Tyler David speaks on Ephesians 2:11-18
Series: The Book of Ephesians
Paul has been unpacking the amazing realities God has given His people. Not once has he given us a command, but has only described what God has done and all the spiritual and eternal blessings given to the people of God. He has gone into how these blessings came to a sinful people like us who were dead in sin but were raised to life through Jesus. All God had been doing was based on grace, not works.
However, then we get to chapter 2, verse 11. Here Paul gives the first command; the command to remember.
We are to remember what our lives were like before we knew Jesus.
There’s so much power in remembering, contemplating, and considering what our lives used to be like. It gives fuel and power to our love for God.
This is true in any relationship. If you remember what your life was like before that person you love was in your life, thinking about how things used to be versus how they are now, it grows your love and appreciation for that person.
This is a good exercise for me to do in my marriage. My wife and I could not be more opposite. She tends to be quiet, meek, likes hanging out by herself, while I tend to be loud, bold, and around people. One of the distinct differences is that she really cares about how things feel. She wants a living room to feel warm and birthdays to feel special. This isn’t the way I see the world. I rarely go into a room and think how it doesn’t feel warm. As we’ve grown together, I’ve learned to appreciate and value these things about her, particularly this last Christmas.
We had just finished opening presents and were drinking coffee and talking. I looked around and noticed all the decorations. It felt special. I began to remember what this would have been like if I had planned it. There would have been a Christmas tree and that’s it. It wouldn’t have been as special. My remembering made me appreciate and love her more in that moment.
Remembering produces love, appreciation and gratitude for how things are now.
This was Paul’s aim. He wants you to consider who you were before you knew Jesus so you would marvel at who you are now. Consider how bleak things were, how desperate and hopeless things were, so that you can marvel at the spilled blood of Jesus for you.
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— 12 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. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 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, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. Ephesians 2:11-18 (ESV)
Paul was addressing the Gentile, the non-Jewish, part of this church. If you were not a Jew, then you were a Gentile. In the Old Testament there were two groups of people, the Jews and Gentiles. Israel was a special people to God who He set apart for Himself. God gave special revelation, grace, and things to Israel that He didn’t give to the rest of the world. They were a unique people in the story of God’s redemption. Everyone else was a Gentile.
They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. Romans 9:4-5 (ESV)
The Jewish people had always played a central part in God’s story. Jesus Christ Himself was ethnically Jewish. His apostles were Jewish. The first followers of Christ were all Jewish. Once God began to save the Gentiles, people believed the Jews to be godlier. Even though both groups believed in Christ, both began to think Jewish people and culture must be superior. Gentiles must have been an afterthought.
Paul made it abundantly clear God has saved both Jew and Gentile through the same means and with the same access to the same Spirit, Savior, and Father.
He also wanted the Gentiles to remember what their lives looked like before they knew Christ.
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— 12 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. Ephesians 2:11-12 (ESV)
Paul told them twice to remember. They had not always had the love and grace of God. All the promises given in the Old Testament, including the ones about a coming Messiah, had been given to Israel, not to them. There was nothing they could do to change their status.
We were separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, “having no hope and without God in the world.”
This is a massive claim of a very grim reality. You and I read it and just gloss over it. But Paul wants us to sit in the reality that we had zero hope and God was absent from us. This is the state of every human being before God without Christ, whether Jew or Gentile.
Does, “without God in the world,” mean God was absent from us completely? It’s important to understand the nuance of this statement. If we don’t, we’ll miss the weight of it.
Paul doesn’t mean there are people and places where God is not. We know clearly that He is everywhere. One of His character traits is being omnipresent; He’s everywhere, all the time. We also know God is in the world in various ways for both believers and non-believers.
God displays His glory through creation. Believers and non-believers alike can see God in the world through His creation. The awe you feel when you look at a mountain range or sunset is from seeing the glory of God, whether you believe in Christ or not.
The heavens declare the glory of the God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Psalm 19:1 (ESV)
Every good and perfect gift is ultimately from God. Every gift in your life came from God, whether you believe in Christ or not.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James 1:17 (ESV)
Every single human being bears the image of God. This is true whether they’re a believer in Christ or not.
“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. Genesis 9:6 (ESV)
In all of these ways, God is in the world with non-believers and believers. If God was in the world with us when we didn’t believe in Christ what does Paul mean when he says, “having no hope without God in the world”?
God was not present with us as our eternal heavenly Father.
