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God's new temple under construction

A sermon on Ephesians 2.19-22


by Tim Gallant

Reading: Ephesians 2:11-22

11 Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh -- who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands -- 12 that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. 17 And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. 18 For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.

19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (NKJV)

Congregation of Christ,

We live in a time when even those who call themselves Christians have given themselves over to a very extreme individualism and all the sloppy thinking that that entails. Baptism is not seen as necessary. The Church is not seen as necessary. Salvation is understood as a personal, invisible encounter between the detached, individual soul, and God. Church is at best a support, something helpful to boost our faith, a place where we can learn things that we have difficulty learning at home. In other words, going to church is simply pragmatic - it's helpful.

It's kind of like taking vitamins. You really ought to be able to eat healthily on your own with a well-balanced diet, but since that is so difficult, vitamins are a really good idea.

This view of the Church of Jesus Christ is an affliction, a dangerous error. The Church of Jesus Christ is not a vitamin. It is not merely "helpful." Rather, in a most profound sense, the Church is the aim of God's saving purposes.

As we look at Ephesians 2.19-22 this morning, we see that God builds a new covenant temple for His dwelling-place. This temple is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets; built on the cornerstone of Jesus Christ; and built together as a people with others.

As we begin, we must be clear just what is being spoken of here. It has become very popular to speak of belonging to "the invisible Church." What matters, we are told, is not whether you belong to a visible, tangible body of believers, but whether you belong to "the invisible Church."

And of course, belonging to an invisible Church is completely untestable and unchallengeable. Make the claim, and who can doubt you?

People who belong to the invisible Church lay all their stress upon things that are unidentifiable and therefore not open to question. "I don't go to church, but I'm a Christian. I believe in God. I know that I'm saved. I trust Jesus Christ." "I don't need a church telling me what to do; I can serve God on my own; I can worship God at home or anywhere."

Any other view is then labelled as "Roman Catholic heresy." We think that to give a high place to the visible Church is to compromise the sufficiency of Jesus Christ.

That is the air we breathe.

And that air is laden with poison and permeated with lies.

I challenge you go to your concordance when you get home, and look up the word "church." Look at what's happening in the context. You will discover that the overwhelming majority of references could not possibly refer to an invisible church. They refer to identifiable groups of people. And the rest of the few references that remain could only theoretically be applied to an invisible church; they are far better understood in context as referring to recognizable congregations, or the sum of recognizable congregations.

That's the case with this passage too. The temple that God is building does not yet look like it will after the return of Christ, to be sure. This temple is now imperfect and marred by weakness and even peopled with hypocrites. But it is nonetheless a visible body, not a hypothetical "spiritual" "uncollected collection" of all people who deep in their hearts believe in Jesus.

This is very clear when we compare verse 19 to the context. Paul has said that his hearers were once without hope, without God in the world, strangers to the covenants of promise. But now he says, "Therefore indeed no longer are you strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow-citizens of the saints and household-members of God."

To hear the story as it is often told today, this sentence is insignificant and indeed unintelligible. "Fellow-citizens of the saints and household-members of God." Paul presents this like it is gospel! He is declaring what Christ's work on the cross has accomplished, and he joyfully talks about the Church. Jesus died, and therefore God builds a Church.

Let's explore then, some of what this building involves.

1. God builds a new covenant temple for His dwelling-place. This is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Paul writes in verse 20a that we have "been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets."

A foundation gives a building stability. A foundation plays a crucial role in determining what that building is going to be. It provides the dimensions for what is going to be built upon it.

And Paul says that the apostles and prophets have provided that foundation. Notice that the foundation is already laid. The shape and dimensions of the Church have already been determined for us.

How then do the apostles and prophets provide the foundation for this temple?

Put another way: what access do we have to the apostles and prophets?

The answer, clearly, is that the apostles and prophets continue to speak to us through this living Word of Scripture. That is the foundation upon which we build. It is this Word which provides the dimensions and directions for where we are to go as the Church of the living God. It is not the culture. It is not the denominational headquarters. It is not the latest findings of social science. It is the Word of God.

We may go yet further than this. The Word of God which forms the foundation of the Church is specifically the Word which has been laid down once for all by the apostles and prophets.

This means that when somebody comes to you and claims to be full of the Holy Spirit, and says, "God told me that such-and-such is the truth" - you can test it. When somebody comes to you, and tells you that "God wants X for His Church" - you can test it. You can go back to this foundation. You'd better go back to this foundation. And you can say: "Look, this is how this temple is shaped. This Word is the constitutional document, the blueprint, for this temple that God is building."

But what if this person says, "Hey, you can know that God told me all this! I even perform miracles!" What do you do then? Here's what we find in Deuteronomy 13:1-4:

If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, "Let us go after other gods" - which you have not known - "and let us serve them," you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice, and you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him.

In the words of Isaiah 8.20, "To the Law and to the Testimony! If they do not walk according to this word, there is no light in them!" God is not confused. He is not self-contradictory. He has given us the Word to live by. And if somebody comes along with a different blueprint, it doesn't matter how wonderful he is, it doesn't matter how apparently "spiritually powerful" he is: you come back to this foundation. You say, "No, this temple is being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. End of story."

This is indeed the route that we must take to fellowship with God. Through the Word, through the witness of the apostles. The beloved apostle says in 1 John 1.3,

that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.

It is through the apostolic testimony that we have fellowship with the apostles, and in turn, we find that their fellowship is fellowship with the Father and the Son. It is by way of the foundation of the apostles and prophets that we know we can identify the God who dwells in this temple, and the cornerstone upon which this temple is built.

