EN ES

Morning Sermon: The Church As Temple: Its Stones, 1 Peter 2:1–12

Old Testament Reading: Ezekiel 37:1–14

“The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.” So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.”” (Ezekiel 37:1–14, ESV)

New Testament Reading: 1 Peter 2:1–12

“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:1–12, ESV)

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Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.

Introduction

In this brief series, we are considering the church as it exists in the world today under the New Covenant, and we are doing so according to the theme of “temple”. As you know, the church is called the temple of God in the New Testament, and so we are taking a bit of time to consider the implications of that.

In the previous sermon, we considered the foundation of God’s temple-church. The foundation is not made of stone but is Christ. Or to say it another way, the foundation of God’s inaugurated eternal temple is the apostles and prophets with Christ as the cornerstone. God’s temple is not physical. It is spiritual. Its foundation stones are people filled with God’s Spirit. The apostles and prophets are said to be foundation stones in this temple, not because of anything in themselves, but because of the message they proclaimed. And who did they proclaim ultimately? They proclaimed salvation through Christ, the promised Messiah, the One Anointed by God with the Spirit beyond measure. The foundation of God’s inaugurated eternal temple is Christ. The clear implication is this: all who are a part of God’s temple now, and all who hope to be a part of God’s temple in the new heavens and earth, must be aligned with Christ and they must also trust in him or depend upon him, for he is the only foundation of God’s eternal temple. Stated in another way, it will only be those who are aligned with Christ and who trust in him as their eternal foundation who enjoy the glorious and gracious presence of God forever and ever in the new heavens and earth. 

Today, we will shift our attention from the foundation of God’s inaugurated eternal temple, to the stones of this temple. Like with the foundation, the stones of God’s temple are not made of stone. No, they are people. This is about God’s presence, brothers and sisters. This is about God dwelling in the midst of his people. This was even the point in those days when the tabernacle, and later the temple of God, was constructed by Old Covenant Isarel. Those physical structures were not made because God needed shelter. And neither were they made in order to make communion with God possible for people. No physical structure was needed in Eden, remember? Nor was a physical structure necessary from the days of Adam to Moses. Men walked with God in those days, and they did not have a physical structure to contain God’s presence. And we know that in the New Heavens and earth, there will be no physical tabernacle of cloth or temple of stone. No, all of God’s renewed creation will be his tabernacle. There in that renewed creation, God will dwell in the midst of his people, and his people who have been redeemed by the blood of the lamb will dwell with him – we will enjoy his presence. The physical tabernacle and the physical temple of Old Covenant Israel were not needed to make communion with God possible. No, but they were graciously given to Israel, one, to facilitate the form of worship that was given to them, and two, to function as signs or symbols concerning God in heaven, the way that he had made for men to approach him, and the work that he would do through the Christ in the future to earn a new creation. 

Do not misinterpret (as so many have) the purpose of the Old Covenant tabernacle and temple, brothers and sisters. To use the language of Paul in Galatians 3:19, they were “added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made…” (Galatians 3:19, ESV). The tabernacle, and later temple, along with all of the laws unique to Old Covenant Israel, were added for a time until the promised Christ was brought into the world through Israel to accomplish his work of redemption. And when he came, he declared the temple – the physical, Old Covenant temple in Jerusalem to be desolate and obsolete. Christ declared the temple to be desolate and obsolete, not because he was against the temple, but because, now that he, the Messiah, had come to accomplish redemption and to inaugurate the New Covenant, the temple of Old had served its purpose. 

And listen to this: with the transition from the Old Covenant to the New there did also come a change in the law, in the priesthood, and with the temple. The temple of Old was made of cloth, stone, and precious earthly things. The New Covenant temple is spiritual. Its foundation is the Anointed Christ along with the apostles and prophets who testified concerning him. And its stones are all who align with Christ and trust in Christ who have been made alive and filled with God’s Holy Spirit .“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16, ESV).

