The Body: The Temple of the Holy Spirit

Please read Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18 and I Corinthians 6: 12-20, and then pray; Gracious Lord, your Word is a sure lamp for my path, and your indwelling Holy Spirit is my Helper and Guide. Guide me today as I seek to better understand what it means to be the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

We are going to give our attention to our 1 Corinthians 6 lectionary reading today and particularly think about a text that deserves our full attention and respect. That text is 1 Corinthians 6:19-20;

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honour God with your body.

The reason I want us to focus on this Scriptural text today is that I think it is important to understand what the bible teaches about the significance of the physical human body, and because last week, we were considering that vital question asked by Paul to some men in Ephesus; Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? (Acts 19:2) The link between the two texts should be obvious. The link is the Holy Spirit, and whether individuals have a knowledge of having received the Holy Spirit and whether the Holy Spirit lives within them. The men at Ephesus confessed to not having any knowledge or experience of the Holy Spirit and Paul went on to deal with that problem and they received the gift of the Spirit through prayer and by the laying on of Paul’s hands.

When Paul writes to the Corinthians, he is basically but forthrightly arguing that if the Corinthians have received the Spirit from God, which they claimed to have, if they are genuinely temples of the Holy Spirit, this will radically affect how they should or should not use their physical bodies. The presence of the Holy Spirit will make a vast difference to ethical behaviour, and in this context (the whole letter to the Corinthians), it makes a difference to how they view sexual morality/immorality and the legitimate use of their bodies. The basic argument is this; if you are a Christian, you are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, and you have been bought (redeemed) at a costly price by Jesus – the price of the blood of Christ. Therefore, you are not your own – you are not free to live and act as you think best, you are now called and obliged to live under the authority of Christ and his word – and this is true Christian freedom.

As I attempted to show from the Scriptures last week (and you may like to reread that sermon), when the Holy Spirit (the gift of Pentecost to all believers) comes to live within an individual who has repented of their sin, believed, and trusted in Christ for salvation, and been completely forgiven, there must be evidence of the Spirit’s presence. There must be evidence that a person is indeed a temple of the Holy Spirit, and there must be experience of the presence of the Spirit. As I explained last week, one evidence will be that the presence of the Spirit in a human life makes the reality, presence, and truth about the Lord Jesus real and personal. The Spirit’s presence brings us close to Jesus through a personal, living, and abiding relationship. The Spirit will also confirm in our hearts that “Jesus is Lord.” Later in this letter to the Corinthians, Paul teaches the church, and I quote, “that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3) I am no longer my own Lord and Master – HE IS! Jesus is now Lord!

I also stressed last week, that those who are temples of the Holy Spirit, those who have “received and been baptised” with the Spirit as Jesus promised, will be those who are hungry for personal holiness. They will want to be like Jesus who is holy. They will want to grow into the likeness of Christ because the Holy Spirit puts this very desire into the heart of every person He lives inside. A true Spirit-filled Christian will want to grow in “the fruit of the Holy Spirit” and reveal that fruit to the world. What does the fruit of the Spirit’s presence and influence bring? According to Paul it brings; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22) It is no good saying that you have the Holy Spirit, but failing to show the fruit of His Holy Presence. There is such thing as a fraudulent or fake Christian. Jesus said, “By their fruit” you shall know who are my true disciples and followers.” (Read Matthew 7: 15-23)

This enables me to move closer to the key things I want to share with today about what it means to live in the light of the fact that you are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Another vital evidence of the Spirit’s presence in a human life according the teaching of the NT, is that the true Christian with the Spirit experiences a very real and powerful battle within themselves. I say “within themselves” precisely because the Holy Spirit has come to live, to make His dwelling within them. And the battle I am referring to which is very real and ongoing, is the battle, the fight, that now exists between the old sinful nature and the new nature created and established by the Spirit, between the “flesh” and the “the Spirit.” This is spoken of in many parts of the NT but especially in Galatians 5:16 ff;

Read Galatians 5: 16-18. Can you recognise this battle? You should do if you are a Christian, if the Spirit lives within you. And as a Christian, you are now called to live “in step with” your new nature which is in you through the work and presence of the Spirit. Your aim now is to is to put to death the sinful nature within you (with the help, strength, and power of the Holy Spirit) and grow the fruit of the new nature – which will lead you to becoming like Jesus, who is now your Lord and who has bought you with his blood. So, what does the Holy Spirit want you get rid of, to abandon, to have nothing to do with? What are the acts of the sinful nature that must be put to death and abandoned?

Paul says that these things that must given up because of the presence and call of the Spirit within you “are obvious.” These behaviours do not have to be debated and argued over. They are clear. So, what are they? What must the one with the Holy Spirit now give up? (Read Galatians 5: 19-25) Notice at the top of the list, Paul cites “sexual immorality.” This often does come at the top of such lists in the NT (there many such lists – Ephesians 5:3 f, Colossians 3: 5 f) but what does it mean? In the NT, sexual immorality, (porneo) which is referred to many times and in many different contexts, including in contexts where Jesus himself teaches (Mark 7:21) means all sexual activity that is done outside the context of heterosexual marriage. Sexual activity is given by God for the holy context of holy covenantal matrimony between a man and a woman. This is the clear teaching of the bible, and has been the clear and undisputed teaching of the entire Christian Church up until the beginning of the sexual revolution which began in the West in the early 1960’s.

