Despite our best desires and efforts, we humans are not very good at living up close with others. This has become devastatingly obvious in the recent Christchurch shootings. Yet in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul talks about a conflict that really was healed. This passage is about a real closeness that all believers in Christ must remember: a closeness that is fundamental to our identity.
A joke letter from an Australian church offering its financial donors priority access to heaven raises questions for all of us. Do our good deeds give us access to heaven? Or are our good deeds irrelevant? Where do our good deeds fit when it comes to salvation?
As I write this, New Zealand is shocked and grieving. My own nation Australia is shocked and grieving too, along with them. But news stories about terror attacks and shootings in our world are far too common, aren’t they? And whenever we hear of them, they bring to mind all sorts of questions. One of them is the question of security. As we grieve for the victims, we also think a little about ourselves. We wonder whether some day we too might be in the wrong place at the wrong time when a seemingly random attack happens. It’s unsettling. It’s not just a matter of national security; it’s also a matter of our own personal security.
Paul is talking in Ephesians 2:6–7 about a security that belongs to everyone who believes in Jesus Christ. It’s not a guarantee of perfect national security or job security or financial security or security in relationships and health. Nor is it a guarantee that we will always feel perfectly secure. But it is still a real security, more unshakeable and deep-rooted than any other kind of security could be. So what is this security, and where does it come from?
“God loves you”: if I say just those three words, you may not hear what I want you to hear. This is because of a communication problem that arises whenever Christians try to talk about biblical concept of God’s “love”. When we say “love” we mean one thing—something wonderful and life-changing. But the word means quite different things to many English speakers. For example, the word “love” often means “strong desire”. So if I say “God loves you” then it might sound like I’m saying “God has strong feelings for you”. Another, increasingly common, understanding of “love” is the idea of “unconditional approval”. In this view, the way to “love” somebody is to affirm and approve of everything they do. So if I don’t approve of your actions and actively affirm everything you do, then by definition I’m not “loving” you (in fact, by definition I’m “hating” you). On this common definition of “love”, if I say “God loves you” then it might sound like I’m saying “God affirms everything about you and your actions”. But that’s not what the Bible means by God’s “love” either. Given this communication problem, how can I best explain the idea of God’s “love”? Well, it’s not actually that hard. The best way is to see how the word works when the Bible uses it. In Ephesians 2:4–5, Paul uses the word “love”. But he doesn’t just say “God loves you”. He explains and spells out what that love means. And he helps us to see what God’s love really means, and how amazing it is.
Judgmentalism. It’s a bigger problem than we think. Judgmentalism is certainly a danger for God’s people. That’s because God’s people have God’s word. God’s word helps God’s people to see how wonderful God is, and how terrible humanity is in comparison. But Ephesians 2:3 contains two highly significant, emphatic words: “we too”. We too, says Paul, were the offenders. We, too, were the disobedient. These words aren’t talking about all those horrible people “out there”. They’re talking about God’s people. And it’s something we, too, need to hear. These words tell us something incredibly important—something that we ignore at our peril.