The Christian Identity

I’d like to take time to consider further address our identity in God’s promises as Israel by reviewing some key passages in the New Testament. As we’ve seen, the recipients of the promises are Israel and few question this reality. We’ve been contemplating the question of the identifying attributes of Israel on a number of angles and have come to the conclusion that Christ is the true Israel. The same can be said of Christians since we’ve seen that we are identified as an expansion of the recipients of these promises. Christ’s death and resurrection fulfilled the promises to Abraham concerning his descendants and the nations and as we’ll see below, creating one man of the two. We can’t attribute this identity of Israel simply to a circumcised ethnic descendant of Abraham since these promises belong to those who find their ethnicity in a new creation in Christ by faith.

Romans 9:6-7

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.”

The above text has tremendous implication as to how the apostles understood the dynamic between a real Israelite and the unnatural Israelite. This is done by first considering that what had been previously defined as “Israel” needs further considered. Paul words in vs.6-7 are based upon an argument to address the accursedness of his countrymen (9:1-2). The question for Paul’s readers was whether or not the word of God had failed in all the promises He’d made to the descendants of Abraham in the Old Testament if the Israelites were accursed. Had God gone back on His word to Israel? The whole point of the epistle to the Romans in the previous chapters was to show that no one was guaranteed salvation because of the covenant, the law or their birthright. The Jews of Paul’s day would have believed that the promises were for all physical descendants of Israel not matter what. The only reason one could lose that right was because of an extreme form of apostasy (John 8:33-58). Paul argues against this notion in that being born of Israel doesn’t guarantee the individual Israelite’s salvation (Romans 2:1-29; 4:1-16). This is why Paul answers the assertion of the authenticity of the word of God by stating that not all Israel is descended of Israel. It is those who have faith and that are justified that are the children of Abraham.  These are the remnant within the larger national identity of Israel. It’s important to remember that Paul’s goal was to deal with people within Israel and not argue the privileges of nations. Paul will argue from this principle to show that all things flow from the choice of God even His choice to whom He gives the blessings. This was a spiritually elect remnant that Paul and the other apostles were identified as through faith in Christ. Not every person who is a physically ethnic Israelite is a spiritually elect Israelite[1].

1 Peter 2:9

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;

Our 2nd examination brings us to explicit titles given to God’s people as marker of their identity. A combination of the offices of King and Priest were unheard of under the law of Moses. These were generally kept as separate offices and attributed to a certain tribe or a royal figure. Under the New Testament, believers in Christ receive this dual office as an inheritance due to their lineage to Christ.

The building of the temple of Solomon required well polished stones fitted perfectly to create the place of worship where God’s Spirit would dwell. The New Testament’s temple is being built with “the choice and precious” corner stone in Christ (v.4). The stones that make up this temple are not inanimate limestone but made of living stones, a people, who have been cleansed and fitted to carry God’s presence with them. These people are where the Holy Spirit would dwell within (v.5). With this new temple comes a different priesthood, one that is set apart (holy) and which offers a much greater sacrifice than under the law of Moses. These are spiritual sacrifices made through the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ. Unbelievers, because they are disobedient to the word, are left with a stumbling that leads to their doom (v.8). In contrast, we are told that believers are:

  • A Chosen Race
  • A Royal Priesthood
  • A Holy Nation
  • God’s Own Possession

The chosen race is an allusion to Isaiah 43:20-21 where Yahweh promises salvation to His chosen people. But notice that in the original context, the application of “race” (genos) is linked with those who are descendants of Abraham. Peter boldly applies it to his Christian readers in Asia Minor, regardless of race; or, better put, he applies it to them because their commonalities in Christ, regardless of physical background, constitute the true “race” that God redeems[2].

These same Jewish and Gentile believers are called the Royal Priesthood. This expression is drawn from Exodus 19:5-6 where we read you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’. The passage is cited just prior to the giving of the law at Sinai and the Sinaitic Covenant. It identifies the status of the people as a kingdom and as a priesthood. 

