Corinthians 6:14-18 “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.'”
These well-known words have been an embarrassment to some who wish that the Holy Spirit had not inspired the apostle Paul to write so forcefully. In fact there are those who claim that this segment of the letter did not come from the hand of the apostle at all, but they have no evidence to support that theory. There are others who have abused these words by making them the grounds for dividing families, shunning friends and breaking up businesses.
We are not certain of the precise situation in Corinth that caused Paul to write this striking paragraph. There may well have been a party of Libertines influencing the congregation. This party was becoming increasingly bold in its opposition to Paul, accusing him of insincerity and self-seeking. So Paul has to defend himself, his ministry and his apostleship at a number of places in this letter. A worldliness, a slovenly compromising spirit was creeping into the Corinthian church. What began as a teasing attitude to Christian zeal in separation from worldliness was growing bolder and in danger of becoming a sneering contempt for godliness and holy living. Practices current in the sensual city of Corinth, usages which had once been discarded, were again being taken up by some followers of the Lord Jesus. They would not submit to the exhortations of the apostle.
So Paul, as he defends himself against their criticisms, spends some time dwelling on the hardships that he endured serving Christ. Then he breaks off suddenly and makes this appeal to this Christian congregation to separate themselves from heathen attitudes and practices, and behave as the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty. B.B.Warfield summarises Paul’s appeal from the eleventh verse in these words, “See, O Corinthians how freely I am speaking to you, how widely open my heart is to you. You find no constraint on my part in reference to you: the only constraint there is between us lies in your own hearts. Give me what I give you – I am speaking as to my children; open wide your heart to me. Seek not your standards of life in the unbelievers about you. Remember who you are and what you should be as organs of the Holy Spirit; and be not content until you have attained that perfect holiness which becomes the children of God” (B.B.Warfield, “Faith and Life,” “New Testament Puritanism,” p.244, Banner of Truth, rpr., 1990, italics mine). So Paul rapidly turns from defending his ministry to exhorting his readers to walk worthy of the gospel. What is the apostle actually saying in these words?
1. CHRISTIANS SHOULD SEPARATE THEMSELVES FROM EVIL.
The apostle insists on this very emphatically. He gives a commandment which is as binding on us as any of the ten commandments: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers,” (v.14). And what steps are they to take? “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing…” (v.17). Now Paul is not commanding Christians to withdraw from the world, and move to a country wilderness, or a lonely island, or emigrate to some part of the world we imagine will be less sinful than our own land. That may be a tantalising object, but our vocation is to live for Jesus Christ even on the portals of hell. We visited the Benedictine abbey on Caldey Island in South Wales a month ago and talked with an old monk there. It was an idyllic spot, without the sound of an automobile engine, just the cry of the seagulls and the surf, an old house in glorious surroundings far away from the madding crowd, a dozen middle aged and elderly monks making perfumes and yoghurt, writing poetry, observing the seals and going to services three times a day – “I’ll have some of that!” But does God command a single Christian to live in such a manner? Thousands of monks and nuns have done so, and it usually gets a good press because the world thinks that that is what religion is all about, getting away from the world and going though personal and corporate devotional exercises. Our question is whether do they have a New Testament warrant for living on an island or on top of a mountain in that way?
What is the approach of some important passages of Scripture? The first is the prayer of our Lord in John 17 where he is interceding for his people – as he is praying for us now at the right hand of God – and he says to his Father, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (Jn. 17:15). The second is in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians where he explains this concept of coming out and being separate very carefully. He says, “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those within? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked man from among you'” (I Cor. 5:9-13).
Separation, or Christian aloofness, is a disciplinary measure to be taken concerning a man who claims to be a Christian and a church member who yet is an unrepentant fornicator, or thief, or idolater. You withdraw fellowship from him to impress upon him the fact that he cannot be a Christian and at the same time continue being unfaithful to his wife or breaking up someone’s family. He calls you one day and he says, “How about a game of golf tomorrow?” You say to him, “First of all, what are you doing about that woman? I cannot relax and be friendly with you until that matter has been dealt with.” That is your attitude to defiant sin in professing believers. You separate yourself from them. But Paul adds that he is not giving Christians any encouragement to separate themselves from non-Christians. That would be manifestly impossible, and it would go against the whole Christian calling to be the salt of the earth, or the light of the world, or to leaven the whole mass.
