Toronto Blessing or temples of the Holy Spirit?
Not too far from here, in the vicinity of the Toronto International Airport, a certain church of about 350 people has drawn no fewer than about 200,000 visitors from many countries and denominations. For a while this Airport Vineyard Christian Fellowship had services six nights a week and you would line up for two hours in order to get in. What was the attraction? About a year ago, it is said, the congregation began to experience bizarre manifestations of the "outpouring of the Holy Spirit." People were "slain in the Spirit" and thus unable to continue standing. There are pictures of people laying on the ground, laughing uncontrollably, shaking, bouncing and roaring. It is all believed to be a renewing encounter with God.1
Now as skeptical as I am, it's not my intention to critique at length this particular church or what it's promoting. Rather, the point that interests us is this: what is it that draws the people? The answer seems to be found in the conviction that if the Spirit of God is living and working among the people of God, the evidence should be visible and obvious and evident. This conviction draws the crowds, and leads to the line ups and the traffic jams.
Thus, when our topic is about being "Temples of the Holy Spirit," perhaps it is good to highlight exactly this question: is the fact that you and I are temples of the Holy Spirit making a sufficient difference in your life and my life? The questions are many:
- Why should the presence of the Spirit make a difference?
- What should the differences be? Are they dramatic?
- Do we all have to be "slain in the Spirit"?
- Are they less dramatic?
- What are they?
Obviously, one cannot talk about "temples of the Holy Spirit" without having some knowledge about the rich Old Testament background of those words.
It begins with a tent. Back in the days of Moses when the people of Israel traveled to the promised land, they were in the habit of pitching a certain tent in the midst of their camp. This tent had two inner rooms with some furnishings as well as an outside yard with a kind of a stove where meat could be roasted. What made this tent special was the awareness that the Lord, God of Israel, dwelt there. It was here that they could meet Him from time to time (Exodus 25:8, 22). Therefore, the tent was also covered with gold and blue, symbolizing that the one who lived there was majestic and beautiful. The tent in the midst of the people of God was a beautiful symbol of the solidarity between God and His people. This God would not simply remain in heaven and let Israel go its way through the wilderness. No, He went with them. If they would live in tents, He would live in tents. When they picked up theirs, they picked up His. They were going to the promised land. He, too, would travel to the promised land. The reminder of His presence was also seen in the cloud that came over the tent – the cloud which would go before them by day with the fire which was in it by night (Exodus 40:34-38; Numbers 9:15-23).
We need to realize, too, that God's dwelling among His people had to make a difference! For this God was a holy God! Think of the book of Leviticus. What does this book deal with other than the fact that God dwells in the midst of His people? Well, now that the tabernacle was among the people of God, sacrifices had to be instituted so that the people of God could have access to His presence (Leviticus 1-5). Priests had to be given instructions as to their role (Leviticus 6-10, 21-22). The people as a whole had to keep separate from uncleanness in order to approach the tabernacle (11-16). They were warned that gross indecencies would meet with severe penalties (17-20). In addition, special care had to be taken for holy days and holy seasons and holy things (23-27). The point is: the presence of God must make a difference. The people of God are not to presume that they can have this holy God dwelling in their midst without this presence affecting their ways and their lives. Leviticus sums up the matter with the words:
"Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy" (19:2; cf. 1 Peter 1:1 6).2
The simple fact is that the people of God cannot survive alongside the tabernacle unless they respect the holiness of God and maintain holiness among themselves.
It would be interesting to trace this theme throughout the Old Testament. Time prevents us from saying much about it. It is clear, however, that when the people of God live in the awareness that it is truly a great blessing to have the holy God living among them, then they are strong and blessed. Later the people reach the promised land and they exchange their temporary tents for more permanent homes. It is fitting that the makeshift tent of the Lord also be exchanged for the more stable edifice of a temple. Solomon does what David desired, making for God a permanent temple in which to dwell (2 Samuel 7). One thing becomes clear from the rest of the Old Testament, namely that how the people relate to that temple and the God who dwells there determines the rise and fall of Israel. Thus, already in the Old Testament, we see our theme that the presence of the Lord must make a difference. If a holy God dwells in the midst of people, holiness must characterize those people. If it does, blessings result. If it doesn't, fearful consequences follow.
Christ tabernacles among us
Before we move on to that New Testament expression "temples of the Holy Spirit," we must take one more brief stop in order to reflect on the fact that the tabernacle and the temple find their fulfillment in our Lord Jesus Christ. The clearest expression of this truth is found in John 1:14, where John says:
"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory…"
When John says "and dwelt among us," he deliberately uses a word for "dwelling" that alludes to the Old Testament tabernacle. We could write: "the word became flesh and tabernacled among us…"
Less clear perhaps but with the same basic point, Matthew calls Jesus "Immanuel" – God with us! So too, in John's Gospel, as our Lord stands in the temple building, we hear our Lord saying,
"Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." When the Jews then take offense because they think he is speaking about the building of the temple, John adds: "he spoke of the temple of his body."
