Get a Life: Join the Church not the Gym : Ephesians 2:11-22

When you are buying or selling a car what is the most critical factor? The age of the car? The mileage? The price? The colour? There is something more vital than any of these. If you are looking for a safe reliable car what is the critical issue? Whether the car has a service history or not. A car with no service history or only a partial service history is worth less than a car with a full manufacturers service history. Why? Because you don't know how it has been treated. You don't know how reliable it will be. You are taking a gamble. Statistically, high mileage cars that have been serviced regularly are going to be more reliable than newer cars that have not been serviced regularly. It is a fact that cars with a full manufacturers service history command a higher price than those without it. If this principle applies to cars it should come as no surprise that medical science reveals the same principle applies to our souls and bodies.

According to medical research published this week by the National Institute of Health Care Research you are better off coming to Church than going to the gym. An analysis of 42 different research studies investigating the role of religion in health, in which 126,000 people were interviewed reveals a simple but profound truth. Regular attendance of a place of worship will seriously improve your health and increase your life expectancy. Here are some of the other findings. Compared with those who do not regularly attend Church you are more likely to live longer and you will be less likely to suffer from stress, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, depression or obesity. One particular study of 21,000 people found that those who never attend church were almost twice as likely to die in the following nine years than those who attend church weekly. They calculated that life expectancy for a 20 year old attending church regularly is seven years longer than those who do not.

The article listing the findings is written by Dr Raj Persaud who is a consultant psychiatrist working at the Maudsley Hospital in South London. If you want a copy visit his web site:

The findings of this major study simply corroborate what the Bible has been teaching for thousands of years. When we follow the makers instructions and keep to the recommended service intervals we remain covered by the manufacturers warranty. Jesus said "The thief only comes to kill, steal and destroy but I have come that you may have life abundantly." (John 10:10). He meant it because it is true. Satan is in the demolition business of wrecking lives. Jesus is in the construction business, rebuilding, remaking broken lives.

It is an eternal principle that we will live longer and enjoy a higher quality of life if we obey the makers instructions and keep to the recommended weekly service intervals. Our passage from Ephesians 2 explains why this is so.

Paul uses three very important words to summarise life before and after coming to know Jesus Christ. Separation, Reconciliation, and Unification. Our past, present and future.

1. Separation : What We Once Were 2:11-12
Paul starts by reminding them of what they were before they came to know Jesus. He dwells on their spiritual poverty. Paul is primarily comparing the privileges enjoyed by the Jews with the Gentiles who made up the majority of the Church in Ephesus. His description however is equally applicable to any one who is not yet a follower of Jesus Christ. It explains the reasons for the findings of that medical survey. It helps us see why our friends and family will never enjoy their full potential without knowing God through Jesus Christ. They are:

1.1 Separated from Christ
1.2 Excluded from Citizenship
1.3 Foreigners to the Covenants (Aliens 2:19)
1.4 Without hope
1.5 Without God in the world

That is what we were once like. Aliens, foreigners, without hope, without God in the world. No wonder stress levels, drug abuse, alcoholism, divorce, suicide, and mortality rates are higher and life expectancy is shorter outside the Church than inside. Can you remember what it was like to feel a stranger in a new place, an outsider at school? an alien or foreigner on a trip abroad? What did it feel like? This week the Queen met Camilla Parker Bowles for the first time. It is expected to lead to an invitation to join the royal family at a family party at Windsor Castle. (read opening paragraph of article). That is what we once were. Outside the Royal enclosure. That is how the Bible describes people living in God's kingdom but without access to the Kings presence. That is why ones life expectancy is shorter, and quality of life lower. Without the Makers Instructions there are no answers to the basic questions in life - "Who am I?" "What is my purpose in life?" "Where am I going?" "On what should I build my life?" "How can I cope with the unknown future?". No wonder people think happiness and contentment will come with the bigger house, the higher salary, the latest car, the newer wife.

Now do you see why our neighbours, our family and friends need Jesus? Next time they say religion is just a crutch for the weak invite them to your fitness gym. Maybe you are saying to yourself - hang on a minute Stephen, that is me you are describing. I identify with this description. Then face the truth of what God is saying to you right now, listen carefully to the second point and get a life. Separation - what we once were.

