The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

Bible Reading

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a controversial issue among professed Christians. Even among brethren there is disagreement and uncertainty on what the Bible teaches. Let us consider what the word of God has to say on the subject.

The Holy Spirit Does Dwell in the Christian

The fact that the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian is plainly taught in the New Testament:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:14).

Therefore, the issue is not whether the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian. He does. Rather, the issue is about how the Spirit dwells in the Christian? There are two possibilities: directly (personally, literally) or indirectly (through another medium).

The Other Persons of God also Dwell in the Christian

Before discussing the indwelling of the Spirit, it is important to note that the other two persons of the Godhead also dwell within the Christian. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians was “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:17). He wrote to other brethren about Christ being in them (Romans 8:10; 2 Corinthians 13:5). Paul said, “Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Other passages also speak of the Father dwelling in the Christian (2 Corinthians 6:16; 1 John 4:4).

Can one person of God indwell a Christian differently than the other two? Anyone who would answer in the affirmative cannot go to the Bible to prove it. The same indwelling language is used of all three. It is interesting that of those who believe in the direct indwelling of the Holy Spirit, none of them also believe the same about Christ and the Father. Why is that? This is another example of where brethren have allowed denominational thinking to influence them.

How the Holy Spirit Dwells in Us

We have already seen that Christ dwells in our hearts through faith (Ephesians 3:17). Faith comes through the word of God (Romans 10:17). Would this not also be how the Holy Spirit dwells in us? Again, there is nothing in the Bible that would indicate that one person of the Godhead dwells in the Christian differently than the others.

The Holy Spirit does not dwell in us directly and personally. He dwells in us through the Word. Let us consider two parallel passages. Paul told the brethren in Ephesus, “Be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). What would be the result of one being filled with the Spirit? Paul went on to talk about singing, wives submitting to their husbands, husbands loving their wives, children being obedient to their parents, fathers not provoking their children, servants obeying their masters, and masters treating their servants fairly (Ephesians 5:19-6:4).

Paul told the Colossians, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you” (Colossians 3:16). What will be the result of one letting the word dwell in them? Paul went on to describe the exact same things that result from one being filled with the Spirit (Colossians 3:17-4:1). The Holy Spirit dwelling in us is synonymous with the Word dwelling in us. The Bible is its own best commentary. Paul told us how we are filled with the Spirit. It is by having the Word dwell in us.

We also see that the Spirit accomplishes what the word does. Both give life (John 6:63, 68). Both sanctify us (1 Corinthians 6:11; John 17:17). Both convict sinners (John 16:8; Acts 2:37). God admonished the Jews in the Old Testament (Nehemiah 9:30). How did He do that? Through the prophets (Nehemiah 9:30). Stephen told the Jewish Council they were “always resisting the Spirit” (Acts 7:51). How did they resist Him? By rejecting the law, the prophets, and the gospel (Acts 7:52-54).

The word of God is described as “the sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17). It is the instrument the Spirit uses today to influence men to follow God.

Problems with the Direct, Personal Indwelling Theory

There are a few problems with the idea of the Holy Spirit directly and personally indwelling the Christian. First of all, the Bible does not teach it. Rather, the Bible teaches that the Spirit dwells in us through the medium of the Word. But aside from this, there are other points that are problematic for the direct indwelling theory.

The Holy Spirit is a person just as the other persons of God – the Father and the Son. As a person, He has location. Yes, “God is spirit” (John 4:24); but that does not mean His spirit is smeared all over the expanse of the universe. The Holy Spirit, as a person, occupies a location, not multiple locations. Therefore, He does not literally dwell in each individual Christian.

Someone may ask: “What about the omnipresence of God?” Describing God as omnipresent means that He is everywhere all the time. The concept of omnipresence comes from an oversimplification of God’s characteristics, but it is not taught in Scripture. The Scriptures do teach that God is omnipotent (all-powerful) and omniscient (all-knowing). These attributes, when coupled together, give the appearance of omnipresence. God is in heaven; but because He knows all and can do whatever He pleases, it is as if He were everywhere, even without leaving heaven.

There is another problem with the theory of omnipresence. If the Holy Spirit is everywhere, then He does not only dwell in the Christian, but also in the non-Christian. This cannot be. He is located in heaven, not directly and literally in someone’s heart. The Spirit, because He is God, is able to influence the world today from His place in heaven. He does this through the Word.

Another question ought to be raised about the direct, personal indwelling concept. How would a direct, personal indwelling of the Spirit of God be different than incarnation? The Holy Spirit is deity (Acts 5:3-4). Incarnation is deity personally inhabiting a human body (cf. Colossians 2:9). If the Holy Spirit dwelt in us personally, would we not then each be God incarnate? Having a divine spirit, would we be like Christ – perfect and sinless? This leads us down the path to the “once saved, always saved” doctrine. When the conclusions of a position contradict the word of God, we should know that the position itself is wrong. Truth does not contradict truth. As Jesus said, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).

Does it Matter What We Believe about This?

Whenever a matter arises about which brethren disagree, the question is inevitably raised: Does it really matter what we believe about this? We have seen what the Bible teaches. Does it matter that we believe what the Bible teaches? If this does not matter, what else does not matter? Who gets to decide what is necessary and unnecessary for us to believe? God has already decided. His decision is contained in His word.

What will result from one having a correct understanding of this topic – that the Holy Spirit dwells in us through the Word? We will strive to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) by studying and applying the word of God, which is exactly what God expects of us (2 Timothy 2:15; Acts 17:11).

What about the result of an erroneous view of this topic? What if one believes that the Spirit dwells in him, not to the extent that the Word dwells in him, but simply because he has become a Christian? The result is that there is no good motivation to study, or even continue in faithfulness. Why study to be filled with the Spirit if you are filled with the Spirit already? (Notice that the ones Paul told to “be filled with the Spirit” were already Christians.) It is no coincidence that many in denominationalism who believe in the direct, personal indwelling of the Spirit also believe that a Christian cannot fall from grace or that we can sin and not lose our fellowship with God.

Something else that results is a greater emphasis on “feeling.” If one feels a certain way, or there is something they just know in their heart, they conclude this must be the Spirit who dwells in them telling them certain things. They equate feelings and emotionalism with spirituality. No, the Spirit tells us certain things through the Word which He has revealed (1 Corinthians 2:7-13). But the result of equating feelings with the direction of the Spirit is that people are less serious about following the Bible – the very thing the Holy Spirit uses to influence us today.

Let us accept what the word of God teaches and let it dwell within us, so that we might be filled with the Spirit.

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