Posts filed under ‘Journey Thru the Bible’

Ephesians 2:19-22 – God’s people, his family & his house

In order to indicate the richness of the Gentiles’ changed position (from outsider to insider) and their new privileges in Christ, Paul shares three familiar models of the church: God’s people, God’s family and God’s house.

v.19,“So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family.” Paul reminds us that Gentiles are no longer aliens but actually part of God’s people. Yes, in the past without Christ’s sacrifice Gentiles were lost and separated from God, “strangers and foreigners” or outsiders but this was their old position. Because of Christ’s sacrifice Gentiles are now “citizens” with all of “God’s holy people.” Not second-class citizens (or aliens), but full fledge citizens just like the Jews. Anyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ are “members of God’s family” including the Gentiles!

v.20,“Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself.” The third model Paul shares is the church is a building: “his house” or his temple. The temple in Jerusalem had for nearly a 1000 years been the focal point of Israel’s identity as the people of God. Now there is a new people. Not a new nation but a new humanity, international and worldwide—the church. This new house or temple didn’t have to be in Jerusalem anymore, according to Paul it was the believers across the world. He states “together, we are his house” speaking of all believers. Then he goes into detail on each item that makes up his house.

“The foundation” of this house was the “apostles and the prophets.” The “apostles” were a special group of individuals that Jesus chose and authorized to teach in his name and who were eyewitnesses of his resurrection (twelve disciples and Paul and James, possibly others). What they taught was expected to be believed by the church and what they commanded they expected the church to obey. The “prophets” also indicated teachers as well. They were given the Word of God by God himself and they conveyed that word to others faithfully. This simply means that the church is built on a strong and solid foundation—the teaching of The Word of God.

“The cornerstone” of this house “is Christ Jesus himself.” The cornerstone is a crucial part of the building, it anchors the building  (bears the weight of the building) and gives unity to the entire structure. The cornerstone is the most important stone in the whole building. The chief cornerstone of this new building (or temple) is “Christ Jesus.” This is not the typical cornerstone where you stamp a date on it, no this is better referred to as the foundation stone in Isaiah 28:16. It promises security in a time of destruction. Even if a flood came and washed everything away, the cornerstone stood and provided a place of refuge. Christ is not just another stone in this building but he is the most important stone which makes the whole building possible, including the foundation. He is the promised place of security on which the community of God is built. 

v.21, “We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.” Not only is the building built on Christ Jesus the cornerstone but it is “carefully joined together in him” as well. Christ is the one who unites all believers (Jews and Gentiles) together with each other and with God.“Becoming a holy temple for the Lord” is better translated “growing into a holy temple in the Lord.” This emphasizes the growth of the building process. This happens by joining or fitting together each of the various pieces to make up “a holy temple” which is the church universal (all believers). The word “temple” refers to the dwelling place of the God, the inner sanctuary, the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem temple. God no longer dwells in a temple made of stones but now dwells in a new temple made up of believers. This temple is “holy” because God dwells in these believers that are set apart for God’s use.

v.22,“Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.” Here Paul says that “Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling” which means they are joined together with the Jews to make up this house or “holy temple” (v.21). As the temple in Jerusalem was the physical dwelling place of God in the Old Testament, now the body of believers (made up of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles), is the dwelling place “where God lives by his Spirit” which is the Holy Spirit. In other words God lives in all believers as the person of the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:17, Rom 8:9). No privilege is given to God’s people in which the Gentile believers are excluded.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO ME? It is only because of Christ sacrifice on the cross that God has made all of us his people, his family and a part of his holy house. No matter if I am a Gentile (or a Jew) he has accepted me as his own. He no longer sees me as an alien or stranger. I am both a member of his holy people and holy family. He has built a holy temple which is us (all believers). We have the best foundation (teaching of the Word of God) and the strongest secure cornerstone (Christ Jesus) so no matter what comes our way we are safe and secure. God indwells us through his Holy Spirit so we (all believers—the church) know we are set apart by God for God use to serve him no matter where we go. 