I’d like you to imagine being a Jewish-Christian living in the days when Jesus walked the earth and shortly thereafter.  Growing up, you would have worshipped at the temple in Jerusalem and lived according to all of the ceremonial laws of Moses. But when Jesus, the Messiah arrived, he set all of those things to the side, because he fulfilled them. Imagine how difficult that transition would be. And it was a transition. The Old forms slowly passed away as they gave way to the New. The book of Acts tells that story. And by the year 70 A.D. that glorious temple in Jerusalem was gone. The Romans destroyed it. They tore it down to its foundation just like Jesus said they would (Matthew 24). That must have been a very jarring experience even for the Jewish Christians. They must have wrestled emotionally with a sense of loss. 

But was it really a loss? Answer: No! For something much, much greater had arrived. Christ arrived. And by his finished work, a new creation had entered in. It was then that the Spirit of God was poured out on all flesh. It was then that God’s eternal kingdom was inaugurated. It was then that God’s eternal temple was begun. No doubt, those Jewish Christians who lived during this time of transition wrestled emotionally with a sense of loss. But if their faith in Christ was true, they would have confessed that there was no loss, but only gain. 

Indeed, the book of Hebrews is all about this. And Paul’s words to the Philippians definitely apply. He was thinking of everything he had left behind to as a Jew according to the flesh to follow Christ when he said, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8–11, ESV). Once Paul saw Jesus for who he was, all of the fleshly, earthly things associated with Old Covenant Judaism seemed like rubbish to him. And this would have applied to the earthly temple too. As grand and glorious as that structure was (and it was very grand and glorious!) it was nothing in comparison to the surpassing worth of Christ, his covenant, kingdom, and temple. 

I’ve asked you to use your imagination and to try to see all of this through the eyes of a Jewish Christian living in the days after Christ’s ascension so that you might enter into the struggle of considering that which is spiritual and invisible as being far superior to that what is physical and even gloriously so.

Brothers and sisters, many of these first churches were very small. They would have assembled in rather humble buildings, sometimes in homes, and sometimes in rented halls.  And we know that these churches were often persecuted, sometimes severely. That would have tested the faith of many, don’t you think? I’m sure that many from amongst the Jews were tempted to turn their backs on Christ and return to the well-established and visibly glorious ways of Old Covenant Judaism. This would have been especially tempting prior to the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. But those who knew and truly believed that Christ was far superior and that he had come in fulfillment to these visible and earthly things, persevered in Christ. They, like Paul,  counted “everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus [their] Lord. For his sake [they]…  suffered the loss of all things and [counted] them as rubbish, in order that [they might] gain Christ and be found in him…” (Philippians 3:8ff.).

And I mention all of this, not only to encourage you to imagine how things must have been for these early Christians so that you might sympathize with them but so that you might also see that we wrestle with similar thoughts and emotions in our day. I doubt that any here are mourning over the loss of the temple in Jerusalem or longing in their hearts to see it rebuilt. No, but I’m confident that many of us have struggled with the spirituality of the church and her apparent weakness and insignificance in the world in this New Covenant era.

The church, like her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, often appears to be small, weak, and insignificant in the world. There have been times when the church has thrived both physically and spiritually, externally and inwardly. But those times have been rare in the history of the church. And in many cases, the worldly prosperity of the visible church is not a sign of inwards and spiritual health, but of spiritual sickness and compromise. Brothers and sisters, Christ’s church often suffers. She often appears to be weak and insignificant. And I would imagine that many of you have noticed this and have struggled with it, somewhat. How do we interpret the weakness and the suffering of Christ’s church? How do we interpret the church’s apparent insignificance in this world? If Christ, his covenant, kingdom, and temple are truly better than that of the Old, then why don’t we see its glory? The early church wrestled with these questions as the Old gave way to the New. And I would argue that we struggle with these questions too but in a different way. Given our sound doctrine on this point, we may not mourn the loss of the temple in Jerusalem or wish for its rebuilding. But it is possible that we have erred by equating the health and prosperity of Christ’s church with earthly prosperity, power, and glory. If this is the case, then it is our perspective that needs to change. We need to the church with eyes of faith. We need to see her as spiritual. We need to see her as the humble inauguration of something that will be consummated in glory in the future. Stated simply, the church is like her Lord. First, he humbled himself and suffered for us, even to the point of death on the cross, and then he was exalted in glory. And so too, the church will share in Christ’s sufferings, and then she will be raised to glory when Christ returns to make all things new. Those who know this and believe this will persevere in the faith. Those who do not know this or believe this sincerely will be severely tempted to turn their backs on Christ when faced with suffering, because they love this world and things of this world.  