So in this passage Paul is not saying to Christians, “Don’t you have anything to do with a man who swears, a drunkard, a bully, a gossip, a thug, a drug addict, a prostitute, a man with AIDS, an idol worshipper, a New Age follower, a paedophile, or a liar,” and so on. He does not forbid that at all. What he does say is, “Touch no unclean thing,” (v.17). That is, live a pure life yourself. Paul is not saying, “You must not love your sinning neighbour. Don’t tell them of the love of God in Jesus Christ the Saviour.” Rather, it is from the sin and shame which stains the lives of so many of our fellow men that we are to be separate. Think of how the book of psalms opens. It describes a blessed man who takes this principle of separation very seriously: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful” (Psa. 1:1). There is a sense of progress in these verses: he will not choose to walk along with the ungodly crowd and listen to their specious counsels: he won’t stand and be identified with the sinners’ way of life: he certainly won’t sit down and relax with those who scorn the Lord and his free salvation. He has better things to do, and finer wisdom to teach him how he should live – “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night” (Psa. 1:2).
Consider how earnestly and emphatically Paul says this in our text: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers” (p.14). It is not an easy phrase to translate from the Greek. It is an echo of the words of Deuteronomy 22:10: “Do not plough with an ox and a donkey yoked together.” Imagine one of those great water buffaloes which plough the rice fields of south-east Asia, and a man is yoking it to one of the little donkeys on which children ride on the Aberystwyth promenade, scarcely higher than a Great Dane. What an incongruous combination! How can they work together? How can such a binding together result in anything but disaster? So Paul is saying here something like this, “Don’t become the bearers of an alien yoke along with unbelievers.” In other words, “Don’t put yourself under a yoke that does not fit you, in order to be with unbelievers.” Do you understand the point Paul is making? He is not exhorting us to have nothing to do with sinners, but he is saying, “Don’t accept the outlook and values and purpose of life of someone who does not know the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is a question of standards. Live in the same neighbourhood as them – yes. Work in the same office as they do. Go to the same college. Be treated at the same hospital. Vote for the same member of parliament. Listen to the same beautiful music. Play for the same cricket team. The apostle wants us to do those sorts of activities, but he is warning us that we do not take the tone and colour of our lives from how they have chosen to live. “If the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything” (Matt. 5:13). Associate with the world, but do not compromise with the world. That is an ongoing problem with many professing Christians, and many professing churches. We see it on all sides of us and in every sphere of life, a compromise with the attitudes of the world. A trend begins to gather some momentum – socialism, nationalism, feminism, populism – all of those contain some important truths – but the professing church yokes itself to them in an awkward way and so the very gospel is changed. Do not be yoked together with unbelievers’ agendas.
Paul is saying that the Christian is to separate himself from evil in all its forms and in every single manifestation. Do not even touch an unclean thing – how powerful is the sense of touch. Scrupulous purity and honesty and integrity must characterise us always. When you hear some religious folk smiling wryly and saying that they no longer want to be a super-Christian – beware! Associate with the world, yes! There was a terrorist who was hanging on a cross, who acknowledged that his life had been so terrible that he deserved to be suffering that punishment, and the Lord Christ had time for him, to hear his prayer and assure him of eternal life. There is no man so vile that he has no claims upon our help. There has to be costly compassionate friendships with sinners. But do we adopt their standards? No. Not in the least detail. Here our motto must be, No surrender! Christ spoke words of grace to a woman caught in adultery, but he added “Go and do not sin again!”
