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Holy in His Presence

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The Alliance was born out of A. B. Simpson’s vision for lost men and women. Simpson was also driven by his experience of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence. He was deeply influenced by the holiness movement in the late 19th century and understood the need to maintain a close connection between mission and the Spirit’s sanctifying work. It is safe to say that whenever a church’s understanding of mission becomes divorced from its understanding of holiness, the result is always disastrous.

Beginning with Ezekiel 40, the prophet records a God-given vision for the reconstruction of a new temple in Jerusalem. The vision provides a detailed outline of the temple’s dimensions and furnishings, with a floor plan that mirrors the original temple built by Solomon. In an earlier chapter Ezekiel witnessed God’s presence leaving Solomon’s temple. But Ezekiel, like his contemporaries, prophesied restoration for a repentant Israel as well as judgment for an idolatrous people.

In the vision Ezekiel is led by an angel to the east gate of the restored place of worship. There he witnesses the return of God’s glory. In 43:7 the angel tells him, “Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place for the soles of my feet. This is where I will live among the Israelites forever.” In verse 10 Ezekiel receives final instructions. God’s people must renounce the idolatry that brought them to ruin years before. No longer are they to build altars to false gods alongside the temple where God’s presence is focused. “This is the law of the temple,” Ezekiel is told in verse 12. “All the surrounding area on top of the mountain will be most holy. Such is the law of the temple.” Not only the temple but the entire Temple Mount was to be considered holy because the glory of the Lord had returned to Judah and filled the temple.

The connection between God’s glory and holiness is important. Holiness is intrinsic only to God Himself. Most modern scholars agree that the idea is rooted in separation, but it is not the result of setting something apart that makes the item holy. Holiness was not inherent in the building’s design nor was it the result of its eventual purpose and intended use. It was the outcome of Divine presence. Holiness is the effect of the Spirit’s indwelling, a reflection of God’s promised presence among His people. It is that which sets God’s people apart. The temple was declared holy because the One whose chose to make it His dwelling place is holy. Thus the fundamental law of the temple, Ezekiel is told, is absolute holiness.

In 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 Paul chose the plural “you,” referring to the assembly of believers, when he writes, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? . . . [F]or God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” Peter declares in a similar way, “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). Thus, while it is true that believers are made personally holy by the Spirit’s indwelling, the Church is a living temple made holy by virtue of the Spirit’s indwelling. In the words of the Apostle’s Creed, it is “one holy catholic Church.”

It is Divine presence rather than “spirituality” that rescues the Church from spiritual atrophy. It delivers us from institutional conceptions of local church life. The fundamental law of the temple is holiness—absolute holiness. The tabernacle Moses constructed was set apart as evidence of God’s presence with His people. It was holy because He made it holy. That primary message is repeated like an anthem throughout the Book of Leviticus: Be holy because I am holy. In the New Testament, Paul is clear that the human body, indwelt by the Spirit and brought to life by His regenerating power, is to be considered holy. The Church is holy for the same reason. It is indwelt by the Spirit of God. Therefore, it is to be regarded as a holy thing and treated accordingly. That is why Paul considers strife and dissension to be such a serious matter throughout his letters. It is why our church leaders must be discerning.

Holiness not only has implications for our understanding of the church; it also carries ethical weight. Paul expresses this when he talks about the fruit of the Spirit. Christ’s presence, His inherent holiness, is manifest in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control. Personal holiness is a positive result of life in the Spirit.

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