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The Stones Of God’s Temple Are Those Who Align With Christ And Trust In Him 

In fact, God’s temple-church is glorious. Those who have been given eyes to see can see its glory and its beauty. Christ himself is the foundation of this glorious temple, and it is those he has redeemed by shed blood who are its stones. The stones of God’s inaugurated, new creation temple are those who are aligned with Christ and trust in him. They have aligned with him in that they have received his word. And they trust in him in that they depend upon him for the forgiveness of their sins and for eternal life. These do not trust in themselves, nor in any other created thing, but in Christ alone.

This is what the Apostle Peter teaches in the passage we have read. In 1 Peter 2:4, Christ is called, “a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious…” (1 Peter 2:4, ESV). In 2:6 Peter quotes passages from the Old Testament which spoke of the coming Messiah in these terms. First, Peter quotes from Isaiah 28:16, saying, “For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’” He then remarks, “So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe…” – and here he cites Psalm 118:22 followed by Isaiah 8:14 –  “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ and ‘A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’” Finally, Peter makes this comment: “They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do” (1 Peter 2:6–8, ESV). 

So Peter describes Christ just as the Old Testament does. He is a living stone – a cornerstone chosen and precious. But you will notice that Peter and the Old Testament Scriptures also refer to Christ as a stumbling stone and a rock of offense. In other words, he is both the chosen and precious cornerstone in God’s temple upon which some will build their lives, and he is also the stone that others will be offended by and trip over to the ruin of their souls. How can Christ be both the chosen and precious cornerstone and the stone of stumbling and rock of offense all at once? 

Well, the difference is not found in Christ, but in the way that men and women relate to him. Those who see him as God’s chosen one, consider him to be precious, and believe in him, will have him as their sure and eternal foundation. As Isaiah 28:16 says,” whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” And as Peter remarks, “so the honor is for you who believe…” Those who align with Christ and believe in him will be blessed to have him as their sure and eternal foundation. These are the ones who are described in 2:4 with these words, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house…” (1 Peter 2:4–5, ESV). Those who believe in Christ and see him as precious, have him as their foundation. They are the living stones, and Christ is the living foundation.

But notice, others reject him. In fact, Psalm 118:22 predicted that the “builders” would reject him. Who is this a reference to except the Jews themselves? Some Jews believed in Jesus, but many – especially the leaders, and through them, the nation – rejected him. They crucified the Messiah, God’s Anointed One. And why did they “reject” him? Why did they consider him to be a “stone of offense”? For many reasons, one of them being that his mission was not to overthrow Rome, to restore Israel as an earthly nation, to maintain the Old Covenant, nor to prolong and promote the use of the earthly temple. No, he came to inaugurate a New Covenant. He came to inaugurate a kingdom, not of this world. He came to die, not for the Jews only, but for all peoples. He came to build, not a temple of stone, but a spiritual, eternal, new creation temple consisting of living stones quarried from every tongue, tribe, and nation. Many of the Jews were deeply offended by these things, and so they crucified him. To those who are offended by Jesus and reject him, he is not a cornerstone, but a stumbling stone, and a rock of offense.  He is the very stone they trip over leading to their eternal destruction. Jesus is one stone. He is God’s chosen and precious cornerstone. But some will build their lives upon him by receiving and believing in him, while others will trip over him in their disbelief, and their fall will be very great. And then Peter adds this word of clarification: “They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do” (1 Peter 2:8, ESV).

