The Family and Nation of God

The Vine

Paul had spoken powerfully regarding all the spiritual blessings with which God had blessed Christians in Jesus, having been elected and predestined to obtain the hope of salvation and righteousness in Christ, superabundantly receiving grace and mercy in Him (Ephesians 1:1-14). Paul prayed for Christians to gain understanding from God in the heart to know the great hope in which they have been saved and His great power at work in those who believe, since Christ has been established above every authority, especially over His body, the church (Ephesians 1:15-23). Paul would go on to explain the nature of this salvation and how it came about, first to Israel, and then to all who would come to God in Christ.

Paul continued his theological explanations by establishing the need and value of salvation secured in Christ, and man’s purpose before God (Ephesians 2:1-10). Paul did not shrink from laying out the ugly truth about the need for salvation: all were dead in their sins, having walked in the way of the prince of the powers of the air, living according to lust, as children destined for wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3). Yet God, rich in mercy and love, made believers alive in Christ and raised us up with Him to sit in the heavenly places in order to continually demonstrate the riches of His grace, for Christians are saved by grace through faith, not because of anything they have done to earn it (Ephesians 2:1-9). And yet Christians are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do the good works which He prepared for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). This whole message works together for a reason, just like in Titus 3:3-8: Christians need continual reminders about their need for salvation and God’s display of grace and mercy in Jesus so that we may be productive in good works. We cannot imagine that we are superior to other people; we have sinned and deserved condemnation like all the rest. But God loved us, would not give us the condemnation we deserve (thus showing mercy), but would give Jesus and salvation, we did not deserve (thus showing grace). We did not, nor could not, earn or merit this salvation, but are called upon to receive it humbly through faith and trust in God in Christ. We can then serve God and encourage our fellow man in good works so as to glorify God.

Paul then specifically focused on God’s welcome of Gentiles and how it came about (Ephesians 2:11-18). He identified Gentiles as the uncircumcision, those separated from the covenant between God and Israel, the nation of Israel, and as without God or hope in the world; such is the state of mankind without God, and it is quite unpleasant (Ephesians 2:11-12). And yet through the blood of Jesus Gentiles who were far away could draw near, for Jesus in His death broke down the wall dividing the Jews from the Gentiles, the Law (Ephesians 2:13-15a); one is given reason to imagine the Court of the Gentiles in the Temple in Jerusalem, an actual, physical wall cordoning off Gentiles from coming any closer to the Presence of God. But it is not as if the Gentiles would become Jews: Jesus has created one new man in Himself, and in this way makes peace, killing the hostility which existed between Jews and Gentiles, preaching peace to those near and those far off (Ephesians 2:15b-17). Both Jewish and Gentile Christians now have access to the Father through Jesus in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:18). We must appreciate the radical nature of what Paul is suggesting: for 1,500 years, Jewish people identified themselves in contrast to those of the nations. In response, those in the nations tended to look upon the Jewish people as oddities and best, and with contempt and hatred at worst. The only way to eliminate the hostility was to kill it, and Jesus did so on the cross, giving the Jewish people no more right to presumption of election and giving Gentiles equal access to God in the Spirit. Jewish Christians remained ethnically Jewish while Gentile Christians remained their various ethnicities, but the faith and hope they shared in Christ was of far greater value and consequence than their worldly identities; no earthly division ought to separate them. So it remains to this day, and not merely between Jewish people and Gentiles: all people have access to God in the Spirit through Jesus, and there is no worldly division which ought to separate the people of God, for what they share in Jesus is greater than any challenge, difficulty, or division in the world.

Paul had formerly spoken of the church as the body of Christ, given to Jesus under His authority (Ephesians 1:22-23); having established the means of salvation for all people, especially the Gentiles (Ephesians 2:1-18), he now affirmed that Gentile Christians were no longer strangers or aliens, but fellow-citizens and members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19). Mixing his metaphors, Paul considers that household as built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus as the cornerstone, built up into a holy temple in which the Spirit dwells (Ephesians 2:20-22). Through these powerful metaphors Paul reinforced the instruction he had just provided and explained for those who would hear how the people of God are to view one another and their relationship with God. As citizens of God’s Kingdom they are to uphold their responsibilities to accomplish His purposes (cf. Philippians 1:27); as fellow members of God’s household, they consider each other as brothers and sisters of the heavenly Father, equal in standing before Him, and restored in relationship with Him and each other (cf. John 17:20-23, Romans 8:11-17). Temples are places in which it is believed that a deity himself, or a manifestation of a deity, is present; thus, Christians are to consider themselves as the temple of the Holy Spirit individually and collectively, and are therefore to conduct themselves in holiness so God, who is holy, can maintain His presence in their midst (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19-20, 1 Peter 1:13-16). The temple is founded upon the teachings of God in Christ as made known by the apostles and prophets; the cornerstone, providing alignment for everything else, is Jesus Himself (1 Corinthians 3:11). In this way Christians are to be a holy family of people who love and care for one another and seek to do good for all people, always cognizant of their need for salvation and thankful that God has provided it in Christ. May we all participate in God’s household in the Kingdom of Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Q&A: Campus Preachers

Q: I see some “preachers” on campus who spend their time yelling at people and accusing them of sin. Why do they do that? Is that the way we should be telling people about Jesus?