Often there’s a phrase tossed around that says, “We are all God’s children no matter your faith or background.” The sentiment is right, in that we’re all image bearers of God, but we’re not all God’s children. Before we knew Christ, God was not our heavenly Father. Yes, He gave us good gifts. Yes, He gave us His image. Yes, He gave us His glory through creation. But He was not there as our loving heavenly Father. He was there as our Creator, holding us together.
We were hopeless before Christ, because without Him we weren’t children of God and God’s promises are only for His children. The promise is that death won’t have the final word it will only be gain. The promise is of a new heaven and earth to forever enjoy with no death, pain, sin or suffering, with new bodies. These promises are only for His children.
Without Christ we didn’t have access to those promises. He wasn’t our Father. Our sin had separated us from Him. We were hopeless and the only promise we had was the promise of God’s coming judgment for our sin. This is everyone’s state, no matter what our life looks like before Jesus.
We are hopeless without God as our loving Father.
If you’ve trusted in Christ and believe in the gospel, take a second and remember what you were like before. How did you view yourself? What were your relationships like? How did you deal with sins, shame, and insecurities? Can you remember what it was like to not have His love and forgiveness and to be in that hopeless state?
As I thought about this, the word that kept coming up to describe me was self-loathing. Before I knew Jesus, I hated being me. I would dream about when I would be different. I would beat myself up. The only way I could deal with it was try to get better. I would try to make more friends, be funnier, wear better things, and try to fix myself in such way that I would finally be happy only to come to the conclusion that I still hated being me.
I didn’t know the unconditional love of God. I didn’t know what forgiveness for my sins felt like. All I could do was heap shame upon more shame and be frustrated that I could never be somebody different.
We are to remember those days. But we aren’t to stop there. The purpose of remembering is to marvel at the blood of Christ for us.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 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, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. Ephesians 2:13-18 (ESV)
Jesus entered our godless, hopeless lives and brought us near. Regardless of your history, we all have the same access to God. What God is doing doesn’t cater to any particular group of people. Both Jew and Gentile have the same access to God. We have the same Spirit, Father, and Savior. There is no special class of Christian or secret sect of people who really know how to find God.
Jesus broke down every barrier to bring us to God. We need to be weary when someone is telling us to try some new plan in order to get closer to God. No new book, or mystical experience, or method of prayer will bring you closer to God.
The Spirit through Christ brings you to God.
There is so much diversity within the church. We all have different stories, gifts, roles, maturity levels and seasons of life, but God has taken the diversity and have made us one.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12 (ESV)
We went from a people who had no hope without God to possessing His Spirit, giving us access to our God as our Father. God did this through Jesus.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 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, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. Ephesians 2:13-16 (ESV)
We are brought near particularly through the spilled blood of Christ on the cross. His death brought us back to God. You’re not brought near by liking His teachings and agreeing to them, or because you really love the Sermon on the Mount. You’re not brought near to God because you respect Him as a leader and you consult Him on big decisions in your life. The only way out of our godless and hopeless state was for Jesus to die.
You’re brought near to God by trusting in Jesus’ death for you.
The Gentiles were not brought into the people of God because they started obeying the law, or because they were better than the Jews. They needed what we needed; someone to die for them. The One who rules the universe, this Jesus who reigns over everything, still has holes in His hands.
Jesus is the crucified and risen Christ.
When He was on the cross, He embraced our former life. He had no hope without God in the world. On the cross, God was with Jesus, but not as His loving heavenly Father. He was with Him as the just and righteous judge, punishing Him for our sin. This was the only way back to life, through Jesus’ death.
We have to remember this story.
We are very forgetful people. We tend to see the peace and contentment in our life and think we’ve always had it. But when you remember your life before Christ, you remember that life wasn’t like it is now. You remember how hopeless you were without God and the only promise you had was His judgment coming for your sin.
I could end right here, but as I was working on this sermon this week, I decided there’s one more step to take.
We can and should revel in our amazing salvation, but everyone who is yet to trust in Jesus is still in the hopeless state we were in.
Until your story prompts your heart to break for other people, you don’t fully get it. Not everyone’s story is our story, but they have the same plight we had and if they would just trust in Jesus, they’d get the same access we have, no matter their story or past.
Our hearts should break for those family members who have made peace with their sin, for our neighbors who have everything anyone could want except God isn’t their Father, for the city who loves celebrating all the good gifts God has given us yet doesn’t celebrate the Giver of them.
Our hearts should break for the billions of people on this planet that have no access to hear about the blood spilled to bring them near.
We have to remember who we used to be and remember who we are now. May our remembering produce love, fervency, zeal and passion for God. But may it also make us plead and beg those who don’t know Him to join this life with Christ where all the despair we had is filled with the hope that always abounds.