From Hostile Exclusion to Unity and Peace
Text: Ephesians 2:11–22
Main Idea: Faith in Christ forever unites us to the person of Christ and the blood-bought community of Christ.
I. Remember Your Hopeless Alienation Apart from Christ (Ephesians 2:11–12)
II. Recognize the Peace that You have Received Through Christ (Ephesians 2:13–18)
III. Recognize that You have been Forever United to the Blood-Bought Community of Christ (Ephesians 2:19–22)
A. There Are No Outsiders or Second-Class Citizens in the Kingdom of God
B. There Are No Orphans or Unwanted Stepchildren in the Family of God
C. There Are no Obstructions or Barriers to the very Presence of God
Good morning, Church. You know, of all the feelings, and desires that we experience as human beings. The longing for genuine acceptance and inclusion is certainly at the top of the list.
- As children we sense the subtle and sometimes blatant ways that our parents treat us in comparison to our siblings.
- As we go off to school and we compete in team sports or participate in the performing arts we quickly learn what it means to be on the outside looking in.
- And the truth of the matter is that the rest of our life is often marked by the very same experience.
Yet, as frustrating and painful as this can be in our everyday life, the NT consistently declares that this shouldnever be our experience in the church. Right? The church is supposed to be marked by love, peace, unity, forgiveness, and humility. Yet all too often, our experience in the church could be described by the common BUT cynical saying, “Church would be great if it wasn’t for all the people.”
Yes, the church can be painful and messy. Yes, the church can behave in ways that are contrary to the gospel. But, these failures do not change the fact (as we saw last week in Matthew 16) that the Church has been sovereignly commissioned to carry out Jesus’ kingdom purposes in the world. Whether we are talking about:
- The Universal Church: The whole number of the elect that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head.
- The Local Church: A local gathering of those who have come to faith in Jesus Christ.
In fact, as we turn to our passage in Ephesians this morning, Paul wants to awaken our affections for Jesus and especially his church by reminding us of the fact (main idea) Faith in Christ forever unites us to the person of Christ AND the blood-bought community of Christ. A community in which every barrier that could ever divide us as human beings is obliterated by the cross-work of Jesus Christ and our new, supernatural identity as his people.
And to emphasize the utterly stunning nature of this new community Paul turns (in Eph 2:11–22) to his non-Jewish Christian audience in Ephesus (Gentiles) and calls them to:
- Remember their Hopeless Alienation Apart from Christ (Ephesians 2:11–12)
- Recognize the Peace that they have Received Through Christ (Ephesians 2:13–18)
- Recognize that they have been Forever United to the Blood-Bought Community of Christ (Ephesians 2:19–22)
And he does this because he wants them to see what it truly means to belong to the people of God.
Remember Your Hopeless Alienation Apart from Christ (2:11–12)
The Big Picture
Now, without a doubt these verses paint an incredibly bleak picture. But, before we press into these verses, we need to understand how they contribute to Paul’s overall argument in chapter two. Because the logical conjunction “therefore” in verse 11 is pointing us to the fact that verses 11–22 are intimately connected to Paul’s exposition of the gospel in verses 1–10.
The gospel declares that every human on the face of the planet (Jew and Gentile alike) are destined for God’s wrath because they are sinners by nature and choice. Yet, God in his mercy, grace, and love raised us from spiritual death to life that we might be saved through faith in Jesus Christ.
Therefore, the key aspects of the gospel that Paul is emphasizing in these verses is that God rescues individual humans from eternal wrath and restores them to himself through faith in Jesus Christ. Or to put it another way, Paul’s focus in these verses is the expressly “vertical” restoration of individual humans (both Jews and Gentiles) to a right relationship with God through faith in Christ.
Yet as Paul transitions to verses 11–22, he narrows his focus to the Gentile church members in Ephesus. Because he wants them to grasp the gospel truth that their “vertical” restoration to God forever unites and reconciles them “horizontally” to the very people they used to hate (11–22)
Who You Were
So as we turn our attention to these first two verses I want you to see that Paul wants these Gentile Christians to “remember” two unique but interrelated aspects of their life before Christ.
