Read the Passage: Ephesians 2:11-22
Enmity in the Flesh (2:11–13)
In this letter Paul is encouraging the church, exhorting spiritual growth, and fostering Christian community—all by reminding the believers in Ephesus about their identity in Christ. After writing about salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Eph. 2:4–10, as he had done in Eph. 2:1–3, so here in Eph. 2:11–13 Paul again reminded the church about their pre-conversion condition. God does not remember our past sins that have been forgiven (cf. Ps. 103:12; Isa. 43:25; Heb. 8:12)—in the sense of not holding us accountable for them; yet, Paul teaches in this passage that it is appropriate for Christians to remember their pre-conversion lives. This is so, for such recollection will help us to not forget the depth of our sin, the cost of our salvation, and our common identity as forgiven sinners who have been made holy by Christ. When we recollect our sins, we are not to dwell upon them, but to glorify Jesus.
As he exhorts the church toward unity in Christ, Paul reminds the largely Gentile church that in times past those who were not Jews were cut off from God’s unfolding plan of redemption. Indeed, Paul emphasizes the bleak spiritual condition of the un-redeemed Gentiles, writing that they were without Christ, aliens from Israel, estranged from God’s promises, without hope, and without God. While Paul doesn’t give a specific reason why he brought up the distinction between Jew and Gentile in this passage, three possible explanations can be considered: first, there may have been legitimate disunity in the church between the Gentile majority and the Jewish minority; second, false teachers who emphasized keeping Jewish ceremonial laws may have been present in the church and targeting a certain ethnicity; and third, in seeking to emphasize the unity of believers in Christ, Paul appealed to the most obvious of distinctions—that is, the people’s ethnicity.
Equality in the Cross (2:14–18)
In Eph. 2:14–15 Paul writes of the unity that the cross brings to mankind—both a unity of believers with Christ and a unity of believers with each other. In Eph. 2:14 Paul refers to a “middle wall of separation.” This middle wall was a barrier in the Temple that separated the court of the Gentiles from the other areas of the Temple complex. However, through the cross, writes Paul, Jesus has “broken down” (Eph. 2:14) this wall and “abolished . . . the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances” (Eph. 2:15). This “law of commandments contained in ordinances” is a reference to the many civil and ceremonial laws given in the Old Testament. In writing that Jesus broke down the wall and abolished the law, Paul teaches that external religious factors that separated Jews and Gentiles have been done away with by the cross of Christ, making one new people to worship God.
In Eph. 2:16–18 Paul writes about the reconciliation with God made available both to Jews and to Gentiles via Jesus’ atonement. The idea here is that if we realize the gracious forgiveness God has given to us, then we ought to freely forgive others also (cf. Matt. 18:21–35; Luke 11:4). Moreover, the common forgiveness believers have received via the cross of Christ ought to draw them together in the worship of Jesus. This idea of reconciliation is a constant theme in the New Testament (cf. Rom. 5:6–11; 2 Cor. 5:18–21; Col. 1:19–23). In fact, in light of the cross of Christ, Paul taught, “Jesus . . . has given us the ministry of reconciliation. . . . We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:18, 20). Note that John taught love for God necessarily must result in love for neighbor (1 John 4:21).
Unity in Christ (2:19–22)
As he had taught in Eph. 1:5, so here at Eph. 2:19–22 Paul writes that redeemed sinners are not just heavenly citizens, but members of God’s own family. This family is made up of all the redeemed from ages past, present, and future. As Paul notes, this entails those who make up the Body of Christ, including the apostles, the prophets, and even Christ himself. The idea here is that all believers are part of one family, or “one new man” (Eph. 2:15), which is a “holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:21). Just as with the Old Testament Temple, so the Temple of the Body of Christ is “a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22; 1 Cor. 3:16). Recall the encouragement of Heb. 12:1, where the author appealed to this same truth in writing, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race . . . set before us.”
- How does the cross of Christ facilitate reconciliation both with God and among mankind? How ought the cross to impact contemporary racial reconciliation?
- Apart from the church, are there any other contexts or institutions where individuals with such varied backgrounds come together?
- In what ways do personal differences (i.e., ethnic, social, economic, intellectual, etc.) within the church validate the gospel message?
- What benefit is there in remembering our pre-conversion lives? When we arrive in the new heavens and the new earth will we remember our past sins?
- Do you often think of yourself as being part of the corporate Body of Christ or the Temple of God? How important is the idea of unity in Christ (cf. John 17:20–23)?