The Essence of Christianity (Ephesians 1.1-2)


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SCRIPTURE READING

Ephesians 1.1-2

DEVOTIONAL THOUGHT

What is the essence of Christianity?

There are many good answers to this question, and not a few bad ones. “Jesus loves me” is an excellent example of the former; “tolerance” is an all too common example of the latter. In my opinion, Ephesians 1.2 offers one of the best answers: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” With these words, Paul summarizes the source, cause, means, effect, and recipients of the Christian message.

First, God is the source of the Christian message. The essence of Christianity is not a human invention. It is a divine revelation. Occasionally, some scholar will accuse Paul of being the inventor of Christianity. He is not. He is an “apostle” (Ephesians 1.1). An apostle is a messenger. “Grace and peace” is God’s message; Paul is merely the postman.

Second, grace is the cause of the Christian message. Grace is God’s undeserved favor toward us—undeserved because we are sinners. Just as criminals deserve to be punished, so sinners deserve to be judged. But instead of judgment, which we deserve, God gives us grace, which we don’t. “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2.4, 5).

Third, Jesus Christ is the means of the Christian message. “In him [Jesus Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1.7). On the cross, Jesus Christ suffered a judgment he did not deserve, while we in turn received a righteousness before God we had not earned. This great exchange—his innocence for our guilt—is the means by which God’s grace comes to us.

(Grace and Christ’s death explain why “tolerance” is a bad summary of the Christian message. Tolerance doesn’t care one way or another about sin. It is like a lifeguard who lets a swimmer sink because he doesn’t know whether drowning is really all that bad. But God dives right in. He cares whether we die, so much so that Jesus Christ died in our place. That’s not a tolerant message, but it is a gracious one.)

Fourth, peace is the effect of the Christian message. “[Jesus Christ] himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2.14). The dividing wall of hostility is the law that condemns us as sinners. By breaking down that wall, Jesus Christ gives us peace with God and with one another. After all, if God has given us grace we do not deserve, we can hardly withhold it from others.

And fifth, you are the recipient of the Christian message. The Christian message is not merely for first-century Ephesians. God’s offer of grace and peace through Jesus Christ is still valid. So why not receive it today?

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5 Comments

  1. Hi There
    I am not a Christian, but nevertheless I wonder about this religion, I have read the Gospels at least a couple of hundred times, and so I wonder how Christians could have so forsaken the original Gospel of the Kingdom for Paul is staggering to me. In Psalms and Proverbs and all the prophets the Torah is highly exalted as the Word of God, and yet one man out all the Bible writers slanders it numerous times, i.e. ‘Yoke of Bondage’ ‘power of sin’ and so forth, wherein every Prophet thru whom God spoke including the Messiah, commanded obedience to the Torah. The Messiah said ’till Heaven and earth pass, not one jot or tittle from the law would pass’. So do Christians listen to the only man in the Bible that completely contradicts God Himself.

    1. That’s a good question, though I’m not sure you’ve understood Paul correctly. The baseline of Paul’s theology is that the law is holy because God is holy. However, the law has been misused as a basis for self- righteousness. And anyway, the purpose of some parts of the law (temple, priesthood, sacrifice) were “shadows” of Christ, which go away when the Reality appears. Interestingly, Paul does not critique the moral aspects of the law, incorporating it into his ethic.

      1. Well on one hand Paul says the law is holy but on the other he says it is the power of sin. How is that supposed to correlate? I mean ‘the power of sin is holy? Or when he says ‘you are dead to the Law, if the law is holy then why be dead to holiness? So from Proverbs we know that the Law is the Light and from Psalms that the Law is the truth. So how do Christians reconcile the light and the truth as being the power of sin? Or even that Christians are to be dead to the light and truth?
        How has the Law been used as a basis for self righteousness? The Jews and did not do the Law, Yahshua said to them ‘did not Moses give you the law and none of you keep it? The Jews had swapped out the Torah for the traditions of the elders, that was why they were self righteous.’ But John says ‘he who does righteousness is righteous.’ How can performing or obeying what God says is righteous, be self righteousness?

  2. As an answer to your questions, consider Romans 2:12-16, where Paul writes:

    “12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.”

    Notice that the standard of judgment here is obedience to the law (v. 13), not just possession of it.

    Those Jews who thought that being people of the covenant in and of itself was salvific, apart from obedience to it, were both self-righteous (because they trusted in their Jewish status) and self-deluded (because they did not see that the law compelled obedience).

    Admittedly, Paul’s views on the law are complex. Also, admittedly, his teaching has different emphases than Jesus’, largely because they were speaking to Gentiles and Jews, respectively.

    It would be helpful if we kept in mind the standard Protestant division of the law into moral, ceremonial, and political categories. The moral law is a constant, and it is largely what the Prophets, Psalms, and Proverbs praise and urge obedience to. Ther ceremonial law is tied up with the temple; no temple, no priesthood, no sacrifice, etc. Since these ceremonial laws are shadows of Christ’s ultimate priesthood and sacrifice, they are no longer necessary. (Even orthodox Judaism manages to get along without the temple, priesthood, and sacrifices in its daily routines and liturgies.) The political law–how Israel was governed as a state–has useful things to say to modern polities, as long as differences in culture and economic circumstances are factored in.

    1. But that’s the point, sometimes Paul is very pro law and sometimes he is anti-law. When summoned to Jerusalem by James it was because the reports were saying that Paul was leading an apostasy from Moses, the report said he was teaching Jews everywhere to forsake Moses. So if Paul’s complex law doctrines are to be taken from a gentile perspective, then why do we have Paul teaching the Jews to disobey Moses? He said to the Jews he was Jew. How can that be if he’s telling the Jews that they are dead to Law. Today the Torah is split up into different segments, and this makes it more palatable to Christians. But how can one say they keep the Commandments and then disobey the first one? ‘You shall have no other Gods before me.’ Yahshua never instructed his Apostle’s to teach anything apart from what He had taught them whether pre-resurrection or post resurrection the instructions were the same and yet Paul deviates from the Messiah’s instructions and teaches contrary to the Son. I know the typical answer is that well Paul was for the Gentiles but the Apostles were for Israel. And yet Yahshua said ‘go into all the world’ which is far more than just the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Anyway just some questions, thanks

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