Last week I mentioned a potentially caustic situation that could have resulted in disaster. What am I speaking of? The first century church is what I am speaking of. When God revealed that He was calling people to salvation in His Son Jesus Christ that included Jews and Gentiles, it was somewhat of a surprise. These two people groups have not mixed well together socially, culturally, or religiously. Jews were to worship and serve the God of Israel. They were monotheists and were to obey the Law of Moses. Gentiles throughout history have worshiped and served many gods. They obeyed their conscience or other culturally acceptable standards. Couple this together with the fact that God had warned the Israelites not to adopt the ungodly ways of the Gentiles, and you begin to understand the distance between the two groups (Deut. 18:9-14). In fact, when Israelites intermarried with the pagan Gentiles it led them astray from God (Jdg. 3:4-6).
So, when God revealed that Gentiles were able to be saved from their sins through faith in Christ, and have equal standing before God as members of the church, it took some time to adjust (Acts 10-11:18). It was difficult for Jewish Christians to understand Gentiles becoming followers of Christ because of their former polytheism and immoral living. In Christ, all of those differences have changed. Listen to this, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ like a garment. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise”1 (Gal. 3:27–29). Through our spiritual union with Christ, we are all one. We are all a part of Christ’s body, the church, and in spiritual union with one another through faith in Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-31).
Humanly speaking, this mixture of Jews and Gentiles was highly unlikely and a recipe for disaster. In fact, only God could possibly make it work, by redeeming us through Christ. Ephesians tells us that God chose to make both Jews and Gentiles a part of the church so His, “multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavens. This is according to His eternal purpose accomplished in the Messiah, Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:10–11). This was a complete surprise to the Jewish Christians because of what Gentiles were like normally. Here is how God describes the condition of Gentiles, “So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh—called ‘the uncircumcised’ by those called ‘the circumcised,’ which is done in the flesh by human hands. At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:11–12).
Christ changed everything. He made one body, the church, from two distinct people groups. Scripture says, “But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it” (Eph. 2:13–16). Christ’s death on the cross has put to death the hostility between Jews and Gentiles, and He has reconciled both to God the Father in one body (2:16). Paul goes on to say Jews and Gentiles both have access by one Holy Spirit to God the Father (2:18). Furthering this imagery, he describes the body of Christ as God’s household, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord. You also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:20–22). According to His matchless wisdom and grace, God has chosen to reconcile these two people groups to Himself through His Son. He has done so to glorify Himself (Eph. 1:3-6, 11-12; 3:8-12).
It is essential to remember that as Christians we are still able to sin. This sin comes out when we are around or work together with people who are “different” than us. You could not find two more distinct people groups than Jews and Gentiles. These differences would result in conflict and sinful actions. So, Paul gave Christians this instruction, “Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us. There is one body and one Spirit —just as you were called to one hope at your calling— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:1–6). He urges us to maintain the spiritual unity which the Holy Spirit already created (4:3). God emphasizes the unity and oneness that believers share in Christ (4:4-6).
You may wonder, “What does that have to do with me?” All born again believers here at First Baptist Church of Kouts are in spiritual union with Christ and one another as a part of His body, the church. As a result, we must, “walk worthy of the calling [we] have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us” (Eph. 4:1b–3). Christ has already reconciled all true believers together in one body, so we must seek to diligently maintain that unity with the peace that binds us together (Eph. 4:3). How do we do that? By submitting to Christ’s Lordship and the authority of God’s Word in our lives. We have unity in Christ and in what we believe (thus, the importance of being in agreement with a church’s doctrinal statement). When we obey God’s Word by His gracious enablement, we are able to maintain the unity the Holy Spirit already created. Will it be easy? No, it will not be easy. The sin nature dwelling within us craves to disobey God’s Word (Rom. 7:18-23). But, we must remember the powerful encouragement of Romans six, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires. And do not offer any parts of it to sin as weapons for unrighteousness. But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God as weapons for righteousness. For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:12–14).
As we experience conflict with one another, we must resolve it biblically, in a God-honoring way. All of this begins with the union all Christians have with Jesus Christ and one another. I remind you once more of a proper, Christlike way to live, “Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us. There is one body and one Spirit —just as you were called to one hope at your calling— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:1–6; cf. Rom. 12:9-21). I am praying that God will help all of us to diligently maintain the spiritual unity that the Holy Spirit has already created. It is only by His grace that we will be able to do so. I am praying that each of us will grow in Christlikeness (Rom. 8:29-30). I am praying also that we will not live, nor think like the world around us (Rom. 12:1-2). Rather, that we will live and think like Christ (Col. 3:1-10; 1 Cor. 2:16).
Beginning next week, I am going to take a break from this series on “Troubles we experience as believers.” It is not wise to dwell too long on such things. Next week we will begin to look at the attributes of God.