|My dear brother and mentor in Christ, Rev. Mashangu Maluleka.|
Friday, January 12, 2018
Citizens With the Saints
Eph. 2:11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
To understand where Paul wants to go with this conversation, he begins by explaining what it means to be on the “outside.” Paul is not happy with the way the Jews have adopted this kind of language, and he wants the reader to notice that it’s the Jews who have created the labels of “the uncircumcision” and “the circumcision.” The point is that these are external acts, or markings and have nothing to do with an individuals relationship to God. The Jews may use these identifying markers to categorize people but they say nothing about the internal reality of the work done in their lives by God.
Paul then moves into his gospel of reconciliation for the church is to present a new reality. New humanity is present in the church, a third entity where there is “no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, NRSV)
The worldly reality is that there has been a strain, or enmity between the two parties. Bringing together the Jew and the Gentile has not been easy, but there is healing through Christ. Hostility toward a brother or a sister in Christ is seen as rebellion and infidelity toward God. The privilege of “sainthood” was provided to all by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The new creature is made holy through participation with Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Those who have gone before have paved the way for those who are in Christ to join them in a new citizenship. The church does not reflect the culture of the society in which it exists, the church reflects the divine nature of heaven. Even now the church is a place where all, regardless of race, culture, earthly citizenship, gender, or class are welcome as equal citizens, united as new creation; God’s holy people.
This is really a message of holiness, for all God’s people are invited into new life as saints. No, not the way that we think of “sainthood” from a human perspective, but a “saint” as in “one who has been made holy.” God’s people are invited to participate in the holy life of the Triune God, and this is transformational. No longer are we citizens of this world, but we become children, adopted into God’s family, and our citizenship belongs to the kingdom. Holiness is never about my behaviors that make me separate from the world, but about the holiness of Christ that permeates through me as a result of my participation in God. The church is made up of people who are being transformed into Christlike disciples, forming a new community. This is a community without barriers and into which all people are invited.
I am having the beautiful privilege of spending time here in Africa. I’ve gotten to visit amazing places like Zimbabwe, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Swaziland, Kenya and South Africa. The church here is teaching me what it means to be a community of faith, citizens with the saints. The historical struggles of these people could be daunting, but instead they choose to live in hope. The leaders with whom I’ve worked have embraced the hope found in Jesus Christ. Even if they were discriminated against in the past (and most were), they choose to live into their new citizenship and and proudly work as citizens of saints. The other night I was profoundly moved by the prayer gathering for Mashangu Maluleka’s church family. They came together, loving one another and praising and worshipping God. I knew that I had experienced something special, for they warmly embraced me as a part of their community. No barriers. All invited. The kingdom of God at work, in the life of the church.
Lord, may we, the church, be a reflection of heaven on earth. Amen.