The Gospel and Race

Ephesians 2

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
February 2019

Our passage for today is Ephesians 2:11-22.  Today, we come today to a very important topic in our day.  It is extremely relevant to us today for a number of reasons.  It deals with the topic of race relations and racial reconciliation, bringing together races that hated each other.

This passage is also relevant today to most of us in the church because it is about Gentiles.  Most people in the church today are Gentiles.  They are not Jews.  Paul is specifically talking to them.  What he says to them applies to many Gentiles today.  We will just hit some of the highlights of this passage. It is another one of the passages that contains one of the big buts of the Bible.

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 BUT NOW in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:11-13 NIV)

This passage brings us to the first command or imperative in the book.  It is the word REMEMBER. Paul uses that word TWICE in these verses (Ephesians 2:11-12).  Paul tells them to remember what it was like before they were saved.  Do you remember what it was like before you were saved?  We sometimes forget how bad it was.

It is the second “before and after picture” of salvation, like we see in many advertisements.  There are two of these in Ephesians 2.  The first one is found in Ephesians 2:1-3.  It is a before and after picture of all unsaved people (Jew and Gentile).  The second one is found in Ephesians 2:11-12.  It is a before and after picture just of Gentiles.

God does three amazing things in Ephesians 2:11-22.  First, He DESTROYS some things.  He breaks down some walls.  He tears down some walls.  He has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14 ESV).  He has abolished the law of commandments expressed in ordinances (Ephesians 2:15 ESV).  Second,  He BUILDS some things.  He creates in Himself a new man (Ephesians 2:15) and builds a temple (Ephesians 2:19-22), but this building is not made up of bricks but of people. It is made up of living stones (I Peter 2:5).

Third, He also RESTORES some things. He reconciles groups of people that hated each other (Ephesians 2:16).  He brings together groups of people that we alienated to God and alienated to each other. He reconciles these groups in one body on the cross (Ephesians 2:16)

Whenever you study the Bible, you always want to look for key words or terms.  You want to look for words that are repeated. A key term here is the word ‘peace.’  The word “peace” is found four times in just three verses.

14 For he himself is our PEACE, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 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… 17 And he came and preached PEACE, to you who were far off and PEACE, to those who were near. (Ephesians 2:14, 15, 17 ESV)  Jesus does three things in this passage.

1) Jesus MAKES peace (Ephesians 2:15).  Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9) and here He does just that.  He makes peace by his sacrificial death.

2) Jesus PREACHES peace (Ephesians 2:17).  He does not just make peace.  He preaches peace.  He preaches shalom.  He preaches peace to those who are afar and to those who are near.  He preaches peace to Jews and Gentiles.  The Gentiles are afar and the Jews are near.  It is a quote from Isaiah 57:19.

Later in the book, Paul says that the message of Christianity is “the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15).

3) Jesus IS peace.  Jesus does not just make peace and preach peace, He is peace.  He Himself is our peace (Ephesians 2:14).

Last week, we looked at the topic of salvation and the attribute of God that was emphasized is God’s grace.  God is a god of grace.  He is rich in mercy.  In this passage, we learn something else about God.  He is also a God of peace.  Isaiah called Jesus “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

What does that mean?  Does that mean that Jesus is a pacifist?  Does it mean that He is against all war?  No. When Jesus returns from heaven, He will wage war on people (Revelation 19:11).  He will kill people.  His clothes will be stained with the blood of his enemies.  He is the Prince of Peace because He is the one who will finally bring peace to the world.  He will institute a thousand years of peace on the earth (called the Millennium).

Isaiah 57:21 says that there is no peace to the wicked. Jesus is the only one who can bring true peace, deep abiding peace.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27 NIV).

No matter what your circumstances are, He can bring peace to your soul.  In fact, there is no peace apart from Him.  Everything in this passage can only come through Christ.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near BY THE BLOOD OF CHRIST. (Ephesians 2:13 NIV)

and in one body to reconcile both of them to God THROUGH THE CROSS, by which he put to death their hostility. (Ephesians 2:16 NIV)

For THROUGH HIM we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:18 NIV)

Notice that the entire trinity is found in that verse.  It is also found in the last verse of the chapter.  The doctrine of the trinity is all through the Book of Ephesians.

And IN HIM you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:22 NIV)

Ephesians is the great book on the church.  We are going to see four shocking things about the church in this passage that I want to share with.  We are going to see God do four things in this passage.

