Ephesians 2:19-21. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but 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.
Every temple in the ancient world had two things in common: 1) the further in you go the closer you get to the god who lived there, and 2) the further in you go, the more restricted was the access to that god. Even God’s temple in the Bible, where the glory of God lived, restricted access to the priests. No “regular person” could just walk into God’s temple and talk to God.
Because Christ lives in us, we, the church, ARE the temple of God. Paul uses the unique word for the inner sanctuary of the temple – the naos. For the Jews this would have been the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. For Greeks it was the center room where the idol of the god was set up.
In Ephesus the Temple of Artemis loomed over the city. The goddess Artemis ruled over hunting and animals but also chastity and fertility. She was a pretty big deal. Her temple is one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. Everyone is Ephesus would have visited the temple of Artemis. And (almost) everyone would have worshiped Artemis.
Another thing that is common to all ancient temple worship is that it moves from the outer to the inner. Think about God’s temple. Sacrifices and purification happened in the outer courts. Then moving into the Holy Place, candles were lit, bread was eaten, and incensed was burned. Then moving to the inner Holy of Holies, blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat once a year for the atoning of sins.
But what happens when WE ARE the temple? What happens when all our sins are already atoned for? Now, temple worship moves from inner to outer. Everything we trust in is already IN us. In Christ, and by the indwelling Spirit, God’s love, power, grace, hope, peace, and joy are already in us. No outward ritual supplies these. Only faith in what we already have inside of us. Faith that then produces an outward display of what we possess inwardly by grace.
This new “inside-out” religion is what makes the church so unique and Christianity so different from all others:
We have no temple – we ARE the temple. This is no mere metaphor. God literally yet spiritually lives within our own spirits. The church is the earthly dwelling place of the Trinity.
We make no holy pilgrimage – we ARE the meeting place of God and man. We take this sacred space with us wherever we go. When someone enters into the presence of Christians they enter the manifest presence of God.
We have no specialized priests – we ARE all priests. We’re a kingdom of priests. Everyone in Christ can enter the throne room of God. Each of us can make our petition and offer our confession.
We have no idols – we ARE the image of God through Christ in us. Jesus, the ultimate image bearer, into whom we are being formed, now sits on the throne of our hearts.
We bring no sacrifice – we ARE a living sacrifice. Every moment of our lives is an act of worship. Every thought. Every word. Every deed. Whenever the grace of God is displayed in our faithful living it is an offering of praise to God.
We make no atonement- we HAVE the life of Christ in us as the propitiation for our sins. Notice I didn’t say “we ARE” the atonement. Nope. Only Jesus could be the atonement. And he was. Therefore, there is no more offering for sin. No more blood to be shed. No bull or lamb to be killed. And no act of contrition on our part. No self-denial. No penance. No forgiveness to plead for. We ARE forgiven once for all by the once for all blood of the Lamb.
Do you see it? Everything that once happened at the temple now happens IN US. How? Because it happened in Christ. In his life. Everything God once accomplished through the temple was finally accomplished through the temple of Christ’s body on the cross. And now through us. His church. His “inside-out” temple on earth today.
“To live is Christ” is to be God’s temple. His Holy of Holies. The inner sanctuary where God sits enthroned in our hearts. The church today is the reality of all that an earthly temple could only shadow. Together in Christ we are the meeting place of God and man. He is our God and we are his people to the praise of his glory.
Do you think of yourself as God’s temple?
You in Christ
How does knowing that we are God’s holy temple change how you approach God?
Christ in you
Christ in you makes your “religion” an inside-out experience. How can you work out your salvation today, making it known to others?
Playlist: God’s temple.