Beginning here in chapter two, Paul reminds us of how we have been made alive in Christ. It’s a funny thing, but I nearly added the word “again” to that sentence, but Paul’s point is not that we are now “alive again, rather he is making the case that we have never been “alive” before. How could we have been alive when we were merely following the lead of the one who is in opposition to the One who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life”?
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (v. 3)
Have you ever watched what dogs do? OK, maybe this isn’t the most tactful comparison, but when we were not following Jesus Christ, we were a bit like a dog, following our noses to whatever feels good and then doing it with no thought of consequences; a dog just doesn’t know any better, but a man does. Ah yes, that’s where the “wrath” comes in.
Notice the contrast in verses 4 ff. In Christ, we have been lifted up from that old life with its ways to the heavenly realms, by grace through faith. Paul makes it very clear in vv. 8-9 that this “lifting up” in life has nothing do with any works on our parts, nor does it have anything to do with our great abilities, so no one can boast of their accomplishment of salvation.
After making these glorious points Paul throws us a bit of a curve in verse 10: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” You might wonder, as many have before, how “works” found its way back into the picture here…
We cannot work to earn our salvation; it just isn’t possible. Yet now that we have received our salvation by grace through faith, God has work for us to do in His Kingdom, namely sharing its awesome blessings with others, just as Jesus did. I can testify, no doubt along with many of you, that entering relationship with our Lord is a wonderful thing, an experience that is life-changing as a matter of fact, but serving Him in His Kingdom work is even better.
Jesus brought the two groups together through His death on the cross in which He bore the sins of all in His own body, putting their sins, along with the very Law itself to death. After that, there is no more hostility between Jew and Gentile, for all who follow Christ are members of one Body; this is the theological truth. It was not, however, the practical truth. Paul knew only too well of the hostility that so many Jews still had for Gentile Christians… even within the church, and I have little doubt that there were some hard feelings among the Gentile believers as well. In the centuries that have followed, this has, sadly, remained the case in many places, not only between Jew and Gentile, but between rich and poor, black and white, aristocrat and common, social divisions that carry into the Body of Christ. Yet we must be reminded that secular cultural social divisions have no place whatsoever within the Body of Christ, for there is no Jew and no Gentile, there is no rich or poor, aristocrat or common, black or white… or any other social distinction in the Body of Christ, for in Him we are one people, bound together by the bonds of His love.
Of course, all too often, sin remains in our midst, as we are dwelling in a fallen world.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Thus, Paul states the eternal reality that is the church, the reality as God Himself sees reality. Now, with that eternal reality set before us, let’s consider whether or not we might carry forward our own earthly notions of “proper” social distinctions, and ask ourselves if this is pleasing in God’s sight. Take your time, consider carefully…
As you consider, consider an example from history. After the Civil War in the U. S., slaves in the American South were emancipated. Slave owners, by and large, had encouraged their slaves to be Christians, and now those slaves were free, churches were established outside of the plantations with both black and white congregations, but of course they were normally segregated, as were most other things in that society. The writings from that and succeeding generations left behind have some very creative justifications for this, and for a hundred years it continued, and even today the trend remains in many places. So that begs another question, don’t you think?
What sort of testimony for the Gospel would we create (or have created) if we would live the gospel of Jesus Christ, rather than just talk about it, and actually, really and truthfully treat one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, even if it means incurring the wrath of the rest of the community?
Yes, it is surely something to think about… and possibly something to act upon.