"Know you not that you are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in you? "
(First Corinthians 3:16, King James Translation)
The dictionary describes a “temple” as a structure, or building, consecrated to the worship of a deity. The Greek word, naos, translated as temple in the King James Translation of the New Testament is described as a “sacred place, a shrine (which is defined as a place that is consecrated by the presence of a holy personage). Paul wrote to the Christian believers in Corinth, “Know you not that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (I Corinthians 3:16). The Lord Jesus Christ…Holy, Omnipotent God…“dwells in our heart by faith” (Ephesians 3:17). This is an amazing, marvelous, and awesome truth, far beyond the comprehension of most of us, but according to God’s Word, when one believes God, and receives the Lord Jesus Christ into his heart as God has ordained, he becomes not only one of God’s children by spiritual birth through his faith in Christ, but his heart also becomes a sacred place where the Spirit of God dwells on this earth, and, as the definition of a temple implies, is consecrated (or set apart) by His Spiritual Presence for the purpose of worshipping God. Such a privileged position almost overwhelms one’s mental capacity.
Christianity is not a religious or social game. The Biblical fact that a Christian’s new-born spiritual heart is the “temple of God” has serious consequences if neglected or abused, for we read in I Corinthians 3:17, “If any defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.” Some teach that this verse is a Biblical proof-text that one can lose the salvation of God. As we begin to actually study it, however, we find that our English words, ‘defile’ and ‘destroy’, are translated from the same Greek word, phthio, that means “to pine or waste; properly to shrivel or wither, i.e. to spoil (by any process) or (generally) to ruin or deprave (especially figuratively) by moral influences.” So, rather than referring to one’s losing the salvation of God after we’ve been born again into spiritual life, we see that if we neglect or abuse this new spiritual heart He gives us in which His Holy Spirit enters and abides, our spiritual heart (His Temple) will shrivel up. In other words, all the relief and happiness we experienced at the beginning of our spiritual birth will fade or wither away and we’ll never know the true joy and peace and love and assurance that is available to us in our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Throughout our life most of us developed various physical habits and social practices in the way we live and deport our selves each day that are unbecoming and inappropriate for a child of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The Apostle Paul wrote that we should “put off” the “corrupt” (Ephesians 4:22) ways of our old, natural self (this word, corrupt, is from the same Greek word as “defile” and “destroy” [shown above] in I Corinthians 3:17). Therefore, many denominations teach that these physical habits and social practices are the things that defiles God’s temple. So, after we become Christians, in our longing to please God, we try to conform to the various rules and ‘ordinances’ that is taught by our particular group or religious leaders regarding these habits and practices, thinking that one becomes spiritually mature by either getting control over or removing them from one’s life altogether. Eventually, as most of us learn, many of our old worldly ways have inevitable consequences that take their toll on our mental, emotional, or physical body …even those of the unbelieving world advocate that one can become healthier and probably live longer if many of these “bad” habits and practices are eliminated from their physical life. Jesus told us, however, “God is Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth" John 4:24). So, while we are to “put off” the old, we’re to also “…be renewed in the spirit of (our) mind; and put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Cleaning up the “outside of the cup” of bad habit (“putting off” our old way of life), etc., is good if, in our lack of knowledge of God’s Word, our motives are pure. It can also make us more physically healthy, more religiously acceptable to our peers, or even ‘appear’ to be more righteous; but it does not create a renewed spirit within our heart…the place where the Spirit of God dwells, His “Temple.” As the Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 3:3, “Are you so foolish, having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?”
Before delving further into what defiles the Temple of God it is important to know that believers in Christ are instructed to not only be willing to receive with a ready mind that which men teach about God, but also to “search the Scriptures daily” to see if those things we’re being taught is true according to the Word of God (Acts 17:11). Actually, many of the rules and regulations about what a Christian can or cannot do that are dogmatically taught as Bible doctrine (Matthew 15:9) are irrelevant. According to Colossians 2:20 through verse 23 we’re instructed that “…if you be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are you subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not: which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men.” Conformity to these various man-made rules “…have indeed a show of wisdom in will worship (self-control or determination)”, but it doesn’t generate spiritual growth and maturity or renew the spirit of one’s mind, or keep us from defiling the temple of God.
