one another. Again, this is especially noticeable in the Jew/Gentile relationships of the first century. But Paul would have it be true for us today as well. Do you have peace within your family of believers? If not, be reconciled!

Third, there is made up of all Christians one temple, in which God’s lives by His Spirit. We are the building blocks of God’s house. We are living stones. The greatest promise that God ever gave to His people in the Old Testament or the New Testament was that He would dwell with us, and that we would dwell with Him forever. We would be in fellowship, in sweet communion with Him, forever. The greatest Old Testament symbol of that was the Tabernacle, and then the Temple, God’s dwelling place with men. And now, Paul says that Jesus is building a new Temple, on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Jesus is the cornerstone. We are the body of Christ; we are the temple of the Spirit of the Lord.

Consider that Paul here instructs us on what marks a true church; it must have the apostles and prophets as its foundation (the doctrine of the Word of God, what Jude 3 calls “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints”) and Christ as the cornerstone (what and who the doctrine proclaims – the cornerstone determines where all other stones are placed). See 1 Corinthians 3:10-11; 1 Peter 2:4-10. In v21-22, Paul uses the phrases “joined together” and “built together.” See phrases convey a unity of Spirit and not merely some chaotic mass. After all, a building must be constructed in an orderly fashion in order to rise up (v21) to be God’s dwelling; otherwise, we get an uninhabitable pile of rubble.

When the Jews asked Jesus for a sign in John 2:18-20, He replied, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” Astonished, they said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and You are going to raise it in three days?” It was their symbol that God dwelled with them; but more, it had become their pride. Jesus would raise from the dead after three days, as His body was His temple. But, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple” (see also 1 Corinthians 6:19).

If we ourselves are the temple of God, how grievous a thing it is for us to live like the world, to besmirch with sinfulness the place where God dwells! It is a great privilege to be the living temple of the living God, and with it comes a great responsibility (2 Corinthians 6:16). Remember the sin of Achan and the judgment of God. If you are living two lives, one that professes to be in God’s kingdom, part of God’s family, as God’s temple, and another that goes against the kingdom, the family, and the Temple of God, then today is the day is the day to renounce one of those lives. We are either in God’s kingdom or we are not. You can’t be in both. If you’re a believer, struggling with your weaknesses and your sin, and sometimes you’re drawn after the world – but your heart really isn’t with the world, it’s with the Lord God – then remember what God has made you, and live like it – “by His Spirit” (v22).

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Ephesians 2:14-18

14For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by abolishing in His flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility. 17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Paul has made it clear that physical heritage is meaningless when it comes to spiritual truth (v11). He has revealed what does matter about our past, our spiritual status in relation to God without Christ (v12); we saw there that apart from Christ, we had no Savior, no citizenship in heaven, no covenant promises to hold dear, no hope, and ultimately, no God. And of course, the good news that we in Christ, who were once far off, have been brought near through the blood of Christ came in v13. All of that was applied to Gentiles. But now in v14-18, Paul restates his wonderful news from v13 in more verbose terms and from a slightly different angle. He includes Jews in this great news as well (“our”). He’ll elaborate on the union that Christ has brought to His people. Galatians 3:28 again rings true: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Strange as it must have been to the world around them, Jew and Gentile were united in these local Christian congregations, to whom Paul was writing. And in our lifetime, we might consider the Berlin Wall episode. Ronald Reagan gave a speech on June 12, 1987, calling for General Secretary Gorbachev to open the Brandenburg Gate, which separated democratic West Germany from communist East Germany. The Jew/Gentile relations may have been like the Cold War. But just a few years later, the wall came down and Germany united. Ronald Reagan played a big part in that, but he wasn’t the only man. However, only One Man brought down the wall of hostility (v14,16) – the separation in Temple worship – between Jew and Gentile, the Man Christ Jesus. And Paul focuses on Him in this passage, and how He brought peace where it was thought to be impossible.

