2015-9-20 No Longer Strangers

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          September 20, 2015

“No Longer Strangers”

Text: Ephesians 2:19-22

Last week—in a momentous passage for me personally—we noted that Jesus is our peace.  We noted that He does not merely give peace, but He is our peace.  As a result, we have peace with God, within ourselves, and between ourselves and other Christians.  The surrounding sections of this long paragraph state much the same thing with different words.  We, once being far from God, are brought near by the blood of Christ (11-13).  As we see in today’s text, we are no longer strangers toward God—but we are something infinitely better.  Let us turn to the text, then, and let us hear what God says to us in His Word by His Spirit.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

The Apostle Paul, led by the Holy Spirit, begins this portion of Holy Scripture with the words so then (or, more literally translated, therefore indeed).  This grounds the material that follows in the preceding material.  In short, what follows in today’s text occurs because we are made alive with Christ, by grace, through faith, and because we are reconciled to God by Christ through the cross.  This is good ground for whatever follows, but whatever follows is good indeed—as we now see.

We indeed (the Greek text is emphatic) no longer are strangers and aliens toward God.  By the word strangers, we mean those who find themselves excluded from any actual or perceived in-group.  The Gentile Christians in Ephesus would feel this viscerally, themselves having been utterly hated and despised by the Old Covenant people of God—and that for centuries.  Because of this utter rejection by the Old Covenant people of God, they would feel their welcome into the society of Christ—the Church, the New Covenant people of God—with keen delight.  The same is true across the centuries to our time.  We who are in Christ—and that by faith—no longer are strangers: either from Christ or from His people.  More than this, we are not only tolerated therein, but welcomed—chiefly by God and also by right-thinking Christian people.

By the word aliens, we mean people residing in a country not their own.  We have some such folk in America today, and many American live as expatriate aliens in some other nation.  Formerly, before we came into saving relationship with Jesus Christ, we were aliens in regard to Christ’s society, the Church.  We may have known Christian people and attended Christian functions—worship and otherwise—but until we came to know Jesus savingly, we were aliens only.  Now, having trusted in Him by faith and having received all He promises by His grace, we now are aliens in regard to this world’s system (1 Peter 1:17)—our former country.  We are in this world, but we are not of this world, as Jesus declared in His high-priestly prayer (John 17:14).

We see clearly now what we indeed were and indeed are no longer.  Let us see now what we indeed are.  We are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven with fellow saints.  Saints on earth, as described in the New Testament, are not those already made perfect.  Saints are the blood-bought people of God in Christ, who themselves are both positionally holy by virtue of saving relationship with Jesus and are increasingly practically holy as the Spirit does His sanctifying work of mortifying our flesh and animating our lives with the risen life of Jesus.  We who know Christ in this way are fellow citizens with the rest who know Him this way.  Our citizenship, for Christians one and all, is in Heaven (Philippians 3:20)—and from there we await the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

We are not only citizens of the commonwealth of Heaven, but we also are members of the household of God.  This squares with other parts of Scripture that liken our relationship with God and His people unto a family.  We indeed are members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.  That is, our precise placement and niche within God’s family rests in some degree on the lives and the doctrine of those who went before us in time—but only insofar as those earlier lives and doctrine conform to those of Christ Jesus.

Foundational to our faith and to our position in God’s household in Christ Jesus, Who Himself is the cornerstone.  We have no enduring basis in the family of God apart from Him, and everything (and everyone) else in the household rests on Him.  Moreover, in Him the whole grows into a holy temple.  With Christ as the foundation and each believer placed accordingly, we each (1 Corinthians 6:19) and all together are a temple in the Lord—a dwelling place where God lives by His Spirit.  This occurs, moreover, as the Spirit applies effectually the atoning work of Jesus Christ to us each and, consequently, to us all.  We each are living stones built into a spiritual house to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5).

Now, before proceeding to apply more closely today’s text, note the bookends of this chapter.  We began by noting that we were dead in the trespasses and sins in which we once walked.  We end by noting the happy fact that we are being built into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.  Such is the case of much of our experience with Him.  Things begin ill apart from Him, but they end well so long as they end in Him.

Now let’s begin to apply today’s text.  We are no longer strangers and aliens, but now are happily welcome into the family of God through Jesus Christ.  Has there been a time when you felt excluded—either from God or something else?  Perhaps you can recall exclusions from actual or perceived in-groups during your school days; these exclusions, and our responses to them, may be part and parcel of education in group settings—and I submit that not even the home-educated are fully exempt from this as they deal with others.  You perhaps can recall exclusions from adult life as well: whether from Greek-letter societies in college or from various service and professional groups later in life.  Maybe at least one painful exclusion sticks in your mind—and doubtless it hurts all the more if injustice serves as its basis.

In view of all this, let me give you one fundamental fact from today’s text that will frame all else: In Christ, you are included in the only group that ultimately matters.  Exclusions, just and unjust, at any time along life’s way, come and go in God’s good providence.  Yet know this at the bedrock of your being: You are no longer a stranger to Christ and His people.  Rather, you are a citizen of His Kingdom and a member of His family—and He lives in you by His Spirit.  Recall this often and rejoice in it always.

AMEN.

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