Pride is one of the deadliest of all sins, and it is also a key biblical theme. Isaiah 14:12–23 identifies Babylon’s haughtiness as one reason God eventually brought that empire to its knees, and if this passage contains a veiled reference to Satan’s fall, it conveys the danger of pride even more strongly. During His earthly ministry, Jesus warned people about those who trust in their own goodness to earn favor with the Father, explaining that such individuals are self-deluded and worthy of hell (Luke 18:9–14). Paul in Romans 11:17–24 cautions professing Gentile Christians against becoming proud of their salvation lest they prove themselves unregenerate and are cut off from the olive tree of Israel along with unbelieving Jews.
Of course, Scripture commends the legitimate pride found in doing a job to the best of our abilities, rooted in an accurate view of ourselves and thankfulness for God’s grace in calling us, undeserving sinners, to Christ (Rom. 12:3; 15:14–21; 1 Cor. 15:10). Such pride, however, is hard for us to manifest, and we are apt to forget that we are wicked people without any legitimate claim upon the Lord apart from Jesus. Lest his readers make this error, Paul in Ephesians 2:11 begins reminding Gentile Christians again that they contribute nothing to their standing as God’s people. Only the Father’s good pleasure moves Him to adopt them as His children, for they are as far away from the kingdom as possible when they enter this world.
The apostle exhorts Gentile believers first to remember who they were before Christ. Prior to His work of reconciliation, Gentiles were “the uncircumcision” — unclean foreigners who lacked the access to the Lord that the Israelites enjoyed as those set apart from the rest of the world. Those who regarded them as such were those who had the “circumcision . . . made in the flesh by hands” — ethnic Jews, some of whom had been circumcised in heart and some of whom had not been reborn spiritually (Eph. 2:11). Still, each Jew had an advantage in that he had a visible reminder, in circumcision, of God’s covenant of grace, in which He cuts out His own from this world. Unbelieving Gentiles had no corresponding, ever-present sign of divine grace, and they had no assurance that there would be any intervention in their behalf. Knowing this bleak position should only prompt humility.
Paul reminds the Gentiles of their desperate situation before Christ came and shows them that they have no reason to look down upon the Jews. We, too, should remember how far off we were from God before Jesus so that we never haughtily look down upon those who do not know the Savior. We are not inherently better than those who are outside the covenant community, but have as much need of the gospel as they do.