October 5, 2013
READ: Ephesians 2:1-22
God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God (v.8).
Theologians are debating what the apostle Paul meant when he said that “we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law” (Romans 3:28). Traditional Protestants follow Martin Luther’s insight that sinners like us can’t do enough good works to satisfy a holy God. We become right with God by putting our faith in Jesus. When we trust Christ, God our Father performs what Luther called the “joyous exchange”, placing the guilt of our sin upon Jesus and counting His righteousness as our own.
But some scholars are challenging this longstanding view. They say that Luther projected his monastic struggles upon Paul, and that the apostle was making a very different point. They say Paul used the term justification (being “right with God”) not to describe how an individual receives salvation through Jesus, but how Jews and Gentiles could live rightly with each other. So the new view states that justification isn’t about personal salvation but about ethnic reconciliation.
As with many issues, the right answer to this debate is not either/or but both/and. In the first half of Ephesians 2 Paul celebrates the precious gospel of personal salvation. We “were dead because of our sins,” but God “raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms” (vv.5-6). The second half explains that God, who saved us individually, has not left us to ourselves; He has “made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in Himself one new people from the two groups” (v.15).
Paul didn’t separate personal salvation from corporate unity; he brought them together. The same righteousness that forgives our sin unites us with other believers. —Mike Wittmer
Read 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 and note what it says about Jesus and the reconciliation found in Him.
Do you tend to focus more on the gospel’s teaching of personal salvation or ethnic reconciliation? Is one more important than the other? How do you think they’re connected?