The clear meaning of these passages is that just as God dwelt in the tabernacle and temple, so now Christ is the dwelling place of God. In Christ, God is present in Israel. Again, this dwelling of God among His people must have consequences. Lives must change. Holiness must become the result. Again it will be either blessing or curse for the people of God.
Temple of the Holy Spirit
What happens when our Lord Jesus ascends into heaven? Is that the end of God dwelling among His people? Certainly not. The clear teaching of Scripture is that at Pentecost, our Lord Jesus Christ sent forth His Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33). The result is that the people of God now become the dwelling place of God. Pentecost is a climax in Biblical history. God no longer dwells in the midst of the people of God by means of a tent or a building. God does not even dwell among them in one single person. Instead, God dwells right there in the very people of God themselves. The coming of the Spirit of God in the hearts of believers makes them temples in a full and rich sense.
When we look at the Biblical data, it is clear that the church of Jesus Christ is the temple of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 17 is a reference not to the individual believer but to the church. This is evident from that fact that in the original the "you" is plural:
"Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are."
Similarly in Ephesians 2:21,22, Paul speaks about the people of God growing into "a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into … for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit."
Likewise 1 Peter 2:5 urges us "like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house…"
Another text is 2 Corinthians 6:16: "… for we are the temple of the living God…"
Yet another is Hebrews 3:6: "we are [God's] house if we hold fast our confidence and pride in our hope."
What is true of the church is also true of the individual member of the church. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:16, using the singular and referring to the body of the believer:
"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?"
Likewise, Galatians 4:6: "God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts…"
That Christians are temples of the Holy Spirit is an indisputable fact. Anyone who truly professes the Son has the Spirit of God living in him or her. Pentecost is a climax in redemptive history. Better than having God dwell in a building close by, better than having God dwell in one person, we have God dwelling in each one of us! What a high honour! God has come that near to us in Christ Jesus our Lord!!
And so the question really becomes this: if God dwelling among His people had consequences for the people of Israel, if it had consequences in Jesus' day, should it not have consequences among us, the New Testament people of God? What difference should this make among us today?
Let us try to outline several principles in this regard.
More fit for life in God's world
First, we need to be aware that the goal of the work of the Holy Spirit is to make us more and not less fit for life in God's world. When you take a look at the Toronto blessing and similar phenomena, you might think that it is desirable for God's Spirit to produce in us some kind of intoxication and confusion. In Toronto, the Spirit is said to make people lose their inhibitions and self-control to such an extent that the result is shaking, groaning, shrieking, clapping, stamping of feet, uncontrollable laughter, rolling on the floor, and even mindless imitation of bird and animals sounds.3 Of what benefit might this kind of madness be? Is it not rather peculiar that the Spirit of God who is involved in the work of creation (Genesis 1:2) and who comes to put the finishing touches on the work of the Father and the Son, would now produce this madness? Is this madness really the finishing touch? Is this really the summit of spirituality? Our Lord Jesus Christ once said about false prophets:
"You will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:15). Later he said: "… false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect."
It's not my desire to condemn anyone. All I want to show is that these fruits leave great and serious questions.
Do the Scriptures not say that the Spirit of God directs us in a way exactly opposite to this madness? One of the fruits of the Spirit, says Paul, is precisely "… self-control…" (Galatians 5:22). The Spirit does not make us less fit for life in this world, but more fit. Drunkenness and the filling of the Spirit are opposites. Peter says on the day of Pentecost:
"these men are not drunk …" (Acts 2:15). Paul says: "do not get drunk with wine … but be filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18).
Rather than overriding men's capabilities, the filling of the Spirit sharpens our minds, strengthens our self-control and disciplines our emotions.4 The effect of the Spirit within us is not the reduction or elimination of the quality of our minds, but rather the "renewal of our minds" (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23).
After Paul speaks in Ephesians 5 about being "filled with the Spirit," he goes on to describe what some of the results of that might be:
"addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father."
Does that sound like less self-control or more? The Greek construction of the next verses even suggests that another result of being filled with the Spirit is that in the Christian family; husbands, wives, children, fathers, slaves and masters begin to subject themselves to each other. When the Spirit comes, the result is harmony in the home. Again, the point is that the Spirit makes us more fit for life in this world and not less.
More fit for life as God's children
In this regard, it is good to be reminded that the Spirit who dwells within us is "the Spirit of sonship."
