by Julia Sterne
March 12, 2013
7 min read
In our introductory post, What Is The Church?, Alastair concluded that the church can be defined by three metaphors in Scripture: the people of God, the body of Christ, and the temple of the Spirit. In this last post of the series, I will take a look at what it means for the church to be the temple of the Spirit.
“The church is the temple of the Holy Spirit”, I can say in my head quite factually. But trying to understand this is like a giant knotted, twisted pile of string. How are we, a group of living breathing beings, a temple? And what does it even mean to be a temple of the Holy Spirit of God?
Luckily, our good friend Dan taught us this past week on what it means to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. Starting in the Old Testament he traced the presence of God and its association with the people of God in “stuff.” The ark of the covenant, the tabernacle and ultimately the temple were considered the places where the holiness of God, his Spirit and presence dwelled most strongly.
It conjures up images from ancient times. Think about the fear and awe attached to every item associated with the temple and where they were placed; or the Priests guarding the ark, the grief at losing it to foreign nations, the cleansing rituals to even enter the temple courts, the thought that a priest may literally die in the Holy of Holies because of the powerful and pure presence of God.
The temple was the central place of the ancient Jewish religion. It was considered sacred, powerful, and above all the place to encounter God.
No wonder the chief priests were offended when Jesus said he could tear it down and rebuild it in three days! But this tearing down and rebuilding was not meant to be about the actual brick and mortar building called the “temple.” Jesus has a completely new paradigm in mind. Jesus was prophesying about a new way of God’s presence being among his people. His body was the living presence of God on earth. He was God in flesh. Jesus’ body would be broken, torn down, and three days raised new, everlasting, and the living God would be among his people in a miraculous way never before possible: no barriers between us and him.
We see what Jesus fully meant at Pentecost. Jesus promised his disciples his own spirit, his peace, his presence. He said it was better for him to go away, because he would send them the “helper.” We now know he meant the Holy Spirit. And we see it at Pentecost, the delivery of a much awaited promise. Jesus ascends and leaves us, but he does not leave us alone. His presence, the very presence of God, comes upon his people, his body of believers in the form of God’s spirit.
The best metaphor we have for this incredible reality is that we as a community are the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 3:16). We as a community are a place where God’s presence is powerfully among us, within us, surrounding us, pouring forth himself into the places we gather.
I want to pause for a moment and just soak that in.
What an incredible, immeasurable gift.
In ancient days, only one priest once a year encountered the presence of God in the Holy of Holies. Now we live with his presence—day in and day out—because of Christ’s body being torn apart on our behalf, because of his power to overcome the grave, even his power to overcome the four walls of the temple.
Remember the curtain separating us from the Holy of Holies? Remember it was torn in two, from the heavens to the earth? (Mk 15:37-38). No more barriers.
Again, I just want to pause and let this rest on my soul.
What a gift. What a supernatural miraculous reality.
You are a temple. A temple of God’s sacred, holy, powerful, good, loving, merciful, and immeasurable presence. As a people gathered we are the temple of his Holy Spirit.
Beyond simply pleasuring in this reality we have some responsibilities that come with this gift.
First, as bearers of the Holy Spirit, we are called to be holy (1 Cor 6:19-20). We are asked to treat our individual bodies and our corporate body with the highest degree of moral ethics: holiness. This is a challenge beyond our weak mortal flesh’s abilities. But thanks be to God, the Holy Spirit is at work within us, calling out our sin, calling us forward in our walk with Christ, refining and purifying us to be more like Christ, empowering us to be holy. Rest in his work, pray against sin and temptation, and participate with the Spirit of God in working out your holiness.
A second responsibility beyond holiness is the unity of the church. We are one people, one body, and one temple. It is not many mini-temples who coincide on a Sunday. There are many members but only One Spirit (1 Cor. 12:12-13). The presence of God is the same presence in each of us and this presence is One. We are not a million different pieces of God spread across time and space, we are infilled with his one singular Spirit. Therefore, unity is the inclination of God, the direction of the Spirit, and at the heart of the church. We are told: do not be divisive, serve one another in love as Christ has served us, do not seek your will above God’s, be humble and united as one in God.
This was Christ’s prayer for his followers: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17).
Being the Temple of the Holy Spirit is an incredible gift and an unbelievable blessing. But we cannot lose site of God’s mission in making us his temple. The ancient temple was meant to be a sign to all nations that the God of Israel was the one true God, the one of splendor, majesty, power and love for his children. The temple was meant to be the Glory of God on display in the all the world, for all nations to draw near to him and his presence.
We are the temple now. We are the display of God’s power, splendor, blessing, love, mercy, justice, and glory, by his presence in us. He did not just give us his Spirit as a gift, he has given it to us so that all the world may see Christ and come to know him as God our Savior, who loves any who turn to him. This is why, by his empowering presence, we pursue holiness and unity as God’s living temple—for Christ’s sake, for his glory, and for the sake of the world’s salvation.