01-11-15 - THE VERY HEART OF GRACE
By John Aldworth
Read Eph. 2:8-16.
What is it that the Apostle Paul urged Gentiles to remember that the church at large has forgot? Answer: That in terms of being saved by grace there was a time when Gentiles were with hope, without God in the world, without Christ and were aliens from the covenants and promises of Israel (Eph. 2:11-12).
It has also forgot that only since the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, introducing the dispensation of the grace of God (Eph. 3:2), that Gentiles are ‘now … made nigh by the blood of Christ’. But made nigh to whom, you might ask? Why, both to Christ and God the Father Himself, of course.
Strange then, isn’t it, that most interpreters and some corrupt bibles maintain that it is to Israel that Gentile believers are being ‘made nigh’. This despite the fact that, scripturally speaking, today there is no ‘Israel of God’ for Gentiles to join.
Put away this false understanding and Eph. 2:8-16 emerges as the very heart of grace. Take verse 10. Here we are told that we as grace-saved believers, are ‘his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them’.
If you love the Lord and know that ‘ye are not your own for ye are bought with a price’ (1 Cor. 6:19-20) then this is good news. God now owns you and is at work creating you as a new creature in Christ. What’s more He has already made the ‘good works’ you will walk in. Just what are good works? In Col. 3:13 the Apostle Paul urged Titus to ‘affirm constantly’ that believers be careful to maintain good works. And the epistle spells out in detail what they are: purity in doctrine, sound speech and exemplary behaviour to others.
But you won’t achieve this if you don’t obey Paul’s injunction to remember the time when Gentiles as a race were ‘without Christ’ and the time when each one of us were ‘without God, without Christ and without hope in the world’. Because until the Father came and quickened and saved us we were lost, hopeless, basket cases too.
Why? Because salvation prior to Paul writing to the Ephesians was channeled through the ‘Israel of God’ otherwise known as the ‘Church of God’ in the Acts period. Back then you had to repent and be baptised to get into it. Only thanks to Paul were you spared the painful operation of circumcision. But most definitely it was still essential then you as a Gentile be ‘graffed in’ among the Jewish branches to ‘partake of the root and fatness of the olive tree’ (Rom. 11:17).
However, today there is no ‘Israel of God’, no ‘Church of God’, still less an olive tree, which symbolizes saved Israel, for you and I to be ‘graffed’ into. Instead like the Philippians we must be ‘partakers of (Paul’s) my grace’ (Phil. 1:7).
Paul then is telling the Ephesians to remember what it was like for Gentiles before grace came. But Christendom doesn’t. Instead it believes it is spiritual Israel and that salvation comes through identifying with Israel’s Messiah Jesus through the rituals and procedures for salvation laid down for Jews in the Book of Acts.
The commonly held view even has it that in Eph. 2:14-16, the key verses that lie at the very heart of Paul’s ‘my grace’, Christ is making a new man of both Jew and Gentile but He isn’t. This view holds that it is the ‘enmity’ of Jews for Christians that He ‘abolished in his flesh’ and ‘slew’ on the cross, but it isn’t. The NIV even goes so far as to say in a terrible mistranslation that Christ ‘reconciled both of them (i.e. Jew and Gentile) through the cross by which He put to death their hostility’. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
Actually Christ’s death on the cross was to slay the ‘enmity’ between God and man. That enmity was on both sides. We hated God and rejected Him, and God, for his part, is angry too. Rom. 1:18 says: ‘The wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men …’ And Col. 3:6 warns that because of the common sins people commit ‘the wrath of God cometh upon the children of disobedience’.
And this is where we touch the very heart of grace. Christ died not to reconcile Jew to Gentile, though that may be a by-product of the process, but to reconcile to God desperate sinners like you and I. And not only to reconcile us but to make us completely holy, totally righteousness and fully acceptable unto God so that we live in Christ with Him in the glory to come.
What’s more grace reveals this to be something God has already fully accomplished in us. You see the problem with most Christianity is that it doesn’t tap into the heart of grace. It falls short.
Many are happy just to believe that their sins are forgiven – and they are (see Eph. 3:5: ‘God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you’. Many are content just to know that ‘Christ died for our sins’. And He did, read 1 Cor. 15:3. Some go further and believe that in the hope of resurrection (1 Cor. 15:52): ‘The dead shall be raised incorruptible’ as indeed they will.
