Why Do We Need Salvation?
(O’Brien p. 153)
In what sense were we dead?Obviously the Ephesians were not physically dead for the next few verses show that they were very much physically alive!… you followed the ways of this world (vs.2)What Paul is saying is that they were spiritually dead – that is they were separated from God, unable to have a right relationship with God or to please him in any way. Therefore they were lost and without hope.
… gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature (vs.3)
your transgressions and sins“…your transgressions and sins” describe deliberate violations of God’s law
“…they express a conscious and willful action against God’s holiness and righteousness and thus a failure to live as one should. Human beings are responsible for these acts of treachery against God” (Hoehner, p.308)God’s standard is perfection, nothing less is acceptable:We don’t even come close to meeting God's standards:
Matthew 5:48 - Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
1 Peter 1:15-16 - But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy."
James 2:10 - For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of
Romans 3:23 - All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
Romans 3:10-12 - There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away…
Notice the contrast between where they are now: “in Christ” (vv. 1:1, 3, 4, 7, 11 etc.) and where they were as unbelievers: “in your transgressions and sins”
This verse describes the condition or state of a person before the gracious act of God.Dead people cannot communicate and have no power to bring life to themselves. It is the power of God that is directed toward us that gives us life.” (Hoehner p.308)
So in verse 1 Paul identifies the Ephesians former condition - that they were spiritually dead.In verses 2-3a, Paul describes their behavior at that time which clearly demonstrated that they were spiritually dead: utterly lost and alienated from God.They followed the ways of this world.Therefore in verse 3b, Paul concludes they were by nature objects of God’s wrath.
They followed the ways of the devil.They gratified the cravings of their sinful nature.
2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways [literally, ‘age’] of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature [ESV: ‘flesh’] and following its desires and thoughts...The previous lifestyle of the readers has been dominated by this present evil age (cf. Gal. 1:4) and this world, rather than being focused on heaven and the life to come.you followed … the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.
Their behavior has been determined by the powerful influence of society’s attitudes, habits, and preferences, which were alien to God and his standards” (O’Brien, p.159)What does he mean by “the ways of this world”?The word translated world here is a word that means something that is “arranged in orderly fashion, an organized system of things”.
As we look around the world in which we live, we find that every culture and nation throughout the world is dominated and overrun by organized systems of evil and sin that are opposed to God:
Organized Sin and Evil (terrorists, gangs, organized crime, riots, mass murder, war, etc.):
Galatians 3:22a - The Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin
1 John 2:16 - For everything in the world-- the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does-- comes not from the Father but from the world.
False Philosophies (Evolution, Humanism, Secularism, Liberalism):
1 Corinthians 1:20 - Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
Colossians 2:8 - See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
False Religions (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Animism, False Christian Religions) :
1 John 2:18 - Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.
1 John 4:1b - Many false prophets have gone out into the world.
2 John 1:7a - Many deceivers…have gone out into the world.Those outside of Christ are not only subject to the pervasive bondage of the present evil age; they are also inspired and empowered by personal evil forces.” (O’Brien, p.159)
The unbelieving world is totally under the control of Satan:
1 John 5:19 - We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.
2 Corinthians 4:4 - The god of this age (Satan) has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ
Matthew 13:19 - When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes (Satan) and snatches away what was sown in his heart.
2 Timothy 2:24-26 - And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
“Ephesians contains more about principalities and powers than any other NT letter…Further, it draws special attention to the ultimate authority of evil lying behind them, namely, the devil (4:27; 6:11) or evil one (6:16), who is here called the ‘ruler, or prince’… the chief or leader among these powers of darkness.” (O’Brien, p.159)
“The word rendered kingdom denotes the ‘realm’ or ‘sphere’ of the devil’s influence…That realm is further defined as the ‘air’. According to the ancient world-view, the air formed the intermediate sphere between earth and heaven. It was the dwelling place of evil spirits.” (O’Brien, p.160)Here Paul includes himself and his fellow Jews along with the Gentiles as those who were spiritually dead.Like the rest, we were by nature objects [literally: ‘children’] of wrath.