Christians talk about wanting to do the “will” of God, usually associated with religious, social, or physical activity, or material desires. But, the Apostle Paul wrote, in First Thessalonians 4:3-5, “this is the will of God, even your sanctification (purification, holiness), that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor; not in the lust of concupiscence (depraving passion, lust), as the Gentiles which know not God”…the purpose being, according to I Thessalonians 4:12, “…that you may walk honestly (i.e. not given to lying, cheating; stealing, [which are by-products of an unclean heart], but being honorable [high moral principles], justly, trustworthy, genuine, and reliable; characterized by openness and sincerity) toward them that are without, and that you may have lack of nothing.” (The phrase, “lack of nothing”, is not limited to nor specifically referring to money or material things, but, rather, to our relationships with God and mankind.)
Jesus was very clear regarding the standard by which to determine what defiles the temple of God. First, He declared that “There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man” (Mark 7:15). (The word, defile, in this verse is from a different Greek word that means “to make common or unclean (referring specifically to spiritual conditions), to profane (manifesting irreverence, disrespect, or blasphemy.”) According to Jesus it is not the exterior “do’s and don’ts” of religious law regarding physical habits and practices, or what we eat or drink, or what we put on, etc., that “defiles” His temple…rather it is moral issues in our heart as shown in Mark, Chapter Seven, Verses 20 through 23, where He continued, “…from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” The word, heart, in this verse is referring to one’s “thoughts or feelings.” As previously stated, note that every thing Jesus mentioned that defiles the temple is referring to one’s morals that formulate within our heart. According to Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” The purpose of this Bible Study, then, is to get a better understanding from the Word of God (which is the only source for the knowledge of God’s standards for defiling the body), those specific things listed that He says actually defiles His temple. To help enable this we are listing below the definitions given in James Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance Of The Bible or Berry’s Greek-English Lexicon and New Testament Synonyms for the Greek words that have been translated into our English Language in Mark 7:20-23, plus various Bible references referring to each of the things mentioned by Jesus.
The first one, evil thoughts, is described in Barry’s as “…evil in the moral sense: reflections, reasoning, opinion, doubt, disputes, debates.” James Strong defines the word, evil, as “worthless, i.e. (subjective) depraved, or (objective) injurious.” The word, thoughts, in this verse is defined as “mental reflections or deliberations”; for a Christian it is the “absence of the qualities which constitute what a believer should be or what he claims or projects him self to be.” Evil thoughts, then, are the mental meditations in our heart that has no eternal value, is depraved, or injurious toward our selves or others. He told us, in Luke 6:45, that it is “of the abundance of the heart” that our mouth speaks. We’re admonished in Proverbs 4:23 to “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” In our unguarded moments we’ll talk about those things that occupy our heart. The Psalmist wrote, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). Jesus said that evil thoughts “defile” the Temple of God.
Secondly, adulteries, is referring to the physical or mental activity of one having unlawful sexual intercourse with the spouse of another. Jesus declared, in Matthew 5:27 and 28, “You have heard that it was said by them of old time, ‘Thou shall not commit adultery’: but I say unto you, that whosoever looks on a woman (or man) to lust after her (or him) has committed adultery with her (or him) already in his (her) heart.”
Fornication is the third thing God’s Word tells us defiles His temple (the believer’s heart). This is described as the voluntary sexual intercourse of an unmarried person with another, whether married or unmarried. The definition also includes adultery, incest, prostitution, or idolatry. No matter how much one may try to excuse or justify him self, thoughts about these things was present in his heart before the voluntary activity began. Paul wrote to the Christians at Ephesus, “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becomes saints” (Ephesians 5:3). He instructed the believers at Thessalonica, “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification that you should abstain from fornication” (I Thessalonians 4:3). In fact, he adamantly instructed in First Corinthians 5:11 that a Christian is “…not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater (a servant or worshipper of a heathen god or its image, or to render religious homage to same), or a railer (one given to mischief; abusive, i.e. a black-guard, a reviler), or a drunkard, or extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.” It is our choice, and if we permitted the thoughts to exist in our heart, we are defiling the temple of God.
