Thursday, October 22, 2015

United as One Body (Ephesians 2:14-16)

“For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.” (Ephesians 2:14–16, NASB95)

In the early days of the church there was regular division between the Jews and the growing number of  Gentile believers, and there was question as to how they should be treated. Some would have required that they become circumcised and adopt the religious practice of the Jews. Others would keep them at a distance and not fellowship and/or eat together. As all of this mystery of God unfolded there were many who struggled with how to respond. Among them were the apostles chosen by Christ. Acts records for us some of these tensions, especially as they responded to the Jewish Pharisee Saul who had gone from being a persecutor of the Jewish believers (followers of the Way) to becoming a follower of Christ. There were years of mistrust and alienation, but God continued to work, and we have some of this work recorded for us in the Bible. This included the decision of the apostles that while many Jewish believers were to continue their traditions and instructions as a people from God, the Gentile ones were set free to worship without their observance.

What knit them together was the truth that whether Jew or Gentile there was only one way to be saved, and that was by belief in the Son of God sent by the Father to die for their sins, to be buried, and to rise again on the third day. Every single one of these believers was sealed by the same Spirit into one body and brought together as one church. While they may not have practiced this perfectly or understood it clearly, positionally this is who they were—the body of Christ. And just as Saul (now Paul) had spoken before the Jewish believing leadership (Council) of this, he also wrote of this the Gentiles. Every single one of them, and us, were enemies of God set apart because of our sin and rebellion. But Jesus settled this. He made us to be at peace with God by becoming our perfect sacrifice. The demand of God for justice for sin was settled by God as our sin was taken upon His Son. The Father’s wrath was settled by the act of the Son to make us perfectly righteous with His righteousness and to remove the barrier that had existed. We were made to be at peace with God because Jesus is our peace.

And in being our peace; the peace of all who believe and are saved; we are called to live at peace with one another. There is to be no cancer in the body that ravages the body. We are to be wholly unified in Christ. This is who we are, and this is how we are called to live with one another. The dividing line of the Jews who lived under the commandments of God and the Gentiles who lived separate from the Law were was done away with and they were brought together as one in Christ. The division that existed was eliminated in Him. Yet, in practice they needed to be taught this truth and encouraged to live accordingly. This was to be a case of the Word of God shaping the response of man. As believers came to know the truth, the truth changed how they lived. And the truth declared that they were not to live as two, but as one knit together in Christ. Sure, they may have some religious practice differences, but those practices were not to serve as points of division.

Even today we can learn a lot from this instruction of Paul as we consider how we walk with one another. Our culture accuses Christians of being narrow minded and intolerant, and in many ways that can and should be very true. When it comes to salvation in Christ and Christ alone as the Son of God sent by the Father to bring salvation to man through His death, burial, and resurrection we are to be unbending. In this we stand with the inerrant Word of God (Scripture, the Bible) and declare that He is the way, the truth, and the life and that no man comes to the Father but through Him (John 14:6). This is the heart of the gospel and there is no other way to be saved. From there we are to rightly handle God’s truth and let it shape our lives both corporately and individually as we hide His inerrant Word in our hearts, rely on it to direct our steps, and seek to walk with one another in His abundant grace—all with the power that He supplies.

I am reminded of Jesus’ prayer to the Father just before entering the garden to be betrayed. He prayed, “…Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” (John 17:17–23, NASB95)

The world would say that there are many truths, but Jesus prayed that we would be one in the truth which is Him declared through His Word. He prayed that we would live as one people united and sanctified in God’s truth according to His great love.

“Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:14–18, NASB95) 

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