Ephesians is the book about the church.  We have already learned some things about the church in this epistle.  We learned that Christ is the HEAD of the church (Ephesians 1:22).  We learned that the church is His BODY on earth (Ephesians 1:23).  We learned that the church is saved by GRACE (Ephesians 2:1-10). Now we learn four more things about the church.

Four Characteristics of the Church

1. The church is a place where the most unlikely people are found (Ephesians 2:11-12)

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were FAR AWAY have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13 NIV)

They were not close by but far from God.  The Jews were bad but the Gentiles were even worse.  They were the furthest from God.  The church is the place where you see some of the most unlikely people (former terrorists, former prostitutes, former murderers).  In the church, the worst of sinners can receive salvation.

Paul has already described the total depravity of the human race in Ephesians 2:1-3. The whole race was dead in trespasses and sins, deceived by Satan, depraved, living in disobedience and rebellion and doomed (children of wrath).  Jews were like that and Gentiles were like that but in Ephesians 2:11-12 were will see that, while the Jews were bad, the Gentiles were even worse.  That is hard to imagine.  What could be worse than being dead in sins?

Gentiles Before Salvation

Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope (Ephesians 2:11-12 NLT)

Ephesus was a Gentile church.  Before they got saved, they lived like pagans.  They lived like most people in America live.  How are these Gentiles described?  Paul says five things about them.  They were not only unredeemed, they were unprivileged.  They lacked five spiritual privileges that the Jews had.

1) They were CHRISTLESS

These Gentile Christians right now are with Christ.  In fact, Paul says that they are “in Christ” but before they were saved they were without Christ. They were Christless.  They had no connection to Christ and did not even believe in him.

2) They were STATELESS

They were alienated from the commonwealth of Israel (ESV).  They had no connection to the theocracy.  Commonwealth is a political term.  Some of our states are called commonwealths (Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia).

3) They were PROMISELESS

They were strangers to the covenants of promise (ESV). God did not make a covenant with Gentiles.  He only made a covenant with the Jews.  He did not give the Gentiles divine revelation.  They were not given the law.  God did not speak to them on a mountain.  He did not give them any special promises.

4) They were GODLESS.

That is an interesting term.  The word “atheist” comes from this Greek word (ἄθεοι).  They were not atheists in the sense of the word today.  They worshiped all kinds of gods.  They had many gods but they did not worship the true God and were hostile to the true God.  The worst thing you can say about a person is that he or she is without God.  The worst thing you can say about a nation is that it is without God.  They were without God, not because God removed himself from them but because they removed themselves from God, as J. Vernon McGee points out.[1]

5) They were also HOPELESS.

If you do not have God, then you do not have hope.  Atheism leads to hopelessness.  Hopelessness leads to suicide.  Suicide is the second leading cause of death in America for people between the ages of ten and thirty-four.  It is caused by hopelessness and despair.  They have no hope.  That describes many people in the world today.

Atheists claim that they are not without hope.  They have hope for all kinds of things: hope that they will be financially well off, hope that their kids will be successful, hope that they will be healthy but do they have hope when it really matters?  What happens when the unthinkable happens?

What happens their house burns down?  What happens when their child is brutally murdered? What happens when their spouse suddenly dies? What happens whey they are diagnosed with terminal cancer?  What happens when tragedy strikes, and they cannot turn to other people for the answers or comfort.  They have nowhere to turn.  They are without hope in this world, as Paul says.

Unsaved people are completely hopeless.  They were cut off from God.  They were cut off from the people of God.  They were cut off from the promises of God, the revelation of God.  They are cut off from the comfort of God.  This alienation that the Gentiles experienced was national.  It was social.  It was spiritual.

2. The church is a place where broken relationships can be restored

It is a place where racial reconciliation can take place. God loves to reconcile people.  Now reconciliation is not always possible.  Some people just don’t want to be reconciled.  Paul says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18 NIV)

God is a God of reconciliation.  He loves to reconcile people.  He loves to reconcile them to Himself and to one another.  He has given us a ministry of reconciliation.  The church should be involved in reconciliation.  That is our mission.

18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us THE MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us THE MESSAGE OF RECONCILIATION. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (II Corinthians 5:18-20 ESV)

The church is the place where walls can be broken down, walls between God and walls between people. There are three points here.

First, we build walls between people.

