This passage is short, sweet, and to the point. Before it, Paul is explaining to the Corinthian church that Jesus is the foundation of His church, no matter who actually brings the message (1 Corinthians 3:5-15); and he follows up these verses by instructing them on the folly of the world’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 3:18-23). So, let’s look at these two verses, and other Scriptures that support them.
Verse 16 declares that we are God’s sanctuary, and that His Spirit lives in us. This is one of those things that we’ve heard over and over again - so much that we may have lost the importance of it. The Holy Spirit was promised by Jesus when He was telling His disciples about things to come:
16And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. 17He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive Him because it doesn’t see Him or know Him. But you do know Him, because He remains with you and will be in you. 18I will not leave you as orphans; I am coming to you.
Did you catch that at the end of John 14:17? He is in us! The Father wanted to send Him to the world, but the world could not receive Him. So, the only way the Holy Spirit could be here is if He came to reside in someone who knew the Father. We are the ones He chose as His sanctuary, His place to live among men! The end of 1 Corinthians 3:17 emphasizes the point - “God’s sanctuary is holy, and that is what you are.”
However, the first part of that same verse contains a strong warning - “If anyone ruins God’s sanctuary, God will ruin him.” Sure, this is a warning to those who would draw Christians aside from the faith, but notice that there is no exemption for the sanctuary coming to ruin on its own. We as the sanctuary are responsible for ensuring that our part of the sanctuary is clean; pure, free from sin, and a strong testimony to God’s grace.
I’ve told my sons this several times before - I don’t like anyone hurting my sons, even another one of my sons (their brothers). Just as this continues to come up (did I mention I’ve told them that several times?), often we are the biggest hurdle to overcome in keeping our sanctuary clean. It’s (comparatively) easy to rebuff Satan’s advances when he’s trying to get us to do something that we don’t want to do; it’s much harder to convince ourselves that we shouldn’t do something that we want to do, in spite of its being wrong. Paul explored this conundrum when writing to the church in Rome.
15For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. 16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me. 18For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. 19For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but it is the sin that lives in me.
Notice verse 18 - “nothing good lives in me…” This is the same “in me” that Jesus referred to when He said that the Holy Spirit would be “in you.” Continuing in verse 18, “For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it.” We know what is right; we want to do what is right; but yet we fail at doing what is right. What gives?
Herein lies the importance of surrendering to God’s grace. He knows we are flawed vessels, yet He has empowered us to be holy sanctuaries. He has provided Scriptures like the ones we’re looking at today to explain His expectations and His goals for us. In particular, this passage in Romans should alert us to a challenge; this is the battlefield upon which spiritual warfare is fought. The sanctuary will not stay clean on its own - only as we yield to Christ and let Him point out the dirty spots will it become and stay clean.
I’m sure you’ve heard about how bank tellers are trained to spot counterfeit money. They don’t take them into a room with a large table, sit them down, and educate them on all the tell-tale signs of fake money. They train them constantly in handling known-good currency. They are so intimately familiar with the real thing that they can instantly spot a fake when it passes through their hands. In the same way, this is how we can keep our sanctuary clean. By constantly seeking out and spending time with God (the real thing), we’ll be better able to spot other things when they try to creep into the sanctuary and defile it; and, with a holy sanctuary, the Holy Spirit can use us to the fullest for His work!
I pray that we will be able to keep the sanctuary clean, by maintaining a near-constant fellowship with God, and allowing Him to use us.
In this passage, Paul is illustrating the access that we now have to the Lord by contrasting it with Moses’s encounter with God when he received the Ten Commandments, along with plans for the Tabernacle and other laws. Here is the description of this from Exodus:
18Then Moses said, “Please, let me see Your glory.”
19He said, “I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim the name Yahweh before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” 20But He answered, “You cannot see My face, for no one can see Me and live.” 21The Lord said, “Here is a place near Me. You are to stand on the rock, 22and when My glory passes by, I will put you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 23Then I will take My hand away, and you will see My back, but My face will not be seen.”
29As Moses descended from Mount Sinai - with the two tablets of the testimony in his hands as he descended the mountain - he did not realize that the skin of his face shone as a result of his speaking with the Lord. 30When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face shone! They were afraid to come near him. 31But Moses called out to them, so Aaron and all the leaders of the community returned to him, and Moses spoke to them. 32Afterwards all the Israelites came near, and he commanded them everything the Lord had told him on Mount Sinai. 33When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. 34But whenever Moses went before the Lord to speak with Him, he would remove the veil until he came out. After he came out, he would tell the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35and the Israelites would see that Moses’ face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil over his face again until he went to speak with the Lord.
This is a very interesting story. In the first part, Moses has been taking down laws from God for quite some time (in the Scripture, since the bottom of chapter 20), and he asks to see Him. God tells him that he can’t look on His face and live, but he can see His back. In the second part, every time Moses spoke with God, he had to wear a veil on his face afterwards, because the people could not look on him due to how radiant his face was! In some sense, one’s closeness to God determined how much of His glory one could see. Only when Moses had entered into the inner part of the Tabernacle could he remove this veil.