Now I mention this term “sexual immorality” which Paul and other biblical writers use in many places because this issue lies at the heart of the passage in 1 Corinthians. (read 1 Cor 6: 13, 18). Sexual immorality of various kinds was rife in Corinth and Christians were called to understand how to live practically in a hypersexualised society, a society not too unlike our modern western world. Sex was everywhere in Corinth, including the pagan temples and different types of sexual activity were effectively normalised and approved of. But how should a Christian respond to all that was on offer and available sexually speaking in Corinth? How should a Christian use “one’s” body – because sex is most definitely a bodily activity? But what about the body of a person who is now “the temple of the Holy Spirit?” Paul is arguing that this makes a huge difference – if you are under the Lordship of Jesus and if you have the Holy Spirit living within you. You cannot really be a temple of the Holy and expect to go on walking into the temple of Aphrodite to indulge in sexual activity with a temple prostitute, can you?

One other thing worth mentioning because earlier in this chapter Paul warns the Corinthians “not to be deceived.” (v9) Do not be deceived he says, by sin, by what is sin, and by what immoral activity will exclude a person from the kingdom of God. The reason he mentions deception is that when it comes to sin people can be easily deceived and convinced into believing that what they are doing is not sin and will not keep them out of the Kingdom of God. This is, in my experience, particularly evident in the areas of money, sex and power. What some will argue “is natural” to them is natural only because it is part of the ingrained “natural sinful nature” with which they were born (Psalm 51:5) and which I spoke about earlier. For example, I have often come across people, even politicians like Matt Hancock, who will seek to maintain that adultery is not grotesque unfaithfulness but rather “a wonderful new love” that must be satisfied and pursued even though it leaves a trail of devastation. Love is love after all and our feelings about love can change. If challenged about the moral chaos left behind, adulterers will say like Mr Hancock said when interviewed – Well, I’m only human after all…. Precisely, you are human after all, with a sinful nature that will push you away from what is right, and which can so easily deceive and entangle you (Hebrews 3:12-13) – particularly in the areas of money, sex, and power! But you can still make good or bad moral choices for which you are accountable to God who is holy.

Speaking of self-deception, we can detect from Paul’s writing that that some in the Corinthian Church were being swayed and influenced by attitudes that were prevalent and approved of in that society at that time. Paul shares two slogans that were doing the rounds which he needed to counter. The first was; “Everything is permissible for me” – but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me” – but I will not be mastered by anything. Paul must correct a misunderstanding of “Christian freedom.” There is a lot of teaching about legitimate Christian freedom in 1 Corinthians and Paul had to clear up certain misunderstandings – and the first one was that because Christ has set people free – that means that we are free to ignore the law – we are, in a sense, “above the law” and we can be “a law unto ourselves.” This is wrong. Whilst Christians are saved by grace and trust in Christ’s mercy and not legalistic obedience to the law – the law still matters – and Christians now come under the law of love, which is under the teaching and Lordship of Jesus – and that means living a life in line with God’s Word and Christ’s teaching. True Christian freedom is very concerned with “freedom and power to be an obedient servant of Christ” – not freedom to do what I want, or what I think is best, or in line with my personal moral thinking which may be warped through my sinful nature.  So, when it comes to using our bodies and sexual activity, what does Christ want? What does the Holy Spirit require? Christians need to make sure that any activity is not harmful to them and others, always brings glory to God, and that they are not being mastered by anything or anyone other that Jesus who is now their Lord? This includes not being mastered by my sexual preferences and appetites but by the Lord Jesus.

The second slogan was “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food.” The thinking for some here revolved around the whole question of bodily appetites. Sex was seen as just one of several bodily appetites. If you are hungry, if your stomach grumbles, then get some food, fill up your belly. If you have sexual appetite – then indulge it – express it – and that could be with a temple prostitute if necessary and clothed and at the same time with a nice religious veneer. The belief for many in the Greek and Roman world was that sex is just to do with the body alone – just a bodily activity and did not affect the “higher soul” within. Paul teaches that such a belief is nonsense and unbiblical. Sexual activity is much more serious and it deeply affects the whole person and affects the Lord to whom a Christian is united in body and spirit. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body writes Paul.

These kinds of attitudes are commonly found today in our “sophisticated progressive society.” You will hear things like this; Well, it is just sex, it did not mean anything. Or, It was just a physical thing, it meant nothing to me. Or, I am upset about the fact that I have not had sex for several months. This lack of sex needs to be overcome and is seen as a problem or source of stress that needs to be solved and relieved.  Sex is required like a hamburger might be required.

But this is all wrong and totally misguided as far as the apostle Paul and the bible are concerned. The physical body is vitally important and has been created by God and for God’s glory. How we use our body’s really matters. We are creatures made in the image of God and not some brute sexual animals. The body is so important and dignified in God’s eyes that God in Jesus took on a real physical body himself. The incarnation reveals just how much God cares and thinks about our physical bodies. But not just the incarnation “God in flesh,” but also the physical resurrection of Jesus’s body from the dead. Paul has much to say about the physical resurrection of our bodies and our bodily future in God’s kingdom in 1 Corinthians 15, but here in chapter six he exclaims with passionate conviction;

By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us (bodily) also.

