Question: When is a gentile not a gentile?

Categories: Theology
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Published on: June 23, 2012

Answer: When he is a Christian. I was listening to a sermon while driving and a passage of scripture was cited that contained a phrase that I had not thought about in this way before. Let me explain what I mean. Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:17-24…

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

When he wrote this the primary audience in Ephesus were believing gentiles, but notice when he speaks to them he refers to the gentiles in the third person, making a distinction between them and his audience. He makes that point clear when he contrasts the “they” with the “you”. This is similar language he uses in 1 Corinthians when lists the various unrighteous people that will not inherit the kingdom of God yet contrasts it by saying “and such were some of you.”

This is perfectly consistent with his view expressed in the book of Romans where he spoke about who the true children of Israel in Romans 9:6b-7a “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring”

There is something that happens to us (whether jew or gentile) when we come to Christ. Our old nature or association is not how we are defined any longer. Elsewhere Paul says there is no distinction between jew or greek, slave or free, male or female. If we really grasped that and understood the continuity we have with the covenant people of God revealed in the old testament, we’d have a different outlook on the church, the relationship of the church to modern jews and the unity of God’s people throughout the ages.

– Soli Deo Gloria

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