Most Christians know that the Holy Spirit indwells the believer. However, there is considerable disagreement about what this means. Does the Spirit indwell us in a personal, literal sense, or is there considerably more metaphor involved?
In our search for an answer to this question, 1 Kings 8 is one of the more useful texts in the Bible. Even though in it, Solomon is concerned with what it means for God to dwell in His temple, New-Testament authors (particularly Paul) frequently borrow temple language to explore the dwelling of the Spirit in us.
Solomon’s discussion begins in 1 Kings 8:12-13, where he observes, “The Lord has said that He would dwell in thick darkness. I have indeed built You an exalted house, a place for You to dwell in forever.” So far, so straightforward, right? I have my house that I live in, and now Solomon has built God a house that He can live in.
However, as Solomon’s prayer continues, he exposes the problem with that understanding of indwelling. In 1 Kings 8:27, he says, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You; how much less this house that I have built!” Solomon knows that God does not actually dwell in the temple because nothing imaginable is sufficient to contain His fullness.
If that’s the case, though, what in the world does Solomon mean when he talks about the temple being God’s dwelling place? He explains in 1 Kings 8:28-29, “Yet have regard to the prayer of Your servant and to his plea, O Lord my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that Your servant prays before you this day, that Your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which You have said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that You may listen to the prayer that Your servant offers toward this place.”
In other words, Solomon doesn’t conceive of the temple as God’s literal dwelling place, but he does want God to pay particular attention to the prayers that are offered in and even toward the temple. To Solomon, then, indwelling is about access. Just like you go to my house to find me, Solomon could go to the temple to find God.
Today, of course, God’s temple is not any physical building. Instead, it is the congregation of God’s people. Paul explains this in beautiful language in Ephesians 2:19-22. Jesus, the apostles, the prophets, and every Christian for all time are built together by the Spirit into a holy temple and a dwelling place for God.
However, this indwelling has a particular meaning for Paul. As he observes one verse up, in Ephesians 2:18, “For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” For Paul too, temple language, indwelling language, is access language. Indwelling has other meanings in the New Testament, but this is certainly one of them.
For us, then, trying to come to God without the church is like an ancient Israelite trying to come to God without the temple. In either case, you don’t have the access point you need to make a connection. Let us be thankful, then, that God does indeed dwell in His church, so that His eyes are open day and night toward us!