Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, Part Three

There is an interesting little phrase in verse 15 of the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. It goes like this:

[14] For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility [15] by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, (Ephesians 2:14-15, ESV)

In the third installment of this series of posts on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians I will focus on the phrase, “abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances.”

There are some who argue that when Jesus came he got rid of the law. Because Jesus spoke so much about loving everyone we should just ignore the commandments and accept and tolerate everyone and everything. I can assure you, that is not what Paul is saying here.

What he is saying is that the law still applies but in a new way. That new way is through faith in Jesus Christ.

In the Old Testament the law with its ordinances was in charge. As Paul puts it in Galatians 3, “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:24, ESV)

The prophet Jeremiah speaks about this new arrangement in the twenty-third chapter of his book: “This is the name by which he will be called, the LORD our righteousness.” (Jeremiah 23:6, ESV) If the LORD is our righteousness that means our righteousness no longer comes from the law, it comes from Christ. He is our righteousness.

In the same passage Jeremiah points out that, “In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will dwell securely.” (Jeremiah 23:6, ESV) There is no way we can dwell securely in the presence of God based on our own righteousness. To dwell securely, our righteousness must come from outside of ourselves, from Christ.

Paul puts it this way in Philippians 3:

[8] Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ [9] and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. (Philippians 3:8-9, ESV)

Perhaps the best way to understand all this is to talk about what to do when we are struggling to follow the law. In the old way of thinking, when people struggled to obey God’s law they would just pile on more law, more commandments, more do’s and don’ts. It did not work too well. The people of Israel, who were supposed to be following God’s law, never did so.

In the new approach when someone is struggling to obey God’s law instead of piling on more law we give them more Jesus, because the more Jesus a person has the more they are going to be motivated and empowered to obey the law.

The only time we would pile on more law is with people who are relying on their own righteousness, who think they can be good enough for God without Christ. For those folks we happily pile on more law until the law crushes them and they realize how desperately they need Christ.

But for those who are struggling, we give them more Jesus. And the way to give people more Jesus is through his word and sacraments. People who are struggling need more of Jesus’ word, more reminders of their baptism, and more partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

Interestingly, many Christians today refer to the sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as ordinances. In their view, the sacraments are ordinances that believers do in obedience to Christ’s command, they do not give us more Christ. Apparently once you become a believer you get a lifetime supply of Christ and you don’t need any more of him ever again.

Now people still need to be taught the law, specifically the Ten Commandments, the golden rule and all the nuances of living a Christian life. But when we struggle, and we all do struggle, that’s the time to get as much Jesus as possible.

Finally, approaching the law in the this new way brings unity. As Paul says above, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one.” When fulfilling the law depends on us, we all have difference levels of righteousness. But when it depends on Christ, we are all the same because we are all clothed in the same perfect righteousness of Christ.

Jesus did not come to abolish the law. He came to give it to us in a new way. Through faith in him the law is completely fulfilled and whenever we struggle to obey the law we look to him for the strength to do better.

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