United To One Another — What We Are (Ephesians 2.19-22)

During Fall 2017, I taught Calvary Monterey the book of Ephesians. During the series, I also wrote about Ephesians in sixty-plus short, devotionally styled posts. Each Thursday, through 2018, I will release a post. I hope you enjoy. For the entire series, please visit nateholdridge.com/united-for-unity-posts.

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19–22).

Paul has previously demonstrated how the Gentile world was outside God’s program, looking in on what He was doing with Israel. The promises and covenants and hope attached to the Messiah was not the world’s, but Israel’s, and to get that hope one had to look to the light found in Israel. Unfortunately, that light was often dimmed by Israel’s sin. But now the true light has come. Christ has, by His blood, made the way for all to find access to God by the Spirit. He has destroyed the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile. He has made a new humanity in His church. So, after this radical work of Christ, what are we now?

First, we are part of God’s kingdom.

Paul tells us we are “no longer strangers and aliens.” Instead, we are “fellow citizens.” All believers in Christ Jesus, Jew or Gentile, are part of God’s kingdom, God’s nation. This kingdom is the greatest civilization the world will ever know, for it transcends boundaries, cultures, ethnicities, and histories, culminating around God’s glorious throne eternally. Every tribe and nation and tongue will be in the worship of the Lord. At Babel God was forced to place various languages on people, dividing them as a way to heal them of their cancerous and godless form of unity. At Pentecost, God gave a new language to His people, making way for a unity which is godly, founded upon the cross of Christ.

“Our citizenship is in heaven,” Paul told the Philippian church. The statement was important for the Philippians, for Philippi was a privileged Roman colony. The Philippian soil was considered the soil of Rome. To live in Philippi filled a citizen with pride. But the believers there needed to remember their true and better citizenship — that of heaven. In Christ, we are transferred to a new citizenship and kingdom. One definition of entitlement is blessing without struggle. Believers could easily fall prey to entitlement, for our citizenship was won for us by no real struggle of our own. But One did struggle, Jesus Christ the righteous. By remembering His pain, we can become filled with gratefulness for the citizenship which He's won for us.

Second, we are part of God’s family.

Paul tells us we are “members of the household of God.” We have a new family and, more importantly, a new Father. God is our Father. In fact, every human father is to be a shadow of the original Father God. We aren’t to judge God by human fathers, but human fathers by God. He is the standard and definition. Upon conversion, the SPirit births us again, and God adopts us into His family. With the full rights and privileges of a son or daughter, we are in God’s family.

But the emphasis of this portion of Ephesians is not as much our connection to the Father, but our connection to one another. Jew and Gentile alike are now one family. Believing Jews and Gentiles would marry, befriend, and enjoy one another. We are in God’s new nation, but also His new family.

Third, we are part of God’s temple.

The old temple is done away with, for God has done a new thing. In fact, the Romans invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish temple in 70ad, backing up the apostolic word — there is a new temple, the old is gone. But what are the elements of this new temple?

The new temple is founded on the New Testament teaching. Paul described it as “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” Later we will learn of the New Testament era of prophets, and this line is a reference to them. They flowed from the apostles and did not precede them. Men like James and Luke and Mark and Jude might’ve filled the prophetic office. So to say the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets is to say it is built on the apostolic teaching, the word of God. This new humanity is founded and grounded upon the word of God. We do not seek to add, subtract, or manipulate God’s word in any way. It is our founding document.

The new temple has Jesus Christ and His gospel at its core. Paul described Him as “the cornerstone.” He keeps the building straight and, therefore, strong. Though sad it even needs to be said; the church is centered around Christ and His cross. A gospel-less and Christ-less church is not a church at all. When we lose sight of the gospel we become infatuated with lesser, and the lesser is always divisive and unhealthy, weakening us. The temple of God is to be a place where Jesus Christ and His cross are celebrated, honored, preached, and loved. We are to spend our lives searching out the “unsearchable riches of Christ.”

The new temple is as strong as the individual members within it. Paul described this as individual stones “being joined together.” Peter expanded this idea by calling us “living stones being built up as a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5). The apostles and prophets laid a foundation. Christ is the cornerstone. But you matter to the overall temple as well. Your walk with God is important to the overall health of the structure. When sin and apathy invade an individual believer’s life, the overall people of God are harmed. We are part of His new temple.

The new temple has the same purpose as the original temple. Paul described this new temple as “a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” God dwelt in the original temple, but He now dwells in a stronger way in the new temple. He indwells individual believers but also indwells the corporate collection of saints. This version of the temple is better in every way. First, this new temple is decentralized; we do not have to go to Jerusalem to find it. Second, this new temple is denationalized; we do not have to be Israelite to enjoy it. Third, this new temple is dematerialized; we can enjoy it anytime two or more believers gather. The day God had promised through Ezekiel has come. “My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Ezekiel 37:27).

Embrace The Vision

So Paul has a glorious vision. It is important for modern believers to catch this vision. It is just that, a vision. The disunity the world suffers under is only healed through the blood of Christ, but the church — the new temple, family, and nation of God — must have a vision for its application. We must not complacently believe there is no work to be done in applying these powerful truths, for that would be ignorance. The church has harbored racism, tribalism, nationalism, and classism. It has endured doctrinal discord, sectarianism, and methodological division. All this is true — still today — but we must continue to work to break through these ugly barriers for the glory of God and His gospel. If we do not, we offend Jesus Christ, who shed His blood to destroy these walls of hostility.