by Werner Mischke
(Editor’s note: This is the 7th in a 10-part series on how our evangelistic witness looks different than it did a generation ago.)
Each day, many of us ingest hours of news coverage. We are told that we live in a fractured, polarized world. There is racial tension … insult and defiance … clashing cultures … anxiety about violence both real and imagined.
We watch. We listen. We read. We ingest. We imbibe. Are we drunk with fear? Like snowfall in the dead of winter, negative emotions seem inevitable nowadays. We smell fear every day.
Especially fear of the “other.”
Where is the gospel in all this social tension and emotional unrest? The gospel offers the hope of heaven through Jesus’ death and resurrection. I love that vertical dimension of the gospel, the part that concerns me and God—forgiveness instead of judgment, heaven instead of hell.
The Bible speaks clearly about the vertical dimension of salvation. We were “dead in … in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us” (Eph. 2:4), gave us new life us by enjoining us to the Messiah-King; he “made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:5). Moreover, he permanently raised our collective honor status in Christ’s resurrection. He “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (2:6).
This is a gospel that spiritually moves people “vertically”—from spiritual death and sinful shame to regal life and honor in Christ. Honor-status reversal!
The Gospel of Honor-status Reversal
The first half of Ephesians 2 climaxes with the grand verses of the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Ephesians 2:8–9. We know these verses. They are vital to the gospel, core to evangelical Christian faith.
But what happens when we keep going in Ephesians 2? We discover that salvation by grace through faith is both vertical and horizontal—personal and social.
We see that salvation by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8–9) is at the crux of the two dimensions of salvation—vertical and horizontal, personal and social, in relation to God and in relation to God’s people. Let’s examine the second half of Ephesians 2.
Consider verses 11–12 and observe how the Apostle Paul describes the status of unsaved peoples (Gentiles) as blatantly shame-full in relation to God’s people:
- Unclean, defiled, and without hope of being made clean: “Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision” (2:11)
- No access to the honor and benefaction of the Messiah King: “separated from Christ” (2:12)
- As aliens in relation to God’s great people Israel: “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel” (2:12)
- Unaware of any relational destiny in God: “strangers to the covenants of promise” (2:12)
- Living in despair without God’s presence: “having no hope and without God in the world” (2:12)
- Disconnected from the most honorable relationship: “far off” … “strangers and aliens” (2:12)
- On the other side of “the dividing wall of hostility” (2:12)
Verses 13–22 refer to the reversal of our honor-status in relation to God’s people:
- From far away in shame to very near through the honor of Christ’s blood: “you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (2:13)
- Messiah King himself is our new source of honor—dispelling our compulsion for honor competition and hostility: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (2:14)
- For a completely new kind of kinship group made in peace: “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” (2:15)
- The shame of Christ’s body on the cross absorbed humanity’s compulsion for honor competition and hostility—to create a new body among humanity—a community of peace: “and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” (2:16)
- Both Jew and Gentile (no superiority for being Jewish) were equally in need of the preaching of this grace and peace: “And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” (2:17)
- The high honor of access to Holy God is now available to all peoples—further dispelling honor competition: “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” (2:18)
- Shameful state as strange aliens replaced by multi-dimensional honor of citizens, saints, family members: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (2:19)
- Entering into the honor of God’s ancient story, the crux of which is the Messiah King and Son of God: “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (2:20)
- Brothers and sisters in Christ become the new “sacred space”—wherever they are: “in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (2:21)
- In Christ your new community is the dwelling for the most honorable, holy presence of God: “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (2:22)
Let’s recall that the crux of the two dimensions of honor-status reversal is “salvation by grace through faith.” What is located between these two dramatic expressions of honor-status reversal—between verses 1–7 and 11–22? The often-quoted verses about salvation by grace through faith: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9 ).
This “salvation verse” sits at the intersection of vertical and horizontal dimensions of honor-status reversal. The vertical dimension refers to a person’s relationship with God. The horizontal dimension refers to the Gentiles’ relationship with God’s people. The drama inherent in these dimensions of honor-status reversal—along with the liberation that this brought spiritually, emotionally, and socially—is the context for “salvation by grace through faith.”
And the impact on the gospel? Consider…
- What if our collective fear of the “other” (peoples of other races, religions, and cultures) is partly a result of the church underemphasizing the horizontal, social dimension of the gospel—that through the blood of his cross, He killed the hostility between peoples to make a new humanity (Eph. 2:13–16).
- If the gospel has a horizontal dimension, to what degree ought we to emphasize that reconciliation between persons, families, races, and peoples is a vital part of the gospel message?
- Could it be that being saved by grace—that having our sins forgiven—is actually the means for having our shameful honor-status reversed in relation to God and to God’s people?
- If salvation by grace through faith—according to the context of Ephesians 2—is more of an honor/shame message than one of guilt/innocence, what does this mean for the way we present the gospel?
- If salvation is both personal and social, how should this affect the way we live the gospel?
- Could it be that the gospel is just as much about the covering of sin/shame and the gaining of honor with God and with God’s people—as it is about the forgiveness of sin/guilt and the gaining of righteousness?
- Maybe the forgiveness of guilt is secondary. What if forgiveness is really the “on-ramp” for our eternal acceptance as adopted children (Eph. 1:5) into God’s regal family of peace (1 Peter 2:9)—and this acceptance is really about being received, included, honored (1 Peter 2:7)—to the glory of God!
- Vast numbers of unreached peoples are motivated more by cultural values of honor/shame than by innocence/guilt; what does this mean for the gospel?
Werner Mischke (@WernerMischke) is director of training ministries for Mission ONE. He is passionate about equipping the Church for fruitful cross-cultural partnerships and helping believers know and share the gospel of Jesus Christ in the “language of honor and shame.” Werner is author of The Global Gospel. Learn more: http://wernermischke.org