Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. —Ephesians 2:12
In our school education, inevitably the history of the British rule in India is taught. This is to continually remind subsequent generations of Indians of the dire state in which the country once was so that we may learn to appreciate the present times.
In our verse today, the apostle Paul exhorts the Gentile believers to remember their former terrible condition outside of Christ. Paul provides 5 deprivations of their past condition in contrast to what the Jews had as privileges.
Firstly, the Jews had faith in a coming Messiah. In fact, God communicated the gospel of Christ from the first book of the Old Testament itself (Genesis 3:15) down through the various prophets (Romans 1:1-2). The Old Testament saints were saved by looking forward in faith to this promised Christ. However, by God’s sovereign decree, the Gentiles were shut out from a Messianic hope and thus were separated from Christ.
Secondly, God brought forth the nation Israel keeping His promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and gave Israel a distinct polity comprising of unique dietary laws, strict worship laws, festival laws, temple sacrificial system, civil laws and the privilege of being God’s people. In all these, the Gentiles were deprived of these privileges and so to say alienated from the commonwealth of Israel.
Thirdly, following God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 were many covenants which God made down through the history of the Israelites. These covenants pointed to a future inheritance, a future blessing and the great promise of Christ (Galatians 3:16-18). But the Gentiles were strangers to the covenants of promise.
Thus, they had no hope because they had no divine promises given to them and although they worshipped many so-called gods (Galatians 4:8), they had no relationship with the One true God. And so, the Scripture says they were without God.
In God’s sovereign ordination, God had mercy upon Israel (Romans 9:15) and shut out His mercy to all the other nations of the world in the Old Covenant. The world is a sinful place enslaved by evil spiritual forces (Ephesians 2:2). God remained just in that, He withheld His salvation to these Gentile nations for God does not owe mercy to anyone and nor is He under any obligation to save anyone. God had chosen to show mercy to Israel and justice to the rest of the world. In fact, the preaching of the gospel to the Gentile world began only during the time of the apostles. Prior to that, they were excluded.
This is true of the Ephesians and also true for Indians, Africans, Americans, Chinese or any other race of this world. Ours is a bleak and dark ancestral past where God left us to perish in our sins. You see, how foolish it is to boast of ethnic ancestry in terms of our relationship with the true God. As Christians in India, it is a deplorable thing to boast of being a South Indian Christian, a North Indian Christian or a North Eastern Christian as if our physical ancestry or geography merited our salvation in Christ when in fact as we saw above, we were also without hope and without God like the Ephesian Gentiles.
But praise be to God for in the new covenant, He has ordained the preaching of the gospel to the Gentile world, shined the light of the gospel in our hearts and adopted us as sons through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:5). O the mercy and grace of God; it is far greater than tongue or pen can ever tell! Beloved, if you are in Christ today, know that you have been given mercy not because of anything in you that merited it but because God, in His sovereign love, elected you to be.
Praise be to Jesus Christ who has taught us not to glory in our ethnic ancestry, race or geography for in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).
Dear Christian, remember your past!