Now, we come to the time after Jesus has come and given His life for us. Let’s look at today’s verse in its context.
12Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness - 13not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel could not look at the end of what was fading away. 14But their minds were closed. For to this day, at the reading of the old covenant, the same veil remains; it is not lifted, because it is set aside [only] in Christ. 15However, to this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts, 16but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18We all, with unveiled faces, are reflecting the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Let’s skip verse 12 for now, as verses 13-15 describe the way it “was” instead of the way it “is.” Moses put a veil over his face due to the closed-mindedness of the Israelites. In verse 15, “reading Moses” refers to the reading of the first five books of our Bible, what we call the Pentateuch, but Hebrews call the Torah - to this day, the Torah is read as part of traditional orthodox Judaism. It does not recognize Christ as having fulfilled the law, so the focus is continually on following the law given in these Scriptures. Paul says that when this happens, the veil remains.
Verse 12 and verses 16-18 describe the way it “is” now. We can use boldness because the veil has been removed. Verse 17 describes this as “freedom,” translated in the King James Version as “liberty.” We don’t have to go through a “closer-to-holy” intermediate person like Moses in order to get to God, and it’s not a one-way God-to-us communication either. We can go directly to Him, and He can speak directly to us, either in our hearts or through His Word. When Jesus was crucified, God even gave a symbol of this.
50Jesus shouted again with a loud voice and gave up His spirit. 51Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom…
This curtain was the entrance to the Holy of Holies, the inner part of the temple that was restricted to priests once a year to offer the sacrifices for the people. Jesus’s payment for our sins was complete - we are no longer restricted when coming before Him!
Finally, in verse 18, we see the reason for this. We come before God with no veil, and can view His glory directly. We benefit from this, as we are transformed and become closer to the image of God. However, this also benefits others - we, like Moses, should reflect this glory! Others should be able to look at us and see Him. This is my prayer this week - that we will become so close to God that we will reflect His glory to the world around us.
We first should look at the context of this verse. This is the part of Revelation where Jesus is writing the letters to the seven churches, and this is from the letter to the church at Laodicea. Verses 14-22 comprise the entire letter to the Laodiceans…
14To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
"The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Originator of God’s creation says: 15I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. 16So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth. 17Because you say, ‘I’m rich; I have become wealthy, and need nothing,’ and you don’t know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, 18I advise you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, and white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see. 19As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be committed and repent. 20Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me. 21The victor: I will give him the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I also won the victory and sat down with My Father on His throne.
22"Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches."
In verse 14, the Author of the letter identifies Himself as “the Amen,” the “faithful and true Witness,” and the “Originator of God’s creation.” The first term is not an uncommon term - most people, when they pray, will end their prayer with “Amen.” This means “so be it,” and implies that what has preceded it is valid and true. The next term, “Witness,” reminds the readers that Jesus came and remained a faithful Witness to the Father (John 14:24b). The final term, the “Originator,” speaks to the power that the Author has over the people to whom He is talking. He existed long before they did (John 1:1), and their very existence is due to His working.
The biggest problem that Jesus has with this church (expressed in verse 16) is that it is no longer working for Him. The members aren’t actively supporting evil, but they have become lulled to sleep, as it were, while on the watch. It has been said that all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing*. This is all that Satan has to do. He doesn’t have to get us to turn to evil, he just has to get us to turn from good! He can do this through distractions, busyness, or, in the case of the Laodiceans, complacency.
As is always the case, though, Jesus doesn’t just find fault; He tells the church what they need to do. They had a false view of themselves in their minds, which He identifies in verse 17. They think that they are rich, and have fine clothes, and are well-fed, not realizing that they are actually poor, naked, and hungry. They are like the person described in James 1:23-24, that look at themselves in the mirror, then immediately forget what they just saw. The church knew better, and Jesus had better things in store for them. In verse 18, He offers them the very best in wealth, clothing, and food; and, in verse 19, He assures them that He rebukes those that He loves. This echoes Hebrews 12:8, where the author contends that if you don’t receive correction, you are not a child of God.
If the passage stopped there, that would be good enough. But it doesn’t! In verses 20 and 21, Jesus offers them even more - a personal, intimate relationship with Him. The picture is beautiful; ever a gentleman, He stands at the door and knocks. If we let Him into our hearts, we can have fellowship with Him; and, though this fellowship begins here on earth, we will also be together with Him, victorious over sin, and will be with Him on His throne! What a transformation - from making God vomit (v. 16) to reigning with Him (v. 21)!
The key to this is in verse 20. He is standing at the door and knocking. If you have never let Him in before, I pray that you will consider it. If you have, but have been shutting him out, filling your heart with everything but Him, I pray that you will let Him back in. He can do wonders in cleaning out the dust and grime, but He’s not interested in making you feel badly about it. He simply yearns for that fellowship with you - whether you let Him in is your
* This quote is commonly attributed to Edmund Burke, but cannot be confirmed to him - see the “Quotes” section of the link.
Daniel is a man who wants to be used of God however He sees fit.