The Biblical Principle for Breaking Bad Compulsions- a Look into Romans 7-8.

The last few posts from my out of print book, “When God Gives a Time Out”  established that we often have the compulsion to do things. Sometimes this compulsion arises from our need to be esteemed or our need for achievement.  God may give us a time out to remove the distracting activity and grow our relationship with Him. Today’s post moves on to how we begin to break our compulsions (whether it is a habit to do or other sinful pattern) through our trust in God.

Let’s assume you trust God to break your habit to do. You don’t know, however, how that trust should play out in your everyday life.  What is your part in this?  Subsequent posts will suggest how you can give yourself a time out to hear the voice of God.  Incorporating some of these suggestions into your life is a way of breaking the habit to do as you become more intentional about stopping and listening to God.  However, there is an overarching principle to breaking any sin habit or compulsion. All of our attempts at intentionally giving ourselves a time out must flow from this principle.  This principle is articulated in the book of Romans, chapters 7 and 8.  Because these scriptures are the key to understanding how we are to participate in God’s work of freeing us from sin habits, I have devoted this post to going through this passage of scripture.

(Click here: “An Introduction to Time Outs” if you want to start with chapter 1 of When God Gives a Time Out.)

Romans 7 and 8 are the Apostle Paul’s answer for breaking any sin habit, which includes our habit to do.  Let us take a deeper look into these chapters to learn God’s plan for breaking sin patterns in our life. We pick up Paul’s argument at Romans 7:4:  

“4Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. 5For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. 6But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.”

Romans 7:4-6 (NASB)

The “therefore” in Paul’s argument refers back to the fact that believers have died to the law and are no longer bound to the Old Testament law but bound to Christ. Being joined to Christ is the key to breaking free from our sin habit.  The law, however, is an inadequate way of breaking a sin habit.  Remember, this sin habit can be our addiction to do, or a sin habit concerning lustful thoughts, or any other pattern of sin in our life.  Paul is putting forth a principle that can be applied to any situation where we try to overcome sin.  It is clear that the “law” isn’t effective in overcoming sin. Although Paul is referring to the Old Testament law specifically, this principle applies to any law we try to live by.  This even includes laws like; “I need to be more loving.” or “Don’t lust” or “Be more patient.” The law can be thought of as any command or precept that instructs us what to do or not do. Paul argues in verse 5 that the law actually arouses the sinful passions that we are trying to overcome.  I am sure his readers thought, “Hey Paul, God gave the Old Testament law, are you saying the law is bad?” Anticipating the question, Paul continues,

7What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ 8But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. 9I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; 10and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; 11for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”

Romans 7:7-12 (NASB)

Why is the law an inadequate way of breaking a sin habit?  It is inadequate because it merely informs us what is unlawful.  As Paul stated it, if he hadn’t heard the law, “You shall not covet” he wouldn’t have known that coveting was wrong.  Coveting is wrong because it goes against God’s nature and God informs us through the commandments that He doesn’t like coveting.  So the law, or commandment, is good because it is from God.  Other commandments such as love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor, are also good.  Hopefully, as you have read the last few blog posts you also realized that your compulsive doing can interfere with your relationship with God and you need to make changes in order to follow the command, “Let us press on to know the LORD.” (Hosea 6:3)  

The problem with any command (O.T. law or otherwise) or biblical application is that they only inform us what we should do or not do. Before we knew how we were to act – we really didn’t think about it. We may or may not have followed the command, but it was an ignorant kind of sin and not a knowing rebellion against what we know God wants. And that is the rub, isn’t it? Now that we do know, we still break the command. Now our action is no longer a sin alone, it is a sin coupled with open rebellion. That tendency prompted Paul to explain that the commandment, which was supposed to result in life, supposed to result in him being more in touch with God’s will, resulted in his death. So does God give us the law (or any command) to be cruel and kill us?  Paul continues,

13Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful. 14For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.”

Romans 7:13-20 (NASB)

The apostle is now really addressing the heart of the problem when we try to break a sin habit through the system of the law.  We hear and accept the command, whatever it is, and then we try to follow it. We want to follow the command, but the harder we try the more we seem to fail.  We want to stop coveting, we want to stop esteem seeking, or we want to _____ (you fill in the blank) but we just can’t.  The fact that we want to follow the command means that we agree that the command is good.  We have a sin habit that we want to kick, the knowledge that the behavior is a sin, the desire to act differently, but we just can’t overcome it.  We seem to have this sin in us that doesn’t subject itself to our mind’s commands.  No matter how hard we try to follow a command or Biblical precept, this sin inside us doesn’t listen.  Paul further explains:

“21I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”

Romans 7:21-25 (NASB)

Paul likens the inner conflict of overcoming sin to a war. There is a battle between our mind, or inner person, and this “law of sin” in our body. Our inner person wants to serve the law of God. We want to break our compulsive doing that interferes with knowing God, or we want to stop being so judgmental, or we want to pray more, or etc. etc. etc.  But whatever we want to do isn’t achieved because our flesh serves the law of sin, which seeks the easiest path, the most self-centered path, the most rebellious path.  In this war our house is divided and we lose almost every time. 

