Ephesians 2: the Renewal of Humanity

As we continue our series of messages on Ephesians, today we look at chapter 2. The first ten verses of Ephesians 2 present a devastating view of human beings. Humankind is immersed in sin and spiritually dead.

Paul notes three forces which keep humankind in this hopeless state: This present world, which pressures us to conform to its ruinous ways. Satan, who tempts us away from what is true and good. And our own desires and thoughts, which propel us in a fatal direction. The result of our captivity to these forces is catastrophe.

I’ve told stories about when I was a hippy as a young adult. We had an expression, “Go with the flow.” In other words, “be spontaneous, trust your feelings.” “The spirit is moving, flow with it.” Occasionally I would think, “but what if the flow is flowing down the drain.” As indeed it was for the doomed sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll world of the hippies. As it is for all lives shaped and led by the spirit of this fallen world.

It’s interesting to me that when we look at most human beings as individuals Paul’s description doesn’t seem to fit, whatever their religious beliefs or non-beliefs. We don’t see the kind of depravity described in these verses.

We see shortcomings and misconduct, but we also see kindness, caring and self-giving love. Indeed, most people as individuals are decent people. Who are able to give and receive love. And who are doing much good. This shouldn’t surprise us. All people are created in the image of God, and all retain something of that image.

So where does Paul’s picture of human depravity and deadness come in? If we shift our focus from individuals to the world as a whole the truth of Paul’s indictment becomes clear. 

We humans have corrupted the earth with our greed, violence, war, injustice, oppression, racism and bigotry. Through all of history we have perpetrated horrific savagery on each other. We see this with brutal clarity right now in Gaza and Ukraine. But we also see it every day in America and in our various countries of origin.

Not only so, but we humans have created the nightmare perils of nuclear obliteration and catastrophic climate change. Global devastation is a blink of an eye away. As a line goes in a song by Jim Croegaert, my favorite Christian singer/song writer, “You’ve turned this whole world into your garbage can, and you say that you don’t need my extended hand.”

That’s on us. We have done that. We humans have made an ugly mess of the beautiful, blessed world God gave us. And we can’t escape what we’ve made. So, indeed, as Paul writes, humankind is lost and without hope in the world.

And here we would be except for the grace of God. As Alex so powerfully preached two weeks ago: “But, God.” But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love for us, has acted in Jesus to save us and heal us.

God is reversing humankind’s miserable state. We were once dead in our sins; now we’ve been made alive in Christ. We were once captive to Satan and trapped in the world’s fatal squeeze; now we are raised up and seated with Christ in heavenly places. We once lived according to our selfish thoughts and desires; now we are re-created in Christ for love and good works.

As Paul writes in vs. 10, God is remaking and renewing humankind to become God’s workmanship, God’s masterpiece, God’s work of art. God isn’t giving up on human beings or on the world. He isn’t just taking us to heaven. He’s remaking us for life in a world made new – for the union of heaven and earth. God is renewing humanity to shine forth with Jesus’ character and love, as sons and daughters of God.

We rejoice in God’s transforming work in ourselves and in others. God’s renewal of humankind has begun. And it has begun with us who entrust our lives to Jesus. As James 1:18 tells us, followers of Jesus are the first fruits of God’s renewed creation, as we let Jesus shape our lives and seek to be made like him in love.

Not for ourselves alone, not as an exclusive club. But for the sake of the world, whom God loves in spite of itself. We are called to be agents of renewal and healing. Learning to touch the world with grace and newness and bring a foretaste of the coming new world into this present world.

What a privilege and a wonder! What a responsibility and mission!

For me it used to be a let-down to go from this wonderful account of salvation in the first ten verses to reading in the following verses about Jewish and Gentile reconciliation.  Why is that so important? How is that part of God’s salvation?

From God’s perspective there was no greater division in the world than that of Jews and Gentiles. God had given the people of Israel the Law of Moses, which taught them how to live in a faithful relationship with God. This separated Israel from the rest of the world, who were outside of the covenant God made with the Jewish people.

But God’s plan from the beginning, Paul tells us, was to unite Jews and Gentiles in one family in the Messiah. And in Jesus’ death on the cross God did this. He set aside the Law of Moses as the basis of a relationship with him and made both Jews and Gentiles equal members of his covenant family through faith in Jesus.

That’s certainly important for us here. Without this work of God, we, as Gentiles, non-Jews, wouldn’t have a covenant relationship with God or be members of God’s family in the Messiah, in Christ. We’d still be outsiders. So this passage is very important to us!

But there’s something else. Paul wrote in Ephesians chapter 1 that God’s goal is to unite all things in heaven and earth. To bring all the clashing elements of our lives and the world into unity and right relationship in Jesus. Because God’s salvation is both vertical, as it were, and horizontal. Salvation in Christ is peace with God and peace among human beings.

God’s first major step in bringing the world together in justice and peace was to unite Jews and Gentiles into one body in the Messiah. God has begun his work of unity, and this beginning was visible in the churches, churches that incorporated Jews and Gentiles together. And indeed people from all walks of life united as one family in the Messiah Jesus.

In our church we don’t have a membership made up of Jews and Gentiles. But we can demonstrate God’s saving plan to unify all things in Jesus in other ways. Like churches in the New Testament, we are a diverse group of believers, from almost a dozen countries. As we learn to know and love each other we are living evidence of God’s saving plan to heal and unite the world.

We have differences in background and culture. We embody some different values and ways of living. We even have different interpretations of Scripture and ways of following Jesus. This can make it a challenge to be together as one family in Christ – diverse but united.

Perhaps you watched the movie Jesus Revolution, which some of us have seen. If so, you saw how challenging it was for traditional church goers and newly converted hippy Christians to adjust to each other.

This movement was happening not only at Calvary Chapel in California as the film focused on, but with churches throughout the country — a Jesus revolution. It wasn’t easy for very different believers to learn to be a family together in Jesus, but the result was a nation-wide spiritual revival and renewal. 

Diana and I were blessed to be part of that in the 70s and 80s in Illinois. It was exhilarating to be there, but it also was hard work. We all had to learn to listen to each other and learn from one another. Likewise, our hard work here today in our church to become a family in Christ will be wonderfully rewarding. 

Finally, as Paul finishes up this section of his letter with verses 19-22, he reveals the big pay-off, the grand climax to God’s saving work. God’s ultimate purpose in renewing human beings as one family reconciled to God and one another.

Renewed humanity, Paul writes, is becoming God’s temple — God’s own dwelling place. God is making a home for himself with and within human beings. As indeed he has already begun to do in us by the Holy Spirit. Humankind is being renewed as the place where God lives and moves and has his being, filling us with his life and love and joy forever.

“Look!” the angel cries out, “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Rev. 21:3).

And let all God’s people say “Amen!”

Marty Shupack, Feb. 11, 2024