The Gospel and the Church: 28. The Church God as Habitation of God in the Spirit

 •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 12
We have looked at the church as the “house of God” and as the “temple of God.” Let us now meditate upon it as the “habitation of God in the Spirit.”
Before doing so, it is well to remember that the two terms “house of God” and “habitation of God in the Spirit,” have a difference. The words actually employed in the original for each of the two—. “οἶκος” and “κατοικητήπιον” —seem to indicate this. For though both have the same root, the composition and ending of the latter plainly shows that there is a difference, which appears to be simply this:—
Where the church is spoken of as the “house of God,” that term applies to those who compose the house, i.e. all believers as being His family. (1. Pet. 2:5; Eph. 2:1919Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; (Ephesians 2:19); Tim. 3:15). But where the word “habitation” (κατοικητήριον) is used, which occurs only twice in the N. T., it refers to the character of the indweller of the house.1 So in Eph. 2:2222In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:22), where the church is called the “habitation of God in [i.e. through] the Spirit,” and Rev. 18:22And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. (Revelation 18:2), where the professing church has not only become “Babel” but “Babylon the great,” “a habitation of devils [or demons], and a hold of every foul spirit, and a hold of every unclean and hateful bird.”
And what was it, Christian reader, that brought about that terrible change in the original character of the church, as the “habitation of God in the Spirit?” Was it not the practical denial of that blessed truth? It is just the wondrous fact of the personal presence of the Holy Ghost and of His sovereign authority and guidance in the church built by Him, which, together with the power of the name of Jesus and of his word, so decidedly stamps that part of the N.T. called “The Acts of the Apostles."2
We hear further the Holy Ghost asserting His sovereign authority in the church of Antioch, speaking with a loud voice in the midst of the assembly. “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:22As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. (Acts 13:2)). We even find Philip (chap. 8:39,40) “caught away” by the “Spirit of the Lord,” and transferred to Azotus, to “preach the gospel in all the cities,” after he, at the bidding of the same Spirit, had shown to the eunuch the way of salvation, and baptized him. Nay, we find, how also the apostle of glory and of the church, though he had been called directly from glory by the Lord of glory, even the Head of the church, in His service and testimony had to learn his entire dependence upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit (ch. 16:6-7). We find that, where he follows that guidance, God's power and blessing accompany his testimony; whereas on Paul's failing to do so, the contrary takes place (chap. 21. 4.-11. Compare chaps. 21. and 23.) Even the church in Jerusalem took care to own its dependence upon the guidance of the indwelling Spirit by their express words, “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us” (chap. 15:28).
When the second Person of the Godhead dwelt here on earth amongst men “full of grace and truth,” God being in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, men could not bear God coming so near to them in grace and truth. Had it been only grace, they would not have so much objected to it (Luke 4:2222And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph's son? (Luke 4:22)). But it was “grace and truth,” and that they could not bear (v. 25-29); for men loved darkness rather than light. So they cast Him out, Who was the light of the world.
And since the third Person of the Godhead, even “the Spirit of truth,” took the place of Christ here on earth, proclaiming to a world full of God-alienated and hostile sinners grace and pardon by faith in the once rejected and crucified Son of God, converting every believer into a “temple of God,” and making the church “the house of the living God” and “a habitation of God in the Spirit,” —does man show more reverence and submission to the presence and energy of the Spirit of God, than he did to the Son of God? No, man's enmity against God, and insubjection to His will have been and will be ever the same. If the Holy Spirit were only the Spirit of power, of love, and of a sound mind, “the world,” though ever objecting to all that is divine, would perhaps have shown its hostility in a less degree. The natural man admires, like Simon Magus, power, especially supernatural power. He appreciates love, and esteems soundness of judgment and a well-balanced mind. But the Holy Spirit is, above and before all, “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:1717Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. (John 14:17)); and this it is which the world cannot and will not bear, because it is ruled by him who “is a liar and the father of it.” Therefore he hates the word of God, which “is truth;” and inspired by the “Spirit of truth,” it testifies of Christ, Who is “the truth.” The lying Cretans of this world have a proverb of their own, which says, “truth does not find a home.” This witness is true. The first testimony of the Holy Ghost at Jerusalem was received by the religious world with mockery, and afterward rejected with gnashing of teeth, stopping the ears and the stoning of Stephen—His messenger and witness.