WHAT AM I GOING TO DO ABOUT IT? Thank God for his acceptance of me as his very own—his holy people and his family. Thank Jesus Christ for his sacrifice. And thank the Holy Spirit for his support and care for me as he resides in me, as I am his holy house or temple.

July 2, 2020 at 9:51 AM Leave a comment

Ephesians 2:13-18 – A new people–the church

God in his mercy and grace did not leave the Gentiles in their hopeless condition described in v.11-12. No, he explains in this section how he has brought all Gentiles near through the blood sacrifice of his Son, Christ Jesus. But Paul explains further this sacrifice is for all human beings to have a relationship with the Father and be saved and become a new people—the church.

v.13,“But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him though the blood of Christ.” Paul starts with “but now” to contrast all that he just explained in detail the Gentiles were before their conversion in Christ (v.11-12). Paul again reminds the Gentiles “once you were far away from God.” This described who the Gentiles were in relationship to God before their conversion. “But now you have been brought hear to him” is a description of the Gentiles presently in relationship to God after their conversion. The means by which the Gentile believers are “brought near to” God is “through the blood of Christ.” His sacrificial death on the cross where his blood was shed is what brought all who believe near to God (salvation). Without the shedding blood there is no forgiveness (Heb 9:22). However, in this verse Paul is specifically speaking of Gentiles.

Gentile believers: it is not an afterthought that Gentiles are now included in God’s family. This theme may seem to be secondary in the Old Testament, but it is there. God’s covenant with Abraham had in view the Gentiles as well (Gen 12:2-3). Here Paul makes what seemed secondary (Gentiles being included in God’s family—the church), now primary.

v.14,“For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.” Christ through his death on the cross destroyed the barriers that separated Jews and Gentiles, bringing “peace to us” and “united Jews and Gentiles into one people.” This made way for peace between the two groups. But more importantly Christ reconciled them both to God. Those who believed in God would be made “into one people”—believers! Paul describes the peace that Christ had made between these two groups as a “wall of hostility” that he “broke down.” It was no secret that there was a great hostility between the Jews and Gentiles, a cultural and religious hostility that only God could break. The dividing wall Paul is referring to is the wall in the Jewish temple that separated the court of the Gentiles from the rest of the temple, which only Jews could enter. When Christ died on the cross this wall was broken down (not literally but spiritually). The actual wall wasn’t broken down until the Romans entered Jerusalem in AD 70. It also symbolizing Gentile alienation from God being removed, as well.

In the next two verse Paul answers the questions we all have, how did Christ do this? How did he get rid of the hostility between Jews and Gentiles? Between man and God?

v.15-16,“He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility  toward each other was put to death.” Paul gives us four ways Christ through his death and resurrection, destroyed the hostility between Jews and Gentiles and between God and man.

  1. “Ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations.” This statement sounds contradictory to what Christ says about the law in Matt 5:17 in his Sermon on the Mount where he said he has come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Paul is not talking about “ending” the law as the Word of God or as a moral guide. What is ended or abolished is the law as a set of “commandments and regulations” (for sacrifices, circumcision, dietary regulations, ritual cleansing and regulations regarding the sabbath, etc) that exclude the Gentiles. The moral instructions of the law will continue but it will no longer exclude Gentiles or require them to become Jews (Deut 31:11-13). In Christ’s death and resurrection, he made the law ineffective to make people right before God. Christ abolished the law’s way of salvation. We can’t obey the whole law no matter how hard we try. So it separates us from God and from each other. But Jesus perfectly obeyed the law in his life and in his death took on the consequences of our disobedience. Acceptance with God is now only through faith in Christ alone for both the Jews or Gentiles. Christ will accept the Gentiles on equal footing as he does the Jews. The law was a barrier between all of us (Jews and Gentiles) and God, but faith unites us, since all have come to God through Christ in the same way.
  2. “By creating in himself one new people from the two groups.” Paul of course is talking about the church. This “one new people” was created by Christ when he abolished the divisive law (mentioned in point 1) on the cross. In this new people group there is no discrimination because they are all one in Christ (Col 3:11, Gal 3:28). Believers are no longer Jews or Gentiles but now Christians. A whole new group is formed and the result is peace between the Jews and Gentiles (v.14).
  3. “Reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross” Here the hostility is between God and man (both Jews and Gentiles). It is not just our attitude and sins towards him has been an issues, but also his wrath and anger toward us because of our sin. It is only through Christ death on the cross that both of these hostilities has been reconciled. 
  4. “Hostility toward each other was put to death” The hostility was also between the Jews and Gentiles (mentioned earlier in v.14). And again, by Christ death on the cross that hostility was also put to death and no matter who we are if we believe, we are part of the family of God, united as one in Christ.