Murder is described as “the unlawful, malicious, and/or intentional killing of another human being.” It is the exterior result of an active attitude in the human heart that is generated by anger and hate. “Thou shalt not kill” is the sixth commandment of the famous “Ten” that were cast in stone and given to Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 20:13) back in the Old Testament. One of the first instructions God gave Noah after the big flood was “Whoso sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man” (Genesis 9:6)…while all the other sins that mankind commits is against the character of God, murder is against the very life of God (Genesis 1:27). Most of us will never resort to actual, physical murder, but Jesus taught, in His great ‘Sermon on the Mount’, that, anger (“rage”) against one’s “brother” (physical or spiritual), without cause, and one’s killing another individual are closely related, and both are “in danger of judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22). In fact, the Apostle John wrote, “Whosoever hates his brother is a murderer” (I John 3:15). So, even if one doesn’t physically murder another, if a believer harbors hate in his heart for a brother, he is “defiling” the temple of God.
Theft is described as “larceny” which is the unlawful removal, without claim of right, of the personal goods of another with intent to defraud the owner. It includes burglary, robbery, “holdups”, “stickups”, shoplifting, pilfering, embezzlement, etc. Stealing is a characteristic of the old human nature and is common to mankind, even if merely the “innocent” taking of a few office supplies for one’s personal use. We’re told that the absconding of items by the employees is one of the costliest financial losses for clothing and grocery store owners. “Thou shalt not steal is also one of the “Ten Commandments” given to Moses in the Old Testament (Exodus 20:15). Paul wrote, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needs” (Ephesians 4:28). Theft, large or small, by force or in secret, is a result of a heart attitude of lust, envy, and discontent, and is one of those things Jesus declared that “defiles” His Temple.
Covetousness is a heart attitude that “seeks to grasp the things we don’t have, especially to desire something belonging to another.” James Strong defines covetousness as desiring more than one has or needs, eager for gain. It has also been translated as “greediness” in Ephesians 4:19 which is the result of believers walking “as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened…because of the blindness of their heart” (Ephesians 4:14-19). Jesus promised us that He would supply our needs…food, drink, clothing, etc. (Matthew 6:24-34). The “things” of this world are not sinful, nor is it sinful to have some of them in our possession…God often gives His children far more of this world’s goods than any of us could ask or think. But we’re told to be content with such as we have in Hebrews 13:5. Paul wrote, “godliness with contentment is great gain” (I Timothy 6:6). According to God’s Word, covetousness is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). It is not a popular idea, but if we meditate in our heart about the “things” of this world that we “seek” to have as our own, and spend our time and energy trying to acquire them, then we are an “idolater” (Ephesians 5:5) and “defiling” the temple of God.
The Greek word that has been translated as Wickedness is defined as the intrinsic (or inner) disposition to be malicious. The dictionary describes malicious as having much the same meaning as the pathological condition of malignancy that has to do with cancerous growths in the human body. James Strong describes wickedness as hurtful in effect and/or influence. It excites quarrels, bears gossip, and causes others to be disturbed, harmed, troubled, or vexed. While it is sometimes caused by one’s desire to “get even”, the wicked, or malicious person will justify his hate in his mind…he doesn’t have to have a conscious reason. He (or she) desires and is intent on injuring or harming others by slandering or defaming them. Wickedness, or malice, is dangerous and destructive (according to its effects) to both the malicious person, whom God will destroy, and the recipient of the malicious behavior. It ‘defiles the temple of God’ no matter how religious one may be otherwise. Paul wrote, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:30-32).
