Temples of the Living God: Maintaining Sexual Purity

Introduction

Almost as soon as I heard that I would be teaching on this topic, the idea hit me to approach it in a different sort of way. Moral, and indeed sexual purity, is something the church doesn’t like to talk much about because it’s uncomfortable. We like to think of this area as off limits, but we can’t do that. You see we can’t have lives that are compartmentalized in that way. Our lives, and indeed our body (and minds) as we will see today, are to be a fragrant offering to the Lord.

Paul says this:

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 ESV)

So today I want to look at two reasons why it is God’s will for us to abstain for sexual immorality, namely, that from His perspective, we are His holy temples, and from our perspective, we shouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than the pleasure and joy only He can bring!

Therefore, it is crucial for us to understand what it means to be a temple of the living God, and what ramifications this reality holds for our lives as Christians.

Examine Yourself

However, before we look at what it means to be a temple of the living God, I want to first look at an important passage in 1 Corinthians 6 which precedes Paul’s own discussion on the matter. He says:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, [10] nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. [11] And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)

What Paul is saying here is that if you practice these things over and over again and show no sign of repentance, then you need to ask yourself if you’re even in Christ to begin with.  As he says in another letter to the Corinthians:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! [6] I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. (2 Corinthians 13:5-6 ESV)

His point here is that if you are behaving this way continually, and show no guilt, remorse, or desire to change your ways, then it is likely that Jesus Christ is not in you.

Therefore, test yourselves. Examine your life.  Do you constantly desire evil?  Or do you run to the cross and the forgiveness of Christ when you sin. Do you live in order to please Him, or yourselves?

If you can’t answer this question in an affirmative way, then you need to consider the cross and what Christ has done for you.  You need to right now repent of your sins and stop walking in the dark – cast those cares upon Jesus, friend.  He loves you, He cares for you, and He is the only one who can set you free from the chains of sin – those chains will eventually drag you down to death and hell.

Now, let me continue on in our lesson…

1. We are Temples of the Living God

Numerous times throughout the New Testament we have Paul, Peter, and Christ referring to our (or even Jesus’) bodies as temples of the living God.

In the case of the first passage we read from Thessalonians, the authors of our study guide point out that Thessalonica was a place of immorality – as were many other places in the Roman Empire.  Their sexual practices were lewd, and some of the worship to pagan gods involved ritual prostitution.  Their temples were polluted and evil places.  Contrast that with the call to purity that God has commanded, and we see a major difference in how these early Christians were going to have to live.

One very good reference to our bodies being God’s temples comes in the Corinthians passage immediately following the passage we read earlier in chapter six, where Paul says this:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! [16] Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” [17] But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. [18] Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. [19] Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, [20] for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:15-20 ESV)

Therefore we are temples of God for two reasons.  First, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.  God of very God who no longer simply meets the high priest behind the curtain in the temple in Jerusalem.  Now He is filling us, teaching us, guiding us and leading us into all righteousness.

Second (and this is very closely tied to the first) we are God’s temples because we are “in Christ.” The verse above says we are “members of Christ.” Because of His headship, and our being “in Him” as part of the mystical body of the church and bride of Christ, we are part of what He is, and we are joined to Him.

Christ is the Fulfillment of the Temple

Let me also elaborate on a point I just made about us being “in” Christ and that making us temples of God because I think this is a special piece of Christology that we need to treasure in our hearts. Keep that fact of us being “in” Christ in the back of your mind for a moment, and let us go to a passage from John 2, and I think what we will see here is that Jesus considered His own body to be the temple of the living God:

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” [19] Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” [20] The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” [21] But he was speaking about the temple of his body. [22] When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:18-22 ESV)

NOTE: There is also a prophetic element in the passage in 1 Corinthians 6 in that when Caiaphas defiled God’s temple (Jesus Christ) the physical temple inevitably had to be torn down. God destroyed the Herodian temple in 70 A.D. 

This is why we are “in Him” and why we are considered temples of God, namely we are temples because HE is a temple.  Our identity is in Him and who He is.  We have been adopted and added to the olive tree (Rom. 11).  We have been joined Christ through His amazing cross work and the Father’s plan of adoption.

Called to be Holy Temples

Now, if we are temples of the living God, does it not shed some light upon why Christ calls us to be holy?  This is a theme in the New Testament – you shall be holy for I am holy.

Notice how Paul connects the two concepts:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? [17] If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 ESV)

Peter affirms Paul:

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, [15] but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, [16] since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV)

Consequently, when you hear the word “holy”, what do you think about?  In his book ‘The Holiness of God’, R.C. Sproul says that when the word “holy” is used of God it can take on “more than just separateness.” He says, “His holiness is also transcendent. The word transcendence means literally ‘to climb across.’ It is defined as ‘exceeding usual limits.’ To transcend is it so rise above something, to go above and beyond a certain limit. When we speak of the transcendence of God, we are talking about that sense in which God is above and beyond us. Transcendence describes His supreme and absolute greatness…When the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be ‘other’, to be different in a special way.”