An unbeliever will say to us, “I think of God in this way, and that if a man does his best then God can ask nothing more from him, and that everyone must work out his own philosophy of life, and that there is no such thing as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and that if Jesus is a help to you then I’m pleased that you’re getting something out of religion, but it’s not for me, and that I would like to believe, but I cannot…” Every unbeliever has been saying things like that since Cain murdered Abel, but we are not to walk in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stand in the way of sinners nor sit in the seat of the scornful. We are to fight the alien yoke of the unbeliever’s convictions being put on our necks. In all our dealings with them there is a standard which we have been given by the Lord, and we are to stand by that standard, in the smallest particular, through thick and thin. Any departure, and any compromise, however small or beautiful it may seem to you, is treason to our great King. There is not an old Christian here who does not wish me to preach this truth as clearly and uncompromisingly as I can, who is not at this very moment praying that the Holy Spirit is enlightening your mind and bending your will to be doing what I am saying. They have seen so much Christian compromise, and they have been the victims of so much painful compromise, some of it self-induced. “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers … come out from them and be separate,” God is saying to you. Are you going to be a mere hearer of this word, or a doer? Is there some compromise in your life, and God has made it clear to you that it is wrong. Are you going to carry on defying God, and then ask the Lord for his blessing on your life?
I must press this point home. I must do so because the apostle does so very vigorously with five rhetorical questions. It would be enough for God to say, “Come out!” but he pleads with us to take this point with desperate seriousness. Five times he presses home the need of separation by asking a question the answer to which is ‘none’ or ‘nothing.’
i] “For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?” (v.14). Nothing! Paul begins by talking about a partnership. Two people must hold important things in common for there to be a partnership. There are some things which might appear to have a lot in common, but it is disastrous if you try to mix them. I was once getting some petrol in the local garage and I noticed Mrs Appleton sitting in her car at that filling station looking particularly glum. “Everything all right?” I asked her. “I have just filled my tank with diesel instead of petrol,” she said, as she waited for a tow truck to come and take the car to a garage to be pumped out. There does not seem much difference between diesel and petrol, both are inflammable, and both are automobile fuels, but the difference is enough to ruin your can if you try to drive on the wrong fuel. Paul starts these questions by contrasting two extremes who exist in their hatred for one another, righteousness and wickedness. What do these total opposites have in common? Nothing whatsoever, and if Christ has been made unto us the righteousness of God then we have nothing in common with such things as those magazines on the top shelf, and those hideous websites, and cynical unbelief and bad language and easy money and the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. When I was a boy the salacious falls of men were recorded in detail in the News of the World each Sunday – a paper we never let into our house. Now the so-called quality press records every detail of low life. “I have nothing in common with you,” you must say. You hunger and thirst for the righteousness of the living God, so blameless and holy, so much so that even unsinning angels hide their eyes from its contemplation. What has wickedness in common with that? Nothing whatsoever. No partnership there.
ii] “Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (v.14). None! Paul goes on to speak of fellowship, all the experiences we have in common. David Prior describes them thus, “… experiences of God’s love in special ways, of friendship with other Christians, of answered prayer, of the power of the Spirit, of the reality of forgiveness, of God’s guidance through difficult times, of finding God’s plan for our lives and walking in paths which he has already mapped out for us, of finding God’s provision for our needs” (David Prior, “The Suffering and the Glory,” Hodder, 1985, p.133). What fellowship can those who’ve known such light enjoy with those who live in darkness? I remember once travelling by train through the tunnel under Caerphilly mountain when all the lights failed to work. After a moment we had turned a bend in that tunnel and we were in impenetrable darkness. I remember putting my hand in front of my eyes and being unable to see anything at all. A blackout! When I was a boy street lights shining through bedroom curtains meant that the room was never in total darkness. But then the Rhymney train puffed out of the tunnel and I was able to see the lines on the palm of my hand, and the pores of my skin. Darkness and light have no fellowship. The one must always banish the other. That is its nature. The weaker the light the greater the darkness. The brighter the light the darkness will recede. When Moses sought to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt God sent a series of plagues on the land, the penultimate one being the plague of darkness. “Total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived” (Ex. 10:22&23). All the people of that country lived in one place or in the other. You could not live on the borders, and who would choose to do so? When God saves sinners he rescues us from the dominion of darkness and brings us into the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light (Cols. 1:12&13). People who do not know Jesus Christ are in the dark about the whole purpose of life. They are in the dark about why they are, and who they are and who God is. The result of the gospel coming is to see the Light of Life. You are in the kingdom of darkness, or you are in the kingdom of light.
