The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit
When I was an even younger man, still in my teens, I first heard of a member of the body of Christ who proclaimed that the Holy Spirit literally indwells each faithful Christian. I then studied this rather elementary issue and since then have stood firmly upon those same truths I found years ago. The word of God is plain in showing that the Holy Spirit dwells within Christians (Romans 8:11, I Corinthians 6:19, II Timothy 1:14, etc.). That, in my mind, has never been a question. In fact, it really is not a question when this issue divides brethren. The question upon which error and truth divide is when a brother in Christ teaches that the Holy Spirit literally, aside from the word of God, dwells within a Christian.
How Does the Spirit of God Dwell Within Saints?
When asking this question, we must first realize that there is no explicit statement with the Holy writ that says "the Holy Spirit literally embodies Christians" nor is there an explicit statement that says "the Holy Spirit does not literally embody Christians". We should also be clear in understanding that one must be able to show through the Scriptures, that the Spirit of God literally indwells a Christian or their statement is false (Colossians 3:17 and I Peter 4:11).
When answering the question, "how does the Spirit of God indwell saints" I believe we should start by making some observations to help in that study. The very first observation is that the Holy Spirit is not alone in His indwelling of Christians. God the Father and the Son also dwell within Christians (John 14:23, John 15:4-7, and I John 4:12). In fact, John states by inspiration something even more interesting in our study: "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God" (I John 4:15). John stated that God dwells within us, and that we dwell within God. Interestingly, we also find in the Scriptures that sin can dwell within us (Romans 7:17). We find that faith can indwell us (II Timothy 1:5). The word of God, truth, also dwells within us (Colossians 3:16 and II John v. 2). So, what do the above stated facts do for our studies? It begins a pattern that will lead to further understanding.
The pattern that we see is that those who do right have God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, faith, and truth dwelling within them. That person also dwells within God. That person walks in the light (I John 1:7) and in truth (III John v. 4). Those who do wrong have sin dwelling within them and symbolically are filled with Satan (Luke 22:3 and Acts 5:3). The language is symbolic. God does not make His home literally within the soul of a man nor does Satan. However, when one brings forth the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21) one might say that Satan has filled that person like was said of Ananias when he lied to God (Acts 5:3). When one does evil that person might even be called Satan, such as Jesus did to Peter when Peter tried to stand between our Lord and the cross (Matthew 16:23).
Often times my wife and others will say that they see me within my two boys when observing their behaviors (Trevor mostly). That does not mean that I am literally dwelling within my children. What it does mean is that my children are showing characteristics of me in their lives. Such is true of a Christian doing what is right and it being said of them that God is in them. This is a plain and simple thing to understand, but some brethren try to twist the simplicity of the Scriptures to fit their conclusions.
Am I Denying a Blessing Intended by God?
A local false teacher has written the following in an introduction to a booklet on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that the Westside church of Christ in Moon Township (Pittsburgh, PA) has published and has available in their publication rack:
"Much of what I have read concerning the question of the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit concerns itself with "Why the Spirit himself cannot dwell in the body of a Christian". I believe this conclusion negates an important spiritual blessing intended by our Father. This brief study attempts a look at various positions, but ultimately aims to ask "Why Not?". I hope each student will prayerfully consider the outline and charts contained herein, and come to an understanding of the subject, which will allow the spiritual blessing intended by such indwelling" - (R. David Brewer).
Men such as David Brewer contend that Acts 2:38 and Acts 5:32 are proof texts that the Holy Spirit is given to those who are baptized in Christ. If the Gift of the Holy Spirit referred to in Acts 2:38 is the Spirit himself and I contend that it is not, then there are some things that smack this false claim in the kisser. For example, in the eighth chapter of the book of Acts Phillip converts some folks in Samaria (Acts 8:12-13). The record then reads: "Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost" (Acts 8:14-17). Thus, if Acts 2:38 were the "indwelling of the Holy Spirit", then such ceased when the last Apostle died. For, as other texts prove as well (Acts 19:1-5 and Romans 1:11), the Spirit was given in this sense through the laying of the Apostle's hands. However, many I have conversed with will deny any ties to miracles and the indwelling.
Would the Indwelling Be Miraculous?
Let me address this in a simple way. If God is within a man, how is that something that occurs naturally? Haven't the supernatural acts (that confirmed the word - Mark 16:15-20) ceased today (I Corinthians 13:8-10)? Consider that wherever God dwells is a holy place (Exodus 3:1-5). Moses was told to take his shoes off in the presence of God. Interestingly, if one contends that God is literally within man, why then is man not a holy place? Why did Peter have to deny worship from Cornelius if God was presently occupying the body of Peter (Acts 10:25-26)? The answer is simple. God wasn't occupying the body of Peter. Furthermore, consider something that Paul wrote: "For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God" (I Corinthians 2:11). Now, if the Spirit of God is literally within man, what would man not know (Isaiah 55:8-9)?
God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all dwell within the Christian. How, is plainly described by Paul in reference to Christ: "That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love" (Ephesians 3:17). Much more could be written to disprove the false doctrine of the literal indwelling of God, but such should not be necessary. The fact alone that no one could produce a Scripture explaining the literal indwelling should be enough. From that standpoint they would at the very least be observing the silence of the Scriptures. However, God has spoken and what He has said is figurative in regards to the indwelling of Deity within man. God indwells Christians through and by means of His inspired word.
Without the Holy Spirit we would not be blessed in being able to read what God desires us to know (II Peter 1:20-21). Some would say that I am limiting God by saying the Spirit of God does not abide within faithful Christians. To such I must respond that they are limiting God to say that the Holy Spirit must indwell Christians. Those, and they are fewer in number, who admit their belief that the Spirit works aside from the word of God are denying the all-sufficiency of the word of God. Others, who claim that the Spirit indwells them but does nothing aside from the word of God, are in affect making a very active God inactive. Pick your poison, but both doctrines will destroy the teachers who hold them in the Judgment Day (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32, Proverbs 30:5-6, Galatians 1:6-12, and Revelation 22:18-19).
As with most false doctrines there is a mixture of ignorance and tradition. In the area of the country that I am working in both ignorance and human tradition plague congregations. The indwelling of deity is just one of many prevalent false doctrines and attitudes I have come into contact with. I am sure that my writing of this article will cause some tempers to flare, but such is the nature of the work involved with exposing error and revealing truth. As Paul said, I conclude: "Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth" (Galatians 4:16)
By Brian A. Yeager
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