But grace goes much further. Grace in Eph. 2:8-16 not only forgives, knows that Christ died for our sins and gives us hope of eternal life but also makes us completely acceptable to God by making us one with Christ. Here are the scriptures that prove it.
Vs. 13: Here Gentiles are made ‘nigh’ to God by the blood of Christ.
Vs. 14: For He is our peace who hath made both one (that is God and us as sinners) through reconciliation) and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us. The reconciliation is already accomplished, it was achieved at the cross. The wall of partition is the law which stood between us and God and created the enmity. Christ ‘abolished’ it and slew the enmity of it on the cross.
Then He went one step further for vs. 15 says that He abolished the law, ‘to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace’. And vs. 16 says He did so that he might ‘reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross’. Who are the twain, who are the ‘both’ that are reconciled in one body? Not Israel and Gentiles, not even sinners and God the Father, although the effect of it is indeed is to bring us together with the Father.
No, the twain are we as abject sinners, ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Eph. 2:1) on one hand and Christ Himself made sin on the other. How did that happen, you ask? In this way, first Christ Himself was made sin. As 2 Cor. 5:21 says: ‘For He (the Father) hath made Him (Christ) sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him’. Second, as Paul said, we as sinners have been ‘crucified with Christ”.
Yes, there on the cross, Christ who knew no sin was made sin. And then, wonders of wonders as one made sin He reached out and made us part of Himself. As Eph. 2:15 says He made ‘in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace’. That is He joined our sinful selves into His (now made) sinful self so that we became one, irrevocably and forever. On one condition: that we continue to believe and trust this gospel of grace the Father gave to Paul to preach to us.
Why is this joining of ourselves to Christ so important? Because when Christ died for sin we, now joined to Him, died too. As He died to sin, we died to sin too. When God the Father quickened Him in resurrection He quickened us with Him at the same time. Eph. 2:4-5:
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith He loved us even when we were dead in trespasses and sins hath quickened us together with Christ, by grace ye are saved).
And it doesn’t stop there. When Christ was raised from the dead, we were raised too. When He ascended up above the heavens He took us with Him. That is why Paul in Eph.2 6 says: ‘And hath raised us up and made us sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus’.
The key to it all is truly being found in Christ. You see when Christ on the cross in love wrapped his arms around us Gentile sinners and drew us into Himself ‘making in Himself of twain one new man’ we really did become ‘members of his body of his flesh and of his bones’ (Eph. 5:30). In doing so He left the Father with no choice when He quickened and resurrected Christ out of sin and death but to quicken and resurrect us along with Him too. It was either that or leave Christ dead in the grave. Actually, of course, choice didn’t enter into it: the Father quickened and raised us with Christ ‘for the great love wherewith He loved us’ (Eph. 2:4).
What is the upshot of this in our lives? Simply that we should now live in the fullness of being in Christ. That is, we should be what God has now made us – ‘holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight’ (Col. 1:22). ‘And ye are complete in Him (Christ) which is the head of all principality and power’ (Col. 2:10).)
Are you and I living like that or are we excusing ourselves for that which we do which we know is wrong and that which we are which we also know is wrong? ‘Oh, I can’t help it, it’s just the way I am’ is an excuse one often hears. And, ‘Yes, I know I’m supposed to be holy but I’m not yet – God is still working on me’ is another.
Fact is neither statement is true. You can help it because God has already created you a new you. Our sins, wrong attitudes, resentment, complaint, envy and bad temper and giving into temptation should be falling off us like leaves from autumn trees. If they’re not it is because we are not fully believing God’s promise that He has already done all that is necessary to change us.
Like the Colossians we may have already ‘mortified’, put to death, gross sins of fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence and covetousness (Col. 3:6) but in verses 9-10 the apostle urges us to also ‘put off’ a list of lesser since which include anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy , filthy communications (probably meaning swearing). These wrong attitudes like, resentment, bitterness, disappointment, the feeling that others should compensate for what is wrong with us or for what we have suffered should be done away with, Paul says:
Seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds and put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him.
This new man is the ‘one new man’ Jesus made within Himself on the Cross. This man is holy, pure and righteousness. He has died to sin, has been resurrected and is now seated with Christ in heavenly places. He is the new you the new I and he doesn’t sin, get angry, be resentful, get disappointed, lie, seek to dominate others or fly off the handle.
Have you put him on?