Theologians often debate whether the apostle Paul is referring to his pre-Christian problems in dealing with sin or a problem that he is currently having as a Christian. I believe that he is mostly talking about his pre-Christian problem since he boldly proclaims that Christ has set him free from this cycle of death. However, I think that the pre- vs. post Christian issue doesn’t really matter in understanding Paul’s main point, which is whenever you try to use a system of law to break a sin habit, you will fail.  Christians who are no longer under the law can still act as if they are under the law when trying to break a sin habit. Instead of joining ourselves to Christ, who set us free from the law (7:4) and sin – we just try harder.  We try and use our will to follow God and beat down our will to sin.  What we do with our sin habits can be likened to a steel cage match. If you have ever watched “professional” wrestling (the kind with Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin, or the Undertaker) you have probably seen a steel cage match. A big steel cage is put over the ring so that no one can escape. This is a fight to the end. There is no running away from the ring.  Whoever is lying unconscious and bloody in the middle of the ring is the loser.  Whoever is left standing and in control is the winner.  Unfortunately when we go into the steel cage with a sin habit, our obedience to the command is usually left paralyzed but that old sin habit is still standing and in control.  Then we really understand what Paul meant back in verse 10 when he said that trying to follow the command is a good idea, but it kills us every time. 

Whenever we try to use our will power to follow a command or biblical precept, we are living as if we are “under the law.”   Although the law is good, it does not justify us before God because we don’t keep the law even when we become like a slave and use everything in our flesh to follow the law.  The law is good but we fall short in trying to make it a reality in our life.  This is the shortcoming of the law. The writer of Hebrews agrees, saying, “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.”  The fault wasn’t in the law, or first covenant, but in the following of the law.  This inability to follow the law made us guiltier, since rebellion against the commandment of God was added to the sin.  This cycle of condemnation is at work whenever we put ourselves under a law whether we are Christians or not.  Paul’s point is that Christians don’t have to subject themselves to this “body of death.”  Christ has set us free from the law.

 In Chapter 8, Paul moves from what not to do in dealing with a sin habit to what one needs to do.  He writes,

1Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

Romans 8:1-8

We first must realize that Jesus is the one who justified us.  The law could not justify us “weak as it was through the flesh.”  As was said, the law simply revealed that we were sinners and rebellious.  But what the law couldn’t do, Jesus did.  Jesus, as an “offering for sin” satisfied the debt that we owed as sinners against God.  We are now without sin in God’s eyes and there is no condemnation for us.  We are no longer bound to the law because the law has been met, or fulfilled, already by Jesus on our behalf.  Our gut reaction, our primary assumption must be that Jesus made us right.  No matter how much we follow or don’t follow a biblical precept or command is a secondary consideration.  Christ has set us free.  End of story.  You may be thinking, “Yea, I know this already.” But do you?  If Christ alone has freed us then when we are presented with a biblical command, why is our first reaction to assess our actions?  If we are not keeping the command, we make a plan to be better.  If we are following the command, we are proud.  Our gut reaction isn’t “Oh thank you Jesus – I am right already because of you.”  We must be truly Christ centered.  We are bound to Him now, not to a command, not to a religion, not to a moral code, not to a set of religious acts. Our justification is centered on Christ. Our deep, gut conviction must be that we have already been made right by Christ alone. If this truth is not the lifeblood of our soul then our living righteously is already compromised. 

The same Christ who justified us eternally in the sight of God will enable us to live our life righteously in this life (sanctification). The key is the same. Our sanctification, like our justification, is centered on Christ. Sanctification is the process in which we become more set apart to God and more like Christ.  Sanctification includes breaking sin habits or anything that hinders us from being Christ-like (i.e. compulsive doing or esteem seeking).  If we try to sanctify ourselves by trying harder to follow a command, we are walking according to the flesh. The mind set on anything other than Christ leads to failure and an inability to achieve the very thing we desire (verse 7).  No matter how hard we try, or our motivation for trying, if we are following a command by using our flesh we cannot please God (v.8). We cannot please God because not only do we fail at following the command, we try to complete in our flesh what God initiated through His Spirit. As Paul wrote in Galatians, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Our deliverance and our victory over any sin habit are found in Christ. Our mind must be set on the Spirit – it must be God centered. When we focus on the command, on trying harder, on judging our performance, we lose touch with our solution. We lose touch with Christ.  We go back to walking in the flesh. Paul continues,

9However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”

Romans 8:9-11

If Jesus has truly justified us then God in the person of the Holy Spirit dwells in us.  This is the same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead.  That power that gave life to Jesus will give life to us. We are no longer subject to this “body of death,” as Paul stated earlier. Instead, the righteousness of Christ is like a wellspring that feeds into our inner person and gives us life. We must stay attached to this life source by setting our minds on Christ and the fact that He makes us right eternally. We also stay attached by setting our minds on the Spirit and His power to live righteously through us now. Our living is more like riding, riding on the Holy Spirit who will cause us to live differently from the inside out. Once we set our minds on the flesh, we are done for. That is what Paul goes on to say in this last section:

12So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ 16The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”

Romans 8:12-17

Trying harder didn’t save us, so we are no longer under any obligation to that method. We are only under obligation to God and it is through our focus on Him that we can follow those commands. We are riding on the coattails of His Spirit, as God lives through us. Naturally, the Spirit lives righteously and as long as we are clinging to Him we live wherever He is.  This is not a spirit of slavery or fear that we are not measuring up to some law. This is the Holy Spirit who reassures us that we are God’s beloved children and that we already have all that we need to become like Him. We no longer have only our spirit versus our flesh. We now also have the Holy Spirit of God and all His power, guidance, and gifts. We don’t have an external set of laws to strive for, we now have an internal advocate who seeks to sanctify us from the inside out. He is our answer when we are stuck in a sin habit. When we want to stop being compulsive about doing things because we want to hear God’s voice, our relationship with Jesus, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, is the answer. Our mind must be set on Christ and our dependence must be on Christ for justification and sanctification. 