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These Stones Are Chosen By The Father In Eternity

In verse 9 we learn more about these “living stones” that come to Christ, believe in him, and are, therefore, “being built up as a spiritual house” unto the Lord. Why do these living stones align with Christ and believe in him? Why do they come? Notice that the first word of verse 9 is “but”. This verse is meant to be contrasted with verse 8, which says, “They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9, ESV).

Those who come to Christ to receive him,  believe in him, and rest on him do so because they were chosen by God in eternity. This is the doctrine of election or predestination that is found everywhere in the Bible. It is God who has chosen to save, and it is God who as chosen who he will save. 

Just as God chose the bring his Messiah into the world and to preserve his precious and very great promises through the line Seth, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Eber, Tarah, Abram, Isaac, and Jacob, and just as he permitted the nations to walk in darkness in those days, so too has God chosen those he will save through faith in the Messiah while leaving the rest to walk according to their sinful ways. This doctrine is very clearly taught in the Scriptures. God chose Israel in a fleshly way. They were given the covenants and the promises. From them the Messiah was brought into the world. And Gode has chosen to save some from amongst the Jews and some from amongst the Gentiles through faith in this Messiah, for this is one mediator between God and man, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Here in our passage, Peter picks up language that was commonly used to describe Old Covenant Israel, and he applies it to all who have faith in Christ, Jew and Gentile alike. Again he says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9, ESV). Indeed, his letter was addressed “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you”, he says (1 Peter 1:1-2, ESV).

Many of the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, as they were destined to do. But some believed. And we know that many Gentiles (non-Jews) also believed. Read the book Acts to hear all about that. And pay careful attention to Peter’s involvement in bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. He brought the gospel to them,  he saw that they, just like the Jews who first believed, were filled with the Holy Spirit, and he was happy to report this to the church in Jerusalem. That story is told in Acts 10 and 11, and I think it is important background for the letter that Peter wrote, which we call 1 Peter. 

Peter was concerned to emphasize that all who had faith in Christ – all who came to him as God’s precious and chosen cornerstone – all who believed in him and were, therefore, being built up into a spiritual house, from amongst the Jews and from amongst the Gentiles – were chosen by God. God, by his grace, chose to grant them faith in Christ so they might be his “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession”. Of course, they were not a race, a priesthood, or a nation in the way that Old Covenant Isarel was, but Israel foreshadowed them in an earth way, and so Peter uses these terms so that we might make the connection. What God did amongst Isarel in an earthly and fleshly way, he was doing now in all the earth through Christ in a spiritual and eternal way. And Peter wants us to know it is all by God’s grace – it is all because of his choosing.

The doctrine of election is important, brothers and sisters. It was taught clearly by Christ, his apostles, and the prophets. Here is an instance where we must align with Christ and believe his word. The doctrine of election is important for many reasons. Here are two: It produces humility and it increases gratitude. 

If it is true that we come to Christ to receive him and believe in him because God chose us, then there is no room for boasting, for our salvation is by God’s grace from beginning to end. That is what Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” If the doctrine of election causes you to be prideful, then you have not understood it. Rightly understood, it produces humility. And it produces gratitude before God as well, for we come to see that salvation is a gift from God both in its accomplishment and in its application to us in time. 

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These Stones Are Called To Faith By The Word And Spirit In Time 

That leads us to the third observation about these “living stones”, and it is this: These stones are called to faith by the word and Spirit in time. There are many Scriptures texts that speak very clearly about this, but it is found here in 1 Peter 2 as well. 

When did Christ accomplish our salvation and become the cornerstone of God’s eternal temple? Answer: he accomplished our salvation and became the cornerstone of God’s temple when he lived on earth in perfect obedience to the Father, suffered and died in the place of sinners, rose from the dead on the third day, and ascended to the Father’s right hand. That is when Christ became the cornerstone in God’s eternal temple. It was accomplished nearly 2,000 years ago. 

And when did God choose the stones that would be set on top of this foundation? Answer: in eternity, before the creation of the world. This is stated in many places and in many ways. Paul’s words in Ephesians 1:4 are well known. There he says that God the Father “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:4–6, ESV).

