Indwelling and Empowering
Reflecting on Questions Relating to the Holy Spirit's Interaction with Our Lives
I receive a considerable number of questions from readers regarding the Holy Spirit, and especially with regard to His involvement with our daily lives. I truly wish that I could say I have this topic "figured out." The reality, however, is that I myself have far more questions on the subject than I have answers. Understanding the nature of the Holy Spirit, and His function and purpose in our lives, is truly one of the most difficult areas of study in all of Scripture. I know of very few people who presume to speak authoritatively on this topic, and I certainly don't intend to here. What I can do is give my limited understandings and personal convictions, for whatever they may be worth to the reader. I do indeed have my opinions, and reasons for holding them, and don't mind sharing them with others, but I will not be so arrogant as to declare them infallible, nor demand other disciples agree with me in order to experience my fellowship. With these qualifiers in mind, I will seek to respond to a couple of questions sent in by two readers of these Reflections.
The first question has to do with the issue of indwelling. There are those who believe the Holy Spirit personally and literally indwells each genuine believer in God's Son, whereas there are others who assert He only indwells the believer indirectly (or perhaps even figuratively) through means of the inspired Scriptures. The latter is often characterized as the "Word Only" theory. As a rule, though certainly not exclusively so, the "Word Only" theory tends to be primarily embraced by the so-called conservatives within the church, whereas those deemed liberals tend to gravitate toward a personal, literal indwelling of the Spirit. Again, there are some note-worthy exceptions to this, but one will find this dichotomy to be generally true. The second question involves the nature and degree of Holy Spirit involvement within our individual lives and ministries. Just how much of what happens in our daily lives, if any of it, can be attributed to the direct working of the Holy Spirit? Or, is He completely passive in our lives? Again, the conservatives tend to favor a rather passive role for the Spirit, whereas the liberals gravitate more easily toward a more active role.
I suppose at this juncture it might be advisable to give a working definition -- at least to give my working definition -- of the terms "conservative" and "liberal." First, these are relative terms; highly subjective terms. They mean different things to different people. In general, however, those who are characterized as "conservative" tend to take a more literal, and at times even legalistic, approach to biblical interpretation and application. They could be said to be very pattern oriented. "Liberals," on the other hand, tend to focus more on the "spirit of the law" than the "letter of the law." Thus, they are more principle oriented. Obviously, there is some overlapping of these two hermeneutical perspectives, but the primary focus of these groups will tend to lean in opposite directions from one another. Perhaps this is a somewhat simplistic overview, but it has the benefit of presenting neither view in a negative light, but rather presenting each view as simply different from the other. I am not here seeking to judge one position right and the other wrong, but merely emphasizing diversity of approach to interpretation and application of the Scriptures. My own desire is simply to be biblical, yet given the above definition of terms I would have to classify myself as far more liberal with regard to interpretive philosophy, methodology and application than conservative.
A beloved reader from the great state of Alabama recently wrote, "Al, In this part of the country there are two theories concerning the Holy Spirit. (1) The Holy Spirit now works through the Word only, and (2) the Holy Spirit indwells the Christian, although in a somewhat passive manner. Perhaps because of the above theories, or for other reasons unknown to me, the Holy Spirit is seldom mentioned in the services of Churches of Christ in this area. Please let me know if you are familiar with the above two theories regarding the Holy Spirit. I would be especially interested in what you think of them. I appreciate your work so very much, and recently looked at the titles of all of the many Reflections on your web site for one that dealt with the Holy Spirit, but was not able to identify one." As previously mentioned, I have far more questions than answers with regard to the Holy Spirit, thus have done little writing on the subject. However, I do have strong personal convictions regarding the above based on my study of the written Word.
I am convinced that the Scriptures teach a personal, literal, active indwelling of the Holy Spirit for those who have surrendered themselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in obedient faith. Thus, I completely reject the notion that the Holy Spirit is limited to functioning ONLY through the Bible, and I also reject the idea of a passive indwelling. He involves Himself in our lives, interacting with our "inner man," transforming us into the image of God's beloved Son. There is nothing passive or removed about God's Spirit. He didn't go on an extended hiatus at the end of the apostolic age. He indwells each of us in a powerful way, limited only by our own degree of willingness to submit to His leading. Do I fully understand this indwelling and all the ramifications of it? No, I do not. Can I adequately explain it all to the satisfaction of others? No! Words fail me. But, I accept the reality of this indwelling and embrace it by faith, and I daily draw strength and guidance from His presence within me. I feel His presence, and see evidence of His presence, each day of my life. I thank God often for this marvelous gift of grace!