This section of Romans must be our guide when addressing any sinful behavior in our life. It is clear that the guiding principle is to depend on and focus on Christ alone to set us free. While our natural inclination may be to try harder, our hope lies not in struggling to obtain what we don’t have, but resting in what we have already.  On Christmas we are reminded that we have Immanuel – “God with us”.  Nothing can separate us from God and His love.  We are irrevocably adopted as His children. This relationship holds the keys to our abundant life both here and in heaven. Doers have a difficult time swallowing this pill. We want a method, a checklist, an action plan. These techniques are not God’s solution. God gives us a time out so that we hear HIS voice.  God gives us a time out so that we will build a relationship with Him – not build a plan or method. If we look to some method or action plan to save us from our deeply ingrained sinfulness then we are trying to use the sin of self-sufficiency to defeat our sinful compulsions. 

In subsequent posts I will share some ideas that may help you focus on God. As the above scripture shows, it is our focus on God that will free us from any sin habit, including compulsive doing. Reading this post, the ideas for giving yourself a time out – none of these are the answer. They are all means to an end, suggestions to help you focus on God. After all, God gives you a time out in order to hear HIS voice, not mine. 

If you choose to follow some of the ideas I present in subsequent posts, know that they must flow from your conviction that focusing on Christ is the answer. The second part of the overall principle found in Romans 7 & 8 is that we are dependant on Christ alone to free us.  This conviction must descend from our heads to our hearts. There is no easy way to do this.  This principle must soak into your soul. Ironically, as you mistakenly depend on your will to sanctify yourself and then fail, this principle will sink deeper into your soul. Whole, deep, dependent living is a process. For now you may need to simply acknowledge this fact. Confess to God that you agree that you are helpless to sanctify yourself. Ask Him to let this truth take root in your heart. As you live your life in God’s presence, being dependant (and slipping up and being not so dependant) this truth will take root. Focus and dependence on God is a life long process grounded in Christ’s loving sacrifice on the cross.

When it comes to life on this earth, we are trying to put ourselves in the presence of God enough that His grace transforms us[i].  It is like getting a suntan.  If we want a tan we need to be in the sun.  We don’t really do the tanning, the sun does. Our part is getting out of the house. Our “doing” keeps us in the house. All of our sin habits keep us in the shadows of a darkened house.

The next few posts contain suggestions to help us get out of the house.  Suggestions like Sabbath observance, journaling, and prayer are not the solution to our habit to do – God is. Of course, we can take these suggestions and practice them compulsively.  If, however, our goal is to be in close relationship to God, then these are means that may help achieve that end. But we must keep in mind the overarching principle that the solution is a focus, and dependence, on Christ. All these suggestions can be considered ways of giving yourself a time out so that you can set your mind on God.  Like a Father with a child, God wants us to be able to mature to the point that we self regulate. Maturity means that God may give us time outs (Amen to that) when we are young. But His hope is that one day He no longer needs to give us time outs because when we start to become spiritually deaf to Him, we give ourselves a kind of time out so that we can refocus on His voice. 

Questions to Ponder

What “Law” have you been trying to follow?

Why is the law an inadequate way of breaking a sin habit

Can you think of a recent example in your life when you would echo Paul’s words, “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.”?

What is your normal strategy to following a biblical precept?  Can you relate to the “steel cage wrestling match”?

When confronted with a biblical command is your deep, gut conviction that you have already been made right by Christ alone?

Where is your default focus when confronted with your own spiritual shortcomings?  Were you disappointed when the answer to breaking bad compulsions turned out to be, “Focus and dependence on God in a life long process grounded in Christ’s loving sacrifice on the cross” and not  a checklist or method


End Notes

[i] Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1991) p. 19

Sermon Series through 1 Peter

I recently finished a sermon series through 1 Peter entitled A Living Hope in Times of Turmoil. While there are many ways to divide 1 Peter into preachable, cohesive units that respect the main points the author seems to make, I settled on the outline below.  Scott McKnight’s 1 Peter in the NIV Application Commentary series helped me greatly in my preparation. In my opinion, the NIV Application Commentary series is one of the best series for sermon preparation. Certainly there are more in-depth scholarly commentaries for research purposes, but the NAC arranges it’s material in a way that facilitates text to sermon (one could say the NAC has a knack  for helping in sermon prep). The other commentary I heavily consulted was Paul Achtemeier’s Commentary on 1 Peter in the Hermeneia series.

In the table below, I include the passage and the Title/Application of that passage (which contains a link to the sermon audio at Second Baptist Church, where I gave the sermons,). I hope you find this info helpful in your own study of 1 Peter.

First Peter Sermon series: A Living Hope in Times of Turmoil.

1 Peter 1:1-12 Praise God for a Living Hope and Salvation.”
1 Peter 1:13-2:3 Growing in hope and salvation.”
1 Peter 2:4-10 You are Living Stones built together for God.
1 Peter 2:11-3:7  “Living a counter-cultural respect.
1 Peter 3:8-22 ” Follow Christ through the offences.”
1 Peter 4:1-11 Time’s up-Living for God and loving people with our time on this earth.
1 Peter 4:12-19  “Suffering is not strange-but it will be.”  (Suffering as a Christian is normal; Christ suffered – but suffering also calls us to God’s judgment upon (ending of) suffering and sin.)
1 Peter 5:1-5  “Shepherd and serve willingly and humbly
1 Peter 5:6-14 Let God lift you up and complete you.”

Jesus as the Heavenly Temple in the Fourth Gospel.

The most recent edition of Bulletin of Biblical Research (28.3; 2018: pages 425-446) BBRcontains probably my last article that incorporates a large amount of material from my dissertation. Through many revisions, I was able to sharpen one of the main arguments in my thesis into an article length presentation. Below is the abstract/summary of the article. The full article can be read on JSTOR or by those who have a subscription to the Bulletin of Biblical Research. For those who have access to neither, but want the full pdf., leave a comment below and I can email you a copy.

