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

Old Testament Reading: Leviticus 11:45

“For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:45, 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)


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.


Brothers and sisters, this little sermon series on the doctrine of the church is very important. If we are going to thrive together as a church on into the future, then we had better know what we are.

In this brief sermon series on the church, I am not focusing on the particulars. The particular do matter. How, specifically, is the church to be governed? How is discipline to be done? How is the church to worship? These are important questions that need to be addressed. But in this series, we are considering the nature, purpose, and characteristics of Christ’s church in a more generic way, and we are doing so utilizing the imagery of the temple. 

Christ’s church is God’s temple. Its foundation is the apostles and prophets with Christ as the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-22). It stones are people, chosen by God, and made alive by his Spirit. These are graciously brought to faith in Christ. The rest upon him as their foundation for the forgiveness of sins and for eternal life. They align with his teaching and way of life  (1 Peter 2:4-5). And the purpose of this spiritual, inaugurated eschatological temple of God is to worship God and to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9, ESV). 

Today we turn our attention to the character or quality of Christ’s temple-church. And what is the character or quality of Christ’s temple-church? She is holy. To be holy is to be set apart unto God. To be holy is to be free from the defilement of sin. To be holy is to be morally upright and pure. God is holy, and only those who are holy are able to draw near to him in his holy temple. This was true under the Old Covenant in an earthly and typological way. Only the priests who were set apart unto the service of God were invited to draw near, and only after washing in water and not with animal blood. If the Old Covenant tabernacle and temple were holy, and if no unclean thing was permitted to enter in, how much more must we consider the New Covenant temple of God, which is the inaugurated eschatological new creation temple of God, to be holy? To enter in, you must be holy. To be placed as a living stone within this temple, you must be pure. Paul alludes to this truth in 1 Corinthians 3:16. Speaking the church in Corinth he says,  “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys [defiles, corrupts] God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16–17, ESV).

This presents a problem, for no human being is holy, in and of themselves with the exception of Christ.

To understand how sinful people (like you and me) can possibly be set as stones in God’s holy temple, two things must be said.


The Stones Of God’s Temple Are Those Who Have Been Made Holy By The Shed Blood Of Christ

Firstly, the stones of God’s new creation temple are those who have been made holy by the shed blood of Christ. If we are in Christ – that is to say, if we are united to him by the grace of God through faith – then we have been made holy. 

We are not holy in and of ourselves. Paul testifies to this when he quotes a slew of Old Testament passages including Psalms 14 and 53, saying, “‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’ ‘Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.’ ‘The venom of asps is under their lips.’ ‘Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.’ ‘Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.’ ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes’” (Romans 3:10–18, ESV). He then remarks, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:19–20, ESV). Stated in the terms of holiness, no one is holy. All are unholy. And if we really understood God’s moral law, we would see this clearly. 

So then, by nature and because of our sinful corruption and sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, we are not worthy, in and of ourselves, to be set as stones in God’s holy temple. Now that man is fallen into sin, we are not worthy by nature to draw near to God in his holy temple. Like Adam and Eve after they rebelled, we deserve to be cast out, banish, and barred from God’s temple forever. But we know that God has made a way for us to be cleansed so that we might draw near. 

This cleansing was typified under the Old Covenant at the tabernacle and later temple by the water of the bronze laver and the blood of bulls and goats. The people of Isarel were invited to draw near to God in his holy temple through the priesthood. These priests were washed with the water. These priests had their guilt atoned for by the blood of animals. They drew near to God as representatives of the nation. But we know that that water did not actually wash away sin. The blood did not actually remove guilt. Yes, it cleansed the people ceremonially and on earth, but really and truly before God in heaven. Pick up the book of Hebrews and read if you need to be convinced of this! No, but the water and the blood of the Old Covenant did point forward to the water and blood which flowed from Christ’s side. It is through faith in him that we have true and eternal cleansing, for his blood was poured out for the forgiveness of many (Matthew 26:28).     

The living stones out of which God’s eternal temple is being built are not naturally holy. Adam and Eve were holy when God created them, but they rebelled. In that moment they lost their original righteousness. And all who descended from them are not holy but are born in sin (Psalm 51:5) and are by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). We are naturally holy. No, instead we are defiled and impure. 

