Summary: The apostle Paul portrays mankind without Christ as Alienated from God, but through Christ can be reconciled to God and grantet citizenship of his kingdom.
NO LONGER ALIENS BUT CITIZENS
Most people like to belong to something secure - to a family, their community or their country. To belong gives security. And yet the society in which we live results in many that are alienated from it. "Alienated" is a word that is found in St Paul’s letter to the church
at Ephesus (2:12 AV). It’s a descriptive word of a condition of being separated from others. If you are an alien you don’t belong!
In World War II quite large groups of people found themselves in a country of which they weren’t citizens and they were immediately regarded with suspicion - perhaps they could be spies! - and classed at "enemy aliens". In many cases, although living quite peaceably, they were rounded up at the outbreak of the War and interned in camps for the duration of hostilities. Rightly or wrongly they were no longer welcome in their present country. More recently we hear of people, often young people, who become disillusioned with society. They describe themselves by their conduct as alienated! Some work for reform, others plot revolution, others simply drop out as hippies and adopt a very unconventional lifestyle. Every community has people who don’t want to follow its rule of life and are constantly at odds with the authorities. Their appearances at court are a regular feature of the local newspaper. They are alienated from conventional society.
This condition of alienation is not something new for we see it referred to throughout the Bible. It’s the sad story of estrangement of mankind from God our Creator and the breakdown of relationship between fellow human beings. Where there should be harmony there is discord; where men and women should be living as citizens of one world they act as strangers, aliens or even enemies.
Paul presents a portrait of mankind in three panels. The first section depicts a portrait of an alienated society - we were alienated from God. The second panel is a portrait of Jesus Christ our Saviour showing what Christ has done for us - we are liberated and reconciled to God. The third stage of the portrait reveals God’s new society, or what we are now becoming - we are granted citizenship of God’s kingdom. Let’s see how the portrait relates, not to our neighbour, but to us. First of all:
WE WERE ALIENATED FROM GOD
Paul portrays all mankind in a state of sin and death, alienated from God - "dead through trespasses and sins" and "by nature children of wrath" (2:1,3). The Bible opens with an account of the unity of mankind, only soon to be spoilt by the entrance of sin, resulting in human division and separation. In the course of time God chose Abraham and through him called out a nation - Israel - intending her to become a light to the nations. But the tragedy was that Israel herself forgot her vocation and ended up rejected by God for her backsliding and hated by other nations for her hypocrisy.
There was real alienation between the two communities - Jews and Gentiles - with a deep-seated hostility and a mutual contempt for each other. We can see it today in the suspicion between the Jews and the Arabs. If a Jewish boy of an orthodox background marries a Gentile girl or vice versa, the family carries out a funeral, so great is the alienation. The same happens when a Jew becomes a professing Christian.
The apostle Paul pulls no punches in giving his verdict as to the condition of mankind in its state of being alienated from God. He says that it is that of "having no hope and without God in the world" (12). Why was it hopeless? Because, although God had planned and promised to include the Gentiles in his plan of redemption, they are still in darkness and ignorance and so had no hope to sustain them. Why were they godless? Because, although God had revealed himself to mankind in nature, their evil natures had suppressed the truth they knew and instead they had turned to idolatry. Alienated from God, what a sad state to be in. This is something that we have to face up to: What is my relationship with God? Am I alienated from him?
This alienation from God brings division and unrest into the human community. Men still build walls of partition and division like the terrible Berlin wall once separating the east and west. More recently there’s the ethnic cleansing of communities in Bosnia and Kosovo. And what about the barriers of race, colour, caste, tribe and class which create such tension in society? Paul urges his readers to remember of what they once were as a warning of their spiritual condition of being alienated from God and the terrible consequences that result to mankind.