iii] “What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?” (v.15). None! The third image Paul speaks of is harmony, or it is actually the Greek word from which we get our word ‘symphony’. Think of the sound an orchestra makes when it is tuning up and the players are warming up their instruments before the conductor appears. It is a cacophony. What a difference when he blends them together and leads them through a symphony. That is harmony, and that beauty is marvellously seen in the Trinity. Father loves Son, and Son loves Father, and both love the Spirit, and he, in turn loves each of them. They will one will. But between Jesus and the old Serpent, Satan, the Devil how is their relationship? Is it up and down? Are there occasional bouts of infatuation? Has one left his first love for the other? Do they have some areas of affectionate co-operation? None at all. Do they sing duets together? There is no harmony at all between them. One sings to the glory of God in the midst of the great congregation, the other sings to his own praise. They march to the beat of different drums. The sound coming from one is pure and lovely and joyful. The other gives off black hatred and despair. There never has been any harmony between Christ and Belial and never will be. You can never make harmonious the songs of Jesus Christ and Belial.
iv] “What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” (v.15). Now that is a very profound and fascinating question. The fourth image Paul uses is of personal compatibility. What do those who live for the Creator have in common with those who live for the creature? Let us acknowledge that they share a common humanity, a conscience, the legacy of an earlier grace, the image of God, and the things of the law are written on their hearts. They have an aesthetic sense, an intelligence, an ability to speak and comprehend language, a social awareness and sense of responsibility. They share all those things in common plus the possibility of having parents or children in common. So no husband or wife who becomes a Christian should then despise a yet unbelieving spouse and quote these words, “What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” and walk out on the spouse. You have no grounds for separation in becoming a Christian, and you share much in common. Jesus Christ ought to make you a better husband or wife. The believing spouse and the unbelieving spouse do share much, but they lose out on eternal matters. That is the meaning of Paul’s question here. They don’t have in common an experience of regeneration, a love for Jesus Christ, a walk with God, a submission to the Bible and the hope of glory. They do not share a common foundation, one is building on the rock, while the other builds on the sand. They do not possess a common conviction of sin, and a common treasure. One is storing up treasures on earth while the other is storing up treasures in heaven. Their hearts are in different places – for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
v] “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?” (v.16). None! The fifth image Paul uses is of worship. The Lord Jesus says that no one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Money. You cannot serve the one living and true God, and at the same time go into a temple and bow down before an idol. You cannot pray to God through the Lord Jesus in the quiet of your own room, and at the same time keep a shelf of idols in the passage-way and touch them for luck as you walk out each day. There is no agreement between the invisible God and a carved golden idol. There is no agreement between the finished work of Christ and offering chickens and bullocks in a temple. There is no agreement between salvation accomplished by Jesus Christ alone which is applied to a repentant believer by grace alone, and a religion which demands constant attendance at a temple with continual sacrifices and payments having to be made. You cannot love the Lord Jesus and yet call a man a brother who denies the Lord’s eternal existence, his virgin birth, his twofold nature, his finished work, his physical resurrection, his coming again, his plain teaching on the new birth and the world to come. Keep yourselves from idols my little children!
Those are the five rhetorical questions which demonstrate the utter impossibility of a Christian putting his neck into the same yoke as an unbeliever, living his life on that same plane, and answering the big questions of life with mutually acceptable answers. What is the great thrust of this passage? What is its most important teaching? It is this, that there are just two kinds of people in the world, believers and unbelievers. These two kinds of people stand over against one another in complete, not only contrast, but contradiction. They are as different from one another in God’s sight as righteousness and wickedness, light and darkness, Christ and Belial, the temple of God and idols. There can be no compromise between them. There may be dialogue and reaction, but never compromise.
