Because God Dwells with Us
It is the great promise of God’s covenant of grace with his people: “I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Cor. 6:16). The Father’s electing grace, the Son’s atoning sacrifice, and the Spirit’s quickening bring us into this glory – we are the dwelling place of the living God. We are his sanctuary, his living temple (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:20). Redemption in Christ is unto renewed fellowship, walking with God in this life, our glory in Christ revealed in the life to come. Thus, the promise that he made through Zephaniah is secured to every believer in Jesus and to his true church corporately, as the beloved of the Father, body of Christ, and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit: “The Lord your God in your midst is mighty; he will save” (Zeph. 3:17).
I do not believe we can form any just conception of the magnitude of this promise, whether its ongoing fulfilling or its future glory. On the negative side, when we look at the world, God does not dwell with his enemies but actively opposes them. They are doomed at the outset to failure. God is not for them or with them, but against them. They may have mountains of money and legions of blind men and devils that carry out their directives. What we are seeing in the unbelieving world today is the horrible reality of God not dwelling with you. When God does not dwell with you, the dust storm of human depravity blows unabated until its blows everything into hell.
But the children of God have a different reality: God is in our midst, mighty to save by his Word and Spirit, the Father loving and rejoicing over us, our Savior effectually interceding for us, ruling over all things for our sake, the Spirit revealing grace, creating faith and uniting to Christ, sanctifying the saints. On the most practical level of all, it means that we must praise the Lord constantly for his grace, for we do not have him because we deserve him but because he loves the unlovable and has saved us from sin and death. It also means that we must trust him, not fear the wicked, but fear him (Isa. 8:13). Whatever we face, God is the holy Author of the storms, calamities, judgments upon the children of disobedience, and chastenings upon us, the children of light (Amos 3:9).
Because God dwells with us by his Spirit, we must repent and live humbly before him. How are we speaking, using our tongues? God the Spirit is grieved and offended by coarse and profane language, bawdy language, proud words, belittling words (Eph. 4:29; 5:4). Since God is in our midst, we must ask him to sanctify our tongues, and more deeply yet our hearts, for “from the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). Will our fellowship with him be sweet and transforming if our tongues are filthy? “Be holy, for I am holy,” is the great promise of God and passion of those in whom God dwells by his Spirit. It cannot be otherwise, for “his name is Jesus; he saves his people from their sins.” The way we talk, what we talk about, is the clearest indicator of what is in our heart, what our deepest love is, whether or not we are conscious and thankful that the holy God dwells in our midst. A holy God must have a holy people (1 Pet. 1:15). He will have such a people, for he is mighty and will purify his dwelling place.
Because God dwells with us, he gives wisdom, hope, and power (Eph. 1:17-21). The world knows nothing of these graces, for “there is no wisdom nor understanding or counsel against the Lord” (Prov. 21:30). Whatever the world builds, it will crumble; “the expectation of the wicked shall perish” (Prov. 10:28). But we are different. We are invited and commanded to pray for the “Spirit of counsel, power, and the fear of the Lord” (Isa. 11:2; Eph. 1:17). Our Savior was “anointed with the Spirit without measure” as our Mediator so that we may draw from him the wisdom we need. Since God dwells with us, he bids us ask for wisdom (James 1:5). Responding to our times wisely is not the product of superior intellect but of the indwelling Spirit of wisdom and revelation. And therefore, we have a hope, a confident expectation that God is keeping his promises and working good for us in every situation (Rom. 8:28). This great hope is our glorious witness to the world (1 Pet. 3:15). And because God walks with us, we also have power – real power to resist sin and pursue holiness in the fear of the Lord (1 Cor. 6:17-7:1).
Think of one other great blessing we have because God dwells with us: the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Our Savior spoke so often of this on that last night that he wants us thinking about it all the time. Comfort is the renewal of hope and strength and peace that we are privileged to experience each day when we draw near in faith and prayer to the God who dwells with us. Comfort is the Spirit himself coming alongside of us helping us to obey God, resist sin, and love our enemies. Comfort is the Spirit empowering us to love one another and forgive our enemies and live tenderly and humbly with all men, even as our Savior did. It is his emboldening in our lives to speak the truth without fear, wisely, and in love rather than anger and arrogance.
God indwelling and walking with us means that he is in every fire of tribulation, as he was with the three Hebrew children. What he did that day for them because he was with them and they believed in him and would not compromise his truth, he does for pastors imprisoned for God’s truth and Christians living in hostile work environments. He is in our midst; he is mighty to save and will save us when we look to him. His delivering work is not the preservation of a way of life; it is the preservation of our lives in the narrow way as we walk in humble obedience and simple faith in his promise: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” He helps the young who take seriously their duty to have his word indwelling (1 John 2:14). He helps the parents who cry to him for wisdom and strength. He helps the aged to bear fruit in old age and to die in faith and hope, even if languishing in bodily weakness (Ps. 92:14). In every season, God dwells with us. He does marvelous works for us because he has taken us to be his own possession and made us his sanctuary.
Because God dwells with us, he sings over us (Zeph. 3:17). His presence is no passive thing, not a force or a feeling or a mystical encounter, but a pledged and personal and joyful fellowship with his people. We must sing back to him. Do not listen to those who cannot sing tell you not to sing. Paul and Silas sang in prison. God’s song back was an earthquake that opened the prison doors and saved more sinners in Philippi. Sing, child of God. Sing in your tears and sorrows; sing in you labors and weariness. And pray. God invites and commands you to “Ask, seek, and knock.” You pray to no distant deity whom you must impress or propitiate. He is already satisfied with you in the righteousness and blood of Jesus Christ. Your words do not open heaven; Jesus’ “It is finished” opened wide the doors. Enter. In times of great testing, this is the way the church has shown that God himself dwells with her. She gathers and does not forsake prayers (Acts 2:42). She gathers for prayer when threatened (Acts 4:23-31). God answers by shaking the heavens and the earth; the Spirit indwells and emboldens; the world trembles. God is in our midst.
Do we believe this? Too much of the ostensibly Christian response to the challenges of our times is handwringing and fearful chatter and escape planning. There are times to flee a city. Elijah was hidden for three years while God’s drought judged. Our Savior at times sought a quiet refuge to seek his Father. But the gospel has now gone forth. Our times are different, not because the wicked are so great and powerful, but because Jesus Christ, God with us, is exalted to the right hand of the Father. The Spirit is poured out. We are the children of light because the Light of the world dwells with us. Turn to him with all your heart. He does mighty works when his people walk in his fellowship, sing in prison, obey in their homes, and trust him (Matt. 13:58). May the great hope of God indwelling bind us together with love and joy, fill us with all joy and peace in believing, and embolden us to speak his truth without fear!