But when are these living stones added to God’s temple? When are they quarried and placed? Answer: in due time, through the preaching of the Gospel as the Spirit works. There is an external call, friends. That is the human proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And there is an inward call too. That is the Spirit working inwardly to make a dead sinner alive, to open blind eyes, and to unstop deaf ears. 

We may call this being “born again”. That is what Peter calls it in 1:3 of his letter. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3–5, ESV)

We may refer to this as a “calling”. That is how it is put in our passage for today. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9–10, ESV). 

How are these stones made to be “living stones”. When are they quarried and placed as stones in God’s eternal temple on top of the foundation of Christ, the apostles, and prophets? They are, at just the right time, called to faith in Christ and repentance from dead works, through the preaching of the gospel and the internal working of God’s Spirit upon the mind, will, and affections. Many of you have experienced this, and so you know what it is like.  

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These Stones Are Being Built Into A Holy Temple To Worship And Serve The LORD

Lastly, let us notice the purpose for which these living stones are chosen, called, and placed as “living stones” within God’s temple. These stones are being built into a holy temple to worship and serve the LORD.  

Look at verse 5: “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5, ESV)

Look again at verse 9: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9, ESV)

And consider the call to holiness at the beginning and end of this passage. 

Verse 1: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:1–3, ESV)

Verse 11: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:11–12, ESV)

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Conclusion

Brothers and sisters, it is imperative that we see the church as spiritual, and not as earthly or fleshly. The way that we think about the nature of the church will have an impact on many things. 

Who belongs to it? It is those who align with Christ, have faith in him, having been chosen in eternity and called to faith in time by the preaching of the gospel as the Spirit works. It is those who make a credible profession of faith, therefore, who ought to be baptized and received as members of Christ’s church. 

Stated negatively, it is not those of a particular ethnicity or lineage who are stones in God’s temple-church, but those who have faith only. It doesn’t matter who your daddy is. That mattered a great deal under the Old Covenant. In fact, it made all the difference. All born to Abraham were partakers of that Covenant, citizens of that typological kingdom, and invited to worship at that typological tabernacle and temple. This was true whether or not a person had faith in the promises concerning the Messiah. 

But this is not the case under the New Covenant. This covenant is pure. God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah concerning the purity of the coming New Covenant, when he said, “Behold, the days are coming…  when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:31–34, ESV). 

Here is the great difference between the Old Covenant and the New. Many within Old Covenant Israel did not believe the promises concerning the Christ. Old Covenant Israel was filled with disbelief and idolatry. At times only a small remnant of the true Israel remained. And yet all who were born from Abraham were rightly said to be members of that covenant and nation, for the covenant was earthly and fleshy. Not so with the New Covenant. Under the New Covenant, all are circumcised of heart, all are regenerated, and all have the law written on their heart. Under the New Covenant, there is no need for one covenant member to say to another covenant member, “know the Lord”,  for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. This is not about ethnicity or genealogy or the flesh. No, It’s about faith. 

Are there false professors within the New Covenant community? Yes, indeed. There will always be weeds intermixed with the wheat, and goats (even wolves!) amongst the sheep. The Lord will sort all of that out in the end. We are responsible to understand the true nature of Christ’s covenant, kingdom, and temple though. And we are to be careful to give baptism and the Supper to those who make a credible profession. This is what our confession says in 26.2: “All persons throughout the world, professing the faith of the gospel, and obedience unto God by Christ according unto it, not destroying their own profession by any errors everting the foundation, or unholiness of conversation, are and may be called visible saints; and of such ought all particular congregations to be constituted.”   

Who belongs to the church? Those who believe in Christ. And what should the church do in order to promote its growth? We will consider this question in some detail in a future sermon. For now it will suffice to say that it will do no good to employ worldly tactics according to the wisdom of fallen man, for the church is spiritual. It will grow in depth and in size according to the will of God and the means that he has prescribed. We must be faithful, not innovative if we wish to see Christ’s church flourish. 

And what should we concern ourselves with? Faith in Christ, the proclamation of his gospel, and the worship of his most holy name. For “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5, ESV), “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9, ESV)

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(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

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