Deceit is the “act of deceiving, deluding, concealing, or misrepresenting the truth. It comes in the form of a trick, as bait, or (figuratively) a wile. Satan is the great deceiver (Revelation 12:9); it all began when he, through the serpent, deceived Eve back in the Garden of Eden. We’re told, in Jeremiah 17:9, that the old, carnal heart of man “…is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” And when we participate in deception of any kind, even if ‘only’ in our mind, then we are defiling the temple of God. Peter wrote, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion walks about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8); he (the devil) is purposed to lead believers into error, to get us to revert back to our old natural way of thinking. he uses mankind to misrepresent God’s truth, and Paul warned us, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the rudiments of the world, after the traditions of men, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8). He wrote in Ephesians 5:6, “Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things comes the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.” God will not be mocked, when we practice to deceive, we are defiling the temple of God, and we’ll reap the inevitable consequences.
Lasciviousness “denotes lawless insolence.” One who is lascivious has no moral restraints, disregards or refuses to conform to established moral rules or limits. Lasciviousness is a “work of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19). Jude wrote of “ungodly men” who “turned the grace of God” into this unrestrained style of life…referring to those who used the freedom from the “law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2) as a license to continue the sinful life (Romans 6:1-4). The Apostle Paul wrote to the believers at Ephesus, “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity (perverseness, moral depravity, vain, conceit) of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart (the seat of the affections, but chiefly of the understanding): who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greed” (Ephesians 4:17-19). While lasciviousness will manifest itself in many ways in our daily life, it is the attitude that originates within one’s heart that Jesus said defiles His temple.
An evil eye is another attitude originating in one’s heart that defiles the temple of God. The eye, in this verse, is used figuratively…it is the receptive channel into one’s mind and heart, and indicates a gazing at something with wide-open eyes, discerning clearly what is being stared at. It is defined by Strong as “envy, from the jealous side-glance”…fearful or suspicious of being displaced by a rival in affection or favors, vindictive toward another because of supposed or actual rivalry.” A feeling of resentment or discontent over another’s real or supposed superior attainments, endowments, or possessions is also characteristic of envy. The writer of Proverbs cautioned, “Eat not the bread of him that has an evil eye, neither desire his dainty meats: for as he thinks in his heart, so is he: ‘eat and drink’, said he to you; but his heart is not with you” (Proverbs 23:6-7). This attitude is hurtful and destructive and can fester inside one’s heart causing him to become embittered and insincere. Jesus declared that an “evil eye” defiles the temple of God, and will have severe repercussions.
Blasphemy is usually associated with an individual who uses God’s ‘name in vain’, and if one doesn’t use curse words in his speaking then he doesn’t consider himself to be blasphemous. The Greek word that has been translated as blasphemy, however, is defined as “evil-speaking, reviling, vilification to abuse or characterize with defamatory language, malign, slander” (slander is an oral statement of a false, malicious, or defamatory nature, tending to damage another’s reputation, means of livelihood, etc.); it can be against God or man, but is especially against God, and is in the same category with anger, wrath, malice, and filthy communication (Colossians 3:8). While a Christian may not be guilty of outward, verbal blasphemy, his daily life can be blasphemous, and can generate blasphemy among others. For example, King David’s behavior toward Bathsheba, in Chapter Eleven of Second Samuel, is a Biblical example by which one’s actions can be a cause for blasphemy against God by His enemies (II Samuel 12:14). One’s work ethics can instigate blasphemy against the “name of God and His doctrine” according to First Timothy 6:1, and a wife’s attitude toward her husband, children, and marital responsibilities can cause blasphemy against the Word of God (Titus 2:3-5). According to Jesus, blasphemy by word or deed begins in the heart…in one’s thoughts and feelings…and if they are present in our heart we are defiling the temple of God.