The third identifier is that of a Holy Nation once again alluding to our text in Exodus 19. The Jews of the OT were constituted as a nation through the OT covenant and in return, would come to possess their land and govern themselves as a nation. This is applied to the believer in the sense that now, both Jews and Gentiles, are constituted by the New Covenant as a people who are deemed together as a nation/kingdom set apart for God to dwell in many lands.

In the fourth identifier, we find a people, whom God is the owner in a very special way. Yahweh is the Lord of all, but He is in a very particular sense, the owner of a specific people who are pleasing to Him. They have been chosen out of the world to complete an important task to proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light (v.9).

The most significant part of this text is v.10 where Peter leaves Exodus 19 to utilized Hosea 2:23 as the foundation of his argument. In Hosea, God has already disowned the northern kingdom of Israel because of its adulterous relationship with other gods, and the kingdom of Judah will soon follow the same wretched course (cf. Hosea 1:11)[3]. In this text, the people who are designated as “not my people” are those who had broken the covenant through their unfaithfulness in worshipping other gods. Paul applies this in a different sense in Romans 9:23-26, where he states that those who were not His people were the Gentiles. There is a transformation of status from a place of dishonour to the place of honour. The application of Gentiles to the position of being God’s people in the same and real sense as Jews described them as what God would deem as the descendants of Jacob, or Israel. These identifiers in this text are applied to the Gentile New Testament believer communicating that God’s people are no longer based upon their ethnic affiliation with Abraham, but through their spiritual affiliation with the great patriarch.

Ephesians 2:11-22

This text is crucial to the question that we are pondering. We will go through a more robust look at this text to really grasp how Paul identified the church with Israel. In the first 10 verses of this text, Paul explained that the salvation that God provides in Christ is a salvation that is in relation to the Messiah, whether they are a Jew or a Gentile. The scope Paul speaks of is all humanity, regardless of their race or religious background. These are descendants of a fallen creation and God’s remedy is to send His Son as a means of reconciliation that they might receive through faith in Christ. All humans are dead in sin, and God has provided a gift in His Son through grace and this gift must be received by faith.

If we were to ask someone today what is the outcome of an individual’s salvation, the answer by most, would be that we’re bound for heaven and won’t go to hell. This is certainly true but there are also social and corporate implications (Storms). The Gentiles had been separated from the promises of God. The law had produced a separation between Jew and Gentile, with the Jews being the chosen race to receive God’s good favour. Christ, in His sacrifice, abolishes that barrier between the two groups.

The Former State of Affairs

11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands

Paul begins by exhorting them to “remember” who they were in the past. To be able to truly appreciate their new current glorious state in Christ, they would need to remember their former standing. He refers to the recipients of his epistle to Gentile in the Flesh. This possibly could have been a term of derision from the standpoint of a Jew according to the flesh, since Greeks or Romans didn’t refer to themselves in this way. Much like the expression Gentile according to the flesh, the term “uncircumcision” is an expression of contempt to all those who were not a part of the covenant of Abraham. These were outsiders who didn’t belong to Israel, and who hadn’t received the sign of the covenant. The disdain came from those who were “the so-called circumcision”, which were largely those who were of Jewish descent and depended on their circumcision as their guarantee of inheritance and favour with God. Paul points out many times that the physical sign of the covenant didn’t guarantee the inheritance or favour with God (Romans 2:28-29; 1 Corinthians 7:19; Philippians 3:3; Galatians 5:6). Those scorning the gentiles possessed a circumcision with human hands in contrast to the circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:26; 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4). The circumcision of the heart would not be reserved for Jews only but also given to Gentiles (Romans 2:28-29; Philippians 3:2-3; Colossian 2:11). That which comes from human hands is generally placed in contrast with that which is built by God. We notice that this is spoken in regards to the temple (Mark 14:58),  God’s dwelling place (Acts 7:48; 17:24) and a heavenly tabernacle (Hebrews 9:11,24). The expression is also used in the context of our eternal bodies (2 Corinthians 5:1).

