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Social distancing for the temple of God

(Courtesy of Brian Lee)
(Courtesy of Brian Lee)

Social distancing: a viral term that has spread as quickly as the coronavirus itself during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Christians, we are commanded to practice social distancing of a different kind: we are warned to keep a safe distance from another type of virus, one that is also global, contagious, and one that does not originate from flesh and blood: the virus of lawlessness, darkness, Belial (wickedness or worthlessness), or unbelief. 2 Corinthians 6: 14 – 16 says:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God…

“Do not be unequally yoked” is often associated as a warning for Christians not to marry a non-Christian, a non-believer. While true, it has a broader and more significant application: it warns Christians as a whole not to be married or joined together with the world and its values. Keep a safe distance. Just as unequally yoked oxen would go in circles, not able to perform the task before them on a field, Christians who are yoked with unbelievers cannot perform the mission of Christ before them, for they are at odds with each other.

The Virus of Self-Identity

But the word “unbeliever” can also mean a Christian who is not faithful to Christ, whose identity is not in Christ but in their ethnic, gender, or sexual identity, or in their job, family, talents and gifts. The Greek word for unbeliever is ápistos, which literally means “not faithful” and describes anyone who is faithless, one who rejects God's truth and sound doctrine. This is the narrative of God’s people in the Bible: from Adam and Eve, the nation of Israel, Simon Peter denying Christ, the early Church in Paul’s letters, or most of the seven churches in the book of Revelation, the people of God have yoked themselves with unbelievers or had experiences of unbelief, unfaithfulness.

Given that this is the trope of our existence as God’s people through the ages, are we any different? Ethnic, gender, sexual, political, vocational, relational and social “ID’s”: identity and idols permeate the Church today. When we do not emphasize or elevate our identity in Christ, we are ápistos: not faithful to Christ, “unbelievers”, through yoking ourselves to the world and ultimately to ourselves, where secularism, self-interest, and self-identity have infected our bodies, the temple of God, like a virus. “For our battle is not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12), which is why the pandemic of the virus of self-identity and unbelief has always been global, invisible, and contagious. We continue to live in a data-driven, brand-obsessed, platform-minded, demographic-influenced world that has infiltrated the lives and values of the Church.

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We have more Christian books, conferences, podcasts and content than ever before. Yet how much of this content has been yoked with the world? Much of the content is more humanitarian than Trinitarian; more “social” than spiritual, or what Martyn Lloyd-Jones calls “moralism without the Gospel”. We hear more about elevating voices, platforms of individuals or groups than hear about elevating and giving platform to the name of the Living God. We talk about shared spaces and equality, without hardly a mention about creating space in our minds and bodies for the Holy Spirit’s rightful place, where there is no equality: “Hear O Israel (or Church), the LORD your God is ONE” (DEUT 6:4; MARK 12:29). There is no equal.

We are all guilty of this in our daily lives in one way or another, and praise God for His mercy, patience, forgiveness, steadfast love. But we are to respond by living lives of self-denial, self-distancing, and live lives of repentance, with clean hands (be sure you sanitize) and a pure heart before Him and one another.

Sanitizing the Temple of the Living God

 “Therefore go out from their midst,and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6: 16 – 18)

God commands us, the temple of the Living God, to keep a safe distance from unbelievers: “go out from their midst and be separate from them”. Social and spiritual (logikos) distancing. And in our current climate of COVID-19, “touch no unclean thing” reminds us not to allow the virus to touch our eyes and ears lest we become infected. God’s promise is that he will then welcome us, be a father to us.

I can hear the criticism and accusations now of being a fundamentalist, a word that has been hijacked, abused, misused for decades, much like the term evangelical is today. But let us remember the numerous examples in the Bible where God’s people are to be set-apart from the world. In 2 Chronicles 29, King Hezekiah, one of the few good kings, was 25 years old when his first act as King was to call all the priests and Levites to consecrate themselves and the house of the LORD and carry out the filth (the virus) from the Holy Place. They brought out all the uncleanness that they found, and what followed next was sacrifice, repentance, and the people of God making music and worshipping with clean hands and a pure heart.

Then there is Jesus. In Mark 11, upon entering into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out. It was as if he was observing the filth, the virus that had infected the temple. We know what happened the very next day, as upon entering, He began to drive out those who sold and bought in the temple, and overturned the tables. “He would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple”, saying “Is it not written, ‘my house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’. But you have made it a den of robbers.” What are we robbing Jesus of that needs to be overturned, removed, keep distance from?

Let us remember that as Christians, we are not to be distant from one another, especially to those who are lost, perishing, weeping, broken, in this world. We are to minister to a lost world, to be the hands and feet of Jesus. And while we are in the world, we are called not to be of the world. We are to “go out from the midst and be separate from them.” We are to do everything we can to practice a social and spiritual distancing from unbelief: from the voices, messages that bombard us at a pace that is more contagious and deadly than COVID-19. For we are the Temple of God, and since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of GOD.” (2 Corinthians 7:1)

Brian Lee (@brianleepianist) is a classical pianist and Program Head/professor of Music at Moody Bible Institute. He is a graduate of Wheaton College, New England Conservatory, and the Juilliard School. He and his wife, Helen, have three sons and live in the Chicago area.

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