Written By: Crystal Cyr
Based off of: Ephesians 2
In this chapter there is much discussion about the Jews and Gentiles being reconciled and united in the person of Christ. In order to really understand what is being said here we must take a look at the Jewish people’s history. (If hearing the word “history” makes you want to check out, I would encourage you to stick with me because this is good stuff…and yes, I may be slightly biased, but this still holds to be true…trust me. 😉 )
A very brief synopsis of the situation is this; the Jewish people were (and still are) God’s chosen people, they were the ones who first had relationship with, worshipped, and followed Him. Long before Jesus was on the scene God had instructed them on requirements for the temple they were to build for His Presence to live in, which only the priests could enter, and very detailed instructions on how the priests were to make atonement for the sins of the people through the death and blood of a perfect animal. The Jewish people had lived in this way for generations, following very strict, exact rules and regulations set out by God in order for them to hear from Him and meet with Him through the priests. Just check out Leviticus for a taste of some of the many rules set out for them. Fast forward to the New Testament and we see how these rules had led some Israelites to become experts in the law, but to forsake the very heart behind the laws; Jesus called these Pharisees out many times even referring to them as white washed tombs, implying that they looked good on the outside with their knowledge and strict law compliance, but were full of dead rotting corpses inside, meaning their hearts were full of the sin they preached against, pretty harsh, right? Take Paul, the author of Ephesians, for example, before he had a revelation that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah through an amazing encounter with God, He was a devout Jewish leader, persecuting and even killing Christians and was 100% convinced that he was making God happy doing this! Talk about a real deviation from the original plan right?!
Here’s the amazing thing though; God not only knew that this would happen, but he prepared for it to happen. He was waiting in anticipation for the day that he could fulfil the old covenant in the person of his Son Jesus, the perfect, sinless sacrifice for all of our sins, allowing not only Jews but also Gentiles to have free access to Him at any time and at any place. He couldn’t wait to adopt the rest of us into His family! He was wanting to tear down the wall of law and outward religious behaviour that separated us and unite us into one new person.
This is the very message of this scripture; undeserved mercy, and grace, which is the favour of God that destroys the power of sin in our lives, and empowers us to live for Christ. This mercy and grace had absolutely nothing to do with us, but absolutely everything to do with Christ. Our past; accepted, adopted, good, or bad, doesn’t matter, we’re all on even ground at the foot of the cross. Paul was the perfect example of undeserved mercy and grace and a good reminder that it has nothing to do with us and everything to do with Christ. Perhaps today, you find yourself struggling with the same problem that the Jewish Pharisees had developed; doing what you know is the right thing to do on the outside but experiencing no change on the inside in your thoughts and attitudes. Sometimes this can happen so subtle that we don’t even realize we’ve slipped into that place until we find ourselves comparing and either criticizing others by elevating ourselves, or beating ourselves up over our shortcomings; either way, these things are evidence that we have begun to base our identity on our works, rather than on our unchanging position with Christ. This response amounts to nothing more than religion that seeks to earn it’s way to God rather than that of the cross, which is God’s way of reaching out to us. His only requirement now is that we receive and believe Him.
As I reflected on this scripture I was asking the Lord to show me what He was saying in all of this and how it relates to us today. Although this is literally speaking of the Jews and Gentiles as two separate people groups becoming One in Christ, He showed me that these two groups can also be representative of how we can still behave and respond to Him today. This first response being that of pride and outward obedience with no allowance for the transforming power of the Holy Spirit Who transforms us from the inside-out, and the second being like that which is represented by the Gentile group.
The Gentiles were outsiders to the ways and laws of God prior to the cross; they had no idea of the requirements that were in place in order to be considered acceptable to God, nor of the restrictions in place in order to speak to, or come close to God. Today we can read and understand the requirements of the Old Testament and we can know that the forgiveness and acceptance that we have received in Christ is an amazing thing; but we can still find ourselves quickly taking it for granted. This heart attitude puts us into a place of familiarity with the Lord, which is exactly what Paul was cautioning us against.
As I was writing this I read just a few of the end chapters of Exodus and the beginning chapters of Leviticus (I know…riveting right?) which were describing all of the instructions that God had set out in the building of His Tabernacle (the place where He was to dwell) and the instructions for sacrificial atonement. When I finished reading all of this I was struck with a reverence and a deeper revelation of the love of God. Here is why, in the Old Testament only the Priests could enter into the Dwelling Place of God, and the details of when they could enter, and how, right down to every layer of clothing that they had to wear were so specific that if they were not followed correctly they could die in the Presence of God.
The Tabernacle itself was built with careful attention to every detail; God did not miss one thing in the building of it, not one stone. Yet years later, God chose to make the perfect sacrifice for our sins in His Son and then offer His Holy Spirit to live in us…us individually, and us collectively, Jew and Gentile as His Body, His Church, His Dwelling Place, with Christ being the head of us all.
Are you getting this yet? God wanted connection one-on-one with us so much that He completely did away with all of the previous requirements of a beautifully adorned tabernacle of precious jewels and materials to instead live in unperfect, weak, messy, prone-to-sin, and prone-to-wander vessels of flesh and blood. That is incredible love. A Holy, Righteous, Perfect God who deserves to, and could chose to, live anywhere, instead choosing to live in us…a people who had not a chance in the world to meet with Him prior to the Cross.
This revelation caused me to question myself: Have I forgotten what I’ve been rescued from? Have I been blinded to the enormous wall of requirements that Christ tore down for ME to be able to freely walk into His Presence at any time? Have I become so familiar with His Presence that I take it for granted, waltzing in and out like a child would in a Palace of great wealth, getting what I want when I want it and then leaving until I need something else; the whole time utterly unaware of the enormous privilege I’ve been entrusted with?
The good news is that if the answer is yes, than we can simply turn our hearts back to Him and receive His love and restore our connection. So whether you find yourself in the category of going about your religious duties without that heart transformation, or receiving a heart transformation but taking it for granted, today allow the Lord to do what only He can do because each one of us is an important part of His Dwelling Place; not one more important than the other, but each of us a precious living stone in His temple.
“…God is building a home. He’s using us all – irrespective of how we got here – in what he is building…a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.” (Eph 2:19-22 MSG)
Until Next Time,