ABSTRACT: The majority of Johannine scholars agree that the Fourth Gospel presents Jesus as fulfilling the temple. This article argues that the Fourth Gospel advances this fulfilment by closely associating Jesus with the heavenly temple more than the earthly. The thesis coheres with many previous studies but furthers the discussion by focusing on how the heavenly temple emphasis interacts with the temple-fulfillment theme. The Johannine Jesus embodied the more transcendent reality of the heavenly temple, and his return to heaven began the eschatological expansion of God’s temple presence through the Spirit. This argument is supported by (1) pointing to the pervasive importance placed on the heavenly temple in the first century, (2) examining specific temple-fulfillment texts and consistent motifs/terminology in the Fourth Gospel, and (3) showing how the correlation of Jesus with the heavenly temple better accounts for the post-resurrection fulfillment assumed in the temple-related texts.

Exegetical Sermon Series on the Book of Acts with a note on “scope”.

A busy summer that included teaching biblical Greek at Tyndale Theological Seminary in the Netherlands meant no time for blog posting. Since some of my most visited posts are sermon outlines, I have posted an outline and audio links of my current sermon series on Acts below (chapters 1-5). In an exegetical sermon series, it is important to determine the proper “scope” of each passage. As described in the “10 Steps to Interpretation,” the interpreter tries to interpret and communicate the text in units that follow the author’s presentation. Using structural and contextual clues, one attempts to divide larger sections into manageable units to preach—but a unit that follows the author’s presentation as closely as possible.

We naturally follow this practice in other disciplines. Teachers usually assign and teach according to the chapters/sections/paragraphs of a textbook’s author. Following the author’s intentioned breaks and transitions makes it easier to teach and understand the content. The biblical writers did not use modern conventions like chapter divisions (the chapter and verse numbering of modern Bibles are a later addition—yet they can help discern sections as long as the interpreter realizes their later origin), but there are clues to where the author intends a shift or new unit. Through a shift in scene, the introduction of a new argument, a change in genre, a keyword, or other technique, the author signals a change. These signals help mark out the smaller units that can be reasonably treated without doing violence to the author’s intention.

*Note – I would normally treat Acts 1:1-11 as a unit, but I wanted to give some background information to Acts and relate it to the Gospel of Luke, while keeping the sermon to 30 minutes. Likewise, Pentecost was meant to be a unified passage, but the theological and literary implications are too great to be covered in one sermon. The exegetical preacher must balance the scope of a passage with laying bare the meaning of the text in a way that the congregation can process (i.e. taking into account cultural attention spans).

Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-3. Main point: The Gospel of Christ is based in history and transforms our history. Audio: Transforming History.
Acts 1:4-11 Main point: Jesus gives his followers a clear mission and the resources to accomplish that mission. Audio: A Clear Mission.
Acts 1:12-26 Main point: Times of transition/waiting are times for prayer in which God can direct us how to take the next step. Audio: Praying Through the Transition Process.
Acts 2:1-21 Main point: As promised, Jesus sends the Spirit to empower his people to do supernatural things. Audio: The Promised Spirit.
Acts 2:22-41 Main point: Jesus fulfills scripture, rose from the dead, and gives the Spirit so repent and be baptized in His name. Audio: Jesus-Lord and Christ.
Acts 2:42-47 Main point: We must devote ourselves to Bible, worship, fellowship, prayer, and evangelism. Audio: 5 Essentials to Building a Healthy Church.
Acts 3 Main point: Give Jesus – exalt Jesus. Audio: What I have I Give to You.
Acts 4:1-31 Main point: Dealing with opposition? You are only responsible for you. Obey God, He will empower you. Audio: Dealing with Opposition and Conflict.
Acts 4:32-5:11 Main point: The presence of the Lord, and internal opposition to His way, should not be taken lightly. Audio: Are You Serious?
Acts 5:12-42 Main point: If we are in God’s will, nothing can stop us. Audio: Stopping a Freight Train.

A table arranging the New Testament books according to the date of composition.

Our modern New Testaments are not arranged chronologically, which sometimes causes misunderstandings. While the Gospels discuss the events of Jesus’ life (the crucifixion took place in 30 or 33 A.D.), the earliest Gospel probably was not written down until the 60s. The Apostle Paul wrote many of his letters before the Gospels. This historical perspective is helpful when assessing arguments over material that some scholars may deem a “later theological development” in the early church. For example the “kenotic hymn” of Philippians 2 exhibits a very high view of Christ, despite Paul most likely writing Philippians before the Gospel writers completed their writings.  Note the exalted status afforded to Christ in Philippians 2:5-8:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:5-8 NAU)

Some scholars believe these verse were a pre-existing hymn that Paul incorporated into his letter. If this theory is correct, then the high view of Christ can be traced to an even earlier time. Arguments, therefore, that assume a high view of Christ (i.e. his divinity) always reflects a later church development contain an invalid presupposition.

The table below arranges the NT books by their likely date of composition. Most NT books are difficult to date with precision, which is why discussions about dating can often be lengthy and still not definitive. The dating of the various writings depends on views of authorship, so I have included two columns of dates. The books are listed chronologically, according to their earlier, more conservative dating, but the right hand column provides dates from a more skeptical view. Of course, these dates are further debated within their respective “conservative” and “skeptical” camps, but I have tried to give the most common views from my own subjective survey of the data. For the most part, I have disregarded the “outliers” of either camp. I hope readers find the following table helpful.