Paul begins v14, “For He Himself is our peace.” He is the peace that brings Jew and Gentile together! In v13, Paul announced with the words “brought near” a peace with God that all in Christ now have through His blood (Romans 5:1). But another benefit, besides the all-important peace with God that believers experience and cherish (v16), is peace with one another. We don’t often, if ever, deal with these implications, but many believers do. These Ephesian believers certainly dealt with it. I love what Calvin adds here, paraphrasing Paul: “If the Jews wish to enjoy peace with God, they must have Christ as their Mediator. But Christ will not be their peace in any other way than by making them one body with the Gentiles. Therefore, unless the Jews admit the Gentiles to fellowship with them, they have no friendship with God.” The peace that Paul mentions here is the Old Testament concept of shalom. It’s not just the end of hostility between us and God, or between us and other believers. It refers to total well being, spiritual and physical, temporal and eternal, and Paul is saying Jesus alone gives that kind of peace.

There are a great many people groups out there in our fallen world calling for peace. It’s not happening. Why not? Martin Luther said, “It is due to the perversity of men that they seek peace first, and only then righteousness. Consequently, they find no peace.” In other words, they want peace, but they don’t pursue it in the right place. Jesus said, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). When we find righteousness in Christ, we find peace. If only the world would stumble upon Christ, instead of stumbling over Him (Romans 9:32-33; 11:11; 1 Peter 2:8).

Now Jesus brought peace. We learn that in v14. But how He did it (v15-18) has implications for how we live and worship and fellowship. V15 says that He abolished the law in His flesh. Paul is saying that Jesus, by the cross, abolished the divinely established enmity of the ceremonial law. God had established the ceremonial law to delineate the boundaries of His people, to keep them distinct from the world, to keep them from following after the ways of the world and thinking like the world. But that ceremonial law had also pointed forward to Jesus Christ, who would give true peace. And on the cross He completed His fulfillment of the ceremonial law, and thus abolished it, obliterated it for His people and created a new people that was not strictly Jewish, but was made up of all kinds of people – one new man, one new people.

Calvin says, “Paul declares not only that the Gentiles are equally with the Jews admitted to the fellowship of grace, so that they no longer differ from each other, but that the mark of difference (circumcision, sacrifices, washings, abstaining from certain foods, etc.) has been taken away; for ceremonies have been abolished” (Colossians 2:14). Interestingly, the early Christians called themselves “the third race.” They weren’t Jews; they weren’t Gentiles. They were something new that God had made “through the cross” (v16): the new Israel, the Church. Vincent Cheung notably points out, Galatians 3:29 states, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Because I belong to Christ, I am a seed of Abraham, and inherit all that God promised him. So when preachers call the Jews “God’s people,” they are either contradicting Paul, or they must be talking about me.” This is something that dispensationalists, who are opposed to Covenant, or Reformed, Theology, don’t seem to grasp in their flawed thinking.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Ephesians 2:11-13

We’re looking at verses 11-22 of chapter 2, in which Paul relates Jew / Gentile relationships as one in Christ. We see the second part of our position in Christ, including being reconciled with God’s people and growing into the Temple of God. V8-12 in this chapter are somewhat of a transition; Paul stopped to explain salvation by grace through faith in v8-9, the calling to pre-ordained good works in v10, and the reminder of our condition apart from Christ in v11-12, which he had previously discussed at length in v1-7. Paul is getting back on track with the “Therefore” of v11-12, and the “But now” of v13 kicks off the emphasis of the second half of chapter 2. V14-22 will exalt Christ by means of revealing the glorious benefits we receive in Him. The flow of Paul’s thought is very clear in this passage: V11-12 remind us of what we were apart from Christ; v13-18 describe what God did to make us a part of His people in Christ; v9-22 reveal what we are now that we are in Jesus Christ. Let’s take a look:

11Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men)-- 12remember 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. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

As twenty-first century American Christians, we probably don’t have a good grasp on the antipathy that existed between first-century Jews and Gentiles. Merely adopting Christianity didn’t automatically erase that cultural resistance, especially since much of the Jewish Law, given in Leviticus, was given to distinguish, to separate, the “chosen” Jews from the unclean Gentiles. It wasn’t an easy thing to just get over. And yet, that’s what Paul called them to do; he called them to that response through the gospel, by showing how Jesus did much the same thing, only to infinitely greater extremes, by taking on human flesh, by living and dying in order to unite us to Himself. So here, in v11, Paul echoes Galatians 3:28, “Therefore, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” by saying that your ancestry and your cultural background don’t matter regarding your status in the kingdom of God. Neither do any ceremonies or sacraments that you have passed through, such as circumcision, baptism, confirmation, or even the partaking of communion (Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 9:26). In Romans 2:26-29, Paul says that the circumcision of the flesh, done by men, does not matter; circumcision of the heart, which God does, is what counts (see also Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4; Galatians 6:15; Philippians 3:3; Colossians 2:11). Apart from faith in Christ, you are outside the kingdom of God.