Paul makes a similar statement in Romans: What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. (Romans 3:9 )
The word translated ‘sinful nature’ is the Greek word sarx, often translated in other versions as “flesh”.
It can sometimes refer to material substance of the body as it does in other places in Ephesians (2:15, 5:29, etc.)“In this context ‘flesh’ does not stand for a person’s physical existence, but humanity in its sinfulness and rebellion against God. It is the sphere in which a person is unable to please him.” (O’Brien, p.162)
Those controlled by the sinful nature [flesh] cannot please God. (Romans 8:8 )The term translated ‘thoughts’ “has the idea of ‘thought, reflection, intention’ or ‘process of thinking, reasoning process’.
… human beings used the reasoning process to reject God...” (Hoehner p. 321)For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21)
So while it is true that unbelievers are influenced to sin by external forces (the world and the devil) – we see here that ultimately their sinful rebellious behavior originates internally, in their own sinful hearts and corrupt thought processes.‘By nature’ here means ‘by birth’ – as it does in a similar context:We ourselves are Jews by birth [by nature] and not Gentile sinners (Gal. 2:15)Paul tells us in Romans 5 that Adam’s sin led to the condemnation of all human beings – therefore all are inherently (by nature) subject to condemnation. Romans 5:18b - the result of one trespass was condemnation for all menSimilarly, “to be a child of wrath is one who by relationship to his parent or ancestor comes under God’s wrath” (Hoehner, p.322)
Psalm 58:3 - Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies.
Psalm 51:5 - Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
“The ‘wrath’ in view is God’s holy anger against sin and the judgment that results” (O’Brien, p.163)
God would be unjust if He did not pour out His wrath on our sin. Ephesians 5:5-6 - For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person-- such a man is an idolater-- has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient.
Colossians 3:5-6 - Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.
The Bible also tells us that God’s wrath is terrifying beyond anything we will ever experience in this world and it is everlasting:
Revelation 6:16-17 - They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"
Matthew 13:49-50 - This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 5:29-30 - If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 - He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power…
Why and How Does God Save Us?
The Short Answer: “But …God…”
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy...“The magnificent change which God has effected is jubilantly sounded forth.
His gracious initiative and sovereign action stand in wonderful contrast with the hopeless condition of fallen humanity…” (O’Brien, p.164)
Look at This!
And you… But God… Were objects of God’s wrath (2:3) Verse 4: Had mercy on us! Were dead (2:1) Verse 5: Made us alive with Christ! Were in bondage to evil powers (2:2) Verse 6: Has seated us in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus – who is far above all rule and authority, power and dominion – (1:21)“A completely new situation has arisen because [God] has taken every necessary step to reverse our condition in sin.” (O’Brien, p.164)
Why did God save us?His rich mercy (v. 4)
His great love (v. 4)His sovereign grace (vv. 5, 7, and 8)
His kindness in Christ (v.7)
How did God save us? By Joining Us Together With Christ: Most Christians understand that when Jesus died on the cross, He was acting as our substitute, our representative He went to the cross on our behalf, was punished in our place so that we will no longer be punished for our sins. Jesus paid our debt by dying in our place.
But many Christians do not understand that the Bible also teaches that Jesus continued to act as our representative all the way through the entire process of what happened to Him when He went to the cross.
How God Saves Us By Joining Us to Christ and Crediting His Work to Us:
All Those In Christ Were: Corresponding Benefit: Resulting Obligation: Crucified with Christ
No Longer Slaves to Sin (Rom 6:6)No Longer Dominated By the World (Gal. 6:14)
To Put to Death the Activities of the Sinful Nature (Gal. 5:24) Died with Christ We Will Be Resurrected to a New Life With Him (Rom. 6:5,8; Col. 3:3-4)
To Count Ourselves as Dead to Sin and No Longer Practice It (Rom. 6:11; Col. 3:5)To No Longer Submit to Worldly Rules (Col. 2:20)
Buried With Christ We Are Able to Live a New Kind of Life (Rom. 6:4) To Live a New Kind of Life (Rom. 6:4) Made Alive (Resurrected) With Christ God Raises Us To a New Life By Making Us Spiritually Alive (1Cor. 15:22; Eph 2:5; Col. 2:12) To Count Ourselves As Alive to God (Rom 6:10-11) Raised Up (Ascended) to Heaven and Seated at the Right Hand of God With Christ We Will Be Taken Up to Heaven to Spend All Eternity With Christ (Eph 2:6-7; Col 3:1-4) To set Our Minds on Heavenly Things (Col. 3:1)
Ephesians 2:4-7 shows the basis for God saving us: We were with Christ (in the mind of God) when He was made alive and raised up to heaven. Therefore we have been made spiritually alive and in the “coming ages” we will be raised to heaven to be with Christ
What Must We Do to Be Saved?
