Temples of God: The Lord is in His Holy Temple

 

cloudsOne of the most beautiful promises of the New Testament is that God will come to live inside of us, his children. We, both individually and collectively, are made into temples of God:

Romans 8:9     You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.  10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.  11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. 

1 Corinthians 3:16     Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 

1 Corinthians 6:19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 

2 Corinthians 6:16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

Ephesians 2:21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 

Colossians 1:27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 

1 Peter 2:4     As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—  5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

According to the New Testament, the implications of this are that we are to be holy, set apart from “common” things, just as the Old Testament temple was a special, sanctified place. God lives in us! We aren’t meant for immorality. Christ in us, the hope of glory. We are meant for good, not evil. The sanctifying Spirit dwells in us. Because of that, we are to dedicate our bodies to God’s service. The church is the temple of God. Therefore, anything that we do to harm the church is an attack on God’s temple.

We need to recapture that feeling of awe, the recognition of the holiness that is ours, not because of our human efforts, but because the Creator of all has chosen to make a home within our hearts.

Temples of God: The Spirit at work in us

cloudsSo what does the Bible tell us about the work of the Holy Spirit? In the first place, we see that Jesus promised to send his apostles the Paraclete, a comforter/counselor/helper (John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7). We need to recognize that the promises in these three chapters in John were made specifically to the apostles. While we learn about how the Spirit works and what his nature is, we can’t directly claim these promises.

The letters to Christians in the New Testament give us more insight into the Spirit and his work in our life. God gives us the Spirit as a “deposit” on our salvation (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30; Romans 8:23). The Spirit helps us approach the Father (Romans 8:26; Ephesians 2:18; 6:18; Jude 20). He leads us toward godly living (Romans 8:1-17; Galatians 5:16-25) and helps to make us holy (Romans 15:15-16; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Titus 3:4-7; 1 Peter 1:1-2).

In the New Testament, the work of the Spirit is related to God’s Word: both are described as dwelling in us, teaching and convicting, guiding and sanctifying. However, the Spirit is not confined to the Word. He speaks (Acts 13:2-3). He intercedes for us with groans (Romans 8:26-27). He can be lied to (Acts 5:3-9) and can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30). He gives gifts to believers (1 Corinthians 12:11).

There is a definite connection between the Word and the work of the Spirit, but the two are not one and the same. God’s Spirit is the living presence of God in our lives.

A framework for understanding New Testament miracles: Conclusions

337522537_ebc4a82409Let me try to summarize:

At three separate times in biblical history, God used miracles to confirm a new revelation of his will: during the days of Moses, during the days of Elijah and Elisha, and during the first years of the New Testament era.

I believe that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost, and that there was no indwelling Spirit before this time. From our point of view, we were immersed by this outpouring, baptized with the Spirit as the text says. Before this time, men could have the Spirit come upon them, enabling them to do miracles, and they could be filled with the Spirit, filling their lives with spiritual power, though not necessarily miraculous power.

The power to do miracles is separate from the indwelling Spirit (in Acts 8, we see people who have the indwelling Spirit, but not the outward manifestation; in Acts 10, we see people receive the outward manifestation before receiving the indwelling Spirit). The apostles received the power to do miracles and could pass this on to others, but these “secondary recipients” could not pass on the outward gifts. The miraculous gifts were never meant to be permanent; Paul said they would cease when maturity was reached. Hebrews 2:4 speaks of miracles in the past tense, as do the early Christian writers, those who wrote from the second century onward.

Miracles were a sign of apostolic authority; those possessing miraculous gifts had been with the apostles and therefore could be considered as bearing their teaching. Miracles confirmed the validity of what was taught. Eventually the doctrine was established in such a way that this was no longer necessary.

Again, there is speculation and inference in much of this. I do not and will not draw lines of fellowship based on these teachings. But this framework helps me understand what I see in the New Testament regarding miracles. I hope it helps you as well.

A framework for understanding New Testament miracles: The coming of “the perfect”

337522537_ebc4a82409Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. (1 Corinthians 13:8-11)

Here’s another important passage that needs to be considered. 1 Corinthians 12-14 is the most extensive discussion of miraculous gifts that we have. In fact, 1 Corinthians is the only epistle that addresses the topic at length; most of the letters don’t even mention miraculous gifts.

