Ephesians 2: 11–22
Today we come to the Christian belief in the importance of the church as established by Jesus Christ. If you’re going to choose a single text (which we must) to talk about the doctrine of the church, whatever that text is it’s not going to be able to give you all of the things the Bible says about the church. It just can’t.
Let’s just plunge right in. It’s such an important subject. What the text is going to tell us is basically three things: the gospel creates a supernatural community through spiritual heart surgery that works itself out in a radical new identity. The gospel creates a supernatural community through spiritual heart surgery that plays itself out in the world with Christians having now a radical new identity.
This is being dealt with in the last paragraph. In the last paragraph, Paul, the author of the book of Ephesians, gives you three images or three metaphors that describe the church.
19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
First of all, he says, you are fellow citizens with God’s people. What that means is you have an earthly citizenship. You’re citizens of Imphal or Manipur or India. You’re citizens of a particular country. But if you’re a Christian, you have another citizenship that supersedes that. Philippians 3:20 says we’re citizens of the heavenly city.
Then it goes on and says you’re also members of his household, which is another way to say you’re in his family. When we become Christians we’re adopted. God is our Father. That means we’re brought into a family with other people who have God as their Father, so we have new brothers and sisters.
Thirdly, it goes on even beyond that and says the church is also like (verse 21) a whole building joined together and rising to become a holy temple in the Lord. The third image is one in which we are like living stones, building blocks, and God inhabits us the way the Holy Spirit, the shekinah glory of God, inhabited the ancient temple.
When it comes to the idea of the building, if Christians are like the blocks in a building, they’re cemented together. I don’t know how much closer you could get than that.
Notice that each metaphor is more and more relationally intense.
A king lives in the same country with his citizens,
but a father lives in the same home with his sons and daughters,
but in the temple imagery God actually indwells you. He comes right into you. It’s not that he just lives near you; he lives in you.
Every metaphor is trying to talk about the absolute intense relational bond that happens to all Christians with one another.
The reason for all of these metaphors is verse 18. “For through him [Jesus Christ] we both have access …”
We’re talking about Jew and Gentiles. Every race, every group of people. “… have access in one Spirit to the Father.” When the Holy Spirit comes into your life because you believe in Jesus, that Spirit not only unites you to Christ but also unites you to all other people who are united to Christ.
You will discover that every other Christian on the face of the earth, no matter how different they are temperamentally, racially, educationally, or culturally, you have with that other person an infinitely deep spiritual bond.
Now what does this mean?
Let me just use one of the metaphors: the family. One of the things you know about families is that your brothers and sisters, your immediate family members, know all about your faults and flaws. They’ve seen them. You can’t hide from them. They are happy to tell you about them. Hebrews 3: 13, speaking to Christians, says, “Exhort one another …” The word exhort is a strong word. It’s the word parakaleo. It’s the word that means to counsel, to argue, to confront even.
You’re eating with other Christians. You are ministering with them. You’re reading with them. You’re studying with them. You’re praying with them. You’re in close enough proximity.
You’re not so busy. You’re not having your own life. You’re in close enough proximity. You’re living in community with other Christians so they can see it. Is that happening?
It doesn’t happen on social media, by the way. People can’t read your expression on social media. You put on that little smiley face when you’re actually … Social media is a great way to control what other people think about you. In a family you can’t do that. That’s redemptive. So first of all, the Holy Spirit can create a supernatural community.
2. Spiritual Heart Surgery.
How does such supernatural community happen? How is it possible that there is some kind of bond that’s possible between people who are radically different? That’s why I call this spiritual heart surgery. That’s what mostly the rest of this whole passage is about.
Notice it tells us what it is that needs to be removed from our hearts. Using the metaphor of heart surgery, what is the tumor that needs to be removed from our hearts if we’re going to start getting along with people, even feel unified with people who are deeply different from us culturally, racially, and all of the other ways? The tumor is mentioned a couple of times.
Verse 14 says, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility ” Then verse 16 says, “… and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility..” The word hostility, by the way, is a Greek word that simply means enmity or just hate.
