by Jeffrey W. Hamilton
I was asked if I could explain the concept of indwelling, specifically the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is an interesting question because what is asked is not necessarily what the questioner intended to ask. Most who ask this question have numerous misconceptions that interfere with a plain answer to a simple question. Hence, before answering the question, let us make sure the foundation is laid on which to build the answer.
Who is the Holy Spirit?
There are numerous ideas about the Holy Spirit tossed about by religious people. The more common ones are: 1) The Spirit is just another reference to God. Just as we speak of the spirit within a man, so there is a Spirit of God. 2) The Spirit is just one aspect of God. We refer to single things by numerous names where each name gives us a viewpoint, but in reality there is just one thing being described. So the claim is there is just one God, but the Spirit is one way we see the expression of that one God. 3) That the Spirit is a separate personality within the Godhead – the Godhead being made up of three beings so united in purpose that they act as one.
While man' s religious philosophy may be interesting, the beliefs of men do not establish truth. Truth is found in God' s teaching. Jesus once prayed, " Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth" (John 17:17). If we believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, then we believe that truth is established by proving our beliefs by what the Bible states.
We can establish by the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit is deity. When Ananias thought to bring himself glory by selling a piece of land and giving the proceeds to the church, he pocketed part of the money but told everyone that the remainder which he gave was the full price that he received for his land. In other words, Ananias wanted to appear pious without greatly impacting his wealth. " But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God' " (Acts 5:3-4). Notice that Peter, in one statement accused Ananias of lying to the Holy Spirit and then shortly concludes that Ananias had lied to God. Peter viewed the Holy Spirit as deity. The Holy Spirit is God.
When giving examples of unity, Paul stated, "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Ephesians 4:4-6). Each example is something that uniquely exists. However, notice that Paul did not say there was just one God and Father; he also stated there is one Spirit and one Lord. Three are listed as being unique.
In giving the great commission, Jesus stated, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). Once again, three names, three authorities are given for the rite of baptism. If the Spirit was just one aspect of a single being, there would be no need to cite three sources of authority – one could justly claim that there was artificial inflation going on. It would be similar to trying to get three loans all backed by the same collateral. It doesn' t work in banking and it would not improve the authorization here.
Even in Jesus' own baptism we see the three present. "When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased' " (Matthew 3:16-17). Jesus is coming up out of the water. The Spirit is descending from heaven like a dove. And the voice of the Father speaks from heaven declaring that Jesus is His Son. Three are mentioned. Three are in different locations. Three are doing different things. Some dismiss this example stating that God is all powerful. He could make Himself appear to be in three different places at once. Possibly, but then why would God be involved in this deception? What purpose is gained by being in three places at once? And then you must address why the Father would call Jesus His Son if He is actually one being? If there is only one being, then is God declaring that He is pleased in Himself? Why would His own baptism cause God to be pleased with Himself? Oh, the can of worms we open when we try to make the Scriptures fit our man-made philosophies!
Let us take a look at one more example. In speaking to his disciples, Jesus stated, "But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me" (John 15:26). Jesus states he would send the Spirit from the Father. The Spirit would testify of Jesus. Since Jesus is sending the Spirit, the Spirit and Jesus cannot be the same being. Since the Spirit comes from the Father, the Spirit and the Father cannot be the same being. Yet once again we see that God is composed of three beings: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
I suspect that the reason people struggle so much with the concept of the Spirit is due to the fact that we do not have a crisp name for the Spirit. We vaguely understand what a spirit is, but then everyone has a spirit. " The Father" gives us a title, just as we have the title " the Son." The Son is named Jesus. In the Old Testament, the Father is referred to as Jehovah (or Yahweh as the word is popularly pronounced today.) But what is the name of the Spirit? Vague concepts become ripe breeding grounds for odd ideas.
Throughout the Scriptures, the Spirit is not referred to in vague, nebulous terms. He speaks in I Timothy 4:1; he commands in Acts 13:2; he can be grieved in Ephesians 4:30; and, he can be insulted in Hebrews 10:29. The Spirit is very much a person – not in human terms, but in terms of deity.
Dwelling and the Omnipresence of God
The 139th Psalm describes the ability of God to be ever present.
"O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, "Surely the darkness shall fall on me," Even the night shall be light about me; Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You. For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them. How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand; When I awake, I am still with You. Oh, that You would slay the wicked, O God! Depart from me, therefore, you bloodthirsty men. For they speak against You wickedly; Your enemies take Your name in vain. Do I not hate them, O LORD, who hate You? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies. Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting."
Notice especially verse seven. God' s Spirit is always present. Such is the characteristic of God. God told Moses that His presence would be with His people. "Then Moses said to the LORD, "See, You say to me, 'Bring up this people!' But You Yourself have not let me know whom You will send with me. Moreover, You have said, 'I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.' Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight. Consider too, that this nation is Your people." And He said, "My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest." Then he said to Him, "If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. "For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?" The LORD said to Moses, "I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name" " (Exodus 33:12-17). Moses did not want to go further until he knew that God would be present. God being with him and the people was important. Later in the New Testament, Jesus promised to be with those who gather in His name. " For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). He also told his disciples, " lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). God being with His people is important.
Yet, have you noticed that when people speak of God or Jesus being present, they think of someone who is close at hand or who is readily accessible. But when they speak of the Holy Spirit being present it changes to a concept of possession and a lack of free will. Why is one member of the Godhead treated differently from the others?
The Concept of Indwelling
While preparing this lesson, I was surprised to find that the word "indwelling" is rarely used in our English translations. It is not used in the King James, the American Standard, the New International, or the New King James. I found one usage of the word in the Modern King James Version and two usages in the original New American Standard (one in reference to sin being within us and another in reference to the Holy Spirit). Interestingly, the updated 1995 version of the New American Standard dropped the usage of the word " indwelling." With so little presence in the text, it is a wonder that it has made its way so heavily in the discussion of the work of the Holy Spirit.
In truth, the Greek work enoikeo (en-oy-KEH-o) and the related word katoikeo (kat-oy-KEH-o) refers to dwelling in something or abiding in some place. The root word is that of a house. It is the place that you inhabit. It is your abode. It is the place where you live. Yet another Greek word meno (MEN-o) refers to staying in one place or continuing with one idea.
Too often the simple is rejected. We want religious things to be mysterious and mystical. Where we dwell or where we abide refers to where we stand on matters. For example, Christians are urged to abide in love. "And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him" (I John 4:16). Our home, the place in which we stay, should be in love. When we stay in love then we stay in God and God stays in us. Notice that in our relationship with God, it is a two-way street. The one " who abides in love abides in God, and God in him." However you describe God being in you equally applies to you being in God.
Herein is where many trip up. They describe God being in a person as a form of possession where God then takes control of the person' s life. Does that then mean that since I am in God that I control God? The very thought is ridiculous! I can' t control the Supreme Being, else God would no longer be supreme. Someone may ask, "Doesn' t God control your life?" Of course He does, but only because I have given myself over to His will. I still have choices. I still could rebel, but I don' t. Instead, I choose to do things God' s way and suppress my own desires. But God being in me doesn' t mean that I have lost the ability to choose, just as I being in God means God no longer has a choice.
Instead, the description paints the picture that God and I