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--So far in this chapter we have seen:For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-Man’s dreadful state from birth was one of spiritual death, slavery to sin, and under the wrath of God (vv. 1-3)Now in this next section (vv. 8-10) Paul elaborates on the nature of this salvation:
But God, in his great love and rich mercy made us alive, raised us up and seated us in the heavenlies with Christ where he will continue to demonstrate in us the incomparable riches of his grace for endless ages! (vv. 4-7)He first describes two key elements involved in this salvation: it is by grace and through faith (vs. 8)
This salvation is not in any way due to human effort (vs. 9)This salvation is a call to a life of good works (vs. 10)Notice Paul used this very same phrase earlier (vs. 5), where at that point it interrupted his flow of thought. Here he takes it up again and begins to elaborate on its full meaning.
When it says that we are “saved by grace” it means that “grace is the objective cause or basis of our salvation” (Hoehner p.341)In other words our salvation is a result of God’s grace (undeserved favor) – a point Paul stresses in the rest of this verse and the next one.
The word faith simply means to put your trust, reliance, or confidence in something or someone . (cf. Hoehner p.341-2)Here it refers to the trust or confidence that we put in the finished work of Jesus Christ – trusting that when he died on the cross he was being punished for our sins .
Note that we are saved through faith. That is, faith is the means that God uses to give us salvation.
and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–Some have thought that this which Paul says is not from yourselves and it which is called here the gift of God – are referring back to faith – in which case Paul would be saying that our faith does not come from us but it a gift from God.
And it is true that our faith is given to us by God as we already saw earlier when Paul thanked God for the Ephesians' faith. This idea is taught in other passages as well: it has been granted to you … to believe on him. (Phil. 1:29)And this interpretation (that this and it refer back to faith) is grammatically possible (cf. O’Brien, p.175).
“However, the context demands that this be understood of salvation by grace as a whole, including the faith through which it is received”. (O’Brien, p.175, cf. Hoehner p. 343 also Wallace, Greek Grammar, p.334-35)
9 not by works, so that no one can boast.“Works” here refer to any human effort to win the favor of God.So if salvation is not a result of human effort or human works, but a gift from God then we don’t have anything to brag about!Therefore the only boast that we have is to boast in the Lord (1Cor.1:31)“Men and women have nothing which they can bring as their own to the living God.” (O’Brien p.178)
How Do We Live Out Our Salvation?
10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works...which God prepared in advance for us to do.“God’s salvation has already been described in terms of a resurrection from the dead, a liberation from slavery, and a rescue from condemnation.
Now it is spoken of as a new creation, and a further reason is given why this salvation is not of human origin and therefore cannot be the basis for human boasting.It is God’s workmanship from first to last; believers have been created in Christ Jesus for good works.” (O’Brien, p.178)
Or as Paul teaches in another place: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Notice what these verses tell us the relationship between good works and salvation:Good works are not the basis of our salvation (vs. 9: …not by works)“Good works is a general and comprehensive expression for godly behavior.
Rather, good works are produced in us by God as a result of our salvation!
