As we wrap up our study in Ephesians 2, A few things are clear about what Paul is trying to get across to the Ephesians:
- Jesus' work is the only thing that granted them life and membership into the family of God.
- Our formal self should not be forgotten, not to dwell and feel bad, but to enhance and magnify our worship of Jesus because of the lengths that he had to go to save us.
- Our identity is securely fashioned in Christ, not in our works or our failures.
- We have access to God, the creator and maker of everything, through the Holy Spirit and because of the work of Jesus.
All of these things are chipping away at our need to work for God's approval and to think we are someone that we are not. Because of God's redemptive plan, from the beginning, through Jesus and sanctified through the Holy Spirit, we are children of the king, members of a new kingdom, and our lives and identity has changed.
We're not strangers, aliens or distance anymore, but citizens and saints in the victorious kingdom.
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. (Ephesians 2:19-22 ESV)
Our assurance in life and faith are the implications of Christ and his work.
As we prepare to launch this new church, our identity and measures of success must be rooted and grounded in the reality that this is Jesus' church. We are his, exercising his mission in Ventura, and our primary job and call is to obey Jesus.
In verse 19, Paul says we have to be convinced our identity has changed before we can start living differently. When we try and live counter to our identity its work, it's unnatural and we usually lose our resolve. But, when we are rooted and grounded and form in our understanding of our identity, living then becomes an outflow of what is already happening.
Paul uses a few different words in this verse that are worth unpacking:
Strangers - This was a political and cultural term for someone in a country that had no rights, perk, privileges or protection from the law. They couldn't buy, sell, trade, own property and making a living and supporting family was incredibly difficult! In fact, it was a crucial part to the law God gave to the Israelites as he was establishing his people, and echoed in Hebrews 13:2, where the writer commands us to show hospitality to strangers.
Aliens - This group of people had some rights and protections, but did not have the full version of this under the law. It's one step closer, but not all the way there. In modern times, we can think of someone who has legally immigrated to America -- they have rights and protections, but are not allowed to do certain things, like run for president.
Citizens - Citizens are where it's at! This was the golden ticket. If you were a citizen of a kingdom, you had full access to the right and protections of that nation. There is a great example of this with Paul:
Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” And as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, the tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging, to find out why they were shouting against him like this. But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” When the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.” So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.” So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him. (Acts 22:22-29 ESV)
Everything changed when they found out Paul was a Roman citizen! He had rights, protections and perks as a citizen of Rome. Paul wants this type of picture in our minds when we think of God. As followers of Jesus, we have full rights and access and protection in this kingdom.
Members of his household - The last descriptor Paul uses goes beyond citizens, with full rights and protections, but to members of his household. What's the difference? The difference is the king of s kingdom does not love his citizens -- why should he? But the head of the household, loves his members. We have been welcomed into an identity far beyond just belonging to a new kingdom, but we have been adopted into a new family. And the expression of the family on earth is Jesus' church.
Verse 20-21 tells us this family is build on Jesus as the cornerstone and on the apostles and prophets. The cornerstone in any building, especially in the time Paul was writing, was the one stone that not only provided structure and stability, but it ensured longevity and alignment to the whole structure. The church is built on Jesus, and he provides the mission, he provides the stability, he provides the guidance and we are in submission to him.
Jesus as our cornerstone, we are bound together in holy and covenantal membership to his local expression of family here on earth.
And finally, in verse 22, Paul says that this expression of God's family on earth, the church, is the dwelling place of God. We are the temple, corporately. Which means, as part of our Christian life, belonging to a church, a local expression of God's family here on earth, isn't optional.
Christ and his people are package deal. You can't have one without the other. This is how Jesus choose to not only extend his family, but to further his mission.
Meditating / Journaling
As you are considering these truths, read and meditate through all of Ephesians chapter 2. Read through it three times, each time a little slower and ask the Lord what he wants to teach you.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 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. 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. 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. (Ephesians 2 ESV)
Once you have read through the chapter, spend some time reflecting and praying on:
- Your former self
- Your current identity
- What Jesus did to grant you a new life
- What belonging to a household of God looks like
- How Jesus is shaping you to play a part in his mission of bringing people back to himself.