Unity: the one church

An understanding of Ephesians suggests that, while this letter teaches us God creates one church (Ephesians 4:4) through Christ, it is not overtly helpful in identifying who belongs to Christ. After all, Paul was writing to Christians who knew how they were added to Christ.

Immediately, some will object. Doesn’t “for by grace you are saved through faith (pisteos)” (Ephesians 2:8 NET) acutely capture the essential core of how we must respond to be saved?

Given the context of Ephesians, I would suggest such an interpretation fails to grasp Paul’s meaning.

There is another option of what Paul meant by this phrase, which underlies a Christian’s relationship with God, that aligns much more closely with the flow of Paul’s thinking as well as his later summary statement.

Consider this. Throughout Ephesians 1 through 3, Paul focused upon God’s plans and activity through Christ’s death to create fellowship between God and humanity as well as to unite Jew and Gentile within one body of Christ.

To be sure, Paul wants the believer to grow in his knowledge of God and God’s power toward those who are believers. However, Paul’s content is entirely focused on God’s initiative and action, not our response to Christ.

Furthermore, as Paul engages his conclusion of God’s unifying work through Christ, he highlights the principle enabling a Christian’s relationship with God.

“This was according to the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access to God because of Christ’s faithfulness (pisteos)” (Ephesians 3:12).

“Because of Christ’s faithfulness” is actually “through (dia) his faith (pisteos).” Consult the KJV.

While everyone acknowledges that Paul credits Christ’s death and blood as providing the basis for our salvation, here Paul sums up Christ’s obedience to God in death as being a faith or faithful response. This accords with Paul’s thoughts elsewhere (Galatians 2:20-21).

Keeping in mind Paul’s summary statement in Ephesians 3:12, let’s consider again how Ephesians 2:8-9 can contribute in building toward his later conclusion.

“For by grace you are saved through (diafaith (pisteos), and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.”

If neither Ephesians 2:8 nor 3:12 refer to our faith in Christ, but rather Christ’s response to God, can we know who God is including in Christ’s one body?

Although other New Testament books are explicit, Ephesians does offer a subtle clue. When Paul describes the moment of conversion in Ephesians, his language of “raised with Christ” and “made alive with Christ” reflects his typical baptismal imagery (Colossians 2:12-13; Romans 6:4).

Considered contextually, Paul seems to have taught that Jesus’ faith (faithfulness) in dying for us makes available God’s gift of salvation.

For those sinners who respond to the gospel with the “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5), God makes them alive and raises them up with Christ thus adding them to Christ’s one body. God is at work building one church in Christ.

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Barry Newton

Married to his wonderful wife Sofia and a former missionary in Brazil, Barry enjoys trying to express old truths in fresh ways. They have two boys attending university.

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2 thoughts on “Unity: the one church

  1. Barry, I have had the same thought about Eph.2:8-10. My thinking was started by Richard Hays’ book, The Faith of Christ. I’m reasonably sure that many of the passages in Paul where he says “we are justified by faith” should read “we are justified by the faith of Christ.” The gospel is about what Jesus did for us not about the way we receive justification. Good article. Too bad you didn’t post it a few weeks ago when I was preaching on chapter two. It would have added to my study.

    Pray that all is well with you.

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