The church as God planned it, is the product and the bastion of grace. It was out of God’s huge grace filled heart that the plans for the church were laid out. Ephesians chapter two is the very epitome of God’s explanation of how grace brought the church into being and what His goal is for the church in the world.
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” It is always the case that grace cannot be understood or appreciated until one recognizes the tremendous need we all have for it. As long as we think we are pretty good on our own, we won’t feel the need of grace. All we need from God is a little boost to get us over the fence. But when we realize we are all suffering from the horrible disease of sin that we’ve failed God by disobedience and have followed the devil’s lead and our very nature has become one of wrath. We need grace. We can’t make it on our own.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Did you notice the number of superlatives used to describe God’s grace toward us. Those who were by nature children of wrath, sons of disobedience are offered the riches of His grace. Notice words like “kindness”, “mercy”, “reigning with Christ” and “saved.” The result of grace for those who are saved by grace through faith is that they are created anew for good works.
What is so amazing to me is how Paul began then to work out how this whole grace message is reflected in the church that Jesus built. There had been the day when the wall between Jews and Gentiles was so high that no one could cross it. The Jews looked at the Gentiles as the uncircumcised who were strangers from the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. The Jews thought themselves to be righteous because they had and avoided all relationship with any Gentiles. The Gentiles looked back at the Jews with the same hatred and disgust any people do when they feel that they are being looked down upon by others.
“But now in Christ Jesus you who were formerly far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross.” There had been no movement toward reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles over thousands of years. Nothing seemed to indicate there would ever be a change. But God stepped in. In His mercy and grace, he tore down the dividing wall and made Jew and Greek into one people in one body by the cross.
“He came and preached peace to you who were far alway, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” From strangers and enemies they become fellow citizens and saints. From people without hope they are turned into those who are growing into a holy temple in the Lord, where the Holy Spirit dwells regularly.
This is God’s picture of what grace can do and what He had been working on from before the time He had made man and placed him in the Garden of Eden. His plan was to pull all groups of people into one body called the church where the Holy Spirit would dwell and people were accepted and loved no matter what their background. There is no race, ethnic group or class of people beyond the reach of God’s amazing grace.
Anytime a church becomes a place where some are excluded because they are of the right race or background it ceases to be what God planed and what Jesus paid for on the cross. The church was built by grace and should live by grace every day.