On the day of Pentecost, Peter told the crowds, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself" (Acts 2:38-39). "We must distinguish the gift of the Spirit from the gifts of the Spirit. The gift of the Spirit is the Spirit Himself, bestowed by the Father through the Messiah; the gifts of the Spirit are those spiritual faculties which the Holy Spirit imparts, 'distributing to each one individually just as He wills' -- 1 Cor. 12:11" (Dr. F.F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts, p. 77). "The free gift which is promised in verse 38 to those who repent and are baptized is the Holy Spirit Himself" (ibid). The Greek grammatical construction of this passage, when viewed contextually, makes it abundantly clear that HE is the gift being imparted to those who have embraced Christ Jesus through obedient faith. Acts 10:45, where the exact same Greek phrase ("the gift of the Holy Spirit") is used, makes it clear (vs. 47) that the gift was the Spirit Himself. As the apostle Peter affirmed, "We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him" (Acts 5:32). God "gave to us the Spirit as a pledge" (2 Cor. 5:5).
It is virtually impossible, at least in my view, to deny the reality of the Spirit's personal indwelling within the true believer. The New Covenant writings are filled with affirmations of this blessed gift bestowed. Indeed, there is teaching that declares if the Spirit does NOT indwell a person, that person is outside of a saving relationship with the Lord. "You are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him" (Rom. 8:9). "But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you" (Rom. 8:11). The entire eighth chapter of Paul's epistle to the Romans is a powerful witness to the presence and work of the Spirit within us. How anyone can read and study this chapter and NOT come away with the assurance of His personal, literal indwelling is beyond my grasp.
Consider also the words of Jesus to His disciples prior to His passion. In speaking of the "Spirit of truth," He said that "the world cannot receive Him, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you" (John 14:17). "Don't you know that you are God's sanctuary, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1 Cor. 3:16). "Do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God?" (1 Cor. 6:19). "Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you" (2 Tim. 1:14). "The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Rom. 5:5).
We must also add to these many passages from the inspired New Covenant writings the widely accepted principle of biblical hermeneutics which states -- "All words should be understood in their literal sense, unless the context specifically dictates that they be understood otherwise." Thus, when one encounters the word "indwell," for example, one should understand that word literally, unless there is something specifically within the context of the passage itself that clearly and unequivocally suggests a figurative application or meaning of the term. "Figures are the exception, literal language is the rule; hence we are not to regard anything as figurative until we feel compelled to do so by the evident import of the passage" (Dr. D.R. Dungan, Hermeneutics: The Science of Interpreting the Scriptures, p. 184). I find nothing in the above passages, especially within Romans 8, that even remotely suggests a meaning for "indwell" other than its literal one. Those disciples who advocate the "Word Only" theory, however, will insist upon a figurative meaning for the term "indwell," even though there is no justifiable reason for doing so other than it fits their theory better.
One of the passages the "Word Only" advocates often appeal to is Eph. 3:17 where Paul prays "that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." It is their contention that the phrase "through faith" specifies, and indeed limits, the nature of the indwelling. It is FAITH that dwells within us, they assert, and Christ and the Spirit only indwell us symbolically or figuratively through our faith in them. This completely misses the meaning of the passage, however. Paul's point, which he also makes elsewhere (as will be noted below), is that deity indwells humanity by faith. "Christ takes up His residence in the hearts of believers. The progressive character of Christ's indwelling is apparent from the intransitive use of the verb katoikesai in the present continuous tense. It is as the Christian keeps trusting ('through faith') that Christ continues to indwell" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 51).
Dr. Kenneth Wuest, in volume one of his classic Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, points out that the word "dwell" (katoikesai) means "to settle down and be at home." Dr. Wuest writes, "The expanded translation is: 'that Christ might finally settle down and feel completely at home in your hearts.' Dr. Max Reich once said in the hearing of the writer, 'If we make room for the Holy Spirit, He will make room for the Lord Jesus.'" Dr. Kenneth Wuest continues, "This at-home-ness of the Lord Jesus in the heart of the saint is 'through faith.'" Thus, the Spirit and the Lord Jesus do NOT indwell the true believer symbolically through the faith that believer has in his heart, rather it is faith that opens one's heart for the Lord to enter and "settle down and be at home" therein. The Lord stands knocking at the door of a person's heart; if we open, He will enter and indwell us (Rev. 3:20). Faith merely opens the door to this indwelling, it is not the indwelling itself, either literally, figuratively or symbolically, as some contend.