Along the lines of our first principle, the point is that God gives us His Spirit not only to make us more fit for life in this world, but precisely more fit as sons and daughters of God. Paul uses the phrase "Spirit of sonship" in Romans 8 and it is no accident that it is there. This phrase may very well be the point of that great chapter of Holy Scripture. We become sons and daughters of God, but how will we live as such sons and daughters? Through thick and thin, through the persecutions and trials, will the children of God just continue on the path of sonship on which God has placed them? Certainly not. The whole Old Testament era and its repeated failure is a testimony to the fact that it won't happen that way.
However, what is new in the era in which we now live is that the Spirit of God has come to live in the hearts and lives of people. And what is He doing there? Why does He make our bodies His temple?
- The answer is that Romans 8 tells us that the Spirit helps us to fight the flesh so that we are obedient sons and daughters eager to do the will of God, free from the dominance of sin (Romans 8:1-14).
- Further, we learn that the Spirit comes alongside of us, drives away the doubt, and assures us that we are indeed sons and daughters of God (Romans 8:15-17).
- When there is suffering, He points us to the great hope of the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:17-25).
- The Spirit is also busy in maintaining the conversation between the children of God and the Father; when we do not know how to pray, He himself intercedes for us (Romans 8:26-27).
- God is using Him to conform us to the image of His Son and bring us all to the goal of an eternity in the presence of the Triune God (Romans 8:28-39).
This is the work of the Spirit – to prepare us for that great goal and help us reach it!
More glory to Christ
Along these same lines, it is good to remember as well that besides being the spirit of our sonship, the Spirit is always the Spirit of the Son. Our Lord Jesus Christ speaks in John's Gospel about how He is the One who sends His Spirit to us. And what is the goal of the Spirit? His goal is not to serve Himself, but to point to the Lord Jesus and to direct people in a deep and effective way to Christ.
"He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak … He will take what is mine and declare it to you…" "He will bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (14:26).
Nor is it so that the Spirit will be after His own glory and His own power. For Jesus says, "He will glorify Me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you" (16:14).
There is, therefore, a sense in which longing for all kinds of outward signs and wonders – along the lines of the Toronto blessing – is really quite misguided. For the focus of the Spirit's work is not to glorify me or you. The goal is not even the various gifts that He gives, nor to produce in us some kind of new "high." Rather, the goal of His presence in us and His work in us is: Jesus Christ. His intention is to bring us to Christ and to make us more Christ-like. It has often been said that the Holy Spirit is the more shy and faceless of the three persons of the Trinity. He does not call attention to Himself. Instead, He calls attention to the Son that people might know the Father. His mission is to make us call God "Father" and Jesus "Lord." Most of the time we don't even notice His presence. He works quietly in us, trying to get us to glorify Christ more and more with our lives.
James Packer speaks about the Spirit as having a floodlight ministry5. This is a good illustration. When the floodlighting of a building is done carefully, you will not even notice where the light comes from. It will be hidden in the grass or in the bushes. The accent is on the building with all its beautiful aspects and fine features against the background of the darkness. So it goes too with the Spirit of Christ. You hardly even notice Him. The Spirit's message to us is never, "Look at me, listen to me, come to me, get to know me." The floodlight is not even directed on us as believers or on the gifts we might have received. Rather, the Spirit's message is always: "Look at Christ, and see His glory; listen to Him, and hear His word; go to Him and have life; get to know Him and taste His gift of joy and peace."
Already at the beginning of the New Testament Church, you can see the Christocentric work of the Spirit. At Pentecost, Peter is full of the Spirit and is going to preach. What does he preach about? The Spirit? No, the Spirit leads him so that from beginning to end that Pentecost sermon is a sermon about Christ. So it always is The Spirit focuses all the attention not on you nor on me nor on Himself but upon Christ, in all His greatness and beauty, power and majesty. And so the thing to ask when others make bold claims about the gifts they have and the wonders they perform is this: who is being glorified here? Man? People? Human experience? Or the person and the work of Christ? On whom is the spotlight shining?
More holiness among the people of God
And so there is a fourth principle here, and that is that the presence of the Holy Spirit within us calls us to holiness. This is so, no doubt, for a number of reasons.
It is so because the Spirit is a Holy Spirit. Therefore, if we are temples of the Holy Spirit but meanwhile engage in acts of unholiness and ungodliness, there will be disastrous consequences.
This is true because the Holy Spirit is a person. We will benefit, no doubt, from the awareness that the Spirit is a person with a whole breadth of emotions and feelings. The Scripture says that He is a person whom we can grieve (Ephesians 4:30), outrage (Hebrews 10:29), and sin against to our own destruction (Matthew 12:32). He has a mind (1 Corinthians 2:10,11), and a will (1 Corinthians 12:11). Because the Holy Spirit is a person, there is nothing automatic in our life with Him. It is possible for Him to be so disgusted with us that He departs from our presence. The need for us to be filled with Him is ongoing (Ephesians 5:1 8); the filling needs to be often repeated in the Christian life (cf. re Peter, Acts 4:8; 4:31; re Paul, Acts 9:1 7; 13:9). Our relationship is a dynamic one. Nothing is to be taken for granted. Hebrews even warns covenant children that it is possible for them to have been "partakers of the Holy Spirit" and yet to commit apostasy and fall away (6:4-6; cf. 10:29).
