A friend of this blog, Seumas MacDonald, recently wrote a nice post on Jews and Gentiles in Galatians. The thrust of the post is that in Galatians, “we” refers to Jews, and “you” refers gentile believers. This leads to a more satisfactory reading of Galatians, and also has important implications: as gentiles, we were not saved from the curse of the law; rather, we were already under judgment. Christ redeems us from the judgment we were already in.
This same distinction, I’d argue, is present in Ephesians. Tracking exactly who “we” and “you” are in the letter is a bit tricky, and Paul only occasionally specifies. Sometimes “we” seems to indicate Paul and his fellow apostles; sometimes it may be a general “we”; but the Jew/Gentile distinction is definitely present, and most strongly in chapter 2.
I’ve usually heard Eph 2 preached in a very general way: verses 1-3 describe life before salvation, and 4-10 life after. This works to an extent, but it’s not where Paul starts. Paul is not describing the individual, but instead Jews and Gentiles. The Gentile nations were utterly dead in their sins, enslaved to the demonic “spirit of the air.” Even the Jews had gone astray. But God, rich in mercy, sends Christ to those far (the Gentiles) and those near (the Jews). The inclusion of the Gentiles into God’s people is utter grace; we did nothing to deserve, and weren’t seeking God at all. Instead, while lost in our sin, Christ died for us.
Paul caries this through the rest of chapter 2 and into 3. 2:11-22 is all about God incorporating the gentiles into his covenant people, so that they become fellow citizens and heirs along with Israel. 3:6 expresses this along the lines that ancient peoples used to define themselves. The gentiles were fellow heirs (that is, as if they had blood descent from the founder of the community), members of one body (members of one πόλις, one body politic), and fellow partakers in the promise of the Spirit through Christ (they share the same rites of worship). Such a dramatic turn of events was hinted at in the OT, but its full revelation has only now come in Christ and his apostles.
Salvation by Grace thus becomes not simply an abstraction, or something that happens only to individuals. In origin it is a salvation-historical term: God’s gracious inclusion of the gentiles while we were utterly lost in sin. He is indeed able to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or expect.” Thanks be to God!