When men begin to plan a building, the first thing they consider is the purpose of the building. The purpose will determine the design. Peter tells us that God is building the church for His dwelling place. In Ephesians, Paul says the church is the "house of God" as well as the "household of God."
In the Old Testament, God commanded Moses to build a tabernacle for Him to dwell in. After it was completed, the glory of God filled the tabernacle. A cloud by day and fire by night indicated His presence. Glorious as it was, all of this was but a foretaste of things to come, since the price of sin had not been paid. Everything pointed to Christ and looked forward to a better day. When Christ died on the cross, the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom. God's presence departed, and the old order was done away. As Christ bore the sin of the whole world in His body, God himself removed all barriers. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came in fullness to fill a new temple. Because of the work of Christ, the way into the presence of God is now open to any man. This had always been in God's heart, for man was made in the image of God to have fellowship with God.
We are now the temple of God, but how are we being built together "a dwelling place of God in the Spirit"? The old King James expression is "habitation of God." A "habitation" indicates a permanent dwelling place where the family functions and expresses its life together. Within it there is provision for the family's needs. As the members interact, they experience community life. The character of the family is expressed to the greater community around.
What do these things mean in the spiritual? Certainly God has no needs, for He is complete in Himself. But is not the essential truth here that God desires to show who He is to the world, that all who will may come to dwell in the riches of His love? The Holy Spirit expresses who God is through a company of people who are allowing Him to have His way in their lives together. If Christ is Lord by the Spirit in every life, the full character of God will be expressed through the family of God. His love, His goodness, His righteousness and all that He is will be demonstrated as the family of God dwells together in unity.
This was not so true in the Old Testament. While certain attributes of God were seen by types and symbolism, these fell very far short of expressing the true nature of God. Christ took on himself the form of man, and in a human body He was the full expression of God in the flesh. His earthly ministry culminated at the cross, where the love of God was fully expressed. But God has not ceased expressing who He is to the world. His life is now expressed in the house of God, the household of God, and the body of Christ. These are one and the same, but the different ways of expressing the reality of our position in Christ emphasize different aspects of our relationship with God and with one another. Taken together, the Holy Spirit uses them to expand our revelation of the working of God.
Probably the most important truth common to all of these is "togetherness." Sin brought division into the world. The tower of Babel was a pivotal point in the expression of sin. When God judged sin there, He divided the families by giving them separate languages. They could no longer cooperate in their vain efforts. Each man (family) turned to his own, separating from the others. But when we come into Christ Jesus, this wall of division is broken down and love brings us back together. There is no longer "Jew" and "Gentile." This is a miracle of God and His grace, and probably the most important aspect of our witness to the world of the reality of God. "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).
The habitation of God--God dwelling in the midst of a company of people--is a real, visible expression of the character of God (which is love) to the community in which we dwell. It is not a theoretical unity based only on doctrinal agreement, but a real expression of God's life. As the love of God fills our lives, together we will be able to comprehend the vastness of God, being filled with "the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:14-20). As we allow God to build us together, we become a habitation of God in the Spirit, and we will interact and dwell together as the household of God. This is the very purpose of God in our time.