In verse 11 he wants them to remember the “horizontal” hostility and alienation that used to define Jews – Gentile interactions. They didn’t hang out, they didn’t have each other over for dinner. And for the most part this animosity was driven by the Jews sense of ethnic superiority, in that, they were the only people on the face of the planet that carried the covenant badge and God-given identity marker of circumcision. So to put it plainly, he wants them to remember that Jewish–Gentile relationships were marked by deep seeded animosity and outright racial discrimination.
Yet, as we turn to the second call to “remember” in verse 12, Paul wants his Gentile readers to recognize the sobering truth that they were not just alienated from ethnic Jews. No, as Gentiles they were hopelessly alienated from the genuine blessings that Israel possessed as God’s covenant people!
They were separated from Christ (the promised Messiah). And why were they separated? They were separated because they had never participated in the covenant life of Israel and they did not know the Scriptures. And as a result they, had no knowledge of, and therefore no hope in, the coming Messiah.
They were excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise. Don’t miss this, under the Old Covenant, there were real, tangible advantages to being a Jew. God revealed himself to the Jews and actively dwelt among them in both the tabernacle and in the temple. He gave them his law by which they should live and through which he poured out tangible blessings upon the people of Israel.
This is why, the Gentiles were without hope and without God in the world.
But, Paul doesn’t leave them in the past does he? No. He wants them to remember their true condition apart from Christ so that they can grasp their newfound privileges and peace that they received through Christ.
Recognize the Peace that You have Received Through Christ (2:13–18)
Vertical Peace: (2:13)
Did you notice why Paul wanted his Gentile readers to remember their past? It’s not to stir up hatred and animosity. No. It’s to help the see the dramatic contrast between their old life and new life in Christ! They were separate from Christ, alienated from God’s covenant people Israel, and had no objective grounds for hope in the world. But now everything has changed, and it is only because they are “in Christ” and have been “brought near” by the blood of Christ. See while this phrase “in Christ” is part and parcel of our Christian vocabulary, it’s important that we grasp is true significance. What I mean by this is that “in Christ” is not merely a synonym for our faith in Christ or another way to say that we are now Christians, though these concepts can never be separated from it.
Rather, Paul consistently uses this term “in Christ” to denote the believer’s profound, dynamic bond with Christ that not only defines our present experience of the risen Christ and his blessings, but reaches back to our actual participation in his death, resurrection, and heavenly exaltation.
Romans 6:1–4 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Ephesians 2:5–7 even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Did you catch that? If you are in Christ, you have died with Christ and been raised with Christ and and seated in the heavenly places with Christ! To be a Christian is not to simply join a new religious group, take on a new set of religious beliefs, nor is it merely the means that we find personal forgiveness of sins. No, at its core, Christianity is entering into a living, active, intimate union with the resurrected Jesus Christ himself.
This is the dramatic change between the Old and New Covenant. Under the Old Covenant system the only way that a Gentile proselyte could “come near” (or enter into a relationship with God and enjoy his promised blessings), was by joining the physical community of Israel and by taking the physical mark of the covenant. But in the new covenant, Jews and Gentiles alike are “brought near” and are able to enter into a relationship with God and enjoy his promised blessings through faith in Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 2:8–9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Yet, as we transition to verses 14–18 we quickly discover that this new “vertical” relationship with Christ is purposed toward an entirely new “horizontal” relationship with every other person in the world who has come to faith in Jesus Christ.
Horizontal Peace (2:14–18)
What does Paul want us to know about this peace that we experience in Christ? He wants us to know that it is not restricted or confined to our vertical relationship with God in Christ, but that it necessarily extends to our horizontal relationships in the blood-bought community of Christ (the church). And in the immediate context we can see that he is clearly thinking about the historical animosity between Jews and Gentiles because he goes on to explain the two means by which Jesus achieved this peace in verse 14. “He has made us both one AND has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.”