How then can a sinful, defiled person draw near to the Holy God in his holy temple? How can one who is corrupted be set as a living stone in the holy temple of the LORD? They must be made holy. They must be cleansed. Friends, the blood of Jesus is the only thing that can remove the scarlet stain of sin and make us white as snow before God.   

This cleansing was offered to sinners in Old Testament times through the promise of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the types and shadows of the Old Mosaic Covenant, and also prophesy. For example, the LORD spoke through Isaiah the prophet, saying, “Come now, let us reason together… though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18, ESV).

 The New Testament Scriptures plainly declare that this cleansing is available through faith in Jesus Christ alone.   

I think of 1 John 1:5ff. “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:5–10, ESV).

I think also of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Here Paul reminds the Christians in Corinth of their past life of sin before placing their faith in Christ and of the cleansing they have received. He says, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9–11, ESV).

Here Paul reminds the Corinthian Christians of what they once were and what they now are. You used to be all of these vile things, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” When were they washed, sanctified (set apart positionally), and justified (declared not guilty by God in heaven)? The moment they were drawn to faith in Jesus through the hearting of the gospel and by the working of the Spirit of our God. 

Brothers and sisters, the stones of God’s new creation temple must be holy and pure, free from the defilement of sin. And the only way for these stones to be holy is for God to make them holy by applying the blood of Christ to them. If we are to be holy before God, we must be cleansed. We must be washed. We must be justified and renewed. Our filthy defiled garments must be removed, and we must be clothed with Christ’s righteousness. All of this is received by faith in Christ alone. It is a gift freely given by God, and as a gift, it cannot be earned but must be received.  


The Stones Of God’s Temple Will Pursue Holiness In Their Way Of Life

So then, the first thing that must be said is this: the stones of God’s new creation temple are those who have been made holy by the shed blood of Christ. Secondly, the stones of God’s new creation temple will pursue holiness in their way of life. Stated differently, they will strive to be holy because they have been made holy.

Brothers and sisters, the order is very important. We do not strive to be holy in order to be made holy before God. No, having been made holy (by God’s grace and through faith in Christ) we do then strive to live a holy life before him. To state the matter in different theological terms, justification leads to progressive sanctification flows out of justification, not the other way around. Or, to quote John, “We love because [God] first loved us” (1 John 4:19, ESV). God does not love us because we took the initiative to love him. No, it is God who takes the initiative. It is God who first does a work in us to cleanse and renew us. And then we worship and serve him in response to his love and grace and in the power and freedom of the new life that he has given to us through our Spirit-wrought union to Christ Jesus. 

We must get the order right. To get the order wrong means that we do not understand nor believe the gospel. The gospel is not be holy to be made right with God. The gospel is that God makes all who trust in Christ holy. This is by his grace. This gift is received by faith. And those who are made holy will certainly strive to be holy in their way of life, because God has cleansed them, renewed them in the mind, will, and affections, freed them from bondage, and empowered them with his Spirit. 

With this clarification stated (so as to protect the gospel and to guard against the error of legalism) it must now be stressed, that God’s people will indeed strive after holiness. Consider seven things about striving after holiness. 

One, the Scriptures command God’s people to strive for holiness. We need not leave 1 Peter to see this. In chapter 1:3-5, Peter blesses “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! [Who] According to his great mercy… 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 [us], 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). Notice the emphasis is first placed upon what God has done for us. And then in 1:13 he says, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:13–16, ESV).

And consider also 1 Peter 2, which have been considered together in this series. It is here that the church is described in “temple” language. And at the beginning and end of this passage, holiness is urged. Look at 2:1: “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). And look at 2:11: “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).  As I have said, those who have been made holy (by God’s grace) will strive for holiness. The Scriptures command it.

Two, the Scriptures warn those who would claim to be Christians who do not pursue holiness. These ought not to have confidence that they are children of God, for their deeds contradict their profession of faith. 

Consider Jesus’ words as recorded in Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21–23, ESV). Does this passage teach that we must earn our way into heaven through law-keeping? No! But it does teach that there are some (even many), who call Jesus “Lord” and do not mean it. Tell me, if Jesus is truly a person’s Lord and Savior, will they strive to obey their Lord, or not? Yes. Those who truly have Jesus as Lord will long to obey him. They will pursue holiness, that is to say, obedience to Christ’s commands.    