v.17-18,“He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.” The “Good News of peace” which is another way of saying the “Gospel” was “brought” or preached equally both to the “Gentiles” and the “Jews.” In the NIV the word “preached” instead of “brought” (NLT) is used which could refer to Jesus’ earthly ministry (before his crucifixion and resurrection) where he preached the Gospel to those he came in contact with. It also could simply mean Christ act of his death-burial-resurrection-exaltation. Peace was achieved and access to God the Father was made possible because of Christ’s sacrifice. The Gentiles “were far away” from God because they knew little or nothing about him. And the Jews “were near” to God because they already knew of him through the Scriptures and worshipped him in their religious ceremonies. Because both groups could not be saved by good deeds, knowledge, or sincerity, both needed to hear the Gospel was available to them only through Jesus Christ. “All of us” (Jews and Gentiles) are free to “come the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done.” Rather than “can come” is better translated “have access.” Christ provides the access to the Father by the “Holy Spirit” who helps us when we pray and who baptizes and unifies us into the body of Christ. Notice the emphasis on the Trinity in these verses. All three persons of the Trinity are involved in redeeming humanity (salvation). God the Father developed a plan of grace for salvation through faith. Christ’s carried out the plan through his sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection. The Holy Spirit became the means of immediate access to God the Father.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO ME? The hopeless plight of the Gentiles is redeemed by God stepping in through Christ. The Gentiles who didn’t know God can now have a relationship with God and only because of Christ’s shed blood that access is available. Then Paul switches gears to talk about all of humanity. Christ brought the Gospel of peace to everyone (Jews and Gentiles) through his sacrifice and resurrection. He broke down all barriers that were in the way of allowing the Gentiles to have a relationship with God. He did this by ending the rules and regulations of the law to exclude Gentiles. Christ brought peace and access to salvation to both Jews and Gentiles through his sacrifice. He also broke down the hostility between the Jews and Gentiles. And by his sacrifice he also created a new people (one body)—the church or Christians or believers.

WHAT AM I GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?  The only thing I can do is praise God for stepping in and not leaving me to die spiritually. Because of his grace and Jesus’ sacrifice I can be saved and have a relationship with the Father. I now have access to the Father and I can be part of the family of God—his new people, the church!

June 29, 2020 at 11:48 AM Leave a comment

Ephesians 2:11-12 – Gentile’s plight before God

Paul presents a bleak picture of what the Gentile believers’ plight was before they were converted. It’s not a pretty picture. But thankfully God intervenes which Paul will go into more detail in the verses following this section.

v.11,“Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts.” Paul states “don’t forget” or most translations say “remember” which is not just simply recollection, but as you remember act on the basis of that memory. In this case Paul wants to remind the Gentile believers what they once were (2:11-12) and what they are now (2:13-18) which would lead to thanks to God and their obedience. Paul describes the condition of the Gentiles before they had become believers. He calls them “outsiders” and “uncircumcised heathens.” At least this is what the Jews called them, because there was a huge separation between the Jews and the Gentiles. The Jews hated Gentiles and thanked God each day they hadn’t been born one. The Jews, who were called “the circumcision” had named the Gentiles “uncircumcised heathens” because they had not gone through the religious right to be circumcised. 

