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. 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. 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. 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.Ephesians 2:14-19
What an amazing passage! Especially in the light of all we considered when going through the book of Romans. The gulf that separated the Jew from the Gentile in the Jewish mind was huge. But would it shock you to know that God always intended for the Gentiles to come near. There is much to say about this topic. I just don’t know how much time to give it. We could spend quite some time on this but I will try to keep it brief. This passage is shocking to some and great news to others. To the ones who are excluded or outcastes it is good news. To those who are insiders and feeling threatened it is shocking. I will tell you clearly at the start I plan to comment on two aspects and not go through the passage verse by verse, line by line. But that may change if I get lots of feedback from you, the readers. Once again as I have on other topics. I will be guided by your responses. No response or slight response will mean I will move on to greener pastures. Lots of feedback will mean I will stay in this paddock for a while longer. (Forgive the farming terminology but it seemed appropriate.)
- First we will look at bounded sets and exclusive thinking.
- Secondly we will look at the Jewish – Gentile issue.
Why did God choose the Jews?
Why were the Gentiles excluded? etc.
This will open up a can of worms I know. But I am not afraid of touching worms.
Many look at becoming a Christian as though it’s a bounded set. Imagine a circle on the ground and we step over the line and become a Christian. We enter into the group which is marked as “Christian”. The Biblical approach is more a direction of life, an orientation of allegiance. The concept above of those afar off and those close by is indeed biblical as well as being culturally Jewish. It is true that the Jews called the Gentiles those who are far off and thought of themselves as being close or near to God. The Bible talks about people being close to or far away from God. However the Bible also depicts people as being either oriented toward God and flowing with Him or not. Those who give their allegiance to Him and are willing to come under His lordship. It is also possible to be “close to God” and yet aligned or looking away from Him. Being close physically to God or the temple (read church) but in fact being far away in your heart; the whole direction of life orientation being alienated from Him, like the statements related to the Pharisees. Still another can be far away from God and yet looking toward Him and oriented toward Him within. And finally of course there are those who are far God physically and in every other way too.
This way of thinking about it helps us when we think of someone like the thief on the cross. He is one who turned to Jesus and gave Jesus his full allegiance having just recognized Him for who He is. At that point Jesus says to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Some react to this notion I know. I have heard the protests. You mean that someone can live a life totally separated from God and then at the last minute turn to Him and be fully accepted. The answer to that question is a hearty “Yes”. If “the turning” is a heart felt genuine one. But be careful of the thinking that says “oh well I can live how I want and then at some later time when I choose I can make a decision “for Him”. No, not necessarily because God is the One Who determines “the day of salvation”. You don’t. Take a moment and think of the parable of the workers and the wages paid (Matt 20:1-16), those who were hired at the beginning of the day and worked a full day for a full days wages compared with those who worked the last hour and were paid a full day’s wages. It doesn’t seem fair does it? Apply that same parable to salvation. Think about it. You mean someone can live “all” their life and come to Him at the end and get a full reward? Yes. But that is not fair! No, wrong thinking. You have been experiencing the benefits of salvation for a lot longer than the one who has just come. Besides you are thinking exclusively rather than inclusively if you want that other person shut out and not included.
Just like if you think well if that is the case I would have delayed my coming to God and experienced the pleasures of sin for longer. Oh that thinking reveals you have the wrong thinking about salvation, what it is and the benefits of it. If you really understand salvation you would never say that. Or those who say well how close to “Sodom and Gomorrah” can I live and not get burned? Wrong thinking again. You don’t live as close to the line as you can. You orientate your life in the right direction if you truly love God and want to please Him. You don’t think about what you can get away with, you think of how close you can be to Him. As I quipped the other day, “if you don’t feel close to God guess who moved”. God’s heart is always toward you, wooing you, drawing you, desiring you to come or to come back. To keep coming toward Him, close and closer. Or to turn around and begin to come toward Him for the first time or again.
The term for repentance contains the notion of a direction of movement, a turning toward Him or turning away from Him. The danger of thinking we have stepped into a bounded set, we step over the line and have become a Christian, is that it is a once for all time act and from then on I am in the “in crowd”. The Bible indicates that it is a life process and it is more a case of me being saved. Entering into the salvation process and beginning to process of developing a holy life. Going from one degree of holiness or glory to another. The total package of thought of life orientation is more Biblical than thinking in bounded sets. To think in bounded sets causes us to think that once we have crossed the line into that circle of becoming Christian then we can’t ever leave it again, I.e. Step out of the circle. But if we think of being Christian as more a matter of allegiance, orientation or desire to be aligned with Him then it is clear the distinction between being in the group (bounded set) or not is in a state of flux. That was certainly how it was for ancient Israel. Remember too that God doesn’t look on the outward appearance but judges the thoughts of the heart and the motivation behind the scene.
Irrespective of how we may discern being in the family, the good news is He has united both those far away and those who are close. He has broken down the wall of separation. The two are being treated the same. Don’t let exclusive thinking keep you from the enjoying salvation to the full. But you won’t be able to experience the fullness as such until the ushering in of the age to come in all of its fullness.
Ponder on these things. Next Gem we will at the Jewish – Gentile issue.
To be successful in God’s work is to fall in line with His will and to do it His way. All that is pleasing to Him is a success.Henrietta C Mears
Deliverance can come to us only by the defeat of our old life. So He conquers us and by that benign conquest saves us for Himself.A. W. Tozer
Never make a door where God puts a wall; and never make a wall where God puts a door.Anon
It’s not what you believe, it’s what you OBEY that determines your destiny. Demons believe but don’t obey!Rick Godwin