Having spent the first part of the chapter discussing the ‘vertical’ aspect of salvation and our being made alive in Christ, Paul now moves on to unpack the ‘horizontal’ aspect of our salvation and the reconciliation between people made through the cross.
It is important that we do not miss the racial aspect of the argument being made. Paul is speaking into a context were there was racial division in the church between Jewish and Gentile believers. His objective is to show that through what Christ has done there is no place for this (or any other) division and that we are made one in Christ.
In order to do this, Paul looks at the past experience of both groups, their present reality and their future destiny. In the past, the Gentiles were cut off from God. The law, the covenant and the symbol of circumcision was not given to them. They were without hope and without God. The Jews on the other hand did have the law and the covenant of circumcision, although this was merely something made in the flesh by human hands. The law centred on commandments and ordinances and so never truly had the power to save.
Now though, both groups have been brought near and reconciled to God in Christ. Christ has brought the Gentiles near through his blood shed on the cross, and has also abolished the law of commandments through that same sacrifice. Both Jews and Gentiles now can truly come to the Father, forgiven of their sins, in Christ and by the Spirit. There is no longer a distinction.
In Christ, then, the dividing wall of the law is broken down. God is not dealing with different people groups on a different basis (and certainly not dealing with different individuals on a different basis). Rather he is making one new people for himself, from every tribe and tongue and nation.
This people is described as a household for God, or a temple. God indwells his church by his Spirit. This should give us pause for thought before we deconstruct or try to find alternative fellowship with people more ‘like us’. God’s diverse community that he has brought together in Christ is the church he loves, and it is this people that he has promised to make residence in.
Some Key Points:
- In Christ, Gentiles who were far off can be brought near to God by the blood of the cross.
- Christ also has fulfilled the law and so Jews too can come close to God by grace.
- In Christ one new people is being made that crosses all ethnic, social, gender, etc. lines. God is building something diverse and beautiful.
- God indwells this diverse church that he has built by his Holy Spirit and we should expect to encounter him there.
- Challenge Racial Prejudice – The church was always meant to be multiethnic and a place where people from a diversity of backgrounds are truly joined together. This passage should make us think about our own prejudices and work hard to truly reflect God’s diverse vision.
- Wonder at the Cross – As we think about what Christ has done for us, both in terms of our vertical reconciliation with god and our horizontal reconciliation with each other, we should be filled with awe, wonder and worship.
- Love the Church – God’s church is his temple where he dwells by his Spirit. This should challenge any who are trying to deconstruct church to instead pursue an individualised faith or one that only includes meeting with a small number of people who are just like them.