Sunday, January 17, 2010

Transgressions & Sins (part 3 of 3)

Though all of God’s people had been dead in transgressions and sins, in exile from God’s promises because of that fact, that exile is ended, life is gifted, and death is overcome through the power that was sent forth by the Resurrection. This salvation, this being saved, which is a sharing in the gift of eternal life in union with Christ because of the Gospel while in the hopeful expectation of the Resurrection to come, is a gracious gift of God.

Paul makes a further elaboration on this idea of being “saved,” writing that “He raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). This raising, being made alive together (2:5), is the resurrection from death into Christ’s kingdom, as the people of God in Christ. Does this mean that the point of the salvation is a dis-embodied existence in a far-away place, having escaped the evil world and the chains of mortal flesh? If we want to be consistent with all of the Apostle Paul’s writings, we must understand the “heavenly realms” as yet another way in which he makes reference to the kingdom of God on earth that was inaugurated by Christ’s Resurrection, and which is extended by the power of His Resurrection through the operation of the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit brings men and women to the place of a submissive belief that Jesus is Lord, through the gift of faith that is made possible by the preaching of the message of the Gospel.

Being raised and seated with Jesus is being delivered from the exile of death apart from God, and delivered into the kingdom of heaven that has been established on earth, enjoying a measure of eternal life as we believe and proclaim the Gospel (Jesus is Lord), and experience its power for salvation (eternal life). This measure of eternal life that is enjoyed, and of which we can be assured that we are sharing, in the union with Christ that is sealed by the Spirit’s inward working to make it so that we truly believe and live as if Jesus is Lord, is the guarantee of the eternal life to come. Maintaining that consistency, we bear in mind that for Paul, the eternal life to come is when the believer ultimately shares in Christ’s eternal life, experiencing the power of God in the same way in which Christ experienced that power, by being raised from the dead and given a new, physical, glorified body, in this world, that cannot and will not see death. It is in this light that we can truly understand Christ being the first-fruits of a new creation, as the beginning of the final movement of God’s plans to redeem and restore His creation.

Reaching what most see as the pinnacle of this chapter, we go on to read, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (2:8). Here, we actually find Paul repeating something already written just a few lines ago, while adding a short but important thought. He repeats that it is grace that brings about salvation, and that this is by faith. The grace for salvation, the deliverance from exile owing to transgressions and sins, into the eternal life of union with Christ in His already established kingdom of heaven on earth, is the demonstration of God’s faithfulness in fulfillment of His covenant.

As we continue to remember the context of the kingdom of God that was the foundational premise for this section of Paul’s letter, we hear Paul reminding a portion of his readers that this was not something that they had brought about or would bring about through their own endeavors (revolutionary overthrow) to usher in God’s kingdom and the rule of His Messiah. We have to remember that “salvation” was not an ethereal term, denoting a spiritual experience or a certain way of feeling, but that it meant forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness of sins was a concrete term, connected with the return of God’s people from exile and their placement in their land of promise. When this land of promise was ruled by God’s Messiah, that was when it was understood that the kingdom of God had been established. The Jews had been expecting this in conjunction with the land of Israel---with the Messiah ruling Israel, and Israel ruling the world. However, because Jesus is to be understood as Lord of all the earth, then the kingdom of God encompasses the entire world, and all peoples (Jew & Gentile) can experience forgiveness from sins, as God’s faithfulness is now demonstrated in the new covenant that has been set forth in Christ.

Because it is the gift of God, with God establishing His kingdom in a way that was unheard of by Gentiles, and completely antithetical to the way in which it was expected by the Jews (which we can imagine was well explained to their Gentile brethren), Paul can safely add that, “it is not from works, so that no one can boast” (2:9). In this kingdom, no one is going to be superior to another. No one is going to be able to claim special privilege or that they had a hand in bringing this about. Neither Jew, Gentile, slave, free, man, or woman would have a reason to boast, because God, through Christ, did something completely unexpected by His grace, as a gift, because He is faithful. This people of God can then be said to be “His workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them” (2:10). Now this people of God, by the power of Resurrection at work in them by the Spirit, can take up the task of being God’s image-bearers, stewarding His creation and being a blessing to all peoples, just as God had intended for the creatures made in His image (Adam), and just as He promised to the first man that He called to Himself (Abraham).

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