Speaking primarily to the gentile component (“you” as opposed to “we”), Paul now begins to unfold the divine mystery. Reared on Hebrew interpretations, he shared the typical Jewish perspective on Gentiles, the people outside the covenant with Israel. He reminds them that they were previously dead in transgressions and sins. Before coming to Christ they followed the ways of this world, under the influence of the spirit now working in those who disobey God. In fact, all, even believing Jews, once lived in trespasses and sins, gratifying the cravings of the sinful nature [niv fn. “our flesh”] and following its desires and thoughts (cf. Ro 7:14-20). Before accepting the Gospel by faith, all persons are by nature objects of wrath (cf. Ro 3:9, 23). Whatever advantages there were to being a Jew (cf. Ro 3:1-2; 9:1-5) were lost amid the reality of universal sinfulness.
However, in spite of their transgressions, God brought the dead to life (cf. Ro 6:3-4). Not only was righteousness imputed, but spiritual life was imparted. Surely this was an act of grace. (Notice Paul's emphasis on grace in this entire paragraph.) Moreover, in Christ's exaltation, believers were seated in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. Whereas in 1:20-21 this exaltation to universal authority is bestowed upon Jesus, here Paul includes believers in the granting of authority even as he includes them in the Resurrection. If Christ's resurrection is theirs, then Christ's exaltation must also be theirs. The purpose: that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace. A king who buys a beggar a new coat demonstrates altruism; making him coruler shows grace. Christians have a rags-to-riches story: though born spiritually depraved, they now reside in a throne room. How magnificent God's grace is, as shown us in Christ Jesus! In the denouement of salvation history, Paul suggests, those who rule with Christ will uniformly testify: “I was once a sinner, but I came, pardon to receive from my Lord.” And for emphasis, Paul repeats himself: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith” (in Jesus as God's condition for your salvation). The power to believe is God-given, but one must use the God-given power (Clarke, 6:430) or it is of no effect.
If salvation were by works, by effort, or by obeying the law, there would be justification for human boasting, since some would be more obedient, more industrious, and more precise than others. Those born with an advantage could utilize, even flaunt, that advantage. The truth is, however, that human redemption is not brought about by works, so there is no room for boasting.
At the same time, all believers must realize that they are designed in Christ Jesus to do good works. Wesley emphasized that predestination relates to outcome: to be children of God, to rule with Christ, to attain to the measure of the fullness of Christ, to do good works (Wesley, Notes, 489, 492). Even before creation God prepared in advance for believers to follow after good works as an expression of their love of God and their appreciation for divine grace.
Now returning to the theme of the chapter, the unique nature of the new community, Paul resumes his discussion of the Gentiles' condition prior to their faith in Christ. He asks them to remember that formerly they were Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by Jews who practiced circumcision by the hands of men. How could Gentiles ever forget that they stood outside the covenant made with Israel? Only on rare occasions could Gentiles participate in covenant observances. Had they wanted to join with Israel, the barriers were indeed great. In that condition, before the Gospel, they were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise. How desperate the Gentiles' condition, according to the Jews. Gentiles were aliens, unable to apply for citizenship, excluded, and thus without spiritual rights. They were, therefore, without hope. Even worse, they were without God in the world, alone, bereft, drifting. Without access to the rituals of the Hebrew faith, what prospect for salvation did they have?
Surely the Gentiles needed a miracle if they were to be saved. Who could remove the obstacles to God for them? Who could offer them access to grace and salvation? Was there any possibility that they, too, might assume the throne, or were they always to be without hope?
In God's plan and in God's time, provision was made. Through the blood of Christ those who once were far away have been brought near. Access has been provided through Christ, the believer's peace. The shalom of the ancient covenant finds its fulfillment in God's designated Messiah, who has broken down the wall that separated them, a wall of hostility greater than the actual barrier in the Jerusalem temple that divided it into gentile and Jewish sections.
How did Christ destroy the barrier? He did so by abolishing the commandments and regulations that even Jews had not “been able to bear” (Ac 15:10). In doing so, Jesus created in himself one new humanity out of the two peoples, one circumcised and the other not. In creating this new humanity he established peace, reconciling to God through the cross both those who thought of themselves as citizens and those considered aliens. Therefore, through Jesus the Christ, Gentiles and Jews alike have access to God by one Spirit. This is, indeed, a unique community. Nonexclusive, it encompasses the entire race.
Consequently, Gentiles are no longer foreigners and aliens. Now they are fellow citizens with God's earlier people, spiritual Israel (cf. Ro 9:6), and members of God's household in the kind of relationship that only family can know. This conjoined community is established on the teachings of the apostles and prophets, and built around Jesus, the chief cornerstone. Once rejected by human kingdom builders (Ps 118:22; Lk 20:17), Jesus now has joined together the whole building, like a holy temple in which God lives. In Christ, believing Jew and believing Gentile are being built together into the magnificent structure over which Christ rules as Head. Where, Paul must have wondered, is there such a human institution? Apart from Christ, how can the church be explained?
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