Today’s passage comes from 1 Corinthians 3:16-17.
16Don’t you know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you? 17If anyone ruins God’s sanctuary, God will ruin him; for God’s sanctuary is holy, and that is what you are.— 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (HCSB)
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.— John 14:16-18 (HCSB)
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.— Romans 7:15-20 (HCSB)
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.