We build all kinds of walls to separate people.  We are not talking about literal walls, walls built for protection that we build to keep us safe.  We are talking about figurative walls, walls of hostilities.  The world is full of them.  We build RELIGIOUS WALLS.  We build POLITICAL WALLS.  Religion separates people. Politics separates people.

Some are liberal and conservative, Democrats and Republicans.  We build ECONOMIC WALLS (rich verses poor, upper class, lower class and middle class).  We also build RACIAL WALLS, walls of skin color (black, white, Asian, Hispanic). Are we building any walls for any people groups?

Second, these walls cause division and hatred

In Paul’s day, the Jews had a disdain for Gentiles.  They were ‘the uncircumcised.”  The Jews called them dogs.  A Jew could not even go to a Gentile’s house without becoming unclean.  The Mishnah said that the Gentiles were created by God to be fuel for the fires of hell. They shook the dust off their feet after traveling in Gentile territory before coming back to the Holy Land, so as not to defile the land.

One side was chosen by God and one side was rejected by God.  The Gentiles did not feel much better about the Jews.  There was mutual animosity.  There is similar animosity between different racial groups today. Does this describe us?  Do we have hatred or disdain for different people groups that we do not like?

Three, the gospel abolishes these walls of division between people groups.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14 NIV)

and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (Ephesians 2:16 NIV)

The only real solution to racial reconciliation is spiritual.  The solution is found in the cross.  Someone said that “True Christian unity isn’t found at a negotiating table, but at the communion table.”[2]  That is the only answer.  You cannot find a lasting political solution.  You have to have a heart change and that can only come because of the cross.

In the Middle East, there are Jews and Palestinians trying to kill each other but you can go inside a church there and find both worshiping side by side.  God did not just put them in the same country but in the same family, members of the same household (Ephesians 2:19)

Jesus reconciles people to Himself and to one another.  The more we are reconciled with Christ, the more we are united with one another.  Many have said that racism is not just a social issue but a gospel issue.

Unfortunately, the church has not always a place of racial reconciliation.  They have often been a place of separation.  Martin Luther king said that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America.  There are black church, white churches, Hispanic churches and Asian churches.  Racism has even crept into the church.  Many Christians throughout history have been anti-semitic (Luther).  Some have even used to the Bible to support and justify slavery.

When Paul wrote this, there was a wall in the temple which excluded Gentiles.  They could go into the court of the Gentiles but there was a wall that separated the Court of the Gentiles from the Court of the Women.  There was a sign on the wall which said, “No foreigner may enter within the barrier and enclosure round the temple. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.”

Archaeologists have found this sign on the temple.  It was not written in Hebrew.  It was written in Latin and Greek.  It was a warning to Gentiles.  The sign did not say that prosecutors would be prosecuted.  It said that they would be killed.

Christ abolished this wall of hostility.  Gentiles now have free access to God.  In fact, about twenty years after Paul wrote this, the Romans came and destroyed the Temple, so the wall no longer exists.

3. The church is the place where God does something brand new

His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace (Ephesians 2:15 NIV).

In the church, God does something brand new.  He does something that he did not do in the OT.  The church is not in the OT.  It started at Pentecost.  The new thing God created is the church.  It is called “the new man” (ESV) or “new people” (NLT).  How did He do it?

He did NOT do by taking the Gentiles and turning them into Jews.  He did not do it by taking Jews and turning them into Gentiles.  He did it by talking Jews and Gentiles and making a new group of people called the church. It is like a new race, a third race.

Before the cross, there were two groups of people and only two (Jew and Gentile).  After the cross, there are three groups of people (Jew, Gentile and Christian).  Everyone in the world, falls into one of these three groups.

31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God (I Corinthians 10:32 NIV)

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 NIV)

He made the two groups one (Ephesians 2:14).  He did not erase all of their ethnic or racial differences.  He did not change their skin color.  God did not eliminate the differences between man and woman but they are both one in Christ.  Their identity as Jew or Gentile is secondary to their identity in Christ.

4. The church is the place where God dwells

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:20-22 NIV)

The old Jewish temple is long gone but God is not dwelling in a building today.  He is dwelling inside people and this building is growing. Every time a person gets saved, the building gets bigger.  You and I are part of that building.  Not only are individual questions part of that building (our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit), the entire church collectively is part of that building.“The purpose of the church as a temple is to reveal the presence and glory of God on earth.”[3]

[1] J. Vernon McGee, Ephesians, 82.


[3] J. Vernon McGee, Ephesians, 89.

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