But at bottom, the presence of the Holy Spirit within us calls us to holiness because the significance of His presence is that God Himself is living in us. What do you think? If the presence of God dwelling in a tent in the Israelite camp had to make a difference, must not the presence of God in our hearts?
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6: "we are the temple of the living God."
Thereafter, he quotes from Leviticus 26: "I will live in them and move among them…"
He also quotes from Isaiah 52: "therefore come out … be separate … touch nothing unclean…"
And then Paul draws more consequences: "Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God." (2 Corinthians 7:1, 2)
What we desperately need is the kind of response Isaiah had when he saw the Lord sitting upon a throne surrounded by the seraphim crying out "holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts." Then Isaiah's response was a sense of awe, a realization of unworthiness, and a deep understanding that the presence of God called for holiness. If that is true of Isaiah who saw God with his eyes, how much more true is it not for you and me in whom Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwell!? If God dwells in us, then there must be results far more supernatural and far more wondrous and far more sweeping than those few bizarre signs experienced in Toronto. If the holy God has not just talked to us, exposing Himself to our eyes and ears, but even dwells within us, then our lives, our speech, our walk – everything surely must change.
Think about it. How would you speak and act if you were in the presence of Prime Minister of Canada, or the Queen or whoever? Pick your most respected person. Would being in his or her presence not affect your speech, your attitude, and anything else? Well, we are not just in the presence of the holy God. The presence of the holy God is in us; should it not affect how we think, relate, talk, and walk? Before Him nothing is hidden; our lives are open and bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Hebrew 4:13).
The presence of God has more effects than we can possibly enumerate. Let us attempt to describe a few of them.6
- The presence of the Holy Spirit within us should affect our it not? A pertinent question about the we listen to may very well be: does this music assist us to live to the praise and the glory of God? Does this music reflect the work of the Spirit who makes us life in His kingdom and His world, or is it more characteristic of the evil one who wants to turn order into chaos and who desires to turn us against holiness and every good thing? There is an approach to life out there which is basically atheistic and nihilistic. It says that life is crazy, void of all meaning and significance. This attitude to life is then reflected in music, in clothing, and in the use of mind-altering drugs. In contrast, the child of God, indwelt by the Spirit, knows that life is not crazy. It makes sense in Christ. It is livable through the Spirit. It has its purpose in God. And so this child of God makes different choices in music, in clothing, in everything.
- The presence of the Holy Spirit within us should affect the whole area should it not? Paul makes that connection in 1 Corinthians 6. If my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, he says, if my body is for the Lord, and even has an eternal purpose in the resurrection, then I must be careful not to use it for purposes of immorality. Instead, I must use it for the purpose of glorifying God. The number one reason why the child of God will stay away from premarital sex and all illicit forms of sexuality is not because young ladies get pregnant. It is not even because of Aids or other communicable diseases. It is not even because this is no way to start a wholesome relationship. The number one reason is: Our bodies are lifted up to a great status in Christ; they are members of Christ. They are temples of the Holy Spirit. As in the old covenant, however, so also in the new covenant it is a disastrous thing to defile a temple.
- Even areas of are affected by the presence of the Holy Spirit. If this body of mine has been elevated in such a way that it is much more than just some carcass in which I live; if, in fact, my body is a limb of Christ's body, a dwelling place of God, if it has a purpose in creation, in redemption, and even in the final recreation, then surely I must take care of it. Issues regarding drinking, smoking, recreation and the like must be dealt with in this light. It must therefore be a Christian thing to be health conscious. Not that sports must become a god, of course. For God is god, and sports must remain what he has made it to be – one of his gifts to be enjoyed for His glory. However, given all we know today about for example, and about the effects it has on our bodies, it surely is not wrong to say that smoking is contrary to the will of the Lord. It disregards the significance God has given to our bodies. It is an obvious way in which we flagrantly dare to thumb our noses at the sixth commandment.
- At bottom, the issues have to do with If God has revealed Himself so wondrously in His Son through His Spirit, it goes without saying that you and I must continue to cultivate our relationships with Him. This means that my life must know moments of silence and solitude wherein God speaks to me in His Word and I converse with Him in prayer. If the great privilege of a relationship has been established with God through Christ, then surely, as with all relationships, there must be communication and conversation. Searching the Word in corporate, family, and private worship must never be merely for the acquisition of factual knowledge. Instead, it must be for the purpose of continued growth in godliness and holiness. It must lead to deepening fellowship with the God who even dwells within us.
Through "the Spirit of wisdom and revelation," I must come to "know him better" (Ephesians 1:17, NIV).