Where does that leave us earthly beings who are called on by God to be “holy?”  Sproul says this, “In every case the word “holy” is used to express something other than a moral or ethical quality. The things that are holy are things that are set apart, separated from the rest. They have been consecrated to the Lord and to His service.

The temple of the Lord was designed to be a place where purity reigned. Where the sacred was held in honor.  Entering the temple meant leaving the profane and entering into the holy.  And like the temple of old, we are called to be different, holy not profane.  Pure and spotless lambs in the shepherds care.  As members of the church, we are by definition the “called out ones” (ecclesia).  We are to be different than the world.  What is the point of this?  Namely this: that the world is not pure and therefore because we are called to be pure, we will necessarily also be different. We are set apart and therefore our calling is to keep ourselves unstained by the pollution of the sin and sinful ideas of the world (James 1:27)

Driving Out Our Sin

In light of this, it makes sense, does it not, that Christ would drive out the moneychangers from the physical temple in order to cleanse it.  During our study of John we talked about this a little bit, but I want to show Jesus’ temple cleansing in a different light.

Let us go back to that passage in John 2, only this time picking up slightly earlier in the chapter:

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. [14] In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. [15] And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. [16] And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” [17] His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:13-17)

So we also must drive out the sin from our own temples in order that they be used to glorify God.

Therefore, we need to be extremely mindful of the fact that our bodies are a habitation for very God of God, the holy One, the Spirit of the Living God who created all things and spoke the world into existence.  This is the God who dwells in approachable light!  This is the God who, when Isaiah was called into his presence, curled up in the corner and shielded his eyes and realized the disgust of his mouth.

Why did Isaiah realize this sinfulness about himself?  When he encountered God in His glory he learned more about Isaiah I think, than he learned about God.  He realized that in the presence of God all things were revealed.  Nothing remained hidden!

Jesus said that, “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17).

What Christ said about the final Day of Judgment applies even to us today (a good example of Pauline “already/not yet” theology). We have the Spirit of God within us – we can’t hide anything from Him!  And if we pollute our temple, He is going to be grieved and we will know about it!

Therefore, we need to remember to view our bodies as a habitation of the living God. Think also about what kinds of activities went on in the temple during Bible times. There was reading, prayer, teaching, and sacrifices. Well listen to what Paul says in Romans:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)

And..

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, [16] to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:15-16 ESV)

In other words, “wake up and realize that God is using your mind and your body for His service!”  You were created for God. Augustine said, “Man is one of your creatures, Lord, and his instinct is to praise you…The thought of you stirs him so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises you, because you made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.”

2. The Motivation to be Holy and Pure

During the Jewish feast of the tabernacles each year, the people would celebrate with joy and march from the poll of Siloam to the temple where they would carry water and pour out the water (and sometimes wine) before the alter into (I believe) other basins there.  On the way, they would sing Psalms and celebrate in gladness.  The temple was a place of joy and celebration, and in many ways it symbolized the peak of intimacy with God here on earth.  It was His dwelling place with man.  So being fulfilled as a human being meant to be in and around the presence of God – around His temple. Worshiping, singing, praying, learning and so on. Being at the temple was a little piece of heaven here on earth: A shallow glimpse of the eternal and the transcendent.

Therefore, we are called to be pure and holy and to treat our bodies as temples of the living God, first because God commands it, and second, because when we devote mind, body and emotions to God as living sacrifices we are joyful and fulfilled. God’s commands are for our joy!

Too often we settle for much less than we were meant for in this world – and the same goes with sexual purity, and sinful rebellion.  We drink of the pleasures of this world and are not satisfied because we are eating poison!

The Psalmist says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11 ESV).

John Piper puts it this way:

“If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”

And C.S. Lewis famously said:

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased

And in our book this week, Randy Alcorn says this:

“I must choose between sexual fantasies and intimacy with God. I cannot have both. When I see that God offers me joys and pleasures that sexual fantasies don’t, this is a breakthrough. But that breakthrough will come only when I pursue God, making Him the object of my quest – and when I realize that fantasies are only a cheap God-substitute. Running to them is running from God.”

And this really is the conclusion of the matter. God has made us to be like His Son.  We bear His image, and therefore it makes all the sense in the world that because we are “in” Him we are also to be temples of the living God. Temples are places of holiness, of otherness, of worship and sacrifice unto God. And finally, we are not going to fully realize what it is to be fully satisfied with God until we give up the paltry things of this world, until we exchange our mud pies for a holiday at the ocean. We need to see God for who He is, our living Head, and we need to see ourselves as His members: mind, body, and soul. Therefore let us act in such a manner that is pleasing to Him, and joyful for us.

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