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

Why Are We Here?

The Vine

Why Are We Here?

I know–it’s a hard question, and it requires a lot of thought. We’re busy with school, with work, and with life in general, and it’s hard to find time to think about a question like this.

But let’s think about it for a moment. Why are we in school? Why do we work? Where do we see ourselves heading in life? Why do we bother with any of this at all?

Then again, why do we ask these questions? Why do we think we should have purpose or direction in life? Some people think life really has no purpose: we live, we take up space, we give birth to more people, we die, and that’s all there is to it. After all, if we are really just advanced animals and all there is to life is what we can hear, see, smell, taste, and touch, what purpose would life have beyond taking care of the necessities of life and reproduction?

Does that answer satisfy you? I hope not! What a depressing and sad world it would be if life really had no purpose! Deep down, most of us believe (and hope) that we are here for a reason.

If there is a reason for living and if our lives are to have some purpose, who came up with that reason and purpose? How can we discover that reason and purpose?

The fact that we can even think of these questions shows that there is something different about humanity. We do not see lizards or mosquitoes asking these questions or wondering why they are here. Humans have the ability to reason, and that is what makes us different. This means that we know that we exist, that there was a time before we physically existed, and that we are going to die. We are able to understand cause and effect and think in other advanced ways. Why do we have this ability, unlike other animals, and who set all of this up this way?

The Bible can provide some direction for us. The Bible claims to be the message from the God who created the heavens and the earth to humans. This message describes how God made humans in His own image–a spiritual being with a soul and the opportunity to live a full and meaningful life. The way God works can be seen in His creation which we enjoy, and God made all men from one man and so designed them that they might seek to learn more about Him.

Have you ever wondered if there was more to life than what we can see and feel? Have you ever had an experience you could not explain, but one that pointed to some kind of reality beyond our own? These types of things happen because there is more to this life than the physical realm and there is a spiritual realm beyond our perception.

The Bible talks about God and how He created mankind so that they could seek Him, but this still does not tell us why we’re here and where we’re going in life.

The Bible shows us that God created man as He did in order to interact with him–basically, God wanted a relationship with people! The Bible says that God is love. The Bible also shows us that God is Three Persons as One in relationship– the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in perfect relationship, and in the same way God wants to have a perfect, loving relationship with us! After He created people, He constantly spoke with them, hoping that they would listen to Him and do what He said so that they could enjoy that loving relationship.

But God does not force anyone to follow Him– people can choose to follow God or to go in a different path. Sadly, because people have gone in that different path, God’s great creation has been damaged by rebellion and sin. God did not intend for us to be sick, to suffer, or to die. All of those things happen because we have many times chosen to do what God does not want us to do. When we don’t do what God wants us to do, or we do what God doesn’t want us to do, those sins separate us from God. It keeps us from having that relationship God wants to have with us. As long as we remain out of that relationship with God, we are dead spiritually and risk being separated from God, the Source of life, forever! And the worst thing about it is that we cannot do anything about it by ourselves, since all the times we are doing what God wants us to do cannot undo the bad things we have done!

We are in a sad state! We are alone, without God, and without hope in the world! It’s little wonder that we are often so sad, lonely, and depressed!

But remember how God is love? Even though we have done bad things, God still wants to have a relationship with us. But all the evil in the world–sin, suffering, and death–had to be dealt with first. God did that by sending the Son into the world. He experienced suffering and death for sin even though He did nothing wrong, and in so doing He defeated sin and death. On the third day after He died God raised Him from the dead, and He lives to this very day. He returned to Heaven– that spiritual dimension beyond what we can see– and from there rules heaven and earth.

The Son–Jesus–did what we could not do when He died for our sins. We now can have that relationship with God by placing our trust in Jesus, declaring that He is Lord, by changing our thoughts and ways–trying to do what God says to do–and by being immersed in water for the forgiveness of our sins in the name of Jesus Christ. Then we can begin to become the people God wants us to be–like Jesus His Son, doing good for people, doing what God wants us to do.

When we have that relationship with God, we will never have to feel alone again. God will be with us even when things do not seem to be going well for us in life. We can trust that our lives have purpose and meaning, because we know who we are and we have hope regarding where we are going.

Where are we going? God has promised in the Bible that a day of judgment is coming. If we have a restored relationship with God, we will share in the same resurrection that Jesus experienced and we will live with God forever, experiencing peace and joy beyond imagination. But if we do not have a restored relationship with God, we will be cut off from Him forever and will suffer greatly!

The members of the Venice church of Christ hope that you want to have a relationship with God your Creator. We hope that you want to learn how to do what God wants you to do, because that’s what we want to do. We want you to enjoy that relationship with God but also to have a relationship with us as we all try to do what God wants us to do. If you would like to talk more about God and His purpose for you, please call us at 310.351.1199 or contact us here; we also invite you to visit with us at our assemblies and Bible studies. Thanks for reading this material, and we hope to hear from you soon!

The Vine

The Vine is designed to strengthen and build you up spiritually, giving you something to think about and apply to your life and your relationship with God and others. It is a publication of the Venice church of Christ, published monthly while school is in session.