God always dwells in the midst of His true people

by Glen Jackman | Posted May 7th at 1:26pm

In the old testament, we find that God began to teach Israel, about His holiness using symbols. “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.” (Exodus 25:8 ESV)

It is only the presence of God with his people that had any distinction of holiness. This was seen when God was present at the burning bush at Mt. Horeb when Moses was called to lead Israel out of Egypt saying: “take off your shoes…the place where you are standing is holy ground”. Further, God promised Moses that He, though holy, would be with him to lead Israel out of bondage: “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”(Exodus 33:14 ESV)

In the tent sanctuary built by Moses as instructed by God, and later in the temple of Jerusalem, the holy place and further the most holy place was the habitation of God’s Holiness, was the centre of all God’s work to teach Israel symbolically using types, that living a holy life was dependent on His actual presence in the temple. Everything connected with it was holy. The altar, the priests, the sacrifices, the oil, the bread, the vessels, all were holy, because they belonged to God. “There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory…I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God.” (Exodus 29:43,45 ESV)

The place where God dwells came to be known as the holy place. All around where God dwelt was holy: the holy city, the mountain of God’s Holiness, His holy house, till we come within the veil in the sanctuary of old Israel, to the most holy place, also referred to as the holy of holies — the place where the High Priest would enter once a year during the day of atonement, when Israel would confess their sins and offer up sacrifices to the Lord. The holy place was holy, because it was nearer to God’s presence. But the inner sanctuary, where the Presence dwelt on the mercy-seat, was the Holiest of All, was most holy. Here is where the Shekinah glory (Hebrew: שכינה‎‎) visited. The English transliteration of the Hebrew noun means “dwelling” or “settling” and denotes the dwelling or settling of the divine presence of God’s glory.

To old Israel, God’s call to be holy was clearly stated: “For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy” and “Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God” (Lev 11:44; 20:7 ESV) The principle lesson of this still holds: holiness is measured by the nearness to God; the more of His Presence, the more of true holiness; perfect indwelling was perfect holiness, which we witnessed in the life of Jesus. There is none holy but the Lord; there is no holiness if there is no proximity to Him. He cannot part with a portion of His holiness, and give it to us apart from Himself. It is time, that we stop  thinking of God as up there in heaven, distant from us here on earth, when Jesus taught that “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21)

Christians are called to holiness. The New Testament developed the dwelling of God, to a much higher level moving from the shadow symbols of the Most Holy Place of the physical tent and house of God in Israel to the place of the believer’s spirit. It teaches us at the New Covenant level that the Presence of God makes the place holy where He dwells in His holiness via the Holy Spirit’s indwelling.

The New Covenant continues the call for holiness. God promises to make us holy by His indwelling if we cooperate with him willingly and obey: “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16) and “my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” with the promise that it is the Lord present with you who is doing the progressive transforming work as you cooperate with him in willing obedience “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV) We are to be conformed into the image of Christ as we obey the Word of God via the indwelling of His Spirt: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29 ESV)

Have you ever noticed that there is a very close link between the character of a house and its occupants — the pictures, books, the knick-knacks, the music, all reflect the owner’s character or his likeness. Holiness expresses more than a quality or ornamental feature — it is the very personal being of God in His infinite perfection and goodness. His house testifies to this one truth, that He is holy, that where He dwells He must have holiness. Moreover, it is His indwelling that makes the place of His abode holy.

In His command to His people to build Him a holy place, God distinctly said that it was that He might dwell among them: the dwelling in the house was to be the shadowing forth of His dwelling in the midst of His people — His indwelling by His Spirit. The house with its holiness thus leads us on to the holiness of His dwelling among His redeemed ones. Jesus promised this to His disciples, that they would begin to realize this truth after His resurrection and ascension: “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20 ESV)

If you have a love for Christ you will have a love for His Word, which speaks of Him and reveals His will. One must know His commands to love God and love one another and the manner of holiness taught by His apostles if one is to dwell in the presence of the master (see Galatians 5): “Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23 ESV) There it is, “we will come to him and make our home with him”.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 KJV) Christ’s death made it possible to approach the Father.  Contemplate Christ’s priestly prayer and you will begin to see that God’s dwelling with man in unity with Him predicates man’s potential to live abidingly with Him with a pursuit of holiness. In the parable of the vine, Jesus taught that without Him we can achieve nothing good. Again we can note the dwelling of the Father and our Lord are to be inseparably close to His followers.

“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world (see John 17:22-24 ESV)

There is an antithetical aspect of God’s holiness in the old testament. God’s claim of His holiness was brought into sharp focus in the demand for cleansing, for atonement, for holiness, in all who were to draw near, whether as priests or worshipers. And God’s promise for the provision for making holy, was the sanctifying power of the altar, of the blood and the oil. The house presented two sides that are united in holiness, the repelling and the attracting, the condemning and the saving. By keeping the people at a distance, then by inviting and bringing them nigh, God’s house was the great symbol of His own Holiness as distinct from man’s sinfulness and his need for a mediating priest. Only the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place.

In the New Covenant we see now that God’s working with Israel via the temple, was a symbol that through the sacrifice of Jesus and His High priestly ministry in heaven, we can draw near to God “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever” (Hebrews 6: 19-20 ESV). This new access to God’s holiness was symbolized by the inner veil being ripped at the moment of Christ’s death: “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split” (Matthew 27:51 ESV)

We are called to holiness. We must also understand that it is a progressive transformation of character over a lifetime. Progress only will occur when we allow Christ to indwell our Hearts by His Spirit. “Christ in you the hope of glory!” The apostle Paul made this clear: “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me” (Philippians 3:12 NLT)