Yet we have to say this, that we do not see this antithesis as clearly as it should be seen. We see Peter in Antioch behaving like a demon and refusing to fellowship at the table with fellow believers. We actually see a member of the Corinthian congregation taking his own father’s wife. We do not see pure embodiments of righteousness at the love feasts of the church in Corinth, while there were those in the church at Thyatira who tolerated the woman Jezebel who was misleading God’s servants into sexual immorality. In fact those Christians just like ourselves required all the power of the word of God to be focused upon them exhorting them to live godly and holy lives. It is incongruous that you look to pop singers and entertainers and sportsmen and make them your role models. There are two kinds of people in the world, believers and unbelievers, and these two kinds of people stand in contradiction to one another. One may conquer and eliminate the other, but there can be no mixture between them. Paul elaborates that point with this prolonged appeal. He really charges their consciences with this fact.
So there are the negatives of Christian conversion, what is embraced by the great Biblical word ‘repentance.’ There are things we now turn our backs on. There are places we no longer go. There are beliefs that we do not hold, all the negatives. These are absolutely vital, quite indispensable to any Christian integrity. I cannot understand a group of professing Christians who go from a University Christian Union to the bar of the students’ union and sit down in that darkness and noise and drink alcohol together. There is no believer who has not made a breach with what he used to be. And yet the negatives are not enough. These people not only broke the yoke that joined them to the world, they also knew a new Lord indwelling them, living with them and walking among them.
2. CHRISTIANS SHOULD REMEMBER THEIR HIGH PRIVILEGES.
“For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ … I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty” (vv.16-18). The first word Paul says is “For,” (v.16): ‘because.’ There is an important reason he gives for your coming out and being separate. This is not simply a call to separation but a call to renewed realisation. Come out, “for we are the temple of the living God” (v.16). In the Old Testament the temple was considered God’s home, his dwelling place. That was during that earlier dispensation. The temple building was a sign pointing forward to a new time when God would take up his dwelling place in men themselves. That is the great blessing of the new covenant, God coming into our lives; the Son of the living God, Jesus Christ, dwelling in our hearts by faith. ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.’ We believers are all the temple of the living God. “As God has said: ‘I will dwell with them'” (v.16). My wife and I have been visiting some magnificent church buildings in the past weeks. There is the Countess of Huntingdon chapel in Worcester. It is now a concert hall. There is the majestic St John’s Congregational chapel in Chichester. It is now a concert hall. There is the Countess of Huntingdon church in Bath where that remarkable lady herself regularly worshipped. It is now a museum and a centre for dyslexia studies. There is the Wesley church in Bristol. It is a museum. Those churches still have their high central pulpits and their pews, but they are shells. They are not the home of God because God dwells in people. Our bodies are his temples – his home, and we bring him with us when he enables us to come on Sundays and enter these walls, and going from here we take him to our homes.
The great and urgent question for our day is whether our lives as Christians bear testimony, not merely to our separation from worldliness (for plenty of dry old sticks in Aberystwyth never go to hostelries and cinemas and clubs) but to the reality and the nearness and relevance of the God who indwells us. We are asking simply, has a transformation taken place in our lives? Not necessarily suddenly, maybe imperceptibly, and yet deeply? Is there any difference in point of behaviour as a result of our Christian status? Is there something of the nearness of Father, Son and Holy Spirit about our lifestyles? Is our life, in the broadest and in a yet undefined sense, rich and complex? Is there a holiness, and a love? Are we elevated and strong? And if there is a transformation, is it a transformation of these dimensions, a transformation which can only be explained in terms of the mighty Maker of the universe living with us and walking among us as our God, and we his people? Is there anything in our lives, not in point of feelings, not in point of gift, but in point of Christian conduct, in point of Christian love and Christian purity, which would tell men that our lives have been filled with the same life that filled Jesus of Nazareth? Is there transformation? Are our lives different from what our unregenerate lives were? Are our lives different from the lives of those who are unbelievers, who are still in the dark, who are worshipping idols? And is the transformation such as would argue that we are the temple of the living God. As we face the temptations of this life, does the way that we emerge declare that we have faced them and overcome them by the power of an indwelling Lord? And as we undergo whatever this life may hold for us of suffering, do we have a courage and a patience that would argue that we have illimitable access to an indwelling Saviour, and he who has promised “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people,” has made over to us the resources of his own life? And as we face the obligations of our own Christian position, as we ask the Lord for a knowledge of his will and we identify his will and we endeavour to do his will, do we do it so effectively, that it might be known that we do it not in our own strength, but by his power which works in us mightily?