Circumcision: the Jews had the privilege of being God’s chosen people to whom he had given his covenant promises (Deut 7:6). One of the signs of his covenant was circumcision. Circumcision is an Old Testament physical rite or ritual that involved the cutting of the foreskin of the flesh from the Jewish male as a sign of the covenant  God had made with Abraham in Genesis 17:1-13. God required circumcision as a sign of obedience to him. As a sign of belonging to his covenant people, because once circumcised, the man would be identified as a Jew forever. As a symbol of “cutting off” the old life of sin, purifying one’s heart, and dedicating oneself to God. The Jews erred in believing circumcision was sufficient to make them godly without the necessity of inner renewal (Rom 2:25-29, Gal 5:6). What mattered to God was circumcision or cleansing of the heart (Deut 10:16, 30:6; Jer 4:4). The spiritual circumcision (cleansing of the heart) is equally available to Jews and Gentiles, to men and women.

Paul says that the Jews were “proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts.” Paul was contrasting the Gentiles to the Jews in the second part of this verse to show that the Jews physical circumcision was no better than the Gentiles who were uncircumcised. The physical circumcision didn’t not guarantee that the Jew’s heart was affected or changed. The Jews needed to have their heart circumcised, their heart attitude needed to be one of submission to God, holiness and separation from the ways of the world.

v.12,“In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope.” Now Paul gets right into what the Gentile believers were before their conversion. It is a very bleak picture of what they were before Christ. Five distinct disadvantages to the Jews:

  1. They were “living apart from Christ” or separated from Christ. Having no expectation of a Messiah to save them.
  2. They were “excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel.” Gentiles could never fully partake in the privileges promised to Israel (through Abraham), God’s chosen people. They could never truly be citizens of Israel. The best they could do was be a second-rate resident of Israel if they chose to go through training, baptism and circumcision.
  3. They “did not know the covenant promises God had made” to the Jews. The covenant promises were the basis for Israel’s distinctive privileges and made them God’s chosen people. Covenant promises made to Abraham (Gen 12:1-4, 15:1-6, 17:1-8), Moses (Ex 24:1-11), David (2 Sam 7:8-16) and the new covenant about which the prophets spoke of (Jer 31:31-34, Ezk 36:22-32). The Gentiles didn’t not share in these promises because they weren’t made to them.
  4. They lived in the world “without God.” The Gentiles had many gods, but they chose not to worship the one true God. Without God, the world was all they had.
  5. They lived in the world “without hope.” They didn’t know God, They didn’t follow God. This is the reason they had no hope.

Fortunately, their existence and their plight doesn’t end here, for God himself intervened. We will look at this in our next section v.13-18.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO ME? Paul gives a very good description of what Gentiles were before their conversion. It is a bleak picture but a good one to remember so that I can be so thankful for what God through Christ’s sacrifice did for me! Here is a reminder of what we once were: we were outsiders, uncircumcised heathens, separated from Christ, excluded from the citizenship in Israel, didn’t share in the covenant promises made to Israel, without God and without hope. Wow, what a hopeless state we were in. Key word is “were” because God chose to intervene. But I am getting ahead of myself. That is for the next section in this chapter.

WHAT AM I GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?  I am a Gentile (non-Jew) and when I read these two verses I realize without God intervening I have no hope of salvation. But thankfully I know the rest of the story. But this is a good reminder of where I came from.

June 24, 2020 at 9:24 AM Leave a comment

Ephesians 2:8-10 – Salvation by grace through faith

Paul presents a very clear presentation of the Gospel in these three verses. He include grace, faith, salvation and even good works. He doesn’t leave any doubt that salvation is not anything we can earn but a gift from God.