Notice, the first thing that Paul wants his readers to see is that there are not two ways to salvation: the Jewish way and the Gentile way. He wants them to see that there is only one way, and that it is inextricably anchored in the cross-work of Jesus Christ. And in this, he wants them to see that Jesus brings peace not by forcing Gentiles to become religious Jews or by requiring religious Jews to adjust their standards for believing Gentiles. No, he brings peace between the two parties by creating an entirely new community —one community— out of everyone who is united to him by faith. This is how Christ is building his Church. In fact, our union is so close and intimate that Paul goes on to portray the it as a single body (2:16). And why is this the case? It’s because these Jews and Gentiles have been united, by faith, to the unifying Savior, Jesus Christ.
Yet, this very affirmation instantly presses us into the means by which Jesus achieved this peace and is building his Church: He destroyed the greatest barrier to their unity— the OT Law. As Clinton Arnold helpfully explains in his commentary on Ephesians:
The law was like a fence that separated the Jewish people from their Gentile neighbors. In fact, this fence, or dividing wall, was symbolically represented in the temple by a literal wall that not only separated “the court of the Gentiles” from the expressly Jewish inner courts. But even more, it prohibited Gentiles from drawing near to the very location that God mediated his presence to his people—the Holy Place. And as such, it was a constant reminder that they were outsiders and at best, second-class citizens among the people of God.
But, at this point it’s also important to see that Jesus did not simply discard the Old Covenant because it was a point of ethnic snobbery and religious discrimination. Not in the least bit! He abolished the law (15) and killed the hostility (16) by fulfilling the Old Covenant in his perfect life, unjust death, and inaugurating the long-promised New Covenant in his glorious resurrection and ascension (Matthew 5:17).
Notice, what Paul is saying here: There are not two saving covenants nor are there are not two distinct groups of saved peoples. And the fundamental reason is for this is that there are not two ways to salvation. Jews needed the cross and Gentiles needed the cross. Yet, when Jesus died on the cross to remove the enmity between God and Jew and between God and Gentile he did not leave us as we were. He didn’t leave us as two groups of people. No. He reconciled us to himself AND to one another in this supernatural body or community called the church.
This is the radical change that is bound up in our conversion. On the one hand it’s deeply personal and experiential. And, on the on the other hand, it forever transforms our social identity and inter-personal relationships within the community of Christ.
Now, Paul could have stopped here but he didn’t. And I think that is because he wanted the Ephesian church and the church of every age to grasp the astounding social implications of their union with Christ (i.e., “So then”). And he does it through a quick-fire presentation of three unique but inter-related images: citizenship, family, and the temple.
And it in these three images we are able to see what it really means to be united to the Community of Christ.
Recognize What it Really Means to be United to the Community of Christ (2:19–22)
Now, we could spend another 25 minutes unpacking the biblical and historical content of these images. But, for the sake of time, I’ve decided boil down each of these images into a principle that will help you better grasp their hostility-quenching, hope-giving, unity-bringing implications in your everyday Christian life.
There Are No Outsiders or Second-Class Citizens in the Kingdom of God (2:19a)
When Paul says, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints; he is saying that “in Christ:” You are a citizen of the Kingdom of God and you now belong to the people of God. And unlike your earthly citizenship, this citizenship was not decided by the place of your birth or your ethnic heritage. Nor did you receive it, like Israel, by an ancient covenantal alliance. No. Each of you (Jew and Gentile) received it through faith in Christ.
And as a result of this, you are no longer on the inside looking out OR the outside looking in. No, you have a new king and new passport that declares you are a full-fledged citizen of his kingdom with every right and privilege of citizenship. NO barriers. NO conditions. NO exceptions.
See, as sinful humans we are constantly prone to look up to OR down upon our fellow citizens. But, when we do this we are completely missing the fact that no one comes into the kingdom with second-class papers. And this is because everyone becomes a citizen by the very same means— the precious blood of Jesus Christ.
But, lest we get hung up on the idiosyncrasies of citizenship, Paul quickly transitions to the relational intimacy of the nuclear family.
There Are No Orphans or Unwanted Stepchildren in the Family of God (2:19b)
Now as we turn to this picture, I realize that many believers cringe at any mention of the Fatherhood of God or the family of God because they grew up in dysfunctional or abusive homes. And in many ways your past experience colors and redefines the familial promises in this passage. And if that describes you this morning, I want you to grasp the true power of this picture.