There is in the human heart an enmity, a hostility, toward people who are very different. Why? What’s the cause of that? To answer that question you have to look at the case study that is here in Ephesians 2, but it’s also important to look through the case study and realize there’s a principle behind the case study. What’s the case study? The conflict between Jews and Gentiles. It says here in verses 11–13:
11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
The Gentiles and the Jews were often in conflict with each other, but what is the cause of that conflict? Here’s what’s so intriguing. In verse 14 it says that 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility. And verse 15 tells you by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances…”
When it says the dividing wall, the thing that kept the Jews and Gentiles from being together, the thing that divided them, the thing that created hostility between them was the law, God’s law, the Mosaic law, you say, “Okay, well, then maybe the Mosaic law was bad,” but of course not Paul, who wrote Ephesians 2, also wrote in the book of Romans, “Is the law, therefore, sin? By no means.” Paul asked the question, “Is the law sin? Is the law bad? No,” he says. “It’s spiritual.”
How can something that’s really good, the Ten Commandments and all that, be the cause of the hostility? Here’s the answer. If you read the book of Deuteronomy, what’s so fascinating about it is:
In Deuteronomy God says, “The reason I’m giving you this law is so you can be a light to the Gentiles”. The reason the Jews are given all of these laws and regulations is so you can show the world a godly society,
a society of love,
a society of justice,
a society of holiness,
a society of truth.
I want you to be a light to the Gentiles so the Gentiles will see how you’re living and be attracted to me and attracted to my glory. Your whole job is to attract the Gentiles by obeying the law.
That’s not what happened, is it? No, it isn’t. What happened was that the Jews, because they had the law and the Gentiles did not, began to despise the Gentiles as unclean because “you eat these things and do these things.” Unclean, unwashed, awful, profane. The Jews despised the Gentiles because they had the law and, of course, the Gentiles despised the Jews because they were so proud. The law, this great, great thing, actually became the dividing wall of hostility.
Now let’s not get stuck here with the conflict between Jew and Gentile. What’s the principle? Here’s why it’s so important. Here’s the principle.
The things that divide us are the good things about us.
The law was like the pride and joy of the Jews, and that’s the problem. You have something that’s your pride and joy, or your race has something that’s its pride and joy, but here’s how the human heart works today.
The sinful human heart is now ordered so that we take the best things about ourselves, our virtues, the greatest things about ourselves, and we become so proud of them, and then we use them to strengthen our sense of self-esteem by despising anybody who doesn’t have what we have.
There’s a famous chapter in C.S. Lewis’ great book Mere Christianity in which he says something like, “People are not proud of being rich. They’re proud of being richer than the next person. People are not proud of being beautiful or smart or talented. They’re only proud at being more talented than the next person.” Everybody has to have an identity factor. An identity factor is something that gives you both a sense of self and a sense of worth.
Everybody has a job, but for some people, your job, your career, gives you a sense of self and a sense of worth.
I’ll give you an example of this. This is the way the human heart works.
You say, “I’m a hardworking person.” The way you know that being hardworking is a very important part of your identity, an important part of your sense of self and sense of worth, that being hardworking is something you’re proud of, is you really can’t stand lazy people.
There are some people who are hardworking and it’s not a big identity factor. They see lazy people. Oh well. There are some people who are hardworking and it’s a big identity factor. You can’t stand people who are lazy. It just irritates you. You despise them. That’s why not just the law of God but any good thing becomes a dividing wall of hostility.
What are we supposed to do about it? The gospel does surgery. It destroys the hostility in your heart. It removes the hostility through two strokes. It’s the two parts of the gospel.
The first stroke of the gospel is that both the near and the far, both the moral and the immoral, are lost. Both need to be reconciled to God and are, therefore, spiritually equal.
Notice how up in verses 11–13 Paul talks about the Gentiles as being far from God. “13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off.…” Why were they far? They didn’t have the Scriptures. They didn’t have the law. They were living in licentious, immoral ways. They were farther from God. They really were.
The Jews were closer to God, obviously. They had the Bible. They understood who God was. They knew his attributes. They knew the law.
Yet look at what’s so amazing. How did God bring Jew and Gentile together? It says in verse 16, “16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.”
What is to preach peace? That’s the gospel. The gospel is that a person needs to be reconciled to God, that there is hostility between God and a person and a peace has to be made between the two.
This is saying that the people who are far away and immoral and the people who are near and moral both need to be reconciled to God, both need the gospel, are both lost.
We have a great example of such a person in Luke 18, where a man is getting up and praying, and he’s saying, “Lord, I thank you that I’m not like other people, robbers, evildoers, adulterers, and like this tax collector here.” Oh my goodness. What is that? Superiority to the different. Here’s a very religious person, a Pharisee, a person who understands the Bible, trying to live very much according to the Bible, but because he’s being his own savior, because he says, “I’m going to save myself. I’m going to be so good and so moral that God will have to bless me …”
He has the very same kind of identity. Bible-believing, moral people who think their goodness will take them to heaven are every bit as lost as immoral people.
