It is striking how much Old Testament language is used in the New Testament – underlining the fact that the best preparation for understanding the NT is a good grasp of the OT. This is true of the biblical doctrine of the church, where the basic principles are set out in the OT. The people of God are, for example, frequently described in the language of the temple. Consider Ephesians 2:19-22 God’s holy temple.
1. A secure position
Concentrating on the change that has taken place in Gentile believers, Paul recalls their former misery (v19), outside the sphere of blessing and fellowship with God. They have been transformed by Christ to whom they are united by faith. They have been brought into a secure place of blessing:
(i). Fellow-citizens with God’s people. They have been liberated from their alien status – the King has granted them citizenship and they have the same standing as every believer, Jew or Gentile. By the new birth we enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3; Colossians 1:13), a present possession which we will enjoy to the fullest extent after the return of Christ. Being a citizen carries with it the obligation to obey God’s royal law.
(ii). Members of the household of God. The family imagery carries the suggestion of intimacy, a warm relationship. Above all this means that God is our Father and he has given us his Holy Spirit to mark us as his children (Romans 8:15). We now enjoy all the spiritual privileges of God’s children, the fruit of God’s grace.
2. A sure foundation
The Christian has (or should have) a deep sense of security, which the unsaved lack. This is not because we trust in ourselves, but because of our sure spiritual foundation that supports our whole life. Note v20 ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets’ – best understood as their faithful teaching of the truth of God. Through the Word of God we are brought to Christ (2 Timothy 3:15) and are nourished and grow (1 Peter 2:2). We have a secure foundation by which we can test all we hear and read. It is the Lord who gives shape to the building: ‘with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. He is its main support (Isaiah 28:16). The church depends on Christ for everything, and we can be sure that he will never fail us in any time of need. We can rest in him and find peace.
3. A steady growth
The church is described as a building, but it is not static, it is a growing building: it is ‘growing into a holy temple in the Lord. This is organic language. The church is united to Christ: ‘in him the whole building is joined together’ (v21). There is a permanent spiritual unity despite outward divisions. God’s purpose is that his church will grow ‘into a holy temple in the Lord’. This takes place as each member develops and matures. We are ‘living stones’ (1 Peter 2:5). Gradually God shapes each of us to fill a unique position. He is building ‘a holy temple’ reflecting his holiness. It is a glorious privilege to be ‘a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit’(v23) and a summons to holiness (1 Corinthians 3:16).