For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—
What price are your willing to pay for your beliefs?
In Ephesians 2, Paul outlines out two foundational beliefs of the Christian faith: We are sinners saved by grace through faith apart from works (verses 1–10). And “we” — that is, the church — are an inclusive community of peace (verses 11–22). These two beliefs are logically connected. After all, if God has offered grace to everyone, then we can hardly withhold it from anyone. And if God is willing to live at peace with us because of Christ, then we ought to be willing to live at peace with one another.
Today, Paul’s message of grace and peace seems obvious and uncontroversial. In his own day, it was neither. At its foundation, Christianity is Jewish. Most of our Bible is written in Hebrew. It tells the national story of Israel, as well as the individual stories of famous Jews. Obviously, the most famous Jew of them all is our Savior, Jesus Christ. But Judaism makes persistent distinctions between Jews and Gentiles. These distinctions are literally carved into the flesh, as eight-day-old Jewish boys and all male converts to Judaism must be circumcised.
In Paul’s day, as Jews began to seek Jesus Christ in great numbers, they naturally and rightly saw their belief in him as the fulfillment of their Judaism. When Gentiles began to seek Christ as well, many of those Jewish Christians were willing to include Gentiles within their community based on the age-old requirement that converts be circumcised first. One of the most pressing theological disputes in the New Testament church is whether this requirement is necessary. Must a Gentile become a Jew in order to become a Christian?
The Council of Jerusalem answered this question with a definitive “No!” in Acts 15.1–35. But in the New Testament, it is Paul’s letters that best explain and defend the belief that we are saved “by grace” and not “a [as] result of works” (Ephesians 2.8–9). Indeed, as Paul makes clear in Ephesians 3.1–13, the belief itself and the resulting evangelistic mission to the Gentiles were part and parcel of God’s unique “grace” to him. As Paul writes in verse 7, “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace.”
That grace cost Paul dearly. In Ephesians 3.1 he writes, “I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles.” Paul penned these words from his prison cell in Rome. He was there as the result of a circuitous legal process that had begun in Jerusalem some years earlier. Opponents falsely accused him of blaspheming the law and defiling the temple by bringing Trophimus the Ephesian, a Gentile convert, into the temple (Acts 21.27–36). Paul was in jail because of his commitment to grace and peace.
I return to my opening question: What price are your willing to pay for your beliefs? In our day and age, people come up with novel ideas and products all the time, usually with the hope of making money. But the true test of the sincerity of our convictions is not whether we are willing to prosper from our beliefs, but whether we are willing to suffer for them, like Paul.