As we look from Genesis to the New Testament, we see God dwells among his people, but sin breaks that fellowship. In the New Testament, the dwelling of God among his people is amplified through the presence of the Holy Spirit with the believer.
Unfortunately, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is neglected. Spurgeon said,
In this age, when the Holy Spirit is too much forgotten, and but little honor is accorded to his sacred person, I feel that there is a deep responsibility upon me to endeavor to magnify his great and holy name. I almost tremble, this morning, in entering on so profound a subject, for which I feel myself so insufficient.
From Psalm 51 we see David’s cry “take not your Holy Spirit from me,” yet we are left with a mystery as to precisely what it means. What is the child of God’s relationship with the Holy Spirit?
In this short article, we will see that the child of God in the New Testament is now a temple of the Holy Spirit. This brings about the certainty of the resurrection, demands purity, and enables the Christian life.
Although this is not the focus of our time, it is helpful to have an OT background of the Holy Spirit being given to Christ and promised to Christians. The promise of the Holy Spirit to work with Christ and to dwell among the people of God in the Old Testament is a prominent theme. Even as the OT saints were familiar with the physical tabernacle and temple, God taught them to anticipate a greater connection with the Spirit in the Messianic age.
THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
The presence of God among his people is the definitive aspect of the temple in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, there is no temple building. Instead, we have the church composed of Christians who are the temple of God. “All NT writings present the Christian community as a spirit-endowed entity.” The presence of the Spirit in the Old and New Testament point to a forgiven people who enjoy God’s presence. “The motifs of the gift of the spirit and forgiveness of sins are likewise attested together in earliest Christianity (1 Cor 6:11; Titus 3:4–11).” This is the restoration of what was lost in Eden. The sin has been forgiven, and God may again dwell with his people. However, the intensity of this fellowship has, in a way, been intensified because God is not just walking in the presence of the people. God is said to dwell inside the person.
Jesus Promised the Holy Spirit to His Believers
Jesus promised the indwelling Spirit to all believers. John 7:37-39 records, “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given because Jesus was not yet glorified.” These words present the believer as the temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells and out of which the living water flows (Ezekiel 47:1).
One of the first mentions of Christ’s people receiving the Spirit stands out from the rest. “The act by which Jesus imparts the spirit to his disciples is itself a significant biblical allusion. In its use of the verb enephysēsen, “he breathed on them” (John 20:22), the gospel tradition recalls the same form in the creation narrative (Gen 2:7 LXX). This interesting event helps prepare us for what happens later in the church age.
The temple imagery is unmistakable on Pentecost. Acts 2 records that on that Pentecost there was a sound from heaven like a mighty rushing wind which filled the entire house (Acts 2:1-2). The fire imagery is important as well. “Fire is a conventional literary feature of theophanies (e.g., Exod 3:2; 2 Thess 1:8; 4 Ezra 13:10).” At some point in Israel’s history, they began to observe Pentecost as an anniversary of the giving of the Law at Sinai. So, in the people’s mind, this Pentecost would have seemed like a time of covenant renewal. This time the covenant was with God and the church, not God and just the Jewish nation.
The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38
The first mention of Christians, other than the apostles before Pentecost, receiving the Spirit is found in Acts 2:38, “repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
There has been much debate in churches of Christ as to what “the gift of the Holy Spirit” means. Is it a gift the Spirit gives? Is it miraculous gifts? Is it the Holy Spirit himself? If it is the Holy Spirit himself, what does that mean? Does the Spirit dwell literally in the Christian or only through the Word or is it a metaphorical statement?
How does God dwell among us? This is an interesting discussion because God is omnipresent, but he also manifests himself in various places in special ways. Turretin listed several ways in which God’s presence is especially manifested on earth and among his people.
The divine presence is either: a symbolical presence, when under some visible symbol he manifests himself to believers (as to Moses in the bush, to the people in the cloudy pillar, to the patriarchs under the form of angels and men); or a sacramental and mystical presence, when under external signs and elements he exhibits and confirms his grace to us; or a spiritual and vivifying presence and when by his Spirit he dwells in the hearts of believers. No one denies that these various species of the presence of God are particular and proper to certain places.
These options help us to clarify what is meant by the Spirit’s indwelling in the believers.
Much of this debate about how the Spirit dwells in the believer has been affected by reactions to Pentecostalism. Many have so reacted to Pentecostalism’s hyper-Spirit-experiential theology that the Spirit was downplayed, neglected, and almost forgotten. God is dishonored in the neglect of study, teaching, and appreciation of the Holy Spirit. The “gift of the Holy Spirit” is understood, by most scholars, to be an epexegetical genitive in Greek. In other words, the Holy Spirit is the gift which is received just as forgiveness of sins is a gift received when one is baptized.
The Gift of the Holy Spirit in Paul’s Writings
As a temple, we belong to God. Romans 8:9 teaches that “ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you. But if any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” The temple motif is important for understanding this verse. Romans 8:9 teaches that we are either a temple of God or we are not. Either we have the Holy Spirit, or we do not. If we do not have the Holy Spirit, then we are not Christians—we are not temples. This refers to Spirit’s “sealing” of the believer (Eph. 4:30).
As a temple, we have been raised from the rubble of sin. The presence of the Spirit is also presented as a reason why believers will be raised from the dead. There is an emphasis on being raised from spiritual death—“But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Rom. 8:10). The physical presence of the Spirit is also why believers will be raised from the grave—“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
As a temple, we are to be pure in his presence. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 is also important for our understanding of the new Christian temple. The Greek word naos is used there. That word refers to the holiest place of the temple where God was. It does not refer to the entire temple campus.
This same word is used in 2 Corinthians 6:16, “What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people (Lev. 26:12). Christians are not to be a part of the pagan temple because they are the true temple of the living God.
As a temple, we belong to him and are sealed as his. Ephesians 2:20-22 also presents the Christians individually and corporately being the temple of God. “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” 1 Thessalonians 4:8 teaches that man rejects God “who gives his Holy Spirit unto you.” This admonition is, again, in holiness context. The Thessalonians are not to be involved in sexual immorality because they are the temple of the Holy Spirit.
As a temple, we are to be productive in God’s work. Galatians 4:6 teaches us that we, as temples, have the Spirit of God in our hearts, crying Abba, Father.” This lines up with Romans 8:14-16 which teaches we have the Holy Spirit and that the Spirit is making intercession for us. In Galatians, it is also important for us to see the fruit of the Spirit as linked to the temple theme where the Christian is indwelt by the Spirit.
VanderKam suggests that Acts 2 understands Pentecost to be a covenant renewal festival (VanderKam, “Covenant and Pentecost,” 239–254). Thus, Acts may be portraying the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 as the establishment of a covenant between God and the Church in a way reminiscent of the events on Sinai (Davis, “Acts 2,” 43–45; Witherington, Acts, 131). Ronald D. Roberts, “Pentecost,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).