Paul lays out in v11 the important truth that what we are in the flesh, our physical characteristics and ancestry, are insignificant. The opinions others have of us on account of our socio-economic situation, our skin color, or our cultural background amount to nothing. Whether we are “the circumcision” or uncircumcised does not matter. He is going to talk about how the Lord Jesus has brought together these two groups into one. But before he gets to that, Paul wants those Gentile Christians in Ephesus to remember from whence they came. He wants them to remember what does matter about who they were apart from Christ. Why? So that they can appreciate to the full what God has given them in Jesus Christ. And he wants the Jews to see that truth as well. So in v12, Paul elaborates on that, just to make sure that we don’t forget what we were. He gives a five-part list of the disadvantages of Gentiles (compare the list of Jewish advantages in Romans 9:3-5), before they were brought to faith in Christ. Their status is/was true of Jews as well, but he’ll bring them in later.

First, it is important to remember that we (as Gentiles by birth) were “separate from Christ.” There was a time when we had no union with Christ. We were condemned, under the wrath of God. Second, we were “excluded from citizenship in Israel.” We weren’t just separated from God; we were separated from the people of God. Paul is drawing attention to the importance of citizenship here. Roman citizenship was considered to be the most valuable asset of a commoner, and it is likely that many of the Christians in this region of the world (Asia Minor) highly valued that Roman citizenship as well. But Paul is subtly pointing out that citizenship in Israel is far more important and valuable. Paul was saying to his audience, “You may be a citizen of this passing world, but you’re not a citizen of the city of God, with eternal and everlasting foundations. Apart from Christ, no one has a place in God’s country; there is no citizenship in the city of God, no claims among His people, apart from Jesus Christ.”

Third, you were “foreigners to the covenants of the promise.” Unlike the Jews, Gentiles could not reminisce about God’s promises to their people. They had no access to God through priests and sacrifices, which foreshadowed the work of the Messiah. The Gentiles had no Savior, no citizenship, and no promises to rely on. What is the result of that reality? There is no hope. That’s the fourth description of a Gentile apart from Christ. Paul speaks to Titus of Jesus’ return as “the blessed hope.” We in Christ have hope. Even the Jews had hope prior to Jesus’ incarnation. But Gentiles, apart from Christ, have always been hopeless.

Fifth, and finally, Paul draws attention to the reason for their hopelessness. Apart from Christ, we were without God. We had no God, no relationship with the Creator, apart from Christ. Humans are image bearers, and we’re made for fellowship with God. But apart from Jesus Christ, even if you’re a Roman citizen, even if you’re a Jew, even if worship idols (1 Corinthians 8:4), you’re apart from the only true and living God. Calvin adds, “Those who do not worship the true God, whatever may be the variety of their worship, or the multitude of laborious ceremonies which they perform, are without God: they adore what they know not” (Acts 17:23).

Hear what John has to say on this issue: “No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23). “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 1:9). (See also 1 John 5:12; John 3:36; 5:23.)

In v13, Paul shifts gears with, “But now in Christ Jesus.” He has said that our physical past doesn’t matter; he has revealed that our spiritual past does matter, our separation from God. And now he begins to reveal what God has made us to be, what we have received from God, having trusted in Jesus Christ. He says, “You who were once far away have been brought near.” I don’t think we stop to contemplate what “far off” means. It doesn’t mean, like we might tend to consider when we hear Romans 3:23, that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, that we were oh so close. We were F-A-R off. Though once, we Gentiles were separate from Christ (Christ-less), cut off from citizenship in Israel (stateless), having no covenant with God to rest assured in the promises of God (friendless), without hope in the world (hopeless), in fact, not even knowing God (God-less), now we have been brought near.