Earlier, more conservative dating

 

NT Book

(Listed Chronologically)

Later, more skeptical dating

 

Early 50s 1 Thessalonians Early 50s
Early 50s 2 Thessalonians Early 50s (later if forged)
Early 50s Galatians Mid 50s
55-57 1 Corinthians Mid 50s
55-57 2 Corinthians Mid 50s
Approximately 57 Romans Approximately 57
Approximately 60 James 70s or later
Early 60s Philemon 60s
Early 60s Philippians 60s
Early 60s Colossians Early 60s (70-90 if forged)
Early 60s Ephesians 70-100
Early 60s 1 Timothy 90-110
60s Gospel of Mark Late 60s
Mid 60s Titus 90-110
Mid 60s 2 Timothy 90-110
Mid 60s 1 Peter 80s
Late 60s Hebrews 60-95
Late 60s 2 Peter 80-110
Approximately 70 Gospel of Matthew 80-95
70s-80s Gospel of Luke 85-95
70s-80s Acts 85-95
Approximately 80 Jude Approximately 80?
Approximately 90 Gospel of John Approximately 100
Early 90s 1 John  100-125
Early 90s 2 John 100-125
Early 90s 3 John 100-125
Approximately 95 Revelation 100-125

Destroying the myth that Jesus is a myth.

While some early twentieth century critics suggested that Jesus never existed, virtually no serious scholar holds that view today. The historical evidence is simply too strong. Nevertheless, one still encounters (usually on the internet) the idea that Jesus is a myth and there is no proof for Jesus’ existence outside the New Testament. This post counters that idea by familiarizing readers with the non-Christian sources that testify of Jesus’ existence as well as the faulty assumptions that accompany the “Jesus is a myth” idea. Jos manuscript latin

The clearest non-Christian evidence for Jesus comes from the first century Jewish historian Josephus. In his work, Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus mentions John the Baptist (Antiq. 18.116-9), Jesus (Antiq. 18.63-4), and Jesus’ brother James (Antiq. 20.200). While Josephus clearly refers to Jesus, there is debate about how much of the reference is authentic. Christians who preserved Josephus’ works (no doubt because of its historical value to the biblical time period) most likely added some accolades to the description of Jesus. Below is the quotation from Josephus, with the questionable portions in italics:

 Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works—a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, because the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the sect of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day. (Antiq.18:63-64)

Even without the italicized portions, this passage corroborates many details about Jesus found in the Gospels. An argument also can be made that the “He was the Christ” portion is original, if read with a negative connotation. Josephus could have meant “he was the so-called Christ,” with Josephus expressing what some believed (though Josephus did not believe). This argument is more plausible considering how Josephus refers to Jesus in a later passage about Jesus’ brother James. The relevant section states that, “he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James” (Antiq. 20.200). If the earlier passage does not originally contain the phrase about Jesus being the Christ or “so-called” Christ, this passage demonstrates Josephus’ (and perhaps his readers’) awareness of the claim. In total, Josephus corroborates that Jesus was considered a wise man and a miracle worker. He was killed under Pontius Pilate in consultation with the Jewish leaders and that Christ-ians bear his name—the Christ.

While Josephus focused on producing a history of the Jewish people for both a Jewish and Roman readership, Roman historians generally focused elsewhere. Judea was one small territory, far removed from Rome, in a vast empire. For this reason, it is not surprising that few references to Jesus exist in the literature of Rome. A religious figure making bold claims but executed after a couple years would not have been noteworthy to those in Rome. Nevertheless, the Roman historian Tacitus explicitly mentions Christ. In his Annals 15.44, Tacitus describes how Nero blamed Christians for the great Roman fire. Like Josephus, Tacitus explains that the name “Christian” comes from “Christ,” a person executed under Pontius Pilate during the time of Tiberius Caesar. While this execution slowed Christianity down, this “superstition” spread in Judea and eventually made its way to Rome. Tacitus’ view of Christianity is obviously not favorable, which makes his testimony about the life and death of Jesus Christ all the more credible.

Several other non-Christian writers refer to Jesus, but the above are the clearest. Some of the others include: The Roman historian Seutonius (Life of Nero 16.2) provides a vague reference to “Chrestus” that many scholars think refers to Jewish and Christian disagreement about the “Christ.” Similarly, the Syrian Stoic philosopher Mara Bar Sarapion mentions a “wise king” that the Jewish people rejected. To these passages one could add Pliny the Younger (Epistles 10.96-7), later passages in the Mishnah that describe Jesus as a miracle worker who led people astray, and a couple other indirect references.

While the above sources include only short remarks about Jesus and his followers, what they do say corroborates the fuller picture given in the New Testament. Those who claim no evidence outside the New Testament exists for Jesus are misinformed.

Being a stubborn sort, some skeptics still argue that if Jesus really existed, then there should be more non-Christian evidence other than the above few sources. However, this argument makes several false assumptions. 1) It fails to consider that any reference to Jesus in Roman sources is significant. As a point of comparison, Pontius Pilate is much more important than a crucified Jewish prophet from a Roman perspective. However, among the Roman historians, Pilate is only mentioned once—in the quote by Tacitus mentioned above (Bock, Studying the Historical Jesus, 46).  2) It is anachronistic to assume that just because Jesus is well-known today, he should have been well-known throughout the Roman empire. As mentioned above, Jesus was from the fringes of society and the empire. This fact makes Jesus’ presence in the above sources remarkable and argues that Jesus not only existed, but he made an unusual impact. 3) This argument totally ignores all the biblical material as if a collection of writings about Jesus from different authors could spontaneously sprout up without any historical anchor. While the New Testament material was written within a few decades of Jesus’ life, the same objection applies to all the other early Christian writings. It is historically implausible that a diverse body of literature connecting Jesus to a certain time and place was based on a complete fabrication.

