1 Corinthians 3:16, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
1 Corinthians 2:12, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.”
Listen to the message:
You may know that I serve on the faculty for Metro Atlanta Seminary. Teaching courses in Systematic Theology, Homiletics (seminary speak for preaching), and this fall, I’ll be teaching Greek. The opportunity to serve as a seminary professor is like being Brer Rabbit in the Briar Patch. The students are so eager and hungry. I just love it!
Before each course, I create a syllabus in which I outline specific assignments. Assignments are academic calls to action. Read certain pages of a book, meet with a mentor to discuss theological questions, write a paper, take an exam.
The same is true with the Bible, in that when reading Scripture, we often find that there are calls to action. There are truths to believe, promises to claim, commands to obey, pitfalls to avoid, and more.
A Call to Action
In this chapter’s memory verses, there is a call to action. Rather than something for us to do, the call to action is something for us to know – something to understand that is essential, and I would suggest critical, for living as a Christian.
Paul phrases it as a question in 1 Corinthians 3:16:
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
God’s temple? What does that mean?
For background, we need to go back to the OT. Soon after the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt in 1446 BC, the Lord instructed Moses to build a tabernacle—a mobile worship center.
As the word implies, the tabernacle was the place where the Lord’s manifest presence would dwell among the people as they made their way to the promised land. Years after the Israelites had conquered the land, around 950 BC, the third King of Israel, Solomon built a permanent physical structure to replace the Tabernacle. It was a glorious, palatial edifice called the Temple, which represented the dwelling place of God on earth.
That temple would be destroyed by the Babylonians around 590 BC and be rebuilt on a smaller scale later that century by Jews who returned to Jerusalem from exile.
In the first century AD, Jesus claimed that if the temple were torn down that he could rebuild it in 3 days, alluding to the fact that he was the true Temple of God, the manifest dwelling of God on earth who would be torn down through crucifixion, but rebuilt and restored through resurrection.
Following his death and resurrection, he ascended to reign in heaven.
God’s New Temple
Now, God dwells on earth in a new temple, but not in a brick and mortar building. In the same way, he dwelt in the flesh and blood body of Jesus, he dwells in a flesh and blood people.
“God’s Spirit dwells in you.”
“You” is plural. The biblical “y’all.”
This means is that we are not individual temples as much as we are individual stones that comprise the temple of God.
This is what the apostle Peter means when he calls believers “living stones” in 2 Peter 2:25, “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.”
Paul uses the same concept of a building analogy in Ephesians 2:19-22 when he writes, “You are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
While it is true that each individual Christian is indwelt by the Spirit of God, the biblical picture of connection and togetherness as the church being the “body of Christ” and the “temple of God” challenges the ethos of rugged, Western individualism. In other words, the concept of the people of God as the temple of God means that Christianity is not primarily “me and God” as much as it is “we and God.”
You see, the culture in which the Bible was written was highly communal and interdependent. God’s design for how Christians would reveal the presence of God to the world was never intended to be merely individual but communal. As living stones in the temple of God, interconnection is crucial for spiritual maturity and gospel influence.
Here is the point. The purpose of God dwelling in his people is so that he can manifest his presence on earth – not only in one place, but in every place—in every place where his people function as his temple in small clusters of interconnected believers – clusters we call local churches.
The Aroma of Grace
Comparing the OT temple to the new temple of God in the church is like comparing Starbucks headquarters in Seattle to the almost 28,000 different locations around the globe. They are everywhere, spreading the aroma of freshly brewed go juice.
In the same way, believers are to be everywhere, spreading the aroma, not of fair trade go juice, but the aroma of Jesus.
When the world takes a whiff of the church in general and believers in particular, it ought to be able to detect the aroma of Jesus. An aroma of humility, kindness, and yes, truth, but truth spoken in and revealed with a heart of mercy and grace. Truth in love.
And by aroma, I mean tone. How does it feel to smell freshly brewed coffee? It wakes us up. Something in me says, “I want that.” The same thing should be true of how sinners feel when they encounter God in us.
Humility. Kindness. Mercy. It just makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, everything we possess is grace. We are a people of the cross. A people of mercy. God has freely given and we have freely received. That is the emphasis of our second memory verse.