It is my conviction that the Holy Spirit literally and personally and actively indwells the children of the Father. Bro. W. Carl Ketcherside, a man whom I admire tremendously, wrote, "The indwelling Spirit witnesses to the sonship of every child of God; every person in whom the Spirit dwells is a child of God" (quoted from his article "The Indwelling Spirit"). Later in this same article he declared, "If we are to recapture the power and purpose of the early disciples we must begin by re-affirming the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the believers. Nothing short of this can make us the agents or channels for the diffusion of universal blessing." It should also be noted that the Spirit is received by faith, not by sufficient accumulation of works of law. Paul asks those being led astray by legalistic thinking, "Did you receive the Spirit by the works of law, or by hearing with faith?" (Gal. 3:2). A few verses later he asks again, "Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit .... do it by the works of law, or by hearing with faith?" (vs. 5).
I almost hate to say it, but I fear one of the reasons some among us may not be willing to accept the personal indwelling of the Spirit is because they are still seeking to be justified before the Father by works of some legal system rather than by faith! Those who are works-focused and law-bound fear the indwelling of the Spirit; they simply don't know what to do with Him; He complicates and confounds their theology. Those who are free in Christ, on the other hand, welcome this Holy Guest into their hearts and lives, gladly submitting to His active, transforming power within them. May their ranks increase!!
Hand-in-hand with the question regarding Holy Spirit indwelling is the question regarding Holy Spirit empowering. Are there spiritual gifts in evidence among the people of God today? Are God's children given "gifts" which enable them to better serve Him, or were all such spiritual gifts done away with at the end of the apostolic age? Does God still work miraculously within and through the lives of His people, or is the "age of miracles" now past? Some would say ALL gifts of the Spirit have ceased, and we must simply rely upon our own natural, innate abilities in service to the Lord. Others would suggest only the major miraculous gifts have ceased, such as miraculous healings, tongues, raising the dead, prophecy, and the like. As with the issue of Holy Spirit indwelling, the personal empowering of saints by the Holy Spirit is a volatile subject, and it has led to much heated debate and division.
I personally tend to occupy the middle ground in this debate. I believe some works of the Holy Spirit in the early formative days of the church's existence were largely "attesting signs" -- i.e., miraculous workings that served to confirm the spoken and written word being proclaimed. Thus, I personally do not believe that any preacher of the gospel today needs to raise up some unbeliever's dead mother or son, or wave a hand and make the blind see and the lame walk, to validate the gospel message. God has sufficiently validated His revealed Truth already and no longer needs such dramatic "attesting signs." This is my strong conviction, and I shall hold to it until such time as I witness an empty tomb or a newly grown leg on an amputee. On the other hand, I still firmly believe that the Spirit of God is active in the lives of His people today, and that our Creator is active within the physical creation about us. Neither God the Father, nor God the Spirit, nor God the Son are personally passive in the daily affairs of men, be they the saved or the lost. It is over the extent and nature of that activity, especially that of the Holy Spirit, that most debate centers.
Do I believe our Creator God acts within and upon the natural order of things to effect His will, at times even imposing His will supernaturally? Yes, I do. Do I believe He does this even today? Yes, I do. Do I believe our God can still work miraculously in the lives of people? Yes, I do. I have personally seen it. Let's be honest, brethren -- if we do not believe in a God who acts, and who even acts miraculously at times, why do we pray to Him to heal a loved one who is sick? To keep us safe on a long journey? To guide the hands of a surgeon? To soften the heart of an unbeliever? If we don't truly believe He still can and will alter the natural course of events, then why bother asking Him to do so?! The very fact that we go to Him in prayer for such intervention seems to imply to me that we believe He does intervene at times. So, YES ... I do believe in a God who still works miracles in the lives of His people, and who steps into time, space and history to effect His will, and even to respond to our fervent petitions and supplications. That is why I pray! Brethren, I pray expecting a miracle!! If not, why pray?!
Do I believe God empowers His people with special abilities and talents and opportunities so that they might better serve Him by serving others? Yes, I do. It is my firm conviction that when God opens doors of opportunity for us (and I believe He does -- Acts 14:27; 1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12; Col. 4:3; Rev. 3:8), that He also gives us the abilities we need to walk boldly through those doors and fulfill our mission and ministry. Paul urged the young evangelist Timothy, "Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you" (1 Tim. 4:14). I believe we all have such God-given, Spirit-empowered gifts, and we must not neglect them, but develop them through faithful use in His service. "Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly" (Rom. 12:6). "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. ... But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills" (1 Cor. 12:4-7, 11). "Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts" (1 Cor. 14:1).