Put simply, it is God’s will that those who belong to the new creation should be characterized by a lifestyle which ultimately reflects his own character and action.” (O’Brien, p.180)As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16 )“Believers are God’s work, and the good deeds which he has purposed for us to walk in, which are achieved only through his enabling power, can be thought of as already prepared in his mind and counsel from before eternity.” (O’Brien, p.181)
Gentiles – Then and Now
Ephesians 2:14-1812 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ…Paul wants his readers to remember how things were for Gentiles (like themselves) before Christ’s coming, so that they will have a renewed appreciation for what Christ has done for them.…you who are Gentiles by birth [literally, ‘in flesh’] and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision”
The description here is given from a Jewish standpoint – “since neither Romans nor Greeks would call themselves ‘Gentiles’” (O’Brien p.186)…you who are Gentiles by birth [literally, ‘in flesh’] and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision”
…you who are Gentiles by birth [literally, ‘in flesh’] and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision”
What is circumcision?®Definition- Circumcision is the removal of some or all of the foreskin from the male sex organ. The word "circumcision" comes from Latin circum (meaning "around") and cædere (meaning "to cut")®Modern Practice of Circumcision –The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 30% of males throughout the world today are circumcised.The rate of circumcision varies widely from country to country:Nearly universal in the Middle East75% in the U.S.Under 2% in Scandinavia®The Ancient Practice of Circumcision –At the time that God instituted circumcision as a religious rite for Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 17) circumcision was already practiced by a number of ancient peoples for various reasons:As religious riteAs a rite of passage for young boysSome thought it would enhance the male’s ability to produce offspringThe oldest documentary evidence for circumcision comes from ancient Egypt.Circumcision was common, although not universal, among ancient Semitic peoples.I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh-- Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the desert in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart." (Jeremiah 9:25b-26)After the conquests of Alexander the Great, however, Greek dislike of circumcision led to a decline in its incidence among many peoples that had previously practiced it.®The Jewish Practice of Circumcision –The rite of circumcision was first instituted among the Jewish people in 2000 B.C. when God commanded Abraham (the first Jew) to circumcise all those in his household as a sign of God’s covenant with him:Then God said to Abraham, "As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner-- those who are not your offspring. (Genesis 17:9-12)Circumcision continued as a requirement for all male members of the Jewish household after the giving of the Law of Moses in 1400 B.C. (Ex. 12:44, 48; Lev. 12:3; Josh 5:2-8)On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised… (Leviticus 12:3)The Jews have continued their practice of circumcision down through the centuries. Note:As a child Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21)Paul speaks of being proud as a Jew, circumcised on the eighth day (Phil. 3:4-5)“The Jewish custom [of circumcision] was sufficiently distinctive in the first century for them to be called ‘the circumcision’ while they dismissed the rest of the world as the ‘uncircumcision’” (O’Brien p.186).“For Jews circumcision which had been given by God to Abraham (Gen 17), was the physical sign of their covenant with the Lord, the God of all the earth.It pointed to the particular and exclusive relationship which Israel had with the God of the covenant.The uncircumcision of Gentiles was evidence of their [the Gentile’s] estrangement from God… ” (O’Brien p.186).those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men)—
Although Paul uses Jewish terms to show the Gentile’s past exclusion from Jewish privileges, he is careful to make the point that circumcision was merely external and stood in contrast to the inner work of God that it symbolized.In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ … (Colossians 2:11 )Even in the Old Testament, where physical circumcision was required – it was understood as a symbol of the removal of the flesh (sin) from the heart:Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. (Deut. 10:16)The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts … so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. (Deut. 30:6)After this lengthy description of his Gentile readers Paul returns to his main point of urging them to remember the inadequacies of their pre-Christian past so that they might appreciate more fully the many spiritual blessings (1:3) of their present status in Christ. (O’Brien, p.187)remember that at that time you were separate from Christ…
Verse 12 lists five deficiencies that Gentiles (like the Ephesians) experienced historically prior to the coming of Christ. They were:1.Separate from Christ
2.Excluded from citizenship in Israel3.Foreigners to the covenants of the promise
4.Without hope5.Without God in the world“Christ” is the Greek equivalent of the Jewish word “Messiah” which means “the Anointed One”
The Jews looked forward to a promised Messiah who would come from their midst and would be their ruler and deliverer (Psalm 2 (esp. vs.2); Dan 9:25-26 cf. John 1:41; 4:25; Rom. 9:5) .The Gentiles at that time had no such hope or expectation - and that is probably what Paul has in mind here.