The argument that Jesus never even existed is based on poor argumentation and an ignorance of the existing sources. Christians can confidently cite these sources and the New Testament as historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived a real life and died a real death.

New Testament background: Messiah

While some of the cultural and religious developments between the testaments can be connected to a specific time frame within the second temple period, most gradually unfolded over the course of centuries.  In today’s post, we review a concept that went from being rarely mentioned in the Old Testament to appearing on virtually every page of the New Testament. I am referring to the “Messiah.”messiah

Between the testaments, the concept of the “Messiah” grew and developed significantly. The term “Messiah” was based on the Hebrew word for “anointed one.” In the OT, priests, kings, and prophets could be anointed as a testimony that God had set them apart for that role. Beyond this general concept of anointing leaders, some prophets looked forward to a Davidic king (presumably an “anointed one”) who would lead a restoration of Israel (Psalm 2; Isa 9:6-7; 11:1-10; Jer 23:5-6; 33:14-18; Ezek 34:23-26;37:24-28; Zech 12:7-10).

When we turn to the NT, the term “Messiah” (most often in its Greek form “Christ”) has taken on much more prominence and specificity. In fact, only pointing out one or two specific passages that use the term Messiah/Christ might be misleading since the term is used over 500 times! In addition to increased frequency, the concept of the Messiah has developed. The Messiah as described in the NT is assumed to be God’s chosen leader who would usher in the salvation and judgment of God at the eschatological climax of human history (DNTB, 698-705).

Given the historical and religious context, the development of the concept of Messiah was inevitable. The OT seeds of promise concerning a coming time of judgment and restoration under a Davidic king took root and grew in the soil of the second temple period. Despite a return to the Promised Land, the Jewish people still experienced hardship and oppression from foreign rulers. Even when Israel achieved a few decades of independence, the Hasmoneans meddled with the priesthood and eventually fell into infighting and Hellenization. Many Israelites felt like they were still spiritually in exile (Wright, People of God, 268-271). They increasingly desired a truly righteous Davidic king to usher in a time of greater renewal than what they had experienced—a renewal that matched, in depth and scale, what the prophets had predicted (see Isaiah 65-66; Jer 31). For this reason, the hope for a Messiah took on an increasingly eschatological edge. The Jewish people did not just want a newly anointed Jewish king (the Hasmonean kings proved they were not the answer), they wanted THE promised anointed one(s) who would usher in the eschatological renewal.

The centuries of reflection and growth of these OT seeds produce the ideas about the Messiah that we read about in the NT and in other second temple Jewish literature as well. Like the NT, the Dead Sea scrolls and OT Pseudepigrapha demonstrate a widespread hope in a righteous anointed one (usually a Davidic king, but sometimes a prophet/priest) who would lead Israel into the eschatological age (CD 2:10; 12:23-13:1; Psalms of Solomon 17-18; 1 Enoch 46-71). The NT writers everywhere and often assume that this widespread Jewish hope has been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospel writers make the case for this assumption in various ways. John states that the purpose of his Gospel is so that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ” (John 20:31), and the turning point of both Mark’s and Matthew’s Gospel occurs when Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ (Matt 16:16; Mark 8:29). The assumption that Jesus is the Christ runs deep in the epistles. In fact, the name “Jesus” is coupled with the title “Christ” so often that it’s as if “Christ” has become a part of Jesus’ name (BDAG, 1091).

Jesus’ ministry and resurrection undoubtedly convinced the first followers that Jesus was the Messiah and caused them to develop further the concept of Messiah in light of Jesus’ ministry. For example, Jesus’ death connected to the “suffering servant” of Isaiah 53, so the first disciples came to understand the Messiah as including this aspect. When readers come across the concept of Messiah in the NT, they are encountering a concept that not only developed in the centuries between the testaments, but a concept that was further developed in light of the person and work of Jesus – the Christ.

A Holy City—The Final Reality of God’s Presence. (Study 12)

In study 11 we examined how the church experiences God’s indwelling presence through the Spirit. However, the church age is not the final stage of salvation history. At the end of time as we know it, God will restore what was lost in Eden and there will be a re-creation. The centerpiece of this re-creation will be the full glory presence of God with, and in, his people. sky

Series note: This is the final study in a twelve part series that examines the Bible’s sacred places (tabernacle, temple, etc.). You can find the first post in May 2016 with subsequent studies appearing about every other month.

Ask people about their expectations for “heaven,” and they are likely to focus on human desires and assume a disembodied existence. Many of these expectations do not cohere with what the Bible lays out concerning the final state of humanity.  The Bible speaks of a final, bodily resurrection to a renewed heavens and earth. Christ defeated sin and death through his sacrifice on the cross, but the final judgment is executed on sin, death, and Satan at the end of time. With the destruction of sin, God can be with people again as in Eden—no sacrifice for sin or buffer to God’s holiness is needed. No temple is needed. The people can experience God’s full glory and reality. While there are various passages about the final state throughout the Bible, the book of Revelation contains some of the most extensive descriptions. As we will see in the following passage, Jesus (often referred to as the Lamb in Revelation) is with God as the centerpiece of heaven.

 Scripture study and Discussion:

Revelation 21:1 – 22:5  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” 5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” 6 Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. 7 He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. 8 But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” 9 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. 12 It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. . . .  22 I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; 26 and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; 27 and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

22:1 Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2 in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; 4 they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. 5 And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever. (NAS)

This passage describes the final state, or “heaven.” It is a part of a vision given to John the Apostle when he was exiled on the island of Patmos.

