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Alienation is a word often used to describe our human plight. Everywhere relationships are broken. While people may speak of ‘the power of love’, there is often no substance to it, for love is subjectively defined. It has more to do with your love for me – whoever and whatever I choose to be. It is a love that has little or no interest in or compassion for others, let alone serving them. There is no place for apology or forgiveness.
A worldview that some hold follows the French philosopher, Rousseau, who reckoned that men and women were inherently good before the corrupting influences of civilization took over. The remedy, it’s said today, requires the removal of constraints that are considered to be ‘supremacist’.
The unfolding narrative of the Bible paints a very different picture. Yes, men and women in their original state were ‘good’ – the glory of God’s creation (Genesis 1:26-30). However, the tragedy Genesis 3 reveals is a rebellion against God that has had cosmic implications.
Indeed, such is this brokenness that, as we read in The Letter to the Ephesians, only God could address it. In Ephesians 2:1-2 we read: You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient…
In our natural state, we are subject to oppressive influences – from outside, the prevailing secular culture; from within, our flawed, self-centered, twisted nature. Beyond both, but actively working through both, is the Ruler of the kingdom of darkness who holds us in captivity.
All of us are by nature children of wrath,.. (verse 3). But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us…(v.4). The contrast between these verses is astonishing. It is completely at odds with what is understood by love today. God’s just anger in condemning us is not incompatible with his love. The two can be held together because giving life and loving, even the unloveable, are at the heart of God’s nature.
Release. When Jesus Christ died, God provided the means whereby he could forgive us and release us from the powers of evil and death. In verses 8 and 9 we read: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.
Reconciliation. Furthermore, Jesus’ voluntary self-sacrifice on the cross not only provided the means of reconciliation with God, but also reconciliation across human divisions. Verse 12 is specifically for non-Jewish readers: Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
Because non-Jewish people were once without Christ, without God, and without hope, they had no love for people who were not one of them. It’s what we are like before God’s love touches and transforms us.
Barriers of colour and race, culture and class cause division in every part of the world. There is no community across the divide. But, in Christ, God has broken down the barriers: But now in Christ Jesus, we read, you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace;… And verse 16 tells us: that he might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.
A new society. Christ is creating a new society in which hostility gives way to harmony; alienation gives way to reconciliation. Of all the great teachers, prophets, and mystics, of all the -isms of the world, Jesus alone has been able to achieve this.
This doesn’t mean that humanity is now united and at peace. Daily the news tells us it isn’t. But while at times it is difficult to believe, there is one group where true community is possible – amongst God’s people.
Furthermore, in verse 19 we read: So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God,
‘You non-Jewish believers,’ Paul says, ‘are no longer what you used to be— strangers and visitors without legal rights. Rather, you have a new status. Once you were without God, but now you have the same God and Father as Jewish believers: you are brothers and sisters together in Christ. Once you were without hope, now you are joined together with believing Israel and being built into a temple – the people with whom God lives’. It’s a wonderful picture of the future.
Without the teaching of the apostles and the prophets we wouldn’t have a clue about what God has done. Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone of God’s work. Cornerstones were essential in ancient buildings, setting them and keeping them in line and steady. The glorified Jesus is the key to the growth and development of God’s new community.
Not there yet. This doesn’t mean that God’s people are yet perfect. Far from it. It does mean being honest with God, turning to him in repentance and asking for new resolve and strength to live his good way. It means less self-interest and self-will, more of what God expects of us.
It means putting aside everything that stands in the way of developing true community as God’s people – getting to know one another, including those who are not normally part of our social network, caring for those in need, working at reconciliation with those we have hurt or those who have hurt us. Not bearing grudges or grievances.
Men and women everywhere are looking for meaningful, trusting relationships. In an angry, bitter and divided world, a powerful testimony to the truth of God’s gospel is the local church community where peace, not division, exists. What are we doing with this precious jewel God has given us?
A prayer. Almighty God, our heavenly Father, like lost sheep we have gone our own way, not loving you as we ought, nor loving our neighbors as ourselves. We have done what we ought not to have done, and we have not done what we ought to have done. We justly deserve your condemnation. Father, for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, forgive us all that is past; Turn our hearts to love you and obey your will. Help us to live for your glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.