We are empowered by the Spirit for functional service in the Body of Christ unto the common good. "But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift" (Eph. 4:7). When each part of the Body fulfills its individual function, it "causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love" (Eph. 4:16). Some have the gift of teaching, others the gift of encouragement, or of giving, or exhorting, or leading. Some are musical, some are mechanical, some are able to mentor or mediate. We all are gifted and empowered to serve the common good and in so doing glorify our God who provides both the ability and opportunity to use it. It takes some people longer than others to discover their gifts, but they are there. Sometimes there are challenges and obstacles to exercising those gifts, but they can be overcome. If any of you feel you are not gifted with some ability that may be employed for the common good, then sit down with several of your trusted fellow disciples of Christ and explore this matter together; it could be they see your potential when you do not.
Speaking of the perceptions of others with regard to one's own spiritual gifts, I received the following email recently from a reader of these Reflections who lives and serves in southern Texas: "After recently discussing the topic of praying for healing with some fellow believers, and whether such healings had been done away with, a person interjected the concept of the gift of knowledge and whether it too had ceased. I made a statement basically stating that some people -- you and Max Lucado were two of my examples -- seem to have the miraculous gift of knowledge, whereas others seem to have a book knowledge gained purely through dedication to study. My statement was not to negate the tremendous amount of study that you obviously do, but rather to explain what I seem to see in you and others. I see the gift of being able to reach many thousands of readers with your Reflections as a miraculous gift you have accepted and recognized. You seem to use study and research as an aid to your gift, and not as the determining factor. I see many who probably study as much or even more than you do, and yet who have nowhere near the ability to reach the same audience. Do you consider your ability to reach these tens of thousands of people as a miraculous gift, as I do, or do you look at it as something purely earned through your personal dedication to God's Word? I think it is only human nature to believe we have accomplished something on our own, but I simply don't think you would be reaching all of these people no matter how many books you collected or how hard you studied if God had not given you the gift of knowledge and if He had not opened these doors to you. I would be curious to hear your thoughts when you get the time."
I do indeed believe that God has gifted me personally with certain abilities and opportunities .... just as He has you, and just as He has all of His people. Obviously, we are not all given the same spiritual gifts; our ministries and opportunities vary, yet they come from one and the same Spirit, and we serve one and the same Lord. Thus, none of us, regardless of the nature of our gifts or opportunities, are superior to another disciple in Christ Jesus, and we should not view ourselves as more exalted than another (Rom. 12:3). We are all one in Him, and all that we have is from Him. It is truly a "unity in diversity" that makes the Body of Christ functional. We should be thankful our Father has designed the church in this way, for in those areas where I am personally weak (ungifted), you or another brother or sister will most likely be strong (gifted). Thus, we find there is a divinely ordained balance and harmony within the One Body; we compliment one another well .... that is, when each individual part is functioning properly and fulfilling its God-given, Spirit-empowered mission and purpose (Eph. 4:16).
Let me say a word about the "gift of knowledge," at least as I understand that concept. Paul wrote, "To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all of these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills" (1 Cor. 12:7-11). The gift of knowledge is said to be the ability, given by the Holy Spirit of God, "to correctly understand and properly exhibit the truths revealed by the apostles and prophets" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 269). This was not some secret information reserved for the spiritually elite (as was proclaimed by the Gnostics), but merely the gift of spiritual insight into what is revealed so as to proclaim it clearly and understandably to both lost and saved alike.
In the first century church, there was no ability, as we have today, to appeal to the inspired written documents (except for the OT writings) to verify if the message being proclaimed was valid. Thus, there were some gifted with discernment to distinguish between those preaching truth and those preaching falsehood. The message also needed to be validated as true in some manner, and thus there were special gifts to accomplish that purpose, such as healings, tongues (to proclaim the Word of God in a language one had not previously known; an excellent tool when one is scattered to a foreign land by persecution), interpretation of tongues, raising the dead, and the like. Many of these gifts were designed for a specific purpose, and when they were no longer needed, they would naturally cease (1 Cor. 13:8-9).