What are some striking elements of this description? (Possible answers: There will be no temple because God and the lamb will be the temple [21:22]. The glory of God and the Lamb gives the new city light [21:23]. Nothing unclean or false will be there [21:27]. Revelation describes a river of life flowing from the throne [22:1]. The Tree of Life will be on either side of the river [22:2]. The curse will be gone [22:3]. We will see the face of the Lord [22:4].)

Let’s focus down on the fact there will be no temple. What reason is given for this New Jerusalem not having a temple? (Suggested answer: “The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb is its temple” [21:22].)

From what we have studied in previous posts in this series (studies 1-11), how can God himself be a temple? (Suggested answer: The temple is the gateway to God’s true presence in heaven. When God manifests himself, like at Bethel, that place is said to be a “house of God” because God’s presence is the primary requirement of a temple. If God is permanently present without any need for a buffer, then there is no need for a temple—God himself is there. The whole Holy city, all of restored creation, functions as a temple.)

From what we have studied in previous posts, why does it make sense that Jesus (the Lamb) himself will be included with God Almighty as being the temple? (Suggested answer: Jesus is the reality that stood behind all previous sacred places. If the temple as the gateway to God’s presence found fulfillment in Jesus, then of course Jesus’ glorified presence will be the temple in the final state.)

This passage in Revelation paints a picture of God’s glory filling all of restored creation (depicted as a Holy City). His presence permeates the Holy City, which consists of 12 gates that bear the names of the tribes of Israel (Rev 21:12) and 12 foundations that bear the names of the apostles (Rev 21:14); these names testify that God’s people are part of this city-temple.[i] The entire city has been built into the Holy of Holies.[ii] No temple is needed because God’s presence fills restored creation and the people of the Holy City who experience God intensively, unfiltered, and internally.

The World is covered with God’s Glory

From the first pages of Genesis, to God promising a blessing for all nations through Abraham, to the prophecies for a world-wide restoration, God’s plan was to bring his children back to full fellowship with himself. This full fellowship with God includes unfettered experience of the matchless glory that founded the universe. Jesus Christ will be center-stage with God Almighty at the climax of time when the world is full of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.[iii] The Spirit will adorn and bind God’s people into the community of oneness that is Father, Son, and Spirit. The glory presence of God will be internal, extensive, and unhindered by sin.

Does your perspective change knowing that God’s glory will one day fill creation? If so, how? (Possible answer: We are involved in a world-wide, eternal plan that is guaranteed by God. This gives me hope, desire to reach the nations, and a desire to be ready for that day.)

What does God and the Lamb’s unfiltered glory presence reveal about God’s character and his plan for his people? (Suggested Answers: God has plans to bless and restore his people. Even when people rebelled, God had a plan to restore them in Christ. God is love, so he gives eternal life in His presence to his people. Ultimately, God wants to share the perfect love, goodness, and glory of the Trinity with his restored creation).

 

Endnotes

[i] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 1066-1071.

[ii] Grant Osborne, Revelation (BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 759-761.

[iii] James M. Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 106. G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission.( New Studies in Biblical Theology 17. Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2004), 391-393.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From a Holy Place to a Holy Person to a Holy People. (Study 11)

Study 10 showed how John’s Gospel presented Jesus as the fulfillment of all previous sacred places. If Jesus was the fulfillment of these places, what happens now that Jesus has ascended into heaven? How are believers to experience the presence of God now? Moreover, how does God manifest his presence in the age to come? We will answer these questions in the next couple studies.

Study Series Note: This study is the eleventh in a series that examines the Bible’s sacred places (tabernacle, temple, etc.).  In today’s post, we will focus on how the Spirit of God dwells with his people today. In the exile God’s Spirit dwelled among his people, God now dwells in his people through the Holy Spirit.[i] God’s presence went from a place—the temple, to a person—Jesus. That presence now dwells in the people who trust in Jesus. Sometimes believers perceive the presence of the Spirit dwelling inside; sometimes they do not, but perception does not always match reality.

The Spirit of Truth Will be in You

Studies 8 and 9 introduced the exilic prophets and their predictions about God giving his people a new Spirit in the coming restoration. These prophecies are fulfilled through Christ, who establishes a restored and forgiven people of God—a people who are made holy by Christ’s sacrifice and can now be indwelt by the Spirit of God.dove

Because Jesus is the reality behind all sacred places, the Spirit would not only continue to manifest the Father’s presence; the Spirit would manifest Jesus’ presence after his ascension back to heaven. In this way, the people of God become a holy sanctuary of the triune God’s presence on earth.

In John 14:16-20 Jesus says:  16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

This passage is found in Jesus’ final dialogue with his disciples before he is crucified. Jesus prepares the disciples not only for his death, but for what his departure will mean for his followers.

What reassuring promises does Jesus give? (Possible answers: Jesus will send another Helper, the Spirit of truth who will be IN them. He will not leave them orphans. Because Jesus lives they will live. Jesus will be in the Father and IN them and they will be in him.)

If Jesus manifests God’s presence and is the reality behind sacred places, what does it mean for the Spirit to make Jesus’ presence known to his followers? (Possible answer: Jesus’ followers now become a people indwelt with God’s presence. God’s people become the temple.)

In verse 17, notice that the Spirit was with the disciples as they were with the Spirit-filled Christ, but after Jesus’ sacrificial death the Spirit will be sent to indwell them. Remember, Jesus is the reality that stands behind all biblical sacred places because he is the ultimate revelation of God’s presence to humanity. That ultimate revelation can continue to not only be with, but indwell, God’s people as the Spirit of God and Christ transform the hearts of believers. These believers are to bring Christ’s presence to the whole world until the end of the ages.