2. Reconciliation : What We Now Are 2:13-19
The "but now" of verse 13 parallels the "but God" in verse 4. Both speak of the gracious intervention of God on behalf of the lost sinner. God has taken the initiative in Jesus Christ.

2.1 Reconciliation between Jew and Gentile 2:13-15
As you read the story of the Church in the Acts of the Apostles you will see that the problems really begin from chapter 10, when the first Gentiles - the family of Cornelius became Christians. There was a lot of debate and heated argument over whether the Gentile Christians had to become Jews first.

The Church leaders held a conference recorded in Acts 15 and agreed that it wasn't necessary because in Christ God had broken down the historic barriers between Jews and Gentiles. There was no longer any difference. They were all accepted before God on the same basis. Grace not works. Faith in Jesus not racial pedigree. That is because God had removed the enmity between them and Himself. Reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles, because there was now,

2.2 Peace Between God and Sinners 2:16-19

Jesus Christ is our peace 2:14
Jesus Christ made the peace 2:15
Jesus Christ preached peace 2:17

As the judge Jesus could have come to declare war but he didn't. He came instead to accomplish peace, and it cost Him His life. God has reconciled us to himself and that brings life changing consequences. At the cross, Jesus takes away our guilt, our sin, our shame, our greed, our fears, our doubts. From now on nothing can separate us from the love of God. No wonder the experience of that love, that forgiveness, that peace has physical and psychological consequences in improved health and life expectancy.

According to James Dobson 50% of all psychiatric patients could be discharged tomorrow if they knew they were forgiven. Indeed 100% of people would be released from guilt and fear if they accept the peace and forgiveness that comes through Jesus Christ. And you know what I find more amazing still? Unlike the Health Service, there is no waiting list for treatment. You don't even have to go private and pay for your treatment. Jesus has paid the price. Peace with God is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Claim it for yourself and share it with your friends. Separation - what we once were. Reconciliation - what we now are.

3. Unification : What We Are Becoming 2:19-22
Paul has already repeated the word "one" on several occasions to emphasise the unifying work of Jesus Christ.

made both one 2:14
one new man 2:15
one body 2:16
one spirit 2:18

Paul uses three pictures to illustrate the unity of the Church as it continues to grow inwardly knit together in harmony, upward toward heaven in holiness and outward around the world in witness.

3.1 One Nation 2:19a
I have grave misgivings about the loss of British sovereignty and democratic accountability in the European Community and the idea of a single currency. Its strange to watch Europe seek greater integration while all over the world smaller and smaller people groups are seeking autonomy and independence from one another, and fighting each other to achieve it. Our citizenship in heaven should be more important to us than our citizenship of any nation on earth. There is no place for segregation or racial distinction in the Body of Christ or the local Church. We are one nation.

3.2 One Family 2:19b
Through faith in Christ we enter God's family. This means ever Christian in the world is my brother or sister, of every colour and race. Yesterday I got an email from a young man called Stephen Sizer. He was born in Lowestoft. His father was my cousin. We have never met. We didn't know of the others existence and only yesterday discovered we have the same name and belong to the same family. I look forward to meeting him. Whether yours is a close or distant family it is a fact that when we trust in Christ we join a supernatural family which often provides deeper and closer relationships than even those of our natural families. One nation, One family.

3.3 One Temple 2:20-22
More precious even than the analogy of one nation or one family is the notion that we are part of one temple. We are part of the very temple, the dwelling place of God's Spirit. The magnificent Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 66 AD. The massive Temple to Diana at Ephesus looked equally impregnable, but it is no more. The temple of God however has been growing upward and outward for 2000 years and it is growing larger every day. How? Because Jesus is its cornerstone. The apostles and prophets its foundations. The Holy Spirit is its life and we are its bricks and mortar.

The very Spirit of God indwells us. No wonder our life expectancy is improved. No wonder our quality of life is superior. God is working his purposes out in and through us building one nation, one family, one temple of God. Neither Spiritual death, nor physical distance can separate us from His love, nor defeat the power of His grace at work in us. Although we come to faith one by one, He has not only saved us individually, He has also made us a part of His temple. One nation, one family and entrusted to us the privilege of enabling others to become citizens of heaven also. Its our privilege to make that invitation personal and deliver it individually to everyone we know. Lets pray.

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." Ephesians 1:18-23

I am grateful to John Stott, Warren Wersbie, Steve Motyer and Donald Guthrie for their commentaries and ideas used in this sermon.