It is one of the great and urgent questions for our day: what is the life, what is the bearing of the Christian church? Are we separate from the world? Are we its light and its salt? Are we indeed shining in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation? And do our lives bear testimony, not only to the fact that we are different in what we do not do, but different also through the reality and nearness and relevance of the life of the God whom we proclaim? Our own lives, are they new? Are they different? Are they transformed, transfigured? Are they the lives of those who are the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty? Are they elevated, pure and noble? Are they patient and courageous? Are our lives all these things according to this measure and this standard – “For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: I will live with them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people”?
Paul exhorts, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.” But then he adds that we are the temple of the living God and he dwells with us and walks among us day by day. That is why I am different, because God has taken up his abode in me, and he walks with me all the time. I am united to and engrafted into him, and he indwells my flesh and my bones, my heart and my soul. In me there is his presence. In me there is his Spirit. In me there is the power of a living Saviour. And this is not the privilege of an elite core of super-Christians. It is not the privilege of the eminent believer. There is not child of God, there is no man or woman born again, but that is a man or woman who has this peculiar position, is set in this peculiar place, that almost physically he or she is a temple of the living God, and Father, Son, and Holy Spirit indwell every single Christian. That is the difference, not so much in their separation from the unfruitful works of darkness, the counsel of the ungodly, the way of sinners and the seat of the scornful, but in the fact that he lives with them and walks among them. They face the opposition of the present world with him. They face the wiles of the devil with him. They face every Christian obligation with him. They cry, “I can do all things through Christ who indwells me.”
How many Christians live in this way? Everyone who is a believer. Every ordinary follower of the Lord Jesus. There is no Christian but he is the temple of the living God. How much of the time is he that temple? Permanently and absolutely all the time; not only when he is close to God, or when he is living as he should live. He is our Father and we are his children for ever, and the believer is to reckon with this, that his sonship is an irreversible condition throughout all of his subsequent life. It is the whole context of his life. Once he receives Christ he is given the authority to be called a son of God, and sonship is valid not only when a son is overflowing in affection for his father, not only when they are enjoying Christmas Day together, when they remember one another’s birthdays, but the sonship is there, permanent and irreversible, and they cannot pretend otherwise on the days when things are not as they should be in the family home. They cannot say, ‘I am not his son today, and I do not need to live within the framework of my parents today.’ The sonship is always valid. It is the context of the life. There are days when the believer is backslidden, when he is in the depths, when he is in darkness and he has no light, but he is still a child of God, the temple of the living God. God is still in covenant with him and he is under obligation at all times to walk as a child of the King. When I sin I sin as a son of my heavenly Father. I cannot cancel my sonship when I want to be worldly. I am a son of God all the time, and if I am worldly, I am still a son of God in my worldliness and I am disgracing my Father.
You know the story that is told of Spurgeon’s grandfather, whose heart was broken in his ministry by the life and bearing of one particular professing Christian named Thomas Roads who had backslidden and had begun again to frequent taverns. Spurgeon the six-year old child was grieved at what this man had been doing to his grandfather and he walked down to the village and found the man and put this question to him as he sat at his drink outside the pub, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” What are you, a child of God, what are you doing in this particular situation? What are you, the temple of the living God, doing here? What are you, whose Father is God, doing here? What are you in whom God lives doing here?
We are told today that there is a crisis in the Christian Church, that there is a lack of resources and power. But do you as a Christian lack resources? Is your failure to bear witness to your Lord a direct result of any lack of divine resources? Is your failure to pray due to a lack of divine resources? Is your failure to forgive seventy times seven because of a lack of divine resources? Is your failure to work hard for Jesus Christ a result of any lack of divine resources? Are your burying your talent in the ground and pleading, You didn’t give me enough resources? If so God will say, “Are you not the temple of the living God? Did I not promise to live with you, and walk among you, and be your God, and you would be my people? Did I ever fail to keep my word?”