This passage talks about a time when miracles would cease (or will cease, depending on your view). This is connected with the coming of “the perfect.” Some connect this with the Second Coming of Christ, arguing that we will have miracles among us until then. That’s not an impossible view, especially in light of the verse that follows the section I quoted, which talks about “then we shall see face to face.” Some object on grammatical grounds, while others point out that the Second Coming is nowhere else described as “the perfect” or “perfection.”

It’s been popular in our brotherhood to connect “the perfect” with “the perfect revelation,” the completion of the New Testament. The fact that the verse that talks about perfection also mentions “knowledge” and “prophecy,” two things that can be connected with the inspiration necessary to write Scripture. However, the Corinthians would have had no idea that a New Testament was being written, so this view makes the passage pretty meaningless to them.

It seems better to me to look for the answer within Corinthians itself. Consider this verse: “We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. (1 Corinthians 2:6) This verse is interesting because the word “mature” is the same word translated “perfect” or “perfection” in 1 Corinthians 13. That should be an important consideration, because it’s the only other use of this word in Corinthians. If we read the whole of the letter (always a good idea when studying a passage), we’ll see that the Corinthians had a big problem with maturity. Paul tells them: “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. (1 Corinthians 3:1-2) So it’s not surprising that he tells them that they will have these gifts until they reach maturity. That would also explain why none of the other churches seems to be as fascinated with these gifts, why none of the other letters has a similar discussion. The immature church was focused on the gifts that were meant to be in place at the beginning, not throughout the lifetime of the congregation.

The writings of the Early Church Fathers, the Christians from the first few centuries, speak of miracles in the past tense. This supports the view that the “cessation” came sometime early in the life of the church. If, as we saw last post, the external gifts of the Spirit were only given through the laying on of apostolic hands, it makes sense that the gifts would have died out, would have ceased as Paul says here.

My view is that Paul is saying that, when the church reached maturity, the gifts were no longer necessary.

A framework for understanding New Testament miracles: Signs of an apostle

337522537_ebc4a82409The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance. (2 Corinthians 12:12)

That verse deserves to be read and reread during this discussion. To some degree, and I don’t want to overplay this, but to some degree signs, wonders and miracles were the marks of an apostle. Here are some verses from Acts that suggest the same thing:

Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. (Acts 2:43) In the earliest days of the church, it was the apostles who were doing wonders and miraculous signs. The Spirit was given to all that obeyed (Acts 2:38; 5:32), but not all did miracles. The apostles did the miracles.

The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. (Acts 5:12) Time has passed, thousands have been converted, yet it is still the apostles who are doing the miracles.

Seemingly, this gift could be passed on by the apostles through the laying on of hands. The first evidence is circumstantial: in Acts 6, the apostles lay hands on 7 men. Shortly after we read that Stephen, one of the seven, is doing miracles, the first non-apostle that is mentioned as doing so. In Acts 8, we see another of the seven, Philip, doing miracles in Samaria. He was unable, however to pass on the gift. Peter and John came from Jerusalem, laid hands on the believers, and they received this outward manifestation of the Spirit. I’m convinced that these people had received the indwelling Spirit, but the Spirit had not “come on” any of them in the outward sense.

Acts 8:18 is important: “When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”  The apostles were able to pass on the ability to do miracles, the outward manifestation of the Spirit. Those that received that manifestation, the miraculous gifts, were apparently unable to pass the gift on to others (which is why Philip couldn’t pass the gift to the Samaritans).

The exception was Cornelius, in Acts 10. There is no denying that his is an exceptional case; Peter compares it to what happened at Pentecost, years before. I believe that Cornelius and his household received the outward manifestation of the Spirit before baptism, much the same as people in the Old Testament did. This happened as a sign to Peter and the other Jews that God was accepting the Gentiles.

None of this is stated explicitly. I have drawn inferences from the wording of different texts; I won’t make my inferences a line of fellowship. But this framework helps me understand what I see in the New Testament and helps explain why the early church writers spoke of miracles in the past tense.

I’ll have some more to say on this subject, but would love to hear what YOU have to say. Does any of this make sense?