v.8-9,“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” Obvious these are very familiar verses and most believers have memorized them. I prefer the version I memorized as a child NIV: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Paul is repeating himself from v.5 and elaborates on it by adding the two words I underlined. He says “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith.” “Grace”, again is God’s kindness towards undeserving humanity without them having merited it by their actions. God was not required to offer sinners salvation. He would be justified in condemning all people to eternal separation from himself.Salvation is a personal act from a personal God to sinners. “Grace” is the method by which we are saved. So the means by which salvation is appropriated, the means by which we are brought into a saving relationship to Jesus Christ, is “through faith.” We are save by grace though faith. There is a total absence of any consideration of merit. The source of our salvation is the grace of God. And the instrumental cause by which that salvation is appropriated is faith. “You can’t take credit for it” or in the NIV “this is not from yourselves” is referring to the idea there is nothing we as sinners can do to save ourselves from spiritual death. Another way of saying this is “not on the basis of works you can do.” Paul adds this phrase just incase anyone thought “faith” was a necessary work that people must perform in order to receive salvation. He uses the words “this” and “it” to refer to all of he has just spoken of … “saved”, “grace” and “faith.” They are“not from yourselves” and are a “gift of God.” Paul is very clear that nothing is of our own doing, not salvation, not grace, not even faith that is exercised to receive salvation, everything is a “gift of God.” And to make sure the believers understand what Paul is saying he adds “salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done” or in the NIV “not by works, so that no one can boast.” Paul wants the believers to realize they can do nothing to earn their salvation, and a person’s faith itself is not to be considered a “work” or a reason why anyone “can boast.” Paul was including in the the word “works” the “works of the law” which he refers to in Rom 3:20 and Gal 3:10. The believers needed to know that there was no effort on their part to earn their salvation, even obedience to the law. And if they were successful, their efforts would lead to boasting, bragging and spiritual pride which Paul wanted the praise to only go to God (Jer 9:24) not to man.

v.10,“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Paul doesn’t want there to be any misunderstanding as the believers read these verses so he adds one more affirmation here before moving on to the next topic. Paul has already stated that salvation is not the sinners achievement or a reward for anything we can do or have done. Here he goes one step further to leave no doubt. He states “we are God’s masterpiece”  can be translated “we are the result of God’s activity.” Paul is talking about salvation and new life are God’s work, humans didn’t cause it but are recipients. Salvation is God’s masterpiece, work or art, new creation. If we could earn our own salvation we would not be a work of God, we would be a work of our own selves.“He has created us anew” is important language because only God can create. He created the universe from nothing (Rom 1:20), now he creates old, dead, sinners into new, alive, new creations (2 Cor 5:17). This new creation take place “in Christ Jesus.” This new creation is based in Christ’s resurrection, he is the source of this creation. “So we can do the good things [good works AMP] he planned for us long ago.” Sinners become Christians through God’s undeserved favour (grace), not as a result of any efforts, merit or acts or good deeds. Even though no good work can help us to obtain salvation, God’s wants our salvation to result in acts of “good works”, service or kindness to serve Christ and build up the church (other believers). Good works don’t produce salvation but are the evidence of salvation (Jam 1:22; 2:14-26). “He planned for us long ago” meansGod had prepared a path of good works for Christians to do even before we were born. These good works will be done along life’s way while believers walk by faith. This means that God does a good work through us (not we do it for him) as we are faithful and obedient to him. Everything that is good that is done through us will be recognized as his work and not our own.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO ME? We were sinners, spiritually dead and doomed for eternity without God. God extended his grace toward us to save us from our sins and eternal separation from God. And he accomplish this through his Son Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, without our help. Salvation was a gift from God (including God’s grace, our faith, and Jesus’ sacrifice). There is nothing we can do to save ourselves, not even our own faith—it is also a gift from God. As well Paul wants all sinners to understand that salvation is also not a reward for anything we have done because he doesn’t want us to have pride in any part of our salvation. It is only from God through Christ! Lastly Paul reminds the believers that salvation or new life in Christ is God’s masterpiece, work of art and produces good works in us which God had prepared before we were born. All the good that is done through us will be recognized as his work and not our own.

WHAT AM I GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?  There is more to salvation that just “getting saved.” Though accepting Christ into my life is the beginning of my life as a believers, that is not the end. I must realize that God has created me to live a life of faith that is demonstrated in good works. That is serving my fellow believers at church. That is serving those in need, the poor. And being kind, loving, supportive and giving to anyone in need. My good works should be the outcome of my salvation, not they are my salvation!

June 21, 2020 at 6:45 AM Leave a comment

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