Second-class Christians?

· author: Thomas · reading time: ca. 4 min.

Our faith is based on a personal decision. Unlike in Judaism, descent does not count. Nevertheless, there are Christians who grew up in a Christian home and those who found faith in God later in their lives. Both have peace in Jesus.

With some biblical passages it is easy to see the meaning for today’s life, with others it is more difficult. In his letter to the Christian community in Ephesus, the apostle Paul discusses, among other things, the question of how Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians can live their faith together. What message can this text give us for today?


Ephesus was an important port city at the time of Paul, with people from different backgrounds living there. Jewish Christians are those who lived the Jewish faith before accepting Jesus as their Savior. All other Christians are subsumed under the term Gentile Christians, for example, those who previously practiced an esoteric spirituality.

Unlike in historical Ephesus, here in Germany today we do not have the situation that an apostle talks to the Jews in the local synagogue and a few months later a good part of them come to a Christian church service. Christianity is so well established as an independent religion that the question of whether non-Jews can become Christians at all no longer arises.

In Orthodox Judaism, a person is considered a Jew if he or she was born of a mother who was herself Jewish. Thus, belonging to Judaism is primarily based on family lineage. In Christianity, this kind of “inheritance” does not exist. A person is considered a Christian if he or she has personally accepted Jesus Christ in faith as his or her Savior – in other words, if he or she has made a conscious decision.

(Further reading: John 1:11-13)


Nevertheless, we can take the Epistle to the Ephesians as an opportunity to reflect on the significance of family descent for the Christian faith. The Jews with whom Paul discussed in the synagogue of Ephesus were already experts in matters of faith. They knew God through the Old Testament records and could explain all the incidents and commandments that appear in it.

Here I see a parallel from the Jewish Christians our present time: Some Christians of today have already grown up in a Christian home. This does not only concern pastors’ kids, but all those whose parents enthusiastically live the Christian faith have learned about biblical stories and social norms in the Christian environment from the cradle.

With knowledge, however, come expectations – knowing how to do things “right”, others and perhaps oneself expect one to be as “good” a Christian as possible. Some may question whether their faith is even “real” or just a family tradition they’ve inherited – because they already grew up believing in God, there may not even be a specific time from which one could say that one would have become a Christian at this point.

Furthermore, there are other Christians who could be compared to the Gentile Christians: Perhaps in their family the belief in God did not play any role at all so far or a completely different, non-Christian religion or spirituality was practiced. One’s first contact with authentic Christian faith was in youth or only in later adulthood, perhaps during a life crisis that reawakened the question of the meaning of life.

You may then have an exciting life story to tell about how God led you to faith, and some Christian who grew up in a sheltered Christian home may envy you for that. On the other hand, you don’t know all of the details about the Christian faith and biblical stories (yet) and can’t join in when others talk about their experiences from their youth group or from Christian youth camps.


So even in Christianity today, there are two groups of Christians who – depending on their lineage – came to the Christian faith with different preconditions. I believe, even though we are no longer the Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians of 2000 years ago, that we can take Paul’s statements in his letter to the Ephesians as a comfort for us today.

Paul makes it clear that Jesus has opened the door to God, our heavenly Father, for both groups of Christians – both those who have always been “closer” to God through their lineage, and those who have not known Him at all before their conversion and have therefore been “further away” from Him. Both groups have peace with God:

And He has come to proclaim the good news: Peace to you who are far off, and peace to those who are near. For through Him – in one Spirit – we both have access to the Father.

(Ephesians 2:17-18)

To illustrate the spiritual unity between us Christians, Paul also uses the image of a fence that stood as a separation between two properties, and which Jesus has now symbolically broken down by his death on the cross. Paul leaves no doubt that all who believe in Jesus belong to the same spiritual family – all now stand on the same foundation, without distinction.

In this, Jesus is our cornerstone upon which everything is built. Paul compares the community of Christians to individual building blocks that grow together to form a holy temple. As with the image of the body in Corinthians, it is easy to imagine here that each individual part is of great importance to the function and appearance of the finished temple.

A simple stone in the wall may not be much to look at, but it is irreplaceable in ensuring the stability of the structure. An elaborate flower carving on the wall, on the other hand, is a beautiful decoration, but without the wall it would have no place to show itself. In the same way, we too can be sure that God is using us, with our individual characteristics, in the right place of His temple.

(Further reading: Acts 19:8-22; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 2:11-22; 1 Peter 2:1-10)