If the once popular soul, rhythm and blues, vocal artist Dobie Gray is notable at all to you, chances are, it’s because of his 1973 hit “Drift Away”. He also had a very popular earlier hit in 1965, (which I heard last week for the first time), it’s called “The In-Crowd”. The words start up like this:
I’m in with the in crowd – I go where the in crowd goes – I’m in with the in crowd – And I know what the in crowd knows.
Any time of the year, don’t you hear? Dressin’ fine, makin’ time We breeze up and down the street We get respect from the people we meet They make way day or night They know the in crowd is out of sight
That song lifts up an idea that’s appealing. The idea that we’re “in”. That people like us and connect with us – of being popular. Or in a more pragmatic way: that there aren’t any divisions or problems or envy or fear between us and anybody else – we’re just “in” and “cool” and “fine”. That’s a good thing. Something people throughout the ages have desired and wrestled with. Even in St. Paul’s day…
Back in Paul’s day, God’s chosen people, the Jews, were just starting to see a difference… Formerly they were known as God’s people by way of a promise and a certain set of laws and ordinances that marked them out as different. They were beginning to realize the fullness of their salvation and their freedom in Jesus Christ. As they began to share it with other people, inevitably those people weren’t Jews. They weren’t “God’s people” so to speak…they didn’t follow all the Jewish laws, know all the Jewish things, celebrate Jewish life… And others struggled with that too. Listen to how Paul talks to his Ephesian friends – the non-Jewish Gentiles – “[Formerly] you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” That’s a bad combo of being outside – not part of the “in-crowd”, the people of God and, therefore, not part with God either. How these two formerly separate groups interacted was an issue in all these churches Paul wrote to in his epistles. How these two formerly separate groups – one people in and everybody else out – got along and how they viewed one another.
Paul provides the answer to this “in” / “out” issue by sharing the reality that is now. He’s saying, “Formerly there was division, there were “ins” and “outs”, but now You’re ‘In’…” No matter where you are, what you’ve done, whether in the “in crowd” or out and alone, you’re “in Christ”. And that means two important things for your relationships and the way you live each day.
First you’re at peace. Take it in the most all-encompassing way: more than the cabin get-away feeling where you escape from life. I mean that life situation where you’re good with yourself and with those around you, where the car’s not broken and the AC hasn’t died, where there are no arguments, no fears – where everything is just great – peace. When you’re “in Christ” you’re at peace with God. Most important because our relationship with God is eternal however it goes. Paul says formerly it was not good. Formerly we were totally out of God’s good grace. From earlier in his letter: “you were dead in your transgressions and sins”, you “followed the ways of this world”, you “gratified the cravings of your sinful flesh”, you were “by nature deserving of wrath”.
And you’ve seen this division from God by experience, in the divisions we feel with one another; if there is hatred among us, or jealousy, or selfishness – we know sin. Daily we are unable to keep the law of God he gives us. So that this truth ought always be in our realistic view of life: we might try to establish peace ourselves in our lives by all kinds of rules we make or even by following the rules God has given, but no peace with God comes that way. There is only hostility – fear and anger from you as you fail; righteous judgment from him every time you gratify that sinful flesh instead of follow his Spirit. And it would bring wrath.
But as you heard Paul say in vv.13-16, now in Christ you’re not “out” but “in”. You’ve been “brought near” to God because Jesus came and preached peace: he brought a perfect life – kept God’s law since we haven’t; he gave an innocent death – “through the cross” and “through the blood of Christ”, Jesus put to death our hostility with God by dying himself. By perfectly keeping God’s law and perfectly paying for how we haven’t kept it, Jesus “abolished in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations”. He made it not the thing by which our relationship is judged. He proclaimed, “Your sins are forgiven. You’re exactly who God wants to know and interact with. There’s nothing between you and him except love.” He reconciled us to God – brought us together with him on the basis of a good relationship – set us at peace with God. Instead of having to achieve peace ourselves, we find that Jesus himself is our peace.
Which is important to know because it allows for us to be at peace with one another. I know you and I don’t have a worry normally about being “not-Jewish”. But what a comfort from God if we did! If you wondered whether you belonged as God’s people? If you felt like maybe there was some special ceremonial stuff that would make you a better kind of God’s people? No way! Jesus knocked down that dividing wall of “these kind of people” and “those kind of people”. Since Jesus fulfilled God’s law and Jesus died for sins – to be all people’s payment, and all people’s perfection – there is no one better than another. There is no “in-group” except those who know Jesus as Savior. Just people, by faith, who have the promise of eternal life and, in this life now, access to God the Father by his Holy Spirit.
Which makes the other part of being “in Christ”. When Paul says to us, “You’re ‘in’…” he means that we’re in God’s household. In Paul’s day, that meant things just like it does today. Use the two illustrations that are built-in: 1) when you’re in a family, ideally, you have love like with no other relationships – unconditional (as much as we’re able to achieve that here) love from moms and dads for kids, brothers to sisters; you have inheritance; you have belonging; a home… or 2) when you’re a citizen, ideally, you have rights, you can vote, you participate (in this country) in shaping your government and your life… So, here too, like that, Paul’s saying that when you’re in Christ by faith, you’re as in as it gets – you have what God gives, you own what God’s household shares, you belong…
Of God’s house/household two things are true… Listen to this description: “ built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” The foundation of a house, of course, is very important. Some among us recently didn’t purchase a house because the foundation was compromised. That house is no good. Liable to fall apart. The house/household of God needs two things to be what it is: Scripture and Christ. Your life with God and as God’s family is founded in Christ. He’s the stone that lines up everything else. You must know salvation in Jesus Christ – the kind that is by grace alone received through faith, that is a free gift from God and not your work, that is fully accomplished and sets you free to live for God. This is the center of who we are as God’s house. And it comes to us in the message of the “apostles and the prophets”. They are part of the foundation, not because they were better people than you but because their call was to preach the Word of God that brings Christ to you. And they did. You have it. Which means – if we’re to be in with God, his household, with all his privileges and sharing in love instead of division and encouragement instead of fear, then we need nothing more than this Word of God and to know this Christ Jesus our Savior.
And when our lives are built on this foundation, then we can have the confidence that we are vv.21-22: “joined perfectly together”. The way Paul uses that word in his language, he means that part of our experience as members who belong in God’s house is that we will continually be experiencing this. We’re continually being built together, joined and fitted together, to be God’s holy temple. Think of that picture: a temple is a holy place – for God. That’s us, really. Perfectly fitted together – which means, that each of you so different is so perfectly placed here by God for different things but for the same thing: to bring about his praise – here and out there. As we study his Word together and know each other better, we’ll know the beauty of his grace in our various talents and abilities, his forgiveness in our experiences, the encouragement of his sacraments, the joy of the freedom of serving him and not this sinful world. And we’ll be free to share that with anyone else – because we’ll have the confidence that God can build them into this beautiful temple too.
As Paul said it – God’s Spirit lives here where his Word is shared and where Christ is our foundation. God’s Spirit is working with sinful people here to make them not separate groups or “ins” and “outs” but those who are God’s house. Those kind of people are at peace with God and with one another. And those all are the best characteristics, exactly what we need to know to help those who are still outside know what it’s like to be “in” with God. Amen.