For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.
During its first days, the church was an awkward spot for Gentile believers. They had a hard time fitting in with local congregations due to a widely held doctrine of exclusion. This was based on believing Christianity was a sect of Judaism when, in fact, Jesus came to fulfill the Law and usher in a New Order. Quickly, the apostles realized the church’s longevity depended on debunking this myth. Paul told the Ephesians to remember they once were “excluded from citizenship in Israel… without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2.12-13) Ergo, you belong.
These are stunning words, particularly from Paul. Formerly, as Saul of Tarsus, he devoted his life to excluding anyone who didn’t fit his religious views. He advocated ethnic cleansing, traveling extensively to oversee the stoning of Christians. Now, after his spiritual cleansing through Christ’s blood, he became a leading proponent of inclusion. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female,” he wrote, “for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3.28)
It’s interesting to note Paul invested much more time reassuring Gentiles that God accepted them than opposing unenlightened believers who restricted eligibility for God’s grace to circumcised Jews. Most likely, Paul realized arguing with closed minds would start battles he couldn’t win. He focused on persuading those longing to follow Jesus that walls of exclusion were merely imaginary—they didn’t exist.
“There are no barriers. There is no conflict,” Paul said, “because Jesus is our peace.” His presence brings us together. If we recognize it or not, if we like it or not, Christ destroyed all divisions that separate us. Any hostility that greets you isn’t worth consideration—and most certainly shouldn’t influence your confidence in God’s acceptance—because it’s an artifact of ancient theology. When Jesus leveled the wall of exclusion, hostility fell with it.
The New Reality
As formerly excluded believers reentering the halls of faith, it’s imperative that we take Paul’s teaching to heart. Our peace is real, established once and for all in the person and work of Jesus. Promoting hostility against us is a silly attempt to erect barriers of fear and prejudice in a world where they no longer apply and won’t last. We are all one in Christ. That's the new reality. Regardless of who refuses to accept it, it’s nonetheless so. Christ, our peace, saw to it.
Walls of hostility that divide God's people don't exist, because Jesus has already destroyed them.
(Tomorrow: Our Light)