God has dignified the human body through the incarnation and resurrection of his own Son. Christians need to understand how much God cares about the body which he now personally dignifies further as it is filled with the 3rd person in the Holy Trinity – the Holy Spirit himself.

But Paul also makes it crystal clear that sex itself is not just “a physical thing” of no consequence – as many saw it then and now. That is not how God created sex or us as sexual beings – male and female. Because sex is so beautiful, so remarkably meaningful, spiritually, and physically, and so deep and profoundly mysterious, meaning that the two become one flesh, it must be treated with due reverence, respect, and deep seriousness – so much so, that those who come together in deep abiding sexual oneness should already be in a covenantal marriage relationship which has been God’s purpose for male and female from the beginning of time. Paul quotes Genesis here in verse 16, but let me quote the full text upon which the whole biblical doctrine of sex and marriage sits firmly and rests forever;

For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)

This text underpinned all Paul’s teaching on marriage (Ephesians 5: 22-33) and the place of sex within it, and it underpinned everything the Lord Jesus taught and believed. (Matthew 19: 1-12) Paul always reflected to the Churches the teaching of the Lord who is Head of the Church, and the teaching he had received from the Lord. And because sex is so profoundly special and mysterious and can lead to the beautiful and intricate creation of a new human life, it cannot be treated superficially and lustfully, even if we now have the pill and the back-up of abortion. As a human being created in God’s image, but especially as a Christian, casual sex is out of the question, including sexual activity with a temple prostitute, because you are in fact taking Christ into the brothel with you and indulging in an activity that is deeply egregious and offensive to the Holy Spirit who lives in you.

Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them to a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body. For it is said, “The two will become one flesh” But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in the spirit.

This uniting relationship with Christ which the Christian enjoys is totally incompatible with sexual activity outside marriage. This deep unity with the Lord is so real, organic, and profound that one must to quote Paul “flee from sexual immorality.” Paul says that this sin, although not worse that lots of other sins, still has a much more unique and damaging effect on the body because it does affect the whole person, the entire personality. Yes, you can harm the body with other things such as alcohol, smoking, drug abuse, but sexual sin can and does affect people at such deep levels of their being and personhood. This is why casual sex and promiscuity are wrong and why things like exploitative sex and rape are abhorrent to God. The damage is cruel and deeply wounding, and there are a lot of people who have thought that being sexually promiscuous would be the road to freedom and ecstasy, but find instead at the end of their lives that they are full of sorrow, guilt, emptiness, and bitter regret.

So, Paul’s challenge is so relevant to all of us, and it is powerfully transforming and liberating. We are all affected by these issues and they are in the news every day. The western world is now awash with sexual tragedy and stories of broken lives and families. And Christians are not immune to such disasters – and neither are we immune to sexual brokenness and the ongoing nagging influence of a sinful nature. Paul’s remedy and advice is to especially remember 4 truths that should enable a person to stay clear of mistakes and potential disaster. He would say;

  • Remember – your physical body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Honour the Spirit’s presence within you, and be assured that help, strength, grace, and power from the Holy Spirit alongside the Holy Word can enable you to live a godly life in Christ Jesus. He is holy!
  • Remember – you are deeply and profoundly connected and united to Jesus because you are “in Christ” and He is in you. The Spirit makes this unity with the Lord real. Honour the Lord Jesus with your body, and remember that He redeemed and saved you at a great cost to Himself – the cost of His precious blood, which involved the excruciating cost of the Lord’s own broken and bleeding physical body. You were bought at a price! (1 Peter 1:18, Colossians 1:22)
  • Remember – as Paul points out in many places – you are not just deeply connected to Jesus Christ, but you deeply spiritually connected to all other members of the body of Christ, the Church, and your actions do affect the whole Church, it’s unity, love, trust and effectiveness, which is why Paul can write in Ephesians 5:3; But among you (in the Church) there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.
  • Finally remember that we are called to regularly, I would say daily, offer to God our bodies so that we might a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to him and fully committed to living out his will, not ours. On several occasions in his letter to the Romans, Paul writes about offering our bodies and our body parts to the service of God and of righteousness. (Romans 6:11-14) In Romans 12:1 when Paul finally deals with practical living as a Christian after sharing his masterly theological foundation for the Christian faith and hope, he writes; Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing, and perfect will.

God’s people, whether in the OT or NT have never been called to be conformed to the ever shifting and changing sexual ethics of the world which are often profoundly compromised by the sinful nature and by open rebellion to God’s ways and Holy Word. Rather, the Christian and the Church are called to be wholly (Holy) different. We are called to live in the knowledge that we have been bought at a price and are now individually and corporately filled with the life, presence, and power of the Holy Spirit. I conclude as I started;

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God. You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honour God with your body.

And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be all glory, honour, and praise. Amen.

(Revd Peter J Clarkson – 14.1.24)