Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Ephesians 2 -The Essay

  (The following came out of a series of in-person and email discussions with a friend of mine. It is our habit to  discuss, probably to each other's mutual exasperation,  our understandings and misunderstandings of different sections of scripture.  This habit in itself has been  very helpful to me in a couple of areas. It has helped me to clarify what I believe, and why I believe it, also it has  made it even more clear to me that  some of our doctrines are fed and sustained by other doctrines.  What you believe on Issue A will influence and color what you  think about  Issues B, C and D.  Often an explanation of a belief will involve the discussion of a handful of other beliefs that are the underpinnings and foundations of the issue at hand.
  My friend takes the position (and I will proceed carefully lest I misrepresent his thoughts) that the physical  seed of Abraham , by rejecting their Messiah has a group, lost as a group all claims to the promises made to their ancestors. The y lost, among other things, the exclusive relationship they had enjoyed with God. Those promises, according to  his belief, were then re-assigned to all those who would put their faith in Christ regardless of their ethnic  background.   He asked me for my thoughts on a passage in Ephesians 2  that seemed to him to bolster his belief on this issue.  I asked him for some time to think it over in an attempt to not say something off the cuff and stupid.  Not long after that, I made available to him my thoughts, and now make an edited version of these thoughts available to you.)



  I’m certain that there are  scores of folks who could  give you  much better thoughts on this passage, and I am  sure I’ll miss a bunch of important stuff because it’s one of those parts of the Bible where every phrase is just jam-packed with far-reaching implications. The book of Ephesians, like the rest of the Bible is built brick by brick upon other passages and  clarity on other passages will give you clarity on the text in question. Having said all that  , I want to go  through verses 11-22 because they seem to be the crux of the matter. 

Wherefore remember , that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;  That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: “ (Vs 11-12)

  There appear to be three separate groups in scripture; the Jew, the church, and the Gentile (1 Cor 10:32).  The Jew would be the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Gentiles are everybody else, and the church is this relatively new thing, which is why Jesus mentioned the building of his church in the future tense in Matt 16:18.    According to verse 11, the people being addressed were Gentiles in the past, but were not Gentiles any more.  They had become part of something else, something new.
  It really looks to me like here is the rough progression of God’s revelation to mankind.  In Genesis 3, God speaks to all of mankind (everybody who was there) and promises them that the seed of the woman is going to come and fix what went wrong in Genesis 3.  Later on, God speaks to mankind through the preaching of Noah that a flood is coming.  After the flood, God speaks to all of mankind (once again, everybody that was there) and promises that he will never flood the world again.  Then the next time God speaks, he speaks to one man, (Gen 12) and that man’s descendants and  lays out a series of promises that, for the most part,  have to do with the inheritance and habitation of a certain piece of land.  For the next several centuries, he only speaks to  that man’s descendants (I’m sure there’s an exception or two thrown in there like Job and Balaam, but  you could probably count them on one hand) and every promise he makes he makes to that man’s descendants until   roughly somewhere in the book of Acts.  The emperor of China ( if there was one) in Moses's day  did not get a copy of the Ten commandments, only Abraham descendants did.  There wasn't an ark and a temple set up among the Franks or the Gauls; those were always the exclusive revelations given to  Abraham descendants.
  If my understanding is correct, then if you’re a Mongolian or a Cherokee or a Saxon back in the day, this is all God has revealed to you; God created the place,  God flooded the place, God promised not to  flood the place again , and the seed of the woman is coming.  You had the law of God written on your heart ( Rom 1);you had the evidence of nature ( Rom 1)  and somewhere back in time your ancestors had been told that the seed of the woman was coming.
  In the absence of any further revelation from God, the Gentiles got busy making stuff up.  They made up gods, and legends, and what not, winding up with  twisted or occluded versions of the truths shown to their ancestors.
 According to verse 11 and 12, prior to their salvation, these Gentiles were excluded from all these promises God made to Abraham's seed.  Jesus Christ shows up, dies on a cross and  the disciples go out into the Gentile world (eventually) telling everybody that the seed of the woman has come, and that he died, was buried and rose again. They tell everybody that he will give eternal life and the forgiveness of sins to whoever will call upon his name. That is the first step in the promised  cure for what went wrong in Genesis 3. When these Gentiles do that, God takes them out of the family and nation they were born into and makes them part of his church; part of his body. 
  That happens to be the same offer he made to the Jews of the day.  A Jew that gets saved stops being a Jew and instead of the promises God made to the Jews (including the land grant), he gets the promises made to all who are ‘in Christ’.