remember that at that time you were … excluded from citizenship in Israel …They did not belong to the privileged community of Israel and therefore were excluded from its many God-given benefits.remember that at that time you were … foreigners to the covenants of the promise …
remember that at that time you were … foreigners to the covenants of the promise …
What is a covenant?®World Book Dictionary - A solemn agreement between two or more persons or groups to do or not do a certain thing®Strong’s Concordance –Hebrew – beriyth (pronounced ber-eeth)Between mentreaty, alliance, league (man to man)constitution, ordinance (monarch to subjects)agreement, pledge (man to man)alliance (of friendship)alliance (of marriage)Between God and man:alliance (of friendship)covenant (divine ordinance with signs or pledges)Greek - diatheke (pronounced dee-ath-ay'-kay)A disposition, arrangement, of any sort, which one wishes to be valid, the last disposition which one makes of his earthly possessions after his death, a testament or will A compact, a covenant, a testament; God's covenant with Noah, etc.®Definition of a Covenant between God and Man –A covenant is an unchangeable, divinely imposed legal agreement between God and man that stipulates the conditions of their relationship.Note: Although this definition includes the word agreement in order to show there are two parties, God and man, who must enter into the provisions of the relationship, the phrase divinely imposed is also included to show that man can never negotiate with God or change the terms of the covenant. (Grudem, Systematic Theology p.515)Note that Paul speaks here of covenants (plural), which, given the context, would have been made with the Jews prior to Christ’s coming.
What covenants did God make with the Jews prior to Christ’s coming?®Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12-17) –A covenant God made with Abraham that included a promise of land, seed (offspring) and blessing®Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 19-24) –A covenant God made with the nation of Israel through Moses at Mt. Sinai where God promised to treasure and protect the nation of Israel – to be their God and have them as His chosen nation®Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 23:5, Psalm 89:3) –God’s promise that David’s royal lineage will endure “forever” – which implied a coming king in David’s line who would reign forever.®The Promise of a New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34) –In Jeremiah’s day (around 600 B.C.) God promised the Jews that he would, at a future time, make a new covenant with his people which, unlike the old covenant (made with them at Sinai), would be effective in transforming the hearts of those who were a part of this new covenant.remember that at that time you were … foreigners to the covenants of the promise …The covenants are further described as covenants of the promise.What promise? In this context, it probably refers to the promise given to the nation of Israel of a coming Messiah.Ultimately each covenant pointed to Jesus as the promised Messiah.
The Covenants Point to Jesus, the Promised Messiah 13 But now in Christ Jesus …remember that at that time you were … without hope …®The Abrahamic Covenant – Jesus was the promised “seed of Abraham” (Gal. 3:16)®Mosaic Covenant – Jesus was prefigured in many of the rites prescribed in the Law of Moses: e.g. he is “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn. 1:29), he is our “high priest” (Heb. 6:20), etc.®Davidic Covenant – Jesus is the ultimate king that God promised would descend from the line of David (Luke 1:32-33)®The Promised New Covenant – Jesus is the mediator of the promised New Covenant (Heb. 12:24) which was inaugurated by his death on the cross (Luke 22:20)“Paul’s… comment indicates that his readers were outside the sphere of God’s people and his covenant promises.remember that at that time you were … without God in the world.