And likewise we don’t appreciate enough what it means to be “brought near.” It’s a beautiful Old Testament phrase describing the experience of the believer having true knowledge and fellowship with the living God. God watches over us; He holds us near (Deuteronomy 4:7; Psalm 148:14). It’s the opposite of Bette Midler’s “From a Distance.” God is here! Even the Lord’s Prayer is often misunderstood here, as Dallas Willard explains in The Divine Conspiracy. “Our Father who art in heaven” might make us think of God as far away and uninvolved. In reality, the kingdom of heaven is here and now. In Christ, we are part of it. And God is near. As Willard says, we ought to read that opening line, “Our Father who art close by and highly involved.” And Paul’s language is drawing attention to that reality. It’s his way of saying that Gentile believers are now in Christ, through Christ. They (we) have citizenship in Israel, having been brought into the fold of God as once-lost sheep by the Good Shepherd who came to seek and save the lost. They (we) now have a covenant relationship with God – the new covenant in His blood (v13) – and have been granted the assurance of all the promises of God. They (we) have “the blessed hope” of Titus that Paul declares. And best of all, they (we) know God.

Finally, notice how all of this came to pass. We who were far off were brought near. How? Paul says, “Through the blood of Christ.” Calvin says, “The blood of Christ has taken away the enmity which existed between them and God, and from being enemies hath made them sons.” It was through the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross that God atoned for sin; He caused our just judgment to be visited upon Jesus Christ so that we could draw near. Jesus, His only Son, was sent far off in order that we might be drawn near to Him. It’s a vivid picture of substitutionary atonement, a central doctrine of Christianity that is often reduced in our age of pluralism and inclusivism and relativism. But this is a multi-faceted exclusive verse by Paul: only those “in Christ Jesus…through the blood of Christ” can and do rightly rejoice at the nearness of God (Romans 5:1). He won’t let us forget the cross (v16).

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Ephesians 2:8-10

8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Paul has already said, in v5, that we are saved by grace, but he actually pauses here for a moment to summarize his stance on this issue. It’s critical, and he wants to make sure there is no confusion that salvation is all of grace. How is it that God gets all the glory in our salvation? Well, “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

We have been saved, are being saved, and will be saved (Romans 5:9-10; 8:24; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 2:15) from death, from life without God, from alienation to God, from rebellion against God (hostility), from bondage to sin, from slavery to the ways of Satan, the world, and the flesh, and from God’s just judgment, His wrath due us for our sinful nature and actually behavior in thought, word, and deed – both in terms of commission and omission. The idea of a completed salvation is unique to Paul’s later writings. In fact, as you study the chronology of Paul’s writings, you can see that he is learning along the way. Only later in Paul’s writings does he see salvation as a completed work of God. Earlier, he saw it as an ongoing activity, or even only as a future hope.

Oftentimes, some questions are asked in regards to this passage: What does the “this” refer to in v8? What does the “it” refer to in v8? Salvation? Faith? Grace? All of those? Something else? See Acts 13:48; Philippians 1:29. While the gender in the original Greek of the word “this” is neuter, and can therefore refer to the feminine “faith” and/or salvation in general, my interpretation of this sides with the context of the letter to this point. Certainly salvation is all of grace. But Paul’s intent here is to say that our faith is the gift of God to which Paul refers.

The verse certainly doesn’t say that “faith is from yourselves; it is not the gift of God.” Nowhere in the Bible is that sentiment supported. It would be redundant for Paul to be saying that grace is a gift of God. We already know that by the mere definition of grace. Vincent Cheung says, “Biblical faith is not something by which we obtain salvation from God, but it is the means by which God applies salvation to us. Also, Scripture explicitly testifies that it is something that God sovereignly gives us, and not something that we produce in our minds by our own free will, with [the popular idea of] free will being something that we do not have in the first place.”

Again, in the context of the letter, Paul is elaborating on the predestination and election portion of his prayer from Ephesians 1:3-6. Furthermore, Paul is contrasting faith and works; faith could be considered to be a work, since you do it; God does not believe for you. Nevertheless, even your faith, and your perseverance in faith, is a gift from God, lest we see faith as a work and, therefore, as a reason for boasting. “I believe the gospel, and you don’t; I get to go to heaven, and you don’t.” Obviously, that thinking is ridiculous. We must acknowledge, at the core of our being, that the only reason we came to faith in the gospel is that God bestowed that faith upon us. Thus, we thank Him that we believe (Romans 6:17).