During the ministry of Christ on earth, false righteousness and hypocrisy withstood Him, because He was the true righteousness; and ever since the days of Pentecost, and in the last of the “last days” more than ever, the spirit of lying and falsehood withstands the Holy Ghost, because He is the “Spirit of truth,” and the word indited by Him, because it “is truth.” Rome has supplanted the word of God by the infallibility of the church (followed by the infallibility of the Pope), and made the Pope, instead of the Holy Spirit, the Vicar of Christ. As to the professing church throughout Christendom as a whole, in part we see what has become of the “habitation of God in the Spirit.” The sending, presence, and guidance of the Holy Spirit, though perhaps theoretically owned as a doctrine have been and are still practically denied. And this denial of the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit in the church is what made her already in the days of the apostles “a great house,” and has turned her in the course of time into a hollow “professing church.” Thus the original purity and freshness of churches like those at Antioch and Jerusalem, the “holy city,” degenerated into the system of Rome, the unholy city and capital of the world; which, instead of being the bride of Christ, has become, through the fiendish mockery and cunning of Satan, “Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the earth,” a habitation of demons, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird (Rev. 17; 18).
Christ (the glorious head of the church, His body, Who had sent the Holy Spirit, that He as the heavenly Eliezer might conduct His heavenly bride through this wilderness toward her glorious Bridegroom) had raised by His Spirit from time to time faithful witnesses of divine truths, especially that of His gospel, which, with the word of God itself, had been almost lost beneath the rubbish of guilty Romanism. But those witnesses, faithful though they were in the recovery and testimony of a pure gospel (although its heavenly side in resurrection and delivering power were only imperfectly known and understood even by them), possessed but very little light, if any, about the character of the church, as being the habitation of God in the Spirit, and as to her heavenly position, calling, and hope. This defect is evident even in the best of the reformers of the 16th century.
In consequence of the Thirty years' war, so pernicious in every respect, the Protestant bodies, soon relapsed into spiritual sleep and worldliness, and the solemn prophetic description of the “church in Sardis” became an accomplished fact. Toward the close of the last century God again raised several faithful witnesses to awaken the Protestant system, sunk in worldliness, from its sinful sleep. But even the testimony of men like Rowland Hill, J. and C. Wesley, or Whitfield, was chiefly confined to the preaching of the gospel. And though one chief blessing of the reformation (viz., the unimpeded dissemination of the Holy Scripture) had continued, so that the Bible had become common property, it nevertheless appeared as if the glorious truth of the church, having been buried beneath the religious rubbish of so many centuries, was to remain hidden still. For one of the manifold stratagems of the enemy of truth is this, that where he cannot entirely prevent or suppress the spreading of divine truth, he places some portion of it in the foreground, confining to it the interest and activity of believers, in order to divert them from other equally important, still higher, and more blessed divine truths, and to keep them in the dark background, however clearly and decidedly scripture may set them forth for the hearts and consciences of believers.
But our Lord Jesus Christ (Who is not only the Savior of sinners, but above all the Head of His body the church, composed of all really saved and sealed ones) would not permit, now when His coming is close at hand, the precious truth of Christ and the church—the very center of the divine counsels—any longer to be obscured and kept in the background. Blessed be His great and glorious Name!
I hope to offer some more remarks on this important subject in my next paper, if the Lord will.
1. Κατὰ in composition strengthens the idea of a “house” and clothes it with permanency. Hence the verb is used for settling down, or dwelling fixedly, as well as for situations and administrations.-Ed.]
2. A more appropriate title would be, “History of the building of the church by the power of the Holy Spirit.”