12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 

The condition of the Gentiles prior to the coming of Christ is described by a quandary:

  1. Separated from Christ
  2. Excluded from the commonwealth of Israel
  3. Strangers to the covenants of promise
  4. Having no hope
  5. Without God in the world.

Prior to their conversion and God’s grace entering their lives (at that time), they lived in this world without God and the blessings of God’s people. The first of these former realities was that they previously were separated from Christ. In this case, separated from Christ probably refers to being apart from Israel’s Messiah who belonged exclusively to Israel. Those who possessed the oracles of God knew of the Messianic hope while the Gentiles didn’t.

The second point of reflection was their separation from the commonwealth of Israel. The term separated means that they were estranged or aliens to this commonwealth[4]. The term “commonwealth” (moliteia) probably refers to a citizenship. The word “commonwealth” conveys the idea not only of a state or government but even more so of the rights extending to its citizens, i.e., privileges, blessings, resources, duties etc.[5]  We would be better to think in terms of a Kingdom. It was the commonwealth or Kingdom of Israel that these Gentiles believers were non-citizens. They were not a part of the elect nation and in return couldn’t claim to be the people of God.  Along with the commonwealth of Israel, is the notion of receiving the blessings that are associated with the covenants of promise. The covenants (plural) of the promise (singular) are probably those related to the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12, 15, 17; 26:2-5; 28:13-15; 2 Samuel 7). The term “strangers” gives the idea of a foreigner which, once again, gives the impression of non-citizenship. They had no part in these various covenants that were given to Abraham and his progeny.

The summation of the previous expressions comes in stating that they were “without hope”. Because they were separated from Christ, not citizens of Israel and foreigners to the covenant promises, there was nothing for them to hope for. They were without hope and without God in the world. The Gentiles had their gods but they didn’t possess the God of Israel, the true and living God (1 Corinthians 8:5; Galatians 4:8; 1 Thessalonians 4:5). In their former state, they were truly forsaken.

The Great Reversal

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 

Now, Paul switches from their former state of affairs to their current status. He is moving from their position of being without Christ to being “in Christ”. The position they held previously had changed because of God’s grace. Their alienation from God was ended through the blood of the Messiah of Israel. They were formerly far off but have now come near. The language is reminiscent to the OT view of the Gentiles who are said to be far off (Deuteronomy 28:49; 29:22; 1 Kings 8:41; Isaiah 5:26; Jeremiah 5:15) and Israel was “near” (Psalm 148:14). These are the same that were mentioned as far off in Acts 2:39. The reversal of the fate of the Gentiles is now a reality due to the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. What they were brought near to, was the very things they were separated from in v.12. This meant an equal participation in the commonwealth of Israel and in the covenants of promise.

Breaking Down the Barriers

14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 

The person of Christ is the foundational factor in bringing in the Gentiles into the blessings of Israel. Not only did He bring them near but at the same time, the great division between the two groups is now non-existent. There is now a peace spoken of between these two groups through the person of Jesus Christ. How did the Lord accomplish this? Because Christ is our peace! The biblical concept of peace has to do with the wholeness, particularly with reference to personal relationships. Because Christ is the mediator of the peace of God (Romans 5:1; Colossian 1:20), and being the very embodiment of peace, He has brought spiritual harmony to these two groups.

The result of this peace is firstly that He has made the two groups, both Jews & Gentiles, into one. There is no longer a division between them, since, in Christ, they are equal and function together as a people. It comes as a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all (Colossian 3:11). He accomplished this by breaking down the barrier of the dividing wall in abolishing of the law in His flesh. What truly separated the Jews from the Gentiles was the covenant of law which was replaced by the ratifying of the New Covenant in His blood.

The final result is that Christ made into one man that which was two. In other words, it was the new creation brought in by Christ that would make this Old Covenant division a thing of the past. Paul has already spoken of God’s salvation in terms of a new creation (2:10). Similar language is used here for creation (krizo). The idea of “to make” speaks of the creative power of Christ. The creation of this one new man eradicates the distinction formerly in place between Jew & Gentile under the old creation. 

