I regularly meet with two guys on Monday nights for a discipleship group. We meet to discuss God’s Word and God’s work in our lives. We meet together, eat together, laugh together, pray together, and encourage each other together in Christ.
Outside of our common faith in Christ, though, I don’t have much else in common with these guys. Our hobbies are very different, and our career trajectories couldn’t be much further apart. But we are united in Christ. We are a living testimony to God’s Word in Ephesians 2:11-22. We would not usually meet together. Were it not for our faith, I most likely would not have met these guys and been able to form a friendship with them.
The grace of God, and not anything else, unites and identifies His church.
“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–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.”–Eph. 2:11-12
Paul addresses his largely Gentile audience, reminding them that before they met Christ, they had no hope. The Gentiles weren’t disobedient people of God–they had no knowledge of God’s covenant, no expectation that God would look at them with anything but wrath.
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”–Eph. 2:13-18
The “But now” here mirrors the “But God” of verse 4. Humans were powerless to act to save themselves or reconcile man to God or man to man. But God acted in His grace.
Those who were once as far from God as possible are brought near because of the precious blood of Jesus. The blood of Jesus removes our sins and removes the barrier for fellowship and relationship with God. He breaks down the “dividing wall of hostility” between us and God, and allows us to become God’s children, by His grace.
But what does any of that have to do with Joe, my annoying neighbor who also loves Jesus? What does this have to do with the guy who cheers for a different team and sits in front of me on Sunday morning? What does this have to do with the church at all? How does God’s grace actually bring us together?
Jesus destroyed the wall of hostility between God and man by “abolishing the law of commandments.” Jesus lived perfectly in order that we may be counted righteous in Him and died on the cross so that we may be forgiven. And this changes everything–literally, everything. Nothing is the same because of Jesus. We were powerless to save ourselves, but then God stepped in and sent His Son.
Because of this, our hope is in Christ. Our salvation is in Christ. This makes us humble, and destroys our pride, which could keep us from others we see as “less worthy” than ourselves. It leads us to find our identity in Christ and what He’s done for us, which, in turn, leads us to not judge or push away others in the church who are different from us, because, in Christ, we are all one. We are all the same before God. We are all sinners that have met a great Savior.
God’s grace toward us should make us so humble and so grateful that we have no room for racism, arrogance, stereotypes, or anything else that takes away from the glory of God. God’s grace should change our identity and lead us to see that it is Christ, not our careers, sports teams, or skin color that gives us identity and meaning. And when we find our identity in Christ, we will not look down on those whose careers, sports teams, or skin color is different than ours.
Even more than that, verse 18 says that we all approach the same Father through the same Spirit! The Jews and Gentiles, who once warred with each other, now share the same Father and talk to Him through the same Spirit, because of the gracious work of the Son. The Triune God has eternally acted to bring sinners from vastly different backgrounds, even and especially backgrounds that normally would not interact and may even hate each other, together in Christ in order to display His glory by His grace!
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”–Eph. 2:19-22
It’s been said that an American Christian has more in common with, say, an African or Asian Christian, than he or she has with an non-Christian American. Our identity in Christ is rooted in what He has done, and we now relate to others in the church, not based on ethnic or racial makeup, but by a common faith in and experience of the grace of God.
Did you catch what Paul says at the end of this chapter? He says the church is “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” This is incredible! A group of people who normally would have nothing in common is becoming more and more like Jesus because of Jesus! A group of people who have been humbled by a shared experience of grace and now find their identity in Christ are learning to live that out together, with people from various backgrounds and social statuses. This is good news!
The church is really a miracle, when you think about it. We are only together because of Christ. As I said in the beginning, the two guys in my small group became my friends because of our common faith. While they’re excellent people and fun to hang around, I likely wouldn’t have met them if it were not for the grace of God.
God destroys the wall of hostility, taking foes and making them friends, in Christ. He takes those who would not ever be together nor want to be together and calls them His children, and they begin to worship together, live together, eat together.
We are identified by Christ. We are saved by Christ. We are united by Christ. Praise God.
Lord, may we remember your grace toward us. May we remember your grace so that we can show it to others, and treat our brothers and sisters in Christ with grace. May we never forget that we are united and identified by you, and may this help us be a united church, a beautiful church, a church made up of many different people praising the same Savior.