Horizontal Atonement: The Cross and the Church

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(Ephesians 2:11-22)
Lesson Number: 

Lesson 5

Horizontal Atonement: The Cross and the Church

(Ephesians 2:11-22)

Copr. 2023, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. If you normally receive this lesson by e-mail, but it is lost one week, you can find it by clicking on this link: http://www.GoBible.org. Pray for the guidance of the https://www.msn.com/en-us/feed Holy Spirit as you study.

Introduction: “Horizontal Atonement?” That sounds like geometry. Before the math challenged among us get worried, we are talking about relationships and not math. Specifically, our relationship with others and not the “vertical” relationship between God and us. Today this is a complicated issue. In Revelation 2:20-21 we read of a church member who, among other things, “is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality.” That church in Thyatira is warned not to “tolerate” that member because she will not repent. Today we have churches that not only tolerate sexual sins, but take “pride” in them. Really, pride? How do we show love to those around us without crossing the line into being a “Thyatira” church? What was the problem in Ephesus and how was it resolved? Let’s plunge into our study of the Bible and find out!

  1. The Other
    1. Read Ephesians 2:11. What is a “Gentile in the flesh?” And why does Paul refer to “the circumcision” being made “in the flesh by hands?” (Since humans can create these distinctions (being circumcised or not) it sounds like Paul thinks this distinction is artificial.)
      1. What parallel do you find in our society today? (Superficial differences based on appearances that can be changed. That would include clothing, hair, external ornaments.)
      2. What Paul is talking about is not exactly like the way we wear our hair because circumcision had important spiritual meaning. What would be a modern parallel? (Let’s look back before we look forward. The Jews considered the Gentiles to be outcasts, rejected by God. Today the parallel would be pagans or Christians in churches that we consider to have inferior teachings.)
    2. Read Ephesians 2:12. What is the more serious problem with the Ephesians being Gentiles? (They did not have God, and they did not have hope. God had not made promises to them, rather He made promises to His people - the Jews. These are not artificial distinctions.)
  2. Eliminating the Other
    1. Read Ephesians 2:13. The Gentiles have now been brought near. How? (“By the blood of Christ.” This is an obvious reference to what Jesus did for us at the cross.)
    2. Read Ephesians 2:14. It says first that Jesus is “Himself our peace.” How can an individual be peace?
      1. We find a clue to the above question in the statement that Jesus “has made us both one.” How did Jesus make Gentiles and Jews “one?” (They no longer were Gentiles or Jews, rather they became Christians - they are now one. That is how Jesus “Himself” is our peace.)
      2. This verse also says that Jesus has “broken down in His flesh” the division between Jews and Gentiles. How is that true? (Jesus died for both Jews and Gentiles. He gave the Jews a new path to God and He gave Gentiles a path for salvation.)
    3. Read Ephesians 2:15. How did the “law of commandments” create a divide between Jews and Gentiles? (Keeping the law and the ordinances is what caused the Jews to feel superior to the Gentiles. There was a lot of truth to the feeling that they held an advantage - see Ephesians 2:12.)
      1. How does “abolishing the law of commandments” create one “new man in place of the two?” (Read Romans 8:1-4. I don’t think Paul wants to abolish the Ten Commandments, rather he is teaching us that Jesus kept the Ten Commandments for us. He did that for both Jews and Gentiles. For that reason there is no reason for anyone to feel superior.)
    4. Read Ephesians 2:16. The cross is an equal opportunity source of salvation. How does that fact kill hostility? (The Jews and Gentiles were hostile because one felt superior, and the other resented it. The cross levels the playing field. There is no longer an “other.”)
  3. Applying the Principle Today
    1. Read Ephesians 2:17-18. How do we equally have access to God? (Through Jesus we have access through the Holy Spirit to God the Father.)
      1. Let’s discuss the complexity that I raised in the introduction. There is a battle going on in my church and others over how we should deal with sinners who are proud of their sin. The Methodist Church just split over this issue. Should we apply Paul’s teaching about reconciling Jews and Gentiles to the current question about how to deal with those who are proud of their sin? Can that be reconciled in the same way?
      2. Read Romans 8:4-6. Will those who are led by the Holy Spirit promote sin or be proud of it? (No. We are called to “walk” according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh.)
      3. What about Paul telling the Jews that being proud of their obedience ended when everyone understands that they are saved by the obedience of Jesus? Doesn’t that apply to the current situation? (Neither the Jews nor the Gentiles were perfect in their obedience. Only Jesus is perfect. Thus, pride in obedience is out. But that does not mean we should support the idea of being proud of sin. See Romans 8:6. If being proud of obedience is out, how can we think that pride in sin is in?)
    2. Read Romans 8:12-13. Are those who live through the leading of the Holy Spirit concerned about obedience? (Yes. Verse 13 says that we “put to death the deeds of the body.” It does not say promote the deeds of the body.)
      1. If we were to dive deeply into the pride movement, I think we would find that few are arguing that humans should be proud of their sins. Rather, their argument is that what they are promoting is not sin. Admitting that simplifies the discussion.
      2. Some may complain about me raising this issue. If a battle is raging, should you stand in a battle line with your uniform adjusted properly, or should you move to the point of the actual conflict?
      3. Is there more than one sin in the church about which the sinner claims he is proud?
    3. Read Ephesians 2:19-21. During the time of Paul Gentiles were literally banned from the temple in Jerusalem. What is their status now as Christians? (They are part of the structure of the temple!)
      1. Let’s explore what this means. If we are a part of the temple of God, is there a precise place (location) for all of us? (We all have a specific role in being the temple. See 1 Corinthians 12.)
      2. What was the purpose of the temple in Jerusalem? (It was a dwelling place for God. It was a place which gave glory to God.)
        1. If you are now part of the new temple, are those aspects of the Jerusalem temple applied to you? Is God to dwell in you? Are you to bring glory to God?
    4. Look again at Ephesians 2:21. Is “the whole structure” the church today?
      1. If you answered, “yes,” to the prior question, then should you worship apart from a church? (The discussion we have been having points towards fellowship. We get our attitude towards others right, and we form a proper temple of God.)
      2. How would you define “the church?” (I have always been a member of a denomination that believes its doctrines are superior. When I became an adult I realized that many other denominations have similar views. Why else would they have a denomination?)
        1. How should the idea of denominations impact the idea of every Christian being a part of the structure of the temple? (I think denominations are fine. You worship with people who generally share your understanding of the Bible. What is not fine is thinking that you are superior because of your denomination. This is a replay of the hostility between the Jews and Gentiles.)
    5. Read Ephesians 2:22. How does God dwell in you and in the church structure? (“By the Spirit.” We must be sure that we have invited the Holy Spirit into our life. Without it we are truly “the other.”)
    6. Friend, in the horizontal relationship between Christians we are one in Jesus. We are not hostile and we are not proud based on our doctrines or practices. It is Christ alone who has saved us. It is the Holy Spirit that lives in us who are part of the temple of God. Will you join that temple? Will you rely on the sacrifice and life of Jesus? Will you live by the Holy Spirit? Why not make that decision right now?
  4. Next week: The Mystery of the Gospel.