1 John 2:3-6 also comes to mind: “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:3–6, ESV)

Three, though it is true that God’s people will strive after holiness, it is also true that they will not reach perfection until the life to come. Corruptions remain within us. The world tempts us from with out. The Evil one also works against us. Sanctification is a process. Those who have faith in Christ will pursue holiness. They ought to progress in holiness. But sinless perfection will be enjoyed by us only in the life to come.

Our confession of faith speaks to this beautifully in chapter 9, which is entitled, Of Free Will. Paragraph 4 stays, “When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, he frees him from his natural bondage under sin, and by his grace alone enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so as that by reason of his remaining corruptions, he does not perfectly, nor only will that which is good, but does also will that which is evil.” Paragraph 5 then says, “This will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to good alone in the state of glory only.”

Romans 7 proves the point true Christians still struggle with sin. There Paul the apostles talks about his own struggle with sin. At one point he says, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19, ESV). And then he says, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24, ESV).

Four, a believer’s confidence that they are indeed a child of God and have been forgiven by him must first be grounded in Jesus Christ and in the truth of the gospel. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV), the Scriptures say. Do you trust in Christ truly? Do you look to his shed blood for cleansing? Well, here is the objective and unshakable foundation for our sense of assurance. It is the work of Christ! It is finished. But there are two other things that testify in a subjective way to the fact that we are indeed children of God. One, God’s Spirit testifies to our souls. That is Paul speaks of in Romans 8:16, saying, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…” (Romans 8:16, ESV). And the fruit of our obedience is also a sign of our genuineness. This is what John speaks of in 1 John 2:3: “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3, ESV).

So then, if I were to approach you, Christian, and ask you, how do you know that you are saved? How do you know that your sins are forgiven? What should your first response be? I know that I am right with God because of what Jesus Christ did for me? He lived for sinners, died for sinners, and rose for sinners. God’s Word says that I’m forgiven if I trust in him. I trust in him indeed. And more then this, God’s Spirit is in me and reminds me that I am God’s child. And more than this, I am growing in holiness. I am progressing in sanctification. And when I sin, God’s Spirit convicts me and calls me back. And I know that God disciplines those he loves. 

This issue of confidence or assurance is an interesting one. There are some who are confident that they are God’s children when they should not be, for they are hypocrites. There is no fruit or evidence that they are a child of God. And yet there are others who ought to have assurance who do not. Perhaps these are plagued by a tender conscience or by some other thing. These need to be reminded of the truth of the gospel – “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. These also need to be reminded that true Christians do sometimes fall into sin. No one is perfect. It is our ongoing pursuit of holiness, our progress, and our positive response to the discipline of the Lord in repentance, that are pieces of evidence that we are indeed children of God. Indeed, it is through this pursuit of holiness and through progress that we make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10).

Five, believers are to strive after holiness but not with their own strength alone. No, we must strive with the strength that God provides. And we are to strive making use of the means that God has provided for our growth in grace. We must abide in Christ to produce godly fruit. And we must partake of the ordinary means of grace – the word of God read and preached, prayer, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. These are all to be administered when the saints assemble to fellowship with one another. Strive for holiness with everything that is in you, but not in your strength alone. Paul wrote to the Philippians, saying, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…” (Philippians 2:12, ESV).

Six, Christians are not to strive after holiness alone but must pursue it within the church. There Christians are to encourage one another and stir one another up. “[S]ince we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:21–25, ESV). 

Seven, as we strive after holiness in the church we must not despise discipline. Discipline is such an important part of the Christian life. And please hear me: before discipline is formal and corrective (Matthew 18, 1 Corinthians 5:11, etc.), it is organic and formative. God disciplines his people continuously because he loves them. And God’s people are to exhort, encourage, and correct one another continuously, because they love God and one another. Paul wrote to the Thesolonian church, saying, “Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:13–14, ESV). To the churches in Galatia he said, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1–2, ESV). Formative discipline is not the job of the elders only. Every member should be concerned to encourage others in the temple of Christ in their pursuit of holiness.



God’s temple is holy, brothers and sisters, and you are that temple. The stones of God’s new creation temple are those who have been made holy by the shed blood of Christ. These will pursue holiness in their way of life, for God has cleansed them, renewed them, freed them, and is sanctifying them still. 

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