Is the church, even as she is today, suffering from a mean rationing or an inadequacy of resources? Where is the church? Where does the believer stand? He is the temple of the living God. He is indwelt by Father Son and Holy Spirit. He lives, stands, moves, and has his being, in the power of Christ. It is not that there is no power to live a consecrated, separated, holy life for Jesus. But there is certainly a failure to appreciate the power that we have, to realise that God lives with us, and walks among us. What we need is to realise the position of the ordinary Christian believer as the person in whom is the life of the living God, to realise that that all the people of God are with him, not because our faith is great, but because our faith is real. That is why Paul says, “We are the temple of the living God … I will live with them and walk among them and be their God, and they will be my people … I will be a Father to you and you will be my sons and daughters.” Wonderful promises.
The most backward believer, the youngest child in Christian experience, what is he but the temple in whom God has established his dwelling place? There is nothing wrong with the resources, nothing wrong with our individual resources. The Lord God Almighty is in us, and Paul’s whole emphasis here is this: “I am going to tell you how a believer should live, that he should be separate from this sin-loving unbelieving world, but I want to go on to tell you what resources a believer has for this vocation. God has become our Father and we are God’s children, and I expect you to live as those who are the temples of the living God, as men whom God lives with and walks amongst.” The great thrust of all Paul’s teaching and conduct is this – be what you are. Reckon on God living with you and in you, and God providing for you and protecting you as your very Father. We are to keep saying to ourselves, “I am the temple of the living God.” We are to keep saying to ourselves, “He is my God, and I am his child.” It is so very personal. William Booth’s wife Catherine, was converted at the age of sixteen, after reading these words of Charles Wesley’s hymn,
“My God I am Thine;
What a comfort divine,
What a blessing to know that my Jesus is mine!
In the heavenly Lamb
Thrice happy I am,
And my heart it doth dance at the sound of His Name.”
It was that blessed assurance that became the foundation for all her new life of working for Christ and his kingdom. I am not sure but that sometimes we put our humility in the wrong place. We are not ashamed of the fact that we are the temple of the living God, and that he lives with us and walks among us, and it is time to realise what is our real dignity, to realise what is our potential, in the Lord. There is nothing wrong with our resources if we would reckon ourselves to have the indwelling of the presence of God. It is not the indwelling of a pussy-cat but the Lion of the tribe of Judah. It is not some token stopover but a real eternal indwelling. We are transformed people, transformed by the recreative power of Almighty God. We have been translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. Are we living according to this teaching? Are we living new, transformed, godly lives? Living in Christ? Living by the resources, living out the power, of the Almighty God who is also our Father? The indwelling One is strong! It is not only love and pity and compassion he brings. It is not only meekness that men need to live the Christian life, but they need power. Finally my brethren, be strong, and be strong in the Lord (Eph. 6:10). The Lord expects me to come out from them and be separate – that is what this word says. He expects me to live according his enabling and indwelling presence, according to the resources that he has made available to me.
You will remember that this is a command, and this is the standard that God places before everyone who claims that their sins have been covered by the blood of Christ. We dare not be content with a moderate attainment in the Christian life. We dare not say to ourselves, O, I guess I am Christian enough, though I’m not as good as other men and women. You have begun in the Spirit in the new birth, you must not finish in the flesh. The Christians in Corinth were becoming content with the standards of the Greek civilisation. They were saying to other Christians, “O, the Lord doesn’t ask all that of us; O, there is nothing wrong with that; O, I guess it will be enough if I am as good as the average man; O, you cannot expect me to live at odds with my neighbours; O, these things are good enough for me.”
Such compromise is wrong. They are unworthy of the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died. You have been born from above for better things. Turn your back on all inconsistencies. Live for Christ, the way, the truth and the life. You are temples of the living God. Hold no truck with idols. Holiness of life is the substance of salvation. It is that for which we are saved. If we are in Christ Jesus and he is in us, shall we not walk like Christ Jesus? Let us remember these great promises which he has given us, and cleanse ourselves from all defilement of body and soul, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord. Then we may approve ourselves to have God as our Father and ourselves to be his sons and daughters.
29 July 2001 GEOFF THOMAS