“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:11-22
There was a time in my life when I could fully understand what “being far off” felt like, because I was. Today, I find myself being ever so grateful for grace and that my memory sometimes fails me. I am not saying that I daily feel intimately close to God, but I am saying that I don’t feel alienated from Him any longer. This is perhaps the most tangible expression of God’s grace in my life – the felt nearness of God’s presence. In His presence is where my shame is undone, and I am made whole. So, I can hardly express to you what verse 13 does to the deepest reaches of my soul. I, who was at one point far off and incredibly distanced from God and His presence, have been brought near. You, if you have surrendered your life to Christ, have been brought near. The great divide has been bridged by the blood-stained cross of Jesus Christ. Gentile and Jew alike are welcomed into the fold of God’s family, not because of any adherence to any law nor your ethnic background. The dividing wall of hostility has been broken down. Immediate access to the divine has been granted, for you and for me.
I don’t know what this does for you, but it about causes me to jump out of my chair and my heart to beat right out of my chest. How much of our world, our existence, and even the church are marked by hostility? One can hardly watch the evening news without instantly becoming either fearful or depressed by the onslaught of violence and the overwhelming expressions of the depravity of man. It is as if our world is in love with sin, rebellion, and hatred. And despite what we “well-behaved” Christians might be tempted to believe, this hostility is very present within the walls of the church. We argue, fight, dispute, split hairs, and divide over many things that could be overlooked if we would choose to be defined by love instead of our theological views, or quite frankly, our preferences. Don’t get me wrong, I am adamant about knowing God’s Word, the accurate interpretation of it, and the correct application of it, probably more than most. However, if the first church could find peace and unity over the most difficult theological debated issue of their time (circumcision), we can do the same in ours.
Why? Because much of our frustrations are rooted in preference. Think about it. We prefer certain expressions of worship and teaching styles over others, so when we come up against such things that aren’t our personal preference, we throw Scripture at what we deem our opposition (which is more often than not taken out of context), and we walk away, thus creating a deeper and wider divide within the body of Christ. How much of these things could we choose to roll off to God, and move forward in unity and peace? I think much.
As hard as it might be for you to remember your B.C. days, reflect on them for just a moment. Think about how “far off” you once were from God, simply because you had not yet received the free gift of grace that God was extending to you. In the midst of your sin and all out rebellion against God, He rushed to your side and called you out of it all. He brought you near, despite your filth, your past, and your baggage. He didn’t tell you to clean up first before redeeming you. He simply called you His own. All of us that are in Christ, very different from one another, have been welcomed into the household of God, undeserving but welcomed.
Therefore, who are we to determine who is allowed in the club? Who are we to set the criteria for salvation, when God already did? Who are we to add to the obedience that God calls us to? To assume the right to determine such things exposes a few things in us:
One, we don’t fully understand grace. If we did, we would long to have it poured out on everyone, not withheld.
Two, we haven’t really embraced grace for ourselves. Those who are quick to draw lines in the sand and determine who is excluded are typically the ones that haven’t been able to grasp the beautiful reality of God’s grace for themselves.
Three, we love rules more than we love Jesus. Rules are good in their place, but elevating them over the love of Christ is nothing more than legalism.
So, to all the Ragamuffins: Keep clinging to Jesus. His love for you is far greater than any stain in your past.
And to all the Pharisees: Rest in Jesus. All of your “doing” isn’t getting you one step closer to Him. He already ran to your side.
To everyone of us: In Christ, we all have been brought near. What a gift. What a blessing. What undeserved favor. What lavish grace.