Things Freely Given
1 CORINTHIANS 2:12, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.”
If Paul wanted us to know something about being the temple of God in which the Spirit of God dwells, this verse reinforces that desire because the word translated “know” in 3:16 and “understand” in 2:12 actually are the same Greek word.
What we are to know and understand are “the things freely given us by God.”
In the original Greek text of the New Testament, the phrase “freely given” is a verb form (charizomai) of the Greek noun, charis, which means grace.
“You have received the Spirit who is from God that we might understand the things freely given.”
One of the primary roles of the Spirit is to reveal to us how much we have been graced!
While it would take a lifetime to fully explore what God has freely given us, we can summarize these gifts into a couple of major theological categories.
What God Does For Us and In Us
The first category I what God has done for us.
The second category is what God does in us.
When we speak of what God has done for us, the focus is on Jesus, with his crucifixion as the centerpiece, where he endured the judicial penalty our sins deserve. This work can be thought of as justifying grace, because God’s work for us is a gift.
When we speak of what God does in us, the focus is on the Holy Spirit, whereby through his taking up residence within us, he begins to renovate and remodel every room in the house. This work can be thought of as sanctifying grace, because God’s work in us is a gift.
Fixer upper shows are all the rage. Chip and Joann take the worst house in the best neighborhood and transform it into a dream home. This is kind of what God does with us.
Revelation 5:9, “You were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God people from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
If justifying grace is where God purchases the condemned fixer-upper, sanctifying grace is where he moves in and takes up residence in his new possession with the intention of renovation.
When he bought the shack, he put his name on it as his own beloved possession. This is justification. But he also could see the finished product, what we call in theology, glorification. The process of change—the renovation and remodeling that takes place between justification and glorification is sanctification.
Now, one of the primary ways this sanctification / renovation project takes place is the transformation of the mind. It is a transformation of worldview, which is a philosophical way to say how we see reality.
Before someone is justified, they are unregenerate and see the world through the lens of the world, what Paul calls “the spirit of the world.”
We see this in Ephesians 2:1-3, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.”
But by the mercy of God and out of his great love for us, he rescued us and gave us new life. With this new life, we are given new eyes—a new way to see—a new worldview.
We learn to see with these new eyes by having our minds transformed.
Romans 12:1-2, “1 Therefore, I urge you… in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Let’s go back to our second memory verse in 1 Corinthians 2:12. Just four verses later he tells the Corinthians and us that “we have the mind of Christ.” Since the Spirit indwells his people, disciples of Jesus are able to see reality with the eyes of Christ.
Two Divergent Influences
There really are only two sources of influence. The spirit of the world and the Spirit of God. Every thought and decision can be traced back to one of these two, divergent sources.
Here is good news. Not only do we receive justifying grace, we receive sanctifying grace.
We don’t have to succumb to the influence of a worldly spirit. We can live by the influence of the Holy Spirit, not following the ways of the world, but following the ways of Jesus, remembering that his ways are not only right but are good for us. The ways of Jesus are the ways of blessing.
Four suggestions for living as the temple of God:
1) Be consciously mindful of the Spirit’s indwelling influence. This is the “I want you to know” call to action.
2) Listen for the voice of the Spirit vs the voice of the world. Learn to distinguish between the two.
3) Expect and be open to conviction. When we are listening to the voice of the world, if we truly belong to God, the Spirit of God will let us know. It will be the voice we know is right, but struggle to follow. The flesh is so strong. But the Spirit is stronger still. This is where trusting that the ways of Jesus are the ways of blessing is so important.
Respond to conviction with repentance and fresh faith.
4) Live in awe of God’s devotion to you. Become an expert in the gospel. Know it. Understand the things freely given to us by God.
Allow God’s grace in Jesus to become the defining truth of your life!
For marketing purposes, most Corporations have logos—symbols by which their brand can be easily identified. Nike has its swoosh. Twitter has its bird. McDonald’s has the Golden Arches.
The temple of God has a symbol, too—a cross, reminding us that we were condemned shacks. Uninhabitable hovels. Dumps. But dumps that were loved by God—so loved that he paid the ultimate price that we would be his and that he would move in, take up residence, making us beautiful in his sight as the temple of God in which the Spirit dwells to manifest the mercy of God to the world.
The way to receive this Spirit is to receive Jesus as your Savior and your Lord, the God who freely gives grace to those who ask.