A few years ago, standing on the precipice of yet another life transition, my wife and I sought counsel from a seasoned and wise mentor, Jerram Barrs. We felt particularly fragile and dependent. Sitting together in his office, he shared a metaphor which his mentor, Edith Schaeffer, shared with him many years prior.
Imagine standing on the edge of a rushing stream in the darkest of nights waiting for a flash of lightning to illuminate the next stepping stone across raging waters. The light flashes and illumines one stone. Once you find the courage to step out, your confusion is only increased as you straddle two stepping stones. Your disorientation is heightened as you wait for the next flash of lightning to reveal the location of the next stone. This precarious situation is not at all the comfort and security most of us have been trained to hope for and work to maintain in our lives—yet it describes the walk of faith.
How might those who embrace God’s covenant from the heart attain anchoring in the midst of such an uncomfortable position? In Ephesians 2, Paul describes the nature of salvation and our collective redemption. His letter positions our lives within a larger cosmic and redemptive drama which offers an imaginative framework for the life of the world.
A Cosmic Rescue (v. 1-10)
Why is it cosmic? Because this drama involves past, present, and future; heaven and earth; and a battle fought between supra-human beings beyond the seen world. Paul reveals a dire situation and a tragic departure from our original design. With the opening phrase, he gives his listeners the stark reminder: “And you were dead.” We have been collectively caught in a condition which can only be called death: created to enjoy perfect companionship, but now separated from it. The Bible portrays human beings as physical bodies animated by God’s very breath, created in his image. Yet we now inherit a condition of death, cut off from God’s life-giving presence—people created by God and for God, now living without God.
The triumph in this drama is unveiled in the powerful phrase, “But God.” Because of his rich mercy, God himself rescues us in the person of Jesus. He restores life and transforms “by grace through faith.” The recipients of this new freedom can now bring him glory, reflect his grace, and devise new ways to dignify and honor one another.
We find our own core identity as former strangers now fully welcomed as 'members of the household of God.' Rob Wheeler
However, in the midst of the raging waters of a broken world, it’s a continual struggle to maintain the hope and imagination required to believe that we are indeed “his workmanship.” This two-word phrase in English, “his workmanship,” comes from the single Greek word poiema which means “that which is made.” It’s connected to the English word poem—a crafting of words. Thus, even in the aftermath of comprehensive brokenness, we can delight that God made us what and who we are. We are created in the image of God to be sub-creators, bringing out the fruitfulness of the earth and blessing one another, together seeking to enjoy the life of God in his beautiful world.
A Restored People (v. 11- 22)
Notably, almost every second-person pronoun in Paul’s letter is plural. This stands in stark contrast to our culture’s individualism. Not only does our culture prioritize our individuality, but our language does not help the situation—as modern English speakers, we inherit the great misfortune of having only one word for both the singular and plural forms of the second person: you. Greek speakers (as well as Southerners, who have mastered the word y’all) are in a far better position to interpret Ephesians. Keep this in mind if a Bible teacher ever asks you to replace Paul’s personal pronouns with your own name. As you come across the word you, it’s best to read it as y’all or you people rather than me.
This section provides a thorough exposition of the covenantal inclusion of the Gentiles. The position of the nations outside of Israel is sheer, bleak covenant exclusion: “…separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” In Christ, these former outsiders are no longer foreigners or aliens, but full members of God’s household. Moreover, the outsiders don’t just have full access to the presence of God, but constitute his living temple, the very dwelling place of God.
But these ethnic groups are set against one another. They seek to exploit and gain dominance against each other. These animosities are scars in God’s creation, but Paul insists that in Christ, we can experience a new humanity. Interestingly, he does not advocate for a rapid, wholesale overthrow of the power structures in place, but rather plants the seeds that will allow the people to bring about greater unity and flourishing as the drama continues to unfold through time.
Paul speaks to the racial hostility between the Jews and non-Jews, showing a new way of reconciliation. The ones “who once were far off have been brought near.” Christ “has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility,” bringing into view our longing for unity and camaraderie within an eternal, all-encompassing reconciliation. We find our own core identity as former strangers now fully welcomed as “members of the household of God.”
In his narration of the reversal of death and the reconciliation of former enemies, the Apostle Paul provides a new imaginative grid for participants in the grand unfolding drama of redemption. These words from Ephesians 2 provide a bolt of lightning from the Lord, illuminating the contours of his purposes for the world. Today, as we navigate new and unknown stepping stones with both courage and fear, may we find an ever deeper capacity for faith, hope, and love, informed by our cosmic rescue and a new identity as God’s restored people. May you know the beauty of these cosmic purposes and embrace them as we take our next steps of faith.