The dictionary defines pride as “boasting, ostentatious, intended to attract notice; showy.” Unlike the definition of the Greek word that is translated as “pride” of life in First John 2:16 (which is, in effect, one’s going his own way and doing his own ‘things’ as he pleases), James Strong defines the Greek word translated as pride in Mark 7:22 as “haughtiness”, or one’s (assumed) appearance of being above others. The ‘haughty’ person will exhibit great satisfaction with one’s self and disdain for others, is often domineering, usually assuming more power or authority than are rightly his. He is arrogant…unduly proud of his station of achievements and scornful of others, treating them as inferiors, setting himself up as being better than or superior to them…materially, socially, physically, and even spiritually (self-righteous). God considers His children “rebellious” (Isaiah 65:2) when they pretend to be more spiritual than others by saying or thinking, “Stand by yourself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou.” We’re told in Proverbs 16:18 that “Pride goes before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” Pride in a child of God’s, even if limited to his thought life, is a “smoke in (God’s) nose” (Isaiah 65:5-6) and defiles His temple; and, according to First Corinthians 3:17, God will “destroy” that individual (let his heart become withered or wasted).
The Greek word that is translated as foolishness in Mark 7:22 is defined as “senselessness or (moral) recklessness”. Some of the effects of foolishness are ignorance, (moral) unbelief, egotism (boastful, self-conceited, selfish, or an inordinate concern for one’s own welfare and interests), empty headed (shallow…no content or inner substance), not giving heed or attention to things of importance, rash (acting without due caution or regard of consequences, careless), etc. Much is said about foolishness in the Proverbs, for example we read in Proverbs 24:9 that the “thought of foolishness is sin.” According to Proverbs 22:15 “foolishness is bound in the heart of a child”…it’s common to our old human nature. But, as previously mentioned, believers are commanded to ‘put off’ the old man, and “…be renewed in the spirit of (our) mind; and put on the new man which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). The Apostle Paul wrote in First Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man (or an adult), I put away childish things.” When one becomes a Christian foolishness is supposed to be gone from his heart…and if it still exists, according to Jesus in Mark 7:22 and 23, and Paul in First Corinthians 3:16-17, he is defiling the temple of God, no matter how religiously active or ‘dedicated’ he may be.
Many Christians tend to get hung up on religious do’s and don’t do’s regarding physical habits and activities, thinking these are they that defile God’s temple. Certainly there are many things with which to occupy one’s self that are acceptable in the world that is not appropriate for representatives of Jesus Christ. But, according to Jesus, the things that defile God’s temple come from within, and defile the man” (Mark 7:15 and 23). Note that each of the thirteen things mentioned by Jesus that “defile” His temple pertains to moral issues on which we meditate, or think about, in our heart. Many times, even if one recognizes that he is presently guilty of thinking about any of them, he doesn’t get concerned if he doesn’t act upon them; for many the old nature tends to try to justify its self, reject the concept altogether, or simply tries to hide these sins so no one will know. The devil is our adversary (I Peter 5:8), and his purpose is to lead us into error by various methods, to get us to revert back to our old nature and displease or rebel against God. We’re cautioned to be sober and vigilant against him and his methods, and to “beware” lest we become spoiled (seduced, or lead back into the world’s way of thinking) by the natural man’s philosophy and deceit “after the rudiments of the world, after the traditions of men, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8). We’re commanded to “Love not the world, neither the things in the world, if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life is not of the Father, but is of the world” (I John 2:15-16). It isn’t easy to acknowledge that we are guilty of defiling the temple of God. But, thank God for His assurance that, if we’ll “confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).
We’re encouraged to “Behold”…consider “what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” (I John 3:1). Although we don’t know what we shall be, we do know that we are His children right now, and we are promised that “…when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (I John 3:2). It is an awesome fact…our heart is the temple of God on this earth, His Holy Spirit dwells in us. When we finally grasp this fact in our head, and truly have this hope, or confidence in our heart, then we will “purify our self, even as He is pure” (I John 3:3)…not just in those outward things we say and do that other people hear and see, but, more importantly, in the secret places of our thoughts and feelings in our heart where Christ “dwells…by faith” (Ephesians 3:17).