But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.  For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;  Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;  (Vs 13-15)

  God takes two very separate groups of people who didn’t particularly get along, and makes them one.  He abolished not only the enmity God had towards man, but the enmity that a Jew would have towards a Samaritan. Or  a Yankee towards a Confederate.  In fact, even among  Jesus's  early disciples you see zealots and tax collectors, who should have hated each other.Remarkable stuff.  Outside of Christ they still fuss and fight (Tituts 3:3), but in Christ, they are one. 
  Having made this new thing, God spends a great deal of the New Testament laying out the promises that are made ‘in Christ’.  These include redemption (Rom 3:24), atonement and  joy (Rom 5:11), no condemnation ( Rom 8:1), the law of life (Rom 8:2), one body (Rom 12:5), approval (Rom 16:10), sanctification ( 1 Cor 1:2), wisdom and righteousness (1 Cor 1:30), wisdom (1 Cor 4:10), instructors and fathers ( 1 Cor 4:17), a bodily resurrection (1 Cor 15:18), hope (1 Cor 15:19), being made alive ( 1 Cor 15:22) , rejoicing (1 Cor 15:31), being stablished and annointed (2 Cor 1:21), triumph (2 Cor 2:14), and  being made a new creature (2 Cor 5:17).  The list goes on to encompass promises of an ability to understand the Bible (2 Cor 3:14), simplicity (2 Cor 11:3), being  made a child of God (Gal 3:26), being all one with other believers (Gal 3:28), a spiritual circumcison (Col 6:15, a  closeness oto God (Eph 2:13), the fullness of the mystery (Eph 3:19), a high calling (Phil 3:14), a purpose in grace (2 Tim 1:9), persecution (2 Tim 3:12) balanced by a promise of peace ( 1 Peter 5:14), all spiritual blessings (Eph 1:3), being wrought in Christ ( Eph 1:20) while being his workmanship ( Eph 2:10) and fellow heirs (Eph 3:6).  The believer is promised steadfastness (Col 2:5), faith and love (1 Tim 1:4), salvation (2 Tim 2:10)  and boldness   (Phi 1:8). It's quite the package.

  Each of these promises can be expounded upon at length, but that’s way off topic. Suffice to say that they are all  intangible, non-physical, and completely impossible outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ. God promises in Christ, things the Gentiles could never have had on their own.  The seed of the woman has come, and boy did he ever deliver!  A physical descendant of Abraham who receives Christ gets this same package deal, and can leave behind all the traditions of his ancestors and live a new life as a new creature and enjoy a one-ness with the God of his fathers. Or, to put it  much  much better :


And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby :  And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.  For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. (Vs 16-18)

  Once again, two separate groups that became a third group. Two separate groups of physical people from physical families that are become a spiritual people and a spiritual family.  The Jew did not become a Gentile and the Gentile did not become a Jew. We both became ‘in Christ’.  Moving on….

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;  And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;  In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:  In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (V19-22)

  If I understand you correctly, the question is, if we are fellow citizens with the saints (and by saints you mean the Old Testament crowd) then why wouldn’t we inherit all their promises?  The short answer is that we aren’t fellow citizens with the OT crowd, we are fellow citizens with other believers.  We were strangers and foreigners (including from each other), but now we’re not. We were children of wrath and disobedience, now we are children of God. When you build a building, you put the corner stone down first, and the ‘house’ wasn’t established until Jesus Christ himself was laid.  The Old Testament crowd were never referred to as God’s temple; we are.
  If the church is simply Judaism part 2 or some sort of extension or reworking of the Abrahamic covenant, or even a ‘spiritification’ ( I think I just made that word up) of the nation of Israel, then at some point you have to come up with a workable answer to this question; what happens to the land?  The promise of a  physical homeland where God would be their king and they would be safe from all their enemies is the key promise of the Old Testament.  The rest of the  Bible doesn't make a whole lot of sense without it.  They would be scattered, as God promised, but they would be regathered, and taken back to the land that God  gave to their fathers. That land would be doled out according to  tribe. Simply put, God never gave any land to my fathers; there is no single  place to regather  the church  back to.
   Furthermore if we inherited all of Israel’s promises PLUS the promises made ‘in Christ’ then what about the promises of material prosperity and physical healing (Is 42:6-7, Is 35:4-6) made to the  nation of Israel when they were obedient? What about the promise of protection from our enemies, (Zech 14:3, Ex 14:25, Neh 4:20, Josh 23:10, Deut 20:4, Ex 14:14) or the promised regathering unto the land? (Jer 31:10, Ezek 20:34-38, Isa 2:1-4, Jer 3:17-18, Isa 10:20-21, Is 11:11-12).  What about the promise that a fountain will be opened up for the cleansing of sin ( Zech 13) or one chapter earlier, the promise of future  mercies and supplication to be poured out on the house of David after they look upon him whom they have pierced? 
  It looks to me like it is nigh impossible to put those promises on the mutts that make up the church.  If we inherit all those then  good godly people among us ought never be sick or broke or blind. The church  would never have gone through the Inquisition because we  would have been promised protection from our enemies.  The fact is that the promises made to Israel were physical in nature, and the promises made  to the church are spiritual in nature.

  That leaves the modern Messiah-rejecting descendant of Abraham with a promise on the books that someday somehow somebody in their family tree will dwell in the land in peace.  I actually think the future fulfillment of this  promise, as outlined in scripture is a fascinating study in itself. This promise however does nothing to  abate their sin debt to God as an individual, and in the meantime if they die as individuals they drop off into hell.  The only way for them to  have a relationship with the God of their fathers is to accept his Son.  The Gentiles are in a similar predicament; they  have a promise that Christ will redeem them, but short of Christ’s redemption they remain  the same place they were in in Gen 11; without hope and without God.


  Hope this helps.

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