Notice, this picture emphasizes a monumental change in status. At one time we did not belong to God’s family BUT now in Christ, we are full-fledged members of the family of God, despite who we were or what we had ever done before he adopted us in Christ. And in addition to this, this picture helps us see that God is not just our boss or our King. He is our Father; a father who doesn’t beat, abuse, or molest his children but lovingly cares for them in every conceivable way. Which means we do not have to compete with our siblings for his love and affection. It’s ours because we are his children. And this, in turn, frees us to truly love and serve our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Friends, do you realize what this really means? It means that you and I have more in common with a believer in Burma, Peru, Ghana, the dirtiest, run-down tenement in Detroit, or the most difficult Christian in our local church than we have in common with our most beloved but unsaved family members. We are united to Christ and the blood-bought family of Christ.
Yet, as we transition to this final picture it gets even better.
There Are no Obstructions or Barriers to the very Presence of God (2:20–22)
Notice, what is the church like in this final picture? It’s like a whole building joined together (verse 21). A building that is nothing less than temple of God himself. And what are you and I in this image? We are like living stones, or the building blocks that comprise this temple. Now, you might be wondering how the image gets better as we transition from the family of God to building blocks in the temple? Well, the key is in verse 22, the temple is the “physical” place where God dwells with his people.
Let’s take a few minutes to trace the biblical-theological development and significance of the temple.
In the Old Testament, the temple was the place where God dwelt in his Shekinah glory and met with sinners. It was the center of public worship. It was the place of sacrifice. It was the place where the Passover lamb was slaughtered. It was the place where the high priest once a year took the sacrificial blood into the Most Holy Place to atone for Israel’s sin in the very presence of God.
Yet as we transition to the New Testament, God’s glory is not radiating from the temple in Jerusalem is it? No, it’s present in the person of Jesus Christ. As the Gospel of John declares, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt (tabernacled) among us” (John 1:14a). And as Jesus himself declared, “Destroy this temple,” referring to his own body, “and in three days I will raise it again.” So we can rightfully say that Jesus himself is the ultimate meeting place between God and human beings. He is our temple. He is our sacrifice. He is our priest.
But, after Jesus ascends to heaven we quickly discover that the temple imagery changes too. The church (as in the people of God) become the temple of God and the very location on this planet where people can come into contact with God. See whereas under the old covenant, God filled the literal temple with his presence (e.g., Isa 6:1; Ezek 43:5), under the new covenant he fills the corporate body of believers with his presence.
In light of this we can say, under the new covenant, believers have a much greater degree of closeness to God than any other people in the history of redemption. And this very closeness is not an occasional experience it is in fact the daily experience of God’s people and the power that binds them together as the church of the living God. It means that if you are in Christ you have intimate access to God in a way that nobody has every had before Christ. This is the kind of intimacy that Jesus brings us.
As we noted at the very beginning this morning: faith in Christ forever unites us to the person of Christ and the blood-bought community of Christ. Now as we have talked about these images and our glorious unity in Christ today, we have not had the opportunity to address the countless passages that exhort us to pursue and maintain this unity (and highlight all the ways that make it difficult for us to actually experience this with one another)… that is a sermon series in itself.
The goal today is to help us see what the church is. If you are a Christian, you belong to:
- A new society in which there are no outsiders or second-class citizens.
- A new family in which there are no orphans or unwanted stepchildren.
- A new temple in which there are no obstacles or barriers to the very presence of God.
Friends this is the church of the living God. And this how God has chosen to accomplish his kingdom purposes in the world.
 Adapted from, WCF §25:1.
 Clinton E. Arnold, Ephesians, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary Series on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 147.
 Benjamin L. Merkle, “Ephesians,” in Ephesians–Philemon, ESV Expository Commentary, ed. Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton, and Jay Sklar (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 48.
 Paul Gardner, Ephesians: Grace and Joy in Christ, Focus on the Bible Commentary (Ross-Shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2007), 60–61.
 Arnold, Ephesians, 157.
 Arnold, Ephesians, 159.
 The following is adapted from: D. A. Carson, “Community and the Cross, Part 1.” in D. A. Carson, D.A. Carson Sermon Library (Bellingham, WA: Faithlife, 2016).
Podcast: Play in new window | Download