Monday, March 12, 2012

Don't Be Yourself

“So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness” (Ephesians 4:17-19).

Do not walk like Gentiles. Given Paul’s further description, this seems to be a good admonition to the saints. However, it also seems a little awkward and maybe even rude when we consider those to whom Paul is writing:
  • “, Gentiles in the flesh” (2:11).
  • “...I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles...” (3:1).

You Gentiles, don’t walk like Gentiles. In counterpoint to the advice we get from the world (especially our children in their media programming), Paul tells the Gentiles not to be themselves, not to be true to themselves, not to be who they really are, etc., ad nauseum, blah blah blah.

Who are they to be, then? The key is found in that phrase I’ve already cited, “Gentiles in the flesh.” Let’s look at the rest of that sentence: “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” (Ephesians 2:11,12). “Gentiles in the flesh” (compare with the similar phrase “Israel according to the flesh” in 1 Corinthians 10:18 in an older translation to get an accurate rendering of the Greek Ισραήλ κατά σάρκα) was what they were formerly. Have they been changed in the flesh? No, but they have been changed. One of my favorite words in Scripture is “but.” After the description of their former state, these Gentiles are told, “but now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13).

Whereas they “were at that time separate from Christ,” they are now “in Christ Jesus.”
Whereas they were “strangers to the covenant of promise,” they are now “fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel” (3:6) and are “sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise” (1:13).
Whereas they had “no hope,” now they have been “called in one hope of [their] calling” (4:4).
Whereas they were “without God in the world,” now they can proclaim this beatitude over Him in Christ: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (1:3,4).

I left one out, didn’t I?

Whereas they were “excluded from the commonwealth of Israel,” they are do we end this construction? Well, I suppose we must complete it like we completed the others: Whereas they were “excluded from the commonwealth of Israel,” they are “no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens” (2:19). In Christ these Gentiles went from being “excluded from the commonwealth of Israelto being “fellow citizens” with Jews in Christ. Fellow citizens. Not second-class citizens. Not naturalized citizens as opposed to natural-born citizens. Fellow citizens. According to the flesh they are still Gentiles, unmarked in the flesh with the old covenant mark of covenant membership, but Paul calls them “citizens.” Did they receive this mark in the flesh making them part of the true Israel? No. Those that have the old covenant mark are “the so-called ‘Circumcision,’ which is performed in the flesh by human hands” (2:11). The ones who are really citizens of the true Israel are those who have been marked not in the flesh, but in the spirit. The ones who are really citizens of the true Israel are those who have been marked not by human hands, but by God the Holy Spirit. These are true citizens of Israel (not the “Israel according to the flesh”). These are the ones who are truly Jews: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God” (Romans 2:28,29).

I don’t think we appreciate how much Paul re-defines what was (and still is to many, many people) perceived as reality. In the Bible before Christ there were two categories of race or ethnicity in the world: Jew and Gentile. After Christ there are three: Jew, Gentile, and the Church. Those in Christ are neither Jew nor Gentile, but are “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15)...a new eternal race, a revealing of the true Israel of which the “Israel according to the flesh” was just a foreshadowing or symbol. (By the way, if the Gentiles in Christ are no longer Gentiles according to the flesh, then the Jews in Christ are no longer Jews according to the flesh – Jew and Gentile in Christ are both spiritual Jews, which should cause us to carefully consider how we insist the old covenant promises to the Jews/Israel are to be fulfilled.)

Hey Gentiles, don’t walk like Gentiles – because you may look like one in the flesh, but you are something so much different now. You are Israel in Christ. Don’t be yourself. Be in Him.

1 comment:

XtnYoda said...

One of these day perhaps we will actually start to realize and live our identity in Christ. Might be in glory before we get there though!
Good study, as always!