That’s the first thing the gospel tells you. If you believe the gospel, the first thing the gospel tells you is no matter who you are, you’re not better than anybody else. If you’re a prostitute, if you are a drug dealer or, on the other hand, if you are a pillar of your community, if you’re very moral and very good, it doesn’t matter. You’re all lost. You’re all in the same spot.
The first thing the gospel tells you is you’re not different from anybody else and you have no right to ever look down on anyone or feel superior to anybody.
Secondly, the gospel doesn’t just humble you; it affirms you. It affirms you infinitely. Why? Well, here’s what it says. Literally, in verse 16, “through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” That’s a really strange statement. It literally says on the cross God kills the hate.
How could God put to death hostility on the cross? The only thing that died on the cross was Jesus. Here’s what we have. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made Jesus sin who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” Listen carefully. Think about this. When it says on the cross God made him sin, it doesn’t mean he made him sinful. It means God made him sin.
It doesn’t mean, by the way, that on the cross Jesus Christ became hostile. It means he became hostility. God treated Jesus as sin should be treated, as hostility and hate should be treated, as you and I deserve to be treated. Jesus Christ stood in our place and received what our sins deserve. God treated him as we deserve so that, when you believe in Jesus Christ, God treats you as Jesus deserves.
Do you know what kind of affirmation that is? When you believe in Jesus Christ, God now treats you as if you deserve everything Jesus Christ deserves, as if you’re as beautiful, as noble, as courageous, as righteous as Jesus. In Jesus Christ, God looks at you and sees you as more precious than all of the jewels that lie beneath the earth.
3. Radical New Identity.
What does that do? You now have an identity that’s not achieved; it’s received. It’s not because of anything I do. It’s received. It’s a gift. It’s mine right now. It doesn’t go up and down depending on your performance and the insecurity is away.
Do you know what this is? Because you have a received identity.
Your identity operates in a radically new way. That’s what it means to be a Christian. By the way, the other identity factors don’t stop.
If you’re an artist, you’re still an artist. When you become a Christian, you’re a Christian artist. If you’re Asian, you don’t become European when you become a Christian. You become an Asian Christian. All of those other identity factors are still there, but notice they’re demoted. Being a violinist is only just being a violinist now. It’s not your identity.
Making money is no longer about an identity. Now the money is just money. Now you can give it away. Before you couldn’t. You had to have it. Why? Because that’s how you felt good about yourself.
How does this radical identity play itself out altogether? Two ways. Let me be really practical.
On the one hand, it means that inside the church you have the ability to grow, to innovate, to be creative.
Here’s what I mean. Many of you know the best way to understand your own culture is to go live in another culture for a year or two.
It gives you a perspective that you never had on your own culture, because, back in your own culture, so many of your assumptions are invisible to you. You don’t even think of them as cultural. You just think, “Well, this is the way it is.” You go and live with another culture and you begin to get a perspective, but you don’t have to do that. You don’t have to move to another country for two years.
Here in the church, you have the ability to do this. Find another Christian brother or sister who is deeply different than you are, who has the same bond but is radically different culturally, radically different in some other way, racially, in class, educationally, and really be their friend. Wait till you see. It will be like going to another country.
When two people who radically trust each other but also challenge each other … That’s how you become a person of wisdom. That’s how you begin to get a perspective on yourself and your own culture. You have the ability to do that right inside the church.
Secondly, all Christians ought to be agents of peace and reconciliation in the world.
We ought to be not only able to work together inside the church with people who are deeply different; we should be able to do that outside the church because of the heart surgery.
Miroslav Volf in his book Exclusion and Embrace says there are four ways to exclude a group of people: decimation, assimilation, subjugation, and ignoring them.
Decimation means you kill them or drive them out.
Assimilation means you do not accept them unless they become just like you.
Subjugation means, “You can’t have these jobs and you can’t live in these places and you can’t go to these schools.”
Ignoring them just means you don’t care about their needs or issues and you don’t engage them.
We know that throughout history Christians have done all those things, but when they do, they are denying the very heart of their faith.
If a man dying on a cross for his enemies, if a man breathing his last breath praying for his enemies is the heart of your life, if that’s your fundamental, then that cannot enable you to do any of those kinds of exclusion. It’ll mean you reach out to people. You’ll be agents for peace and reconciliation in the world. The church has the ability, the resources, to make us agents of peace in the world. Jesus Christ gave himself to destroy the hostility between human beings. Now go and do likewise.