2. This leads us then to observe that as God builds a new covenant temple for His dwelling-place, it is built on the cornerstone of Jesus Christ. That's what Paul writes here at the end of verse 20: "Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone." Or as other versions have it, "the capstone." Either way, the meaning is that the whole is held together by Him, determined by Him.

This temple, in other words, isn't simply something independent of Christ. The Church is not a support group for people who believe the same way. It is founded upon the person and work of Christ.

It is not the case that you can say, "Okay, here's Christ over here; and there's the Church over there." That's what we've taught ourselves to do, but that is precisely what the Bible does not do. The Church is the Body of Christ. Jesus is the Head. Individual Christians are His members.

What would happen if your toe said, "Well, I love my head, but there's no need for me to be a part of the body?" So the toe severs itself from the foot. Think hard a moment. Does the toe have any connection to the head anymore?

You see, we need to get beyond the North American "me and Jesus" mentality. The "Jesus" that by-passes everything else and just deals directly with individuals. . . is a figment of individualistic imagination. It is not the Jesus of the Bible. The Jesus of Scripture is the Head of the Church. Listen to how Paul puts this at the end of the previous chapter, in Ephesians 1.22-23:

And [God] put all things under [Christ's] feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

Where are you going to find Christ? Where is He? Paul says that the Church is Christ's body. Even more pointedly, Paul says that the Church is the fullness of Christ.

Where do we find the Head? Attached to the Body. Where do we find Christ? In the Church.

So verse 20, then, helps us see if we have indeed discovered the temple of God. If, as Paul writes, this temple is founded upon the apostles and prophets, with Christ Himself as the chief cornerstone, then the features of the temple come into focus. If a society calls itself a "church" but has moved off the foundation of the apostles and prophets - you are not looking at the temple of the living God. If a society calls itself a "church," but is not founded upon the Person and work of Jesus Christ - you are not looking at the temple of the living God. The Church of Christ does not worship a goddess. The Church of Christ does not worship humanity. The Church of Christ does not worship the flag. The Church of Christ is founded squarely upon Christ and His cross and resurrection.

3. God builds a new covenant temple for His dwelling-place, and third, it is built together as a people with others. Christ is the cornerstone of this temple, and Paul adds in verses 21-22,

in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Paul is saying that we are God's dwelling place together. We are His temple together.

We often quote 1 Corinthians 6.19, which says that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and that is good. But we must understand that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, precisely because we are a part of the temple of God, which is Christ's Church. 1 Corinthians 3 comes before 1 Corinthians 6. In 1 Corinthians 3.16-17, Paul writes,

Do you not know that you - plural, y'all - are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in [or among] you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.

When you are brought into Christ's body, you are thus a part of God's dwelling place. That is why your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. There is no use pretending that you can be a temple of the Holy Spirit if you disassociate yourself from the temple that is the Church.

Notice the together language which Paul uses in our passage in verses 21-22. The whole building is in Christ, "being fitted together"; you "are being built together in the Lord for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit."

Recall again the lampstands of Revelation which we have had occasion to mention in recent weeks. In Revelation 1.12-13, 20, the seven churches of Asia are described as seven lampstands; in Revelation 4.5, the Holy Spirit is portrayed as seven lamps of fire burning before the throne. In other words, the churches are the "seat of the Spirit," the dwelling-place of the Spirit. You see, there is no promise to us that we can expect to be the dwelling place of the Spirit as individuals apart from the Church.

This is very hard for us to get into our heads, but it is very important. I think of Peter on the day of Pentecost, when he has presented this very convicting sermon. And the people are struck and respond, "What shall we do?" And what does Peter say to them? Does he tell them, "Just ask Jesus into your heart"? Does he even tell them to "pray the sinner's prayer"?

No, he doesn't, does he? He says to them in Acts 2.38,

Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Here's how salvation is promised. Here's how the Spirit is promised. "Repent." The word means simply, turn. Reverse your attitude and your actions. Turn from your own sinful and destructive way, and turn to Christ. And be baptized for the remission of sins.

Baptism doesn't happen "deep down in your heart." Baptism is a visible event. Baptism is an action that connects you to the Church by the Spirit. That's what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12.13[a]: "by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body."

And so the result of Peter's preaching on Pentecost is that 3000 people are baptized, and Acts 2.47 says this: "And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved."

Salvation and the church belong together.

We need to have our sloppy thinking challenged and reordered. When man fell, the result was the loss of humanity. Man was alienated from God and from other men. Salvation is not a private forgiveness that has no impact on whether you are part of a community. In Christ, God is building a new humanity to be His temple. That is what salvation is all about.

And that is why it is the wrong question to ask whether "the Church saves." That's kind of like asking whether having lots of money brings wealth. No, the Church does not save. Jesus saves. And His salvation comes in the shape of the Church. Being the dwelling-place of God - that is salvation. Being built together as a community of love - that is salvation. Being a member of the Body of Christ - that is salvation.

The Church does not save. The Church is salvation, because the Church is God's goal in Jesus Christ.

Congregation, we need to learn to see with the eyes of faith. We have assembled here this morning, not because it is entertaining.

We have assembled here, because we are being built together as the temple of the living God, and God speaks to us from His throne, and we speak to Him in our praise and our prayers.

We have come here, because our communion with Christ involves communion with one another.

We have come here, because we are members one of another, and we share in the Spirit together.

We have come here, because here we find Christ.

Brothers and sisters, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

And it matters.

Amen.

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