Thus they did not share the hope of Israel in the promised messianic salvation (or of the resurrection)Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. (1 Thes. 4:13)
(O’Brien, p.189-90)The Ephesians were not without gods – indeed Ephesus was known for its temple to the Greek goddess Artemis (the Roman goddess Diana) (cf. Acts 19:23-31)
But Paul’s point here is that they were without the true God, the God of Israel.Paul gives a similar list of the advantages that the OT Jews had in Romans 9:4-5. There he tells us that the Jews had:1.The adoption as sons
2.The divine glory3.The covenants
4.The receiving of the law5.The temple worship
6.The promises7.The patriarchs
8.From them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
So what is Ephesians 2:12 saying?For a period of 2000 years, God worked almost exclusively with one small nation of Jews – leaving the vast majority of Gentiles to face the day of judgment in their sins!This is not a new teaching – we find the same message in the OT:He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. He has done this for no other nation; they do not know his laws. Praise the LORD. (Psalm 147:19-20)You [Jews] only have I chosen of all the families of the earth (Amos 3:2)Had God not graciously intervened, the Gentiles would have remained forever lost – without hope and without God in the world.Once the Gentiles were: “without God in the world”, but now they are “in Christ Jesus”.Paul now signals that a dramatic change has taken place with his opening words: “But now…”.Paul's Gentile readers have transitioned from being “far away” to being “brought near” by the precious blood of Christ!But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.The “blood of Christ” here, as we saw in 1:7, speaks of the sacrificial death of Christ which was necessary to satisfy God’s wrath against sin and his demand for holiness.Our passage gives us great cause for rejoicing! As Gentiles who have trusted in Christ, we are no longer “far away” – Christ’s death has made a way for us to draw near to God!
But there is an implied warning for Gentiles who have not trusted in Christ – much like the warning given by the apostle Paul to his Gentile audience in Athens:After describing the ignorance that so often characterized Gentiles before Christ’s coming, Paul says: In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30)
Having introduced the idea that Gentiles were brought from being “far away” to being “brought near through the blood of Christ”, Paul now begins to explain in more detail what this involved and how it was accomplished.
“…he, himself” refers to Jesus Christ – the one who in the Old Testament is known as the “Prince of Peace”For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
As Paul moves away from his discussion of the Gentiles former condition and begins to explain the new union that exists between Jew and Gentile, he changes from his use of “you” and “your” and begins speaking in terms of “we” and “our” – thereby including himself and his fellow Jews with the Gentiles that he is addressing.
“The term peace in both Old and New Testaments came to denote well being in the widest sense, including salvation…The biblical concept of peace has to do with wholeness, particularly in reference to personal relationships.” (O’Brien, p.193)Paul uses the word peace four times in this section in addition to using related words that carry the same idea.“Because of what Christ did on the cross there is peace between the Jews and Gentiles… “(Hoehner, p.366)“These opening words stand like a title to the whole passage…” (O’Brien, p.193)
Dividing wall – this is the only place this word appears in the NT. It is from two Greek words:mesos – “middle”toichos – “wall”
Hostility – this word can be used of hatred or ill will between:Individuals (Num 35:20, 22; Prov. 10:18 LXX; Luke 23:12)Groups (Gen 3:15 LXX)Nations (Ezek. 35:5 LXX)
So we see that Christ has destroyed the dividing wall or fence that used to separate and cause hostility between Jews and Gentiles.
The law here refers to the Law of Moses.“The law now introduced… must refer to the whole Mosaic law and not just the ceremonial law as some suggest.” (Hoehner, p.375)
“The law itself provided a fence around Israel. It separated Jews from Gentiles both religiously and sociologically, and caused deep-seated hostility. The enmity which was caused by the Jews separateness was often accompanied by a sense of superiority on their part.” (O’Brien, p.196)
The story of Peter’s visit to Cornelius in Acts 10 is a great illustration of how the law had previously kept Jews and Gentiles separate: [Peter] said to [Cornelius and his Gentile family]: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. (Acts 10:28)
15a by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.
Abolish –“to render inoperative, nullify, invalidate” (Hoehner, p.375)“to make ineffective, or powerless, nullify” (O’Brien, p.196)The law “has been ‘rendered powerless’, and thus ceases to stand as an immediate authority for God’s people.” (O’Brien, p.199)
In his flesh refers to the crucified Christ and is parallel to other phrases in this immediate context that refer to the same event:2:13 – by the blood of Christ2:16 – through the cross
In summary 2:14-15a is saying this: Christ is our source of peace. He unified the Jews and Gentiles by putting an end to the Law of Moses when he paid for our sins on the cross thereby eliminating the barrier or fence that had previously kept the Jews and Gentiles separate (in OT times) and had aroused hostility between the two groups.