One Body United in Peace

16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; 

The cross of Christ has brought about this ethnic reconciliation, not only to God, but between the two groups. In Christ, there would be a means by which the enmity that existed between them would now have no foundation. It would cease because Christ would become the centrality of their existence. The peace they experienced through the forgiveness of sin and the coming of the new creation, would bring about this appeasement since both those who were near or far received that peace when they receive Christ by faith. They are no longer the people of God by birth but by a new birth and through an identical faith.

Fellow Citizens & Family

18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 

Access to God under the law was exclusively for the priest and for those he represented. But now, because of Christ bringing into one man both Jews and Gentiles, these Gentile believers have access to the Father also. Not only this, but this entrance into His presence has been dramatically expanded to all believers who we are told are now all priests of God. Even most ethnic Jews couldn’t claim to be priests, only those from the tribe of Levi.

Now, in vs 19-22, we enter the perfect contrast of their original state. No longer being strangers and aliens is linked to the commonwealth of Israel. These Ephesian Gentiles are now “fellow citizens” of a Kingdom where there is no special privilege or blessing for the Jew over the Gentile. They were no longer from another country, or living as immigrants, or second-class citizen, but an actual citizen of the true Kingdom of Israel. Remarkably, the term “stranger” was utilized in v.12 and associated with being estranged from the covenants of the promise. This means that this text is not only speaking of the citizenship but also of the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant. Our citizenry as Gentiles is that of a heavenly citizenship (Philippians 3:20) since we are part and parcel of the New Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26). All that the Jew receives from God in Christ, is now the possession of the Gentile. To say that God is now working with the church and someday will be working with Israel, is preposterous. There is only one man and if those distinctions still exist then we must conclude that what Paul is saying here is uninspired and incorrect. The dispensational idea that in the age to come Israel would hold privileged status and be the unique focus of God’s eschatological activity and blessing was ruled out by this passage. Whatever a believing Jew can point to in the Old Testament and say, “mine”, is no less the inheritance and future of a believing Gentile.[6]

Finally, not only are they citizens of this Kingdom, but Paul tells us that they are also a part of God’s household. They are adopted into this household through our Lord Jesus Christ (1:5). Jews and Gentiles are now brothers & sisters in the household of God, through the new birth. This is more than simply being fellow countrymen but share in a sort of spiritual ethnicity together.

The New Temple

20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

To further this notion of coming near of the Gentiles, Paul now explains an even greater reality that these Jewish and Gentile believers, as a household of God, are being built and identified as a holy temple in the Lord. Christ is the chief corner stone of this building and that which unites the building together. This building is not something that is finished all at once but is being fitted and is growing (continuous tense) into a holy temple. The building is growing and progressing slowly into its final form. This was nothing new to the apostles since it is a theme throughout the writings of the New Testament (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19-20; 2 Corinthians 6:16-18; 1 Peter 2:4-10). These two terms “a holy temple to the Lord” and “a dwelling place of the Spirit of God” are used in association with the Old temple in the OT (1 Kings 8:13, 39, 43, 49).


Writing as a Gentile believer, I’d like to exhort you to ponder these things. Consider what we’ve received in the new birth and how God identifies us in Christ. We are a privileged people who’ve been blessed to worship the true God of Israel and by His grace and we’ve become a part of His kingdom. Let that sink in! Most importantly, don’t allow others to take away these realities from you so as to deny you of your joy, hope and the true nature of your citizenship. God has broken down ethnic hostility and brought peace to those who identify with His Son, no matter their sex, ethnicity or religious background, God has created something new. Look around your church and find your unity and peace with believers through Christ! Sin is still rampant in this world and while people focus upon their identity as a means of division and strife, let us as the True Israel find the common ground through the bond of peace in our King and Saviour. Unite under the banner of the Kingdom of God and find your peace as the people of God together!

[1] Storms P.179

[2] Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, D.A. Carson, Baker Academic, 2007, Page 1030.

[3] IBID 1031

[4] Απηλλοτριωμένοι – See Colossian 1:21; Ephesians 4:18

[5] Kingdom Come, Sam Storms, Page 183

[6] Kingdom Come, Sam Storms, Page 185


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