We are Truly God’s Temple

“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16)

The church in the New Testament has replaced the sacred Old Testament temple. The New Testament says that Christ’s body is a temple (John 2:19–21), the universal church is a temple (Ephesians 2:20–21), the individual Christian’s body is a temple (1 Corinthians 6:19), and in this verse the local church is a temple of God. The you is plural in this passage, signifying the corporate local body of believers. Consequently, every local New Testament church is a temple of God. Paul uses the word temple, naós, without the article (anarthrous), signifying the quality or essence of the meaning of temple as opposed to a particular location.

Greek scholar Ray Summers says, “When the article is used… the thing emphasized is identity; when the article is not used, the thing emphasized is quality or character.”[1] The question, Do you not know implies that they should know and understand, and this would be true of us today. The word for temple, naós, refers to the temple proper, where God dwelt, rather than just the temple complex. It was the sacred, holy sanctuary of the Shekinah glory where only the high priest could enter once a year.

Now, what makes the church sacred? Is it the people, building, or location? No, it is sacred because it is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit in the New Covenant, like the Holy of Holies in the Old Testament. Why must we be so careful how we build the church (1 Corinthians 3:10)? Because it is the Holy of Holies, the dwelling place of God, the sanctuary of God. In view of that, the local church, the assembly of a particular community of believers, is holy because the Holy Spirit dwells in them as a body of believers. Therefore, a local body of believers that is constituted as a local church according to the New Testament is a temple of the Holy Spirit and is to be treated as such.

A concomitant aspect of this truth is that each individual believer’s body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and should be treated accordingly. Paul says, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). Here it is speaking of the individual believer’s body. Accordingly, each believer is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit. The word, naós, translated temple here is the same word as used in 1 Corinthians 3:16.

Thus, the emphasis on purity and holiness encompasses both the corporate body of Christ in worship and service as well as purity and holiness in each of the congregant’s personal daily life. It does seem incoherent to think that one can exist without the other. If holiness of both the corporate body and the individual is not emphasized in the corporate gatherings, it is unlikely, with a few exceptions, that holiness will be a priority of individuals in the daily intercourse of life. Conversely, if individuals are not seeking to walk in purity and holiness before God daily, truly holy gatherings of the body of Christ for worship and serving will prove to be of little interest.

Personal and corporate holiness means to be set apart unto God in every way and every thing. Not uncommonly, when spiritual disciplines of godliness are emphasized, they are pejoratively and summarily dismissed as legalism, which trivializes legalism’s virtually impenetrable spiritual lethality as well as the ubiquitous scriptural teaching regarding spiritual discipline and comprehensive holiness. Both personal and church discipline are to drive a wedge between the temple (our redeemed lives) and the vulgar, which is our flesh and the world of Satan (Matthew 18:15–20; Romans 16:17–18; 1 Corinthians 5:1–13; 1 Timothy 1:18–20; 2 Thessalonians 3:6–15; 1 Corinthians 9:27; 1 Timothy 4:7–8; Philippians 4:8; 2 Timothy 2:18). The holiness we are called to is tangibly practical. It is commanded and not optional, and it is to permeate and radiate from our entire being (1 Peter 1:15–16).

Ephesians 5 begins “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1). Then it specifically addresses vital areas of thought and behavior with warnings to exemplify only Christ’s love and avoid all thinking, behavior, or speech that is immoral, impure, or deceptive, whether in thought, actions, or speech (verses 2–9). It is difficult to imagine a more serious call to godliness than the one issued here, “be imitators of God.”


[1] Ray Summers, Essentials of New Testament Greek (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1950), 129.