15b His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peacePaul expresses many of the same ideas in Colossians that he does in our present passage:13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross… 16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Colossians 2:13-17 )
Paul is now going to give us what Jesus’ purpose was in doing away with the Law of Moses which had served as a barrier between Jews and Gentiles.
“Once the divisive law by which Jews and Gentiles had been alienated from one another was set aside, there was nothing to keep the two elements of humanity apart. Christ brought them together in a sovereign act that was nothing less than a new creation (cf. 2:10).” (O’Brien, p.199)
The new humanity is not achieved by transforming Gentiles into Jews or vice versa. (O’Brien, p.200)The “new man” that Christ created is an expression that refers to the people of Christ (Jews and Gentiles alike). They have been united in him as members of his body (cf. 1:23)
16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.The peace in view here is the peace that now exists between Jews and Gentiles in Christ.This is the opposite of the state of hostility that once existed between Jew and Gentile when they were kept separate by the law of Moses (cf. 2:14).This also further explains what it means at the start of 2:14 when it says, “For he himself [i.e., Christ] is our peace”.
In the preceding verses ( especially vv.14-15) Paul focused on Christ’s removal of the horizontal (man-to-man) division that existed between Jew and Gentile.Now in vs.16, Paul introduces the vertical (man-to-God) reconciliation that Christ has brought about between the united Jews and Gentiles (i.e. Christ’s body, the church) and God.
“This body is the incorporated body of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ known as the church (cf. Col.3:15; 1Cor.10:17; Eph.4:4)It is thought by some that the “one body” refers to Christ’s human body on the cross but this is improbable… Rather these words state in another way what was already mentioned in vs. 15b, ‘the two… into one new person.’” (Hoehner, p.382)
“In a fundamental sense, Israel too was alienated from God. Both Jews and Gentiles alike were under sin (Rom.3:9), and both needed to be reconciled to God.It might be added that the law which separated Gentiles from Israel … [also] separated Israel herself from God.” (O’Brien, p.203)
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)
“The language of the cross has apparently suggested the language of death to the apostle, so he speaks of Christ killing their [hostility]. ‘Christ in his death was slain, but the slain was a slayer too.’” (O’Brien, p.204 – citing J.A. Robinson at the end)
Although earlier Paul spoke of the Jesus breaking down the wall of hostility that existed between Jew and Gentile, the hostility referred to here is in the context of reconciling both Jew and Gentile as one body to God.Therefore this is referring to the hostility that existed between both Jew and Gentile and God before Christ reconciled them to God.
In summary: “Christ has abolished the law [of Moses] as a divisive instrument separating humanity from God and Jews from Gentiles. He has created a single new humanity that transcends the former deep divisions and made peace between them. He has reconciled both Jew and Gentile in this one body to God, killing the hostility.” (O’Brien, p.205)
When did Christ “come and preach peace”?“His post-resurrection appearances in which the first word he spoke to the apostles was, ‘Peace be with you’ (John 14:27), could be in view.Others understand the reference to the proclamation of the exalted Christ speaking by his Spirit in his messengers, the apostles.” (O’Brien, p.207)
18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.Here Paul quotes parts of two passages from the OT book of Isaiah and applies them to what he has been saying about the reconciling of Jews and Gentiles to God:How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!" (Isaiah 52:7)Peace, peace, to those far and near," says the LORD. (Isaiah 57:19)
“Jew and Gentile stand together as one people in God’s presence with old distinctions no longer having significance.” (O’Brien, p.209 quoting Gordon Fee)
All believers (both Jew and Gentile) in this age receive the indwelling Holy Spirit at the point of salvation (cf. 1:13).Therefore all have equal access to the Father through that Spirit.
Members of God’s Household
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household
In 2:14-18 Paul described Christ’s accomplishments on the cross for both Jews and Gentiles.
