The gospel of grace as the crux of honor-status reversal, part 1

In my forthcoming book, THE GLOBAL GOSPEL: Achieving Missional Impact in Our Multicultural World, I devote quite a few pages to  the idea that honor-status reversal is a motif of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.

I have written in previous posts about honor-status reversal as a motif of the Bible. In this post, I want to include an excerpt from my book which explores this motif in Ephesians chapter 2. That excerpt is below, with some modifications to fit a blog format.

A closer look at honor-status reversal in Ephesians 2

Ephesians 2:1–7 gives us a dramatic picture of honor-status reversal from being “dead in trespasses and sins” to having been “raised…up with him and seated…with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” From death—to seated with Christ in exalted honor. Astounding!

Let’s take a closer look below at the profound dynamics of honor-status reversal in Ephesians 2. We will first of all look at honor-status reversal of persons in relation to God (Ephesians 2:1–7).

These first 7 verses relate to our status reversal from our original shameful position in relation to God. Verses 1–3 refer to our alienation from God:
  • Spiritually dead: “dead in…trespasses and sins” (2:1)
  • Unwittingly following the world’s spirit and devil: “following the course of this world” / “following the prince of the power of the air” (2:2)
  • Victimized by evil spirit: “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (2:2)
  • Spiritual DNA of an evil, shameful father: “sons of disobedience” (2:2)
  • Enslaved to self: “lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” (2:3)
  • Destined for God’s eternal punishment: “children of wrath” (2:3)
  • Unexceptional: “like the rest of mankind” (2:3)
Verses 4–7 refer to the reversal of our honor-status in relation to God:
  • Loving intervention, undeserved, from the powerful, divine Benefactor directed toward us: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us” (2:4)
  • Gave us new life us by enjoining us to the Messiah-King: “made us alive together with Christ” (2:5)
  • Permanently raised our honor status in Christ’s resurrection: “and raised us up with him” (2:6)
  • Providing us rest and authority in relational co-regency with Christ the King: “seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (2:6)
  • All to display God’s riches to magnify his honor for all eternity: “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (2:6)

Ephesians 2:8–9 as the crux of honor-status reversalAt the crux of two dimensions of honor-status reversal—there it 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.”

Timothy Tennent writes: “The New Testament celebrates a salvific transformation that has both vertical and horizontal dimensions. Personal salvation in the New Testament is inextricably linked to becoming a part of the new humanity of Ephesians 2:15.”1 As salvation is vertical because sin is personal, so also is salvation horizontal because sin is corporate. According to Hiebert: “There is both personal and corporate sin and personal and corporate dimensions to God’s redemption.”2

We’ll look at Ephesians 2:11–22 in our next post. Whereas verses 1–7 reveal the vertical, personal honor-status reversal of believers, verses 11–22 reveal the horizontal, social honor-status reversal of believers.

1. Timothy C. Tennent: Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2010), 62.

2. Paul Hiebert, “The Gospel in Human Contexts: Changing Perceptions of Contextualization” in Ed Stetzer & David Hesselgrave, Eds., MissionShift: Global Mission Issues in the Third Millennium (B&H Publishing, 2010. Kindle Edition),  99.

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