Paul spoke of a type of knowledge that would fall under this category; the type of direct revelation of Truth that Paul received from Jesus Himself (Gal. 1:12), rather than from any human source. Obviously, there was a legitimate need for such special impartation of knowledge in Paul's case, as with certain others who would be taking the message throughout the world. Such special impartation of knowledge, however, is not needed today, in my judgment. Thus, I believe it has ceased, as Paul said it would. The same with the need to validate the message through such miracles as raising the dead, making the blind see, instantly healing withered arms and legs, and the like. They served their intended purpose and then they ceased. I realize some will undoubtedly differ with me on this, but that is my current understanding and conviction on the matter. I am certainly open to further study and reflection, however. As previously mentioned, I am a long way away from fully understanding the nature and operation of the Spirit in the affairs of men.
Having said all of that, I do believe God, through His Spirit, does continue to operate in some manner within our hearts and lives to open our minds to more fully perceive His will. Exactly how He does this, I couldn't say! However, I rarely approach a study of God's written Word without first praying for greater enlightenment and discernment, not only of a particular passage or topic, but also that I might perceive its proper application to daily living and that I might be able to powerfully proclaim it to others. Yes, I believe God often provides that depth of knowledge to me; although at times, for whatever reason, it seems to elude me (perhaps because the biases and traditional perceptions of Al Maxey are standing in the way).
Do I have the "gift of knowledge" from God's Holy Spirit? I suppose some would say I might; others would clearly argue just the opposite. It is my conviction that there are two such gifts of knowledge enumerated in the Scriptures; one exists today, one does not. I most certainly do not have the "gift of knowledge" in the same sense that the apostle Paul did (none of us do, in my opinion). On the other hand, I do believe the Spirit helps guide my understanding into fuller appreciation of Truth (John 16:13), enabling, equipping and empowering me to effectively express these insights unto others in my writings and through my public preaching and teaching ministries. I firmly believe these abilities are gifts from God. Indeed, I pray for such abilities and doors of opportunity, and I firmly believe my God answers such prayers. There have been times, for example, after praying to Him prior to a particular study, that insights came to me that I had simply never seen before, or a passage suddenly "made sense" to me (the light came on), or words just flowed forth effortlessly as my fingers flew over the keyboard. Pure coincidence? Mere chance? Dumb luck? The product of my own human effort? Personal skill, aptitude, training? Perhaps. But is it really so "far fetched" to think that just maybe the Lord God answered my prayer?!! If we don't expect Him to answer, then why pray?! Is it really so awful, or even arrogant, to believe our God may actually use us as instruments in His service, even fine-tuning and empowering these instruments for more effective service?
I've seen people pray to God asking Him to heal someone, and then when that person was healed (the doctors saying they can't even find evidence of the cancer that was previously there), the people act surprised! "Wow! That was lucky. I wonder what happened?!" Duh!!! You prayed, God answered. That's what happened!! Some have almost seemed shocked at times that God has actually stepped into their lives and ACTED. We need to renounce this spirit of doubt and skepticism and start actually believing and trusting more in His providential care. Also, we really need to start believing, especially those of us in Churches of Christ (who have resisted this reality much too long), that the Holy Spirit does still personally empower us today. Whether we choose to call it "miraculous" or "supernatural" or "providential" is really irrelevant --- accept it and employ it to His glory and to the good of others!
Do I believe the Lord God has opened doors of opportunity to me personally? Absolutely!! The alternative is to believe I have accomplished everything I have accomplished in my 56 years of living completely by my own effort and merit. I don't believe that for a second. Nor do I believe that where I am today is simply a matter of luck or chance or a series of fortunate, though random, events. Shelly and I have many, many times witnessed our God actively ACTING in our lives, and, yes, at times even in a "miraculous" manner. We don't doubt His presence and providence in the least. Any credit for anything I have become or have accomplished goes to Him .... except, of course, for my many failings --- those fall squarely at my feet, not His. The fact that my weekly Reflections have reached so many people throughout the world and have been received so positively, the fact that my book is now published and doing well, the various locations throughout the world where God has sent me to preach these past 30 years (in both Europe and Asia), serving as a state-appointed chaplain at the only execution in New Mexico in almost 60 years (having led that inmate to Christ prior to his death -- see Reflections #17), a wonderful wife, fantastic sons and daughters-in-law, super grandchildren, godly parents and in-laws -- I can assure you, these blessings and opportunities have not come my way simply because Al Maxey "has it all together." They have been bestowed upon Shelly and me because a loving, merciful, compassionate God extended His grace even to "such a worm as I." Brethren, we serve an awesome God!! Let us never forget it .... and let us never cease praising His precious name for the gracious gift of the personal indwelling and empowering of His Holy Spirit!!
By Al Maxey in his Reflections article #204 8-15-2005
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