Church is A HOLY NATION / a counter-cultural community
Ezekiel 36:22-29a | 1 Peter 1:1-5, 2:9-10 | 1 Corinthians 12:1-13 | Ephesians 2:19-22
22 ‘Therefore say to the Israelites, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: it is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. 23 I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.
24 ‘“For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the corn and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you.
1 Peter 1:1-5, 13-16, 2:9-10
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, exiles, scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
13 Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
As the gospel announcement takes root in people’s lives and they give their allegiance to Jesus, God pours out his Spirit on them. This is the fulfilment of the promise of Ezekiel and is a sign of our justification (being put right with God) and our sanctification (our cleansing and renewal). The reception of the Holy Spirit is a sign our belonging and our cleansing.
We have been told that while John came to baptise us in water, Jesus came to baptise us in the Spirit. Paul tells us that our baptism in the Spirit is evidence of our belonging in Christ and a guarantee of our adoption into his family. The giving of the Spirit is the marker of the new covenant being fulfilled in Christ.
Scripture teaches us that the gift of the Spirit is indeed a gift – a grace that is undeserved and unwarranted. Just like the Spirit filled the holy and consecrated temple in the Old Testament, so as we are given the Spirit and are incorporated into the church, together we become God’s new temple, the ‘dwelling place of God’, the temple of the Spirit.
The Spirit both marks us out as holy and enables us to live holy lives and the New Testament encourages us to see ourselves as the temple of the Holy Spirit and therefore as a counter-cultural community. The implications of this are many but if we are to be a community that hosts the presence of the Spirit appropriately, seeking the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of his life in us, we also need to be a people who keep in step with the Spirit and participate in a whole new way of living – living holy lives.
The word ‘saint’ has its origin in the word for holy (sanctus). To be a saint is to be sanctified and made holy – to be made sacred. In the Old Testament the people were consecrated (sanctified) to God and were made holy by him as they were set apart for him and his purpose. The theme of sanctification continues into the New Testament. God is always looking for a consecrated, sanctified, and holy people. In Christ people have been sanctified and made holy through participation in his death and resurrection. Participating in his death and resurrection, we are called to live up to this reality.
Holiness really matters in the church. We are called to be holy as God is holy. This means leaving behind any ways of living that are incompatible with the life of Christ, putting off our old habits and behaviours that do not align with his character, and dying to self.
Holiness is not an option for the church. It is something that we prioritise in every generation. Only a holy church can appropriately represent a holy God.
We are designed to live life in the Spirit and to be filled with him and keep in step with him. It is an immense privilege to be considered a vessel worthy of being filled with the Holy Spirit. We have been cleansed and sanctified in order to be filled. We must do all that we can to remain consecrated to him if we are to continue to live life in all its fullness.
- Define the following words:
- What is the link between all these words? How do they fit together?
- Why is the Spirit called the Holy Spirit in the New Testament?
- What does it mean to be a holy people?
- The temple was set apart for God’s presence. What does it mean to be the temple of the Spirit as a community together?
- What kind of behaviours in our personal and shared lives would pollute the ‘new’ temple?
- What are the biggest challenges for us as a church in our day?
- What happens when the church becomes polluted or unclean? How do we resolve this? What’s the solution?
- Why does my own personal behaviour impact the whole community?
- How can we help each other to remain clean and be holy? What practices would help us to this end?
Additional Scriptures if wanted
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:1-13
Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to dumb idols. 3 Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.