A: We have spoken somewhat of such persons in Fanatics.

Most people who are motivated to go out and condemn people in their sins have developed a theology that conflates the prophetic witness of the Old Testament to Israel with a belief in the United States of America as God’s chosen nation. Such people believe that all Americans should be Christians because God has chosen America; therefore, they are not to be evangelized as if they knew nothing about Jesus but instead as apostatizing and backsliding chosen people.

There is no basis upon which to assert that God has chosen the United States of America in any special way. There is no reason to believe that the United States of America is the new Israel or has been granted a special election. Instead, in the USA, there are righteous people and there are sinners, just as there are in every nation. Those in the world, as sinners, are to hear the good news of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, lordship, and return, just as in the book of Acts (cf. Acts 2:14-36, Acts 17:22-31, etc.). They are sinners, separated from God; we should not speak to them or presume that they have understanding of God, but exhort them as the Apostles before us did (cf. ibid., Ephesians 2:1-18).

Therefore such is not the way to tell people about Jesus; it is the way to repel people and keep them far away from Jesus and salvation, and thus is truly lamentable. God does not want unbelievers to be condemned and roast for their sins; such is why He sent His Son to die for them, and wishes for them to be saved (John 3:16-17, 1 Timothy 2:4). We do well to love such people and point them to Jesus for salvation and hope!

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Fanatics

The Vine

I’m sure you have seen them around. They come onto campus and yell at people about their sins.

They are the “fanatics.”

They do not know you or many other people on campus. They might think they are doing something good, but they are really pushing people away. They stir up controversy and then walk away.

Maybe you’re not very religious, and you see such people, and therefore do not want anything to do with religion. That is an understandable reaction.

Maybe you are religious, and their conduct makes you feel ashamed. That is also an understandable reaction.

It does not have to be this way.

When Jesus of Nazareth walked on the earth, He went about doing good for people (cf. Acts 10:38). Many of the common people listened to Him gladly (Luke 5:1).

But it is not as if Jesus had a watered-down message. The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 is exacting in its demands. Jesus strongly exhorts against sin and encourages people to live righteously. He encouraged people to stop being angry with each other, stop lusting after others, and instead to love each other–even one’s enemies!–and to forgive other people when they sin against us.

So why would the people listen to Jesus if His message was so strong?

The people listened to Him because they could tell that He cared. He healed all kinds of people (Matthew 4:23-25). He ate dinner with people known for their sinful behavior, including tax-collectors, who were universally hated (Matthew 9:10).

And Jesus was also known for His condemnation of the religious authorities of the day. They liked to be seen as righteous and treated with reverence by the people, but they did not really care for the people (cf. Matthew 23:1-36). They looked down at everyone else as “sinners” and thought they were morally superior to them (cf. John 9:1-41). Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy and declared that they were no better than anyone else.

We can learn a lot from Jesus’ conversation with the religious authorities and a woman caught in adultery in John 7:53-8:11. According to the Law of Moses, she was supposed to be executed for her sin (Deuteronomy 22:22). Jesus does not deny this, but instead says, “he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7). No one does; everyone leaves except Jesus and the woman. He tells her that He does not condemn her either; she should go, and sin no more (John 8:11).

Jesus did not come to condemn people; instead, He came to rescue people from sin and death (Romans 8:1-3, 31-38). Yes, the day is coming when He will return in judgment, and people will receive the proper result for what they have done in life (Romans 2:5-11, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10). But that day has not yet come. Right now Jesus wants all people to be reconciled back to Him so they can enjoy the blessings of eternal life (Romans 5:6-11, 1 Timothy 2:4).

Many of these “fanatics” will point out that Jesus did have strong words for people, as did the prophets in the Old Testament. Yet Jesus’ strong words were for the people most like the “fanatics” of His own day: those religious authorities who thought they were morally superior to others! The message of the prophets was primarily directed to God’s people to warn them about the consequences of their lack of true faith toward God.

The “fanatics” have a lot to learn from Jesus. He spoke strongly and perhaps harshly to people like them since they were convinced of their own righteousness when they should have remained humble because of their sinfulness. He continued to stand firm for what is right but displayed mercy and compassion on the people despite their sin. People listened to Jesus because they could tell that He lived the message He preached and He cared for them.

We, the members of the Venice church of Christ, seek to follow Jesus. We do not pretend to be better than anyone else. We want everyone to come to know who Jesus is and to follow Him as well. We are here to take His message out to you and to your friends in a loving and respectful way. We want you to know that those “fanatics” whom you have seen and heard are not reflecting the spirit and attitude of Jesus.

Instead, let’s sit down, open up the Bible, and learn more about Jesus and His way. Please begin by reading John 7:53-8:11 and John 9:1-41. In each story, who provides a message of healing and compassion? Who provides a message of condemnation? Who is blind? Who sees? Why do the Pharisees go wrong? How can we be more like Jesus and less like the Pharisees?

We’d like to talk more with you about God and Jesus and how we may be of service in your life. Please call us at 310.351.1199 or contact us here. Thanks again for your interest, and have a great day!