What does Ephesians 2:21 mean?
ESV: in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.
NIV: In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
NASB: in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord,
CSB: In him the whole building, being put together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.
NLT: We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.
KJV: In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
Believers are part of this structure (Ephesians 2:20), the church, which exists as a holy temple in the Lord. Jesus is the cornerstone, the apostles and prophets are the foundations, and other believers are the additional parts (Ephesians 2:22) that make up this figurative temple that worships God.
In 1 Corinthians 6:19–20, Paul also refers to each believer's body as a temple. Though this is a slightly different word picture, the idea is relevant to this context. We must each see ourselves as a temple of God and live a holy life. In addition, we each serve as part of a holy temple that includes all other believers. We are to seek to live pure as a church body to be pleasing to God in our worship. Both aspects are of great importance to God. As with the Old Testament, the temple could become defiled and needed to be cleansed. Believers likewise need to confess sins (1 John 1:8–9) and be united as a body to live in a way that is pleasing to God.
Ephesians 2:11–22 explains how those who are saved, by grace through faith in Christ, have become part of a single family. Prior to the coming of Jesus, the Jewish people considered Gentiles to be unclean and inferior. Here, Paul explains how the gospel extends hope, promise, and a relationship with God to Jews and Gentiles alike. Most of the Ephesian church would have been Gentiles, and Paul frequently found himself countering anti-Gentile sentiment among various churches.
Paul repeatedly emphasizes that salvation is accomplished on the basis of grace, through faith. Good works, human effort, and our best intentions will never be enough to earn salvation. Every person is marked with sin, both deliberate and accidental, and for this reason we deserve to be separated from God. Only through His mercy and grace can we be saved, leaving no room for bragging. This also means that all who are saved, Jew and Gentile alike, are part of the same spiritual family. There is no cause for hostility between believers; we are all unworthy, and all saved by the same kindness of God.
The first three chapters of Ephesians focus on doctrinal issues; the last three show how those principles should be applied in real life. Chapter 2 makes a pair of related points about our status as saved believers. First, salvation is entirely dependent on the grace of God, not human efforts. Second, this means all Christians are part of the same family, Jew and Gentile alike. This bridges chapter 1's explanation of God's awesome glory to chapter 3's discussion of God bringing His long-awaited plan into action.
Ephesians follows a theme common in Paul's writings: connecting theory with practice. In this book, however, he goes into greater depth before making the transition. As a letter meant to be read by more than just the believers at Ephesus, this is an important look at how Christian belief should translate into Christian action. The first three chapters lay out spiritual ideas, the last three chapters show how these truths should be applied in the life of a mature believer. Paul focuses heavily on love, the unity of the Christian church, and the incredible value of our salvation through Christ.
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