 

Built up into a Temple of God

Jesus restored a people for God not just from the Israelites, but from all nations (Gentiles). This expansion of God’s people was in keeping with God’s plan to bless all nations through the descendants of Abraham. Both Jews and Gentiles would be built up into a household and temple of God as the Spirit manifests Christ in God’s restored children. This point is made by the Apostle Paul in the book of Ephesians.

Ephesians 2:11-22: 11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands-12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 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. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Verses 11-17 describe the Gentiles being brought into the people of God through Christ’s sacrifice. What does the writer say about the Gentiles being brought into God’s people? (Possible answer: The Gentiles were strangers to God’s covenants and people [v.11-12]. They have been brought near to God by Christ’s blood [v. 13]. Through Christ’s sacrifice, all divisions between these two groups have been abolished to make one new and unified people of God [v.14-16]).

In verse 18, another reason for this new unity is given; what is it? (Possible Answer: Through Christ, both groups have access to the Father through the same Spirit).

Verses 19-22 use both household and temple imagery. The new messianic community is being built up into a household of God and his holy temple. Continuing with that building imagery, how is this new temple being built? (Possible Answer: It is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and Christ Jesus is the cornerstone [v. 20]. The people seem to be parts, as they are “built together” into this dwelling [v. 22].)

Using repetition with variation for emphasis, verses 21-22 describe how believers constitute a new temple. In Christ, the cornerstone, the whole house is joined together and grows into a temple of the Lord. Both Jewish and Gentile believers are being built together into a dwelling place for God the Spirit. Christ, who manifests the divine presence of the heavenly temple, sends his Holy Spirit to his people. The Spirit of God indwells the people—making them the new temple. Gordon Fee explains, “Here is the ultimate fulfillment of the imagery of God’s presence, begun but lost in the Garden, restored in the tabernacle in Exodus 40 and in the temple in 1 Kings 8. It is God’s own presence among us that marks us off as the people of God . . .”[ii] John 14:16-20 stated the presence of God (and Christ) would indwell the people of God. This passage in Ephesians concurs. The divine presence that Christ embodied is still available in his new temple, the people of his church. The church, however, is not a building. The church is the people of God indwelt by the Spirit presence of God. God’s temple presence has gone from a place (tabernacle, temple) to a person (Christ), to a people.

How does the depiction of Christ’s followers here differ from common conceptions of the church? (Possible answer: Many people consider church a boring building to attend religious services. Here, the church is a diverse collection of different types of people who are unified in Christ and who experience the presence of God through the Spirit.)

When the Israelites visited the tabernacle or temple, they knew that God’s glory presence dwelled in the Holy of Holies. But as they stood before the sanctuary, do you think they, or the officiating priests, always felt God’s presence? (Possible answer: Probably not. Other than the times when God manifested his presence in the glory cloud, many Israelites would have believed God was present in the Most Holy Place, even though they could not perceive him. In the Bible, sometimes God manifests his presence in an obvious, earth-shaking way. At other times, people are unaware until God opens their eyes.)

If you are a Christian then sometimes you probably don’t feel indwelt by the Spirit of God. How can you make God’s presence a more experienced reality in your life? (Possible answers: Stop being a loner. Although the Spirit dwells in individuals, the Bible emphasizes the household aspect of the Spirit. In the new reconciled community the Spirit is experienced in and through the people. Since the apostles and prophets make up the foundation of the temple and Christ is the cornerstone, we experience life as a temple the more we are connected to Christ [prayer and worship] and the words of his messengers [prophets and apostles wrote scripture]).

Why does this passage keep emphasizing the centrality of Christ in the bringing together and building up this new household and temple of the Lord? (Possible answers: Christ’s sacrifice cleanses all people who believe in him, regardless of background, to make them holy for God’s presence. Jesus manifested God’s presence and sends the Spirit to continue to manifest the presence to believers [as John 14 described]. These believers then become a temple of the Spirit to bring God’s presence into the entire world. If we want to experience Christ’s presence more, we need to walk with him.)

What does God’s presence dwelling in his people reveal about God’s character and his plan for his people? (Possible Answers: God is loving and rescues his people for his family through Christ. He plans to have a close, heart transforming relationship with his people. His people are indwelt by his presence and they are to manifest his presence throughout their world and lives.)

 

END NOTES

[i] For a thorough discussion of this topic see: James Hamilton, God’s Indwelling Presence (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006).

[ii] Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 689. R. McKelvey, The New Temple: The Church in the New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), 179-180, speaking generally about the church as the new temple agrees: “The New Testament declares that God has fulfilled his word of promise made by the prophets and erected a new and more glorious temple. . . . God no longer dwells in a house with his people: he dwells in them; they are his temple.”

Jesus Christ—the Fulfillment of all previous Sacred Places. Study 10.

All the history and temple theology that was covered in previous studies formed the background to Jewish beliefs in the first century. When Jesus of Nazareth began his public ministry around 30 C.E., he came to a people who carried assumptions and expectations concerning the temple. The first followers of Jesus incorporated these beliefs about the temple to describe and explain Jesus and his work. It may be helpful to review some of the assumptions and expectations concerning the temple that we covered in the previous studies. Some of those assumptions include: The temple was a gateway to God’s true heavenly presence. The tabernacle/temple was a way for God to manifest his glory presence to his people, a presence that began in the Garden of Eden. The temple was the place to offer sacrifice to maintain the covenant relationship with a holy God. Temple rituals were no substitute for a heart obedience to God, and God removed the temple when it became a mere religious/ritual token. In contrast to the destroyed temple, God would one day restore true worship among his people by giving them a new Spirit; through the Spirit, God could be present with his people no matter where they were located. Continue reading