“Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded 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 formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:11–13, NASB95)
Paul is writing to a largely Gentile (or non-Jewish) audience. Ephesus, though it had some Jews who had fled there in the face of persecution and possibly for commerce, was a non-Jewish area and the church was made up of those people who reflected the area. These were the ones who were separated from and frequently looked down upon by the Jews (the “Circumcision”) because of their not being Jews (“Uncircumcision”). This distinction of circumcision goes back to a commandment given to Abraham by God after God made him a covenant or promise. This covenant is recorded for us in Genesis 17:1-8 where we read, “Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless. “I will establish My covenant between Me and you, And I will multiply you exceedingly.” Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, And you will be the father of a multitude of nations. “No longer shall your name be called Abram, But your name shall be Abraham; For I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. “I have made you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. “I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”” (Genesis 17:1–8, NASB95)
But God also told Abraham that the people needed to respond in keeping that covenant. We go on to read that they were to be marked as children of the covenant by all male children being circumcised on the eighth day after their birth. “God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. “This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. “And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. “And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. “A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. “But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”” (Genesis 17:9–14, NASB95) And this became the way of the Jews. They were a special people; chosen and set apart by God. They became the people of the “Circumcision.” And by the time of Christ, those who were not of the circumcision were largely thought to be outside God’s plan even though God had told Abram that he would become the father of many nations.
It was to these non-Jews that Paul wrote and told them that what made them different was not something that man did to mark his body, but something that Christ did to mark them for eternity. At one time they did not know the God of Abraham. They had no interest in Him, nor did they have any expectation of receiving anything from Him. They were outsiders who had no hope, being alienated and without God.
He went on to say, “But now in Christ….” These believers who lived apart from Israel, apart from the God of Israel, and apart from the promise to Israel were still people loved by God. When God made man and placed him in the garden there was no need for the covenant. Man was created to have a regular, intimate relationship with Him. But man sinned and became spiritually dead and separated from God. A chasm was created and God put man out of the garden. Then as Scripture goes on to record, there were those who God found faithful, but for the most part man continued to be exceedingly evil.
In putting man out of the garden God did not do so without also making the promise that He would step in to intervene and conquer the evil that had come between them. His process for doing this was by choosing Abram (Abraham) through whom a people would be born who would be shown His mercy and through whom God would eventually even bring to them a Savior. Yet, it was this very Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord that they rejected and had crucified, only to rise again on the third day. It was this Savior who was sent not only to bring salvation to the Jews who believed, but to all of mankind of whom these Gentiles in Ephesus were a part.
The Father’s plan was reveled in the Son that through Him, the Son, that all men will be saved; that God’s salvation would spread to all of the nations, resulting in those who had once been far off being brought close. The Gentiles didn’t do anything special to deserve God diverting His attention to them, just as the Jews did nothing special to receive God’s promise in the first place. All of these decisions were ones made by God according to His own counsel. And as a result, every one of them who believed did so because they were the elect of God, chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). Even today, those of us who have been saved by faith have been saved because God chose us and gave us salvation in His Son. We have been brought close to God and enabled to have a relationship with Him because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ who cleanses us from all unrighteousness and His resurrection which gives to us new life. There is not room to think of any of us being more favored, but rather to equally respond to our God with extreme thankfulness as we realize that He is not done and we have no idea who is yet to be drawn near and be saved.
“For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (Acts 2:39, NASB95)