Now he is going to show some of the consequences of Christ’s accomplishments for us as Gentiles.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens,
Here we see a stark contrast between what had been true of the Gentiles before the coming of Christ and now:Before they were: alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise – 2:12But now they are: no longer foreigners and aliens…
To show the new privileged status that we as believing Gentiles now enjoy, Paul makes two comparisons or metaphors. He calls us:fellow citizens with God's peoplemembers of God's household
“Now [the Gentiles] belong in a way they never did before. They are neither homeless nor even second class citizens in someone else’s homeland.” (O’Brien, p.211)
20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.“Although Paul does not develop the metaphor he appears to be alluding to citizenship in God’s kingdom.”(O’Brien, p.211)But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ… (Philippians 3:20)“The imagery now changes from the political realm to that of an intimate family.”(O’Brien, p.211)In the Roman world of the day to be a ‘member of the household meant refuge and protection…It also meant identity and gave the security that comes with a sense of belonging’.” (O’Brien, p.212 – citing Towner: Households and Household codes)
“Once more the apostle’s imagery changes. The readers are not only intimate members of God’s household. They also have a privileged position in his building or temple, the place where he dwells.The transition here from one metaphor to another is natural, for the term ‘house’ can mean ‘household’ or ‘temple’.”(O’Brien, p.212)
“Apostles were those specially commissioned and sent by the Lord Jesus Christ. This includes the Twelve and Paul himself, together with one or two others (1Cor.15:7; Gal.1:19; 2:7-9; cf. Rom.16:7; 1Cor.9:6).Although Paul on occasion uses the term… to signify a ‘messenger’ of the churches (2Cor.8:22-23; Phil 2:25), the overwhelming number of references in his letters are to ‘apostles’… who were [authoritatively] called and sent by Christ.” (O’Brien, p.214)
“An apostle was an official delegate of Jesus Christ, commissioned for the specific task of proclaiming authoritatively the message in oral and written form and establishing and building up the churches.” (Hoehner, pp.399-400)
“The prophets are New Testament prophets, not Old Testament ones” (O’Brien, p.214)There are two reasons why this is the case:The word order – if OT prophets were in view we would expect to see “prophets and apostles” since the OT prophets came before NT apostles.The context - apostles and prophets are mentioned together two other times in Ephesians (3:5 and 4:11) and in each of those cases the prophets are clearly NT prophets.(cf. O’Brien, p.214 – footnote 244)
“In light of an incomplete canon, the prophets may well have received revelation to complete what was needed so that every person could be presented perfect before God (Eph4:12, Col 1:28).” (Hoehner, p.400)
It was through the apostles and prophets that God gave revelation to the first century churchApostles and prophets are foundational to the building of Christ’s church in two ways:Historically they were involved in the establishment of the church at the “ground level”.The church’s doctrine and practice is based on the revelation they received and recorded for us in the now completed canon of scripture, the Bible.
Some scriptures showing the foundational role of apostles in the building of Christ’s church®And I [Jesus] tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church… (Mat. 16:18a)®The Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me [Jesus]. And you [disciples] also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26b-27 )®The life appeared; we [apostles] have seen it and testify to it, and we [apostles] proclaim to you the eternal life [Jesus], which was with the Father and has appeared to us. (1 John 1:2)®In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets. (Ephesians 3:4-5)
Here Paul seems to reference Isaiah 28:16 - So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.In ancient construction, the cornerstone was laid first in order to set the lines along which the rest of the foundation would then be laid.“Paul seems therefore, to be making the following points:Christ is the vital cornerstone on whom the building is constructed.The foundation and position of all other stones in the superstructure were determined by him.” (O’Brien, p.217)
… built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone (Eph.2:20)
21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
“Today the process of fitting stones together is rather simple because mortar is used. In that day with no use of mortar, there was an elaborate process of cutting and smoothing stones so that they fit exactly next to each other.” (Hoehner, p.409)The application here is obvious: God, as the sovereign master craftsman, is molding and fashioning members of his church to “fit” and function together to his glory.
22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.There are two Greek words that are commonly used for “temple”. One refers to the general temple area (IERON). The word used here (NAOS) “is consistently used in the NT of the sacred place where God dwells… (Mat.27:51)” (Hoehner, p.410)The application is, as we will also be told in the next verse, God’s people are holy and serve as his dwelling place.
God indwells each individual believer through his Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) and therefore as believers are built (or joined – see vs. 21) together the resulting structure becomes a dwelling in which God lives.