Throughout the world, in most religions you find temples. They are a way to meet with gods. The gods dwell in temples, sacred places for people to meet with them. Worship of all kinds from sacrifices of animals to singing and studying happens.
It’s no different in the Bible. By the time the Israelites leave Egypt and go to Mount Sinai, God already has floor plans in the works. These sacred buildings share similarities with other temples in the same time as the Israelites, but there are also differences.
Knowing about temples and their use is the first step to understanding why Paul says our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). We will unpack this concept of temples and what it means for our bodies to be his temples.
Carrying God’s Presence
Throughout the Old and New Testaments God dwells with Israel through the tabernacle first, and then the Temple. As Paul traveled through the ancient Roman Empire, he encountered temples in every city.
These temples were for Greek or Roman gods and goddesses. In many of these pagan temples, Paul would have seen idols, statues and portraits of the gods who “inhabited” those buildings. It was very different from what he knew as a Jew in Jerusalem.
There, Solomon’s Temple was a place most Jews especially in the city visited every day. They offered sacrifices to Yahweh. They learned the Torah inside its walls. They worshiped God in song. It was a place to gather in praise and had strict laws on what to do when there.
But that’s where the similarities ended. There were no statues in the Temple or anywhere around Jerusalem. God gave no representations of himself through idols or statues.
What did this mean to Paul when he said it in the first century context with temples everywhere? When he speaks of our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, he’s thinking of the model in Jerusalem, not the pagan temples all around him.
Our bodies are not part of the idol culture of pagan temples. They are the house, the Temple itself, for God’s presence in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells inside of our bodies as his temple. It is a Temple because he dwells there, not because of anything we do to our bodies to make them special.
God has expectations for how we live, how we use our bodies, and what we do with our lives. Just as he had strict laws for Israel because his presence was among them, so also he expects us to live in holy ways.
Permanent and Temporary
In the beginning, when God set the Israelites free from slavery in Egypt, they traveled to Mount Sinai. When Moses was on the mountain, God gave him the floor plan and layout for the tabernacle. The tabernacle was God’s idea.
Everything in the tabernacle had a purpose and referenced God’s plan of salvation. It foreshadowed the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Every implement in it had a purpose in worship.
We are no different today. Because God’s presence dwells in us as he inhabited the tabernacle in the wilderness for the Israelites, he is sensitive to the way we treat our bodies and what we do with them. We can honor or dishonor God with our speech, actions, and thoughts.
The tabernacle in the wilderness was a tent that was assembled and disassembled for travel. The Israelites would take the tent apart whenever they went somewhere. Then they would assemble it and God’s presence would inhabit it when they stopped along their journey.
God’s presence guided them through the wilderness in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. When they stopped, his presence filled the tabernacle and that’s where they went to meet with God. Because his presence was among them, they must follow the laws he set up on the mountain.
Their conduct, especially outward conduct, must be holy before him. Otherwise, his presence could not dwell with them. God is holy, and he can’t dwell with unholy people. When his presence came down on Mount Sinai, the people could not touch the mountain because it was holy ground.
When the Israelites arrived in the Promised Land, King David wanted to set up a permanent place where God’s presence could dwell, the Temple in Jerusalem. When he introduced the idea to God, God had some caveats and concerns about it.
He told David he didn’t need a house to dwell in. He also said that David could not build it because he was a man of blood and war. His son Solomon ended up building the Temple. I think one of the reasons God didn’t want to dwell in the Temple was because it was permanent.
Every Israelite had to travel to Jerusalem to be in God’s presence. His presence is everywhere, but his special presence, his Shekinah glory, dwelt in the Temple in Jerusalem. It made him less accessible to the common person.
Not everyone could travel to Jerusalem. Some Israelites were very poor or had farms to maintain. They couldn’t just get up and go to Jerusalem. There were three special feasts that every Israelite was supposed to attend, but not everyone could visit it every year.
So God’s presence was less accessible with a permanent dwelling place. He suggested the tabernacle, a tent that followed his presence. It made the Israelites follow his leading. But the Temple made him be in the place the Israelites could decide to come to or not.
In the New Testament, God’s presence dwells in our bodies. Once again, he has a tent, a temporary dwelling place that moves. We can follow his presence and his leaving wherever he wants us to go.
So God presented the tabernacle and our bodies as his dwelling places. We don’t get to choose where his presence goes when he lives inside of us.
Treating the Temple
God’s presence in us changes the way we live. Not only does he observe and monitor our heart, what we think, and the way we act, but he expects us to live holy lives for him.
In future posts, we will look at God’s expectations for our bodies. We worship God with everything we do. The way we use our bodies for his glory, gospel, and kingdom glorifies him.
He sees everything we do. Because his presence dwells in us, we must glorify him. The Holy Spirit is sensitive to how we live. If he is going to seal us with God’s authority, we must follow his principles and commandments.
We also represent Jesus as his ambassadors, so the way we and the way people see us matters to God. He wants us to be above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2). We must be good examples of what Jesus does in a Christian’s life to the world.
Throughout Scripture, God repeats over and over his goal for holiness, that he might dwell with us forever. He says in numerous places, “I will be their God and they will be my people.” He’s always wanted to dwell with his creation since the beginning.
But sin destroys our ability to dwell with God. Ever since the beginning and the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve rebelled against God, sin has separated us from him. It has destroyed the possibility of a relationship with him.
Ever since Jesus died on the cross in our place and forgave us of our sins, cleansing us and reconciling us to God, we have had the possibility of renewed relationship with God. The moment that we are saved by Jesus, we have peace with God (Romans 5:1) and are sealed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14).
God’s presence now dwells in us, guiding us into holiness and truth. The Holy Spirit helps us to become more like Jesus. This makes it possible for us not only to experience a foretaste of heaven in the Spirit’s presence in our lives now, but also a future in heaven with Jesus forever.
Becoming the dwelling place for the Spirit of God, our bodies being his Temple, makes us responsible for the way we live and act. The Holy Spirit knows everything about us. But for him to dwell in us, we must live a holy lifestyle for him.
Everything we think, say, and do matters to God as we represent him in the world and have his presence living in us., It’s exciting to know that we will live with God forever in eternity, and his Holy Spirit lives within us as a foretaste of eternity now.
As we continue to look at what it means for the Holy Spirit to inhabit our bodies and lives, we will find the Scriptures give specific commands and principles for living with the Holy Spirit inside of us.
Leave a comment and tell me some of the ways you live for God and some of the benefits you have seen of being a dwelling place for God’s Spirit.