Finally, in keeping with the context theme, v9 downplays works, not because they are unimportant, but because they are fruits of grace – evidence that one’s faith is real, evidence that God is at work (John 3:19-21). In v10, notice that God “prepared in advance” the works that we must – and certainly will – do. Paul here prohibits grace from being a license to sin. This concept ties into Paul’s predestination theme, as well as his greater effort to refute both legalism and antinomianism in many of his letters. God created us in Christ to do good works. Works are the result of God’s gracious salvation through faith – not the cause of it.

Paul “works” at great length to exhort us to right living (Ephesians 4:1, 5:2, 5:8, and 5:15) in light of how we lived prior to salvation (Ephesians 2:2; 4:17). The point is this: Your salvation is not the product of your workmanship; your salvation is the product of His workmanship. Indeed, you are the product of His workmanship (1 Corinthians 15:10), for you are “predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Romans 8:29). You were saved because of His work, not because of your work. And your whole “life” is the product of God’s workmanship. In conclusion, we learn from this passage that, although our faith is rightly said to be “our” faith, in the sense that it happens in our minds, it is in fact a gift of God – He is the one who produces this faith in our minds. The same is true in sanctification. Although our works are rightly said to be “our” works, since we are the ones who perform them, still, God is the One who grants both the will and the action in our good works (Philippians 2:12-13). Our old life apart from Christ was death, walking in the way of unrighteousness and disobedience, because of our sin and sin nature. Our new life in Christ is life, walking in obedience, doing good works, loving God, and our neighbor, because of the grace of God.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Ephesians 2:6-7

6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Paul continues detailing the actions of God toward us. First He made us alive with Christ (resurrection); He saved us (v5). In v6, we see that He also raised us up with Christ (ascension) and seated us with Christ (session of authority and reign). It’s all about our union with Him. Though we wait for this reality to happen (Colossians 3:1-4), we now have a new mind (1 Corinthians 2:15; Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:23-24), a new identity (Romans 8:14-17), and a new freedom from sin (Romans 8:1-4; 2 Corinthians 5:17). It’s already but not yet. Paul’s past-tense language signifies that it’s as good as done because of the One who has done it and is doing it. And that’s part of what salvation is – being made alive, being exalted, and being made to reign over all things – all with Christ and by Christ and in Christ and for Christ. And it’s all by grace, for you died doing everything to fight against it.

In v7, Paul notes that salvation (life) is founded in God’s love and mercy for the goal of His glory – the exaltation of His character, namely His grace and kindness. Because of His mercy (His compassion toward us, His pity on us), His love (His own self-generated concern for our well-being), His grace (His undeserved favor to us), and His kindness (because of that spirit of generosity and overflowing that wells up from the heart of God), God did all of this for us. It had nothing to do with us. God didn’t save us because we believed the gospel; rather God brought us to faith as the channel through which we are saved. We love God – with saving faith – because He first loved us (1 John 4:10,19) – in a saving way. The latter causes and guarantees the former. In other words, our salvation is due not to anything in us, but to God. It’s Him reaching out to us – when we were dead (Romans 5:6,8) – in mercy, love, grace, and kindness.

John Stott tells a story in his commentary on Ephesians: one of his professors at Cambridge, Dr. Gibson, upon his retirement was honored by the board and faculty with a beautiful portrait of his likeness that would hang in the hall where he had taught for most of his life. When Dr. Gibson was giving his words of appreciation at the unveiling of this beautiful portrait, he said, “In the future, when people see this painting they will not ask the question, ‘Who is that man?’ but ‘Who painted that portrait?’” It was an expression of his appreciation for the artistic skill of the portrait maker. He had done such a wonderful job that his work would draw attention to itself. That’s a solid illustration of what God is doing in us. God’s grace has been manifested to us not so that we are the center of attention, and that people are asking ‘What about him? Who is he? What’s his name?’ but ‘Who did that work of grace in him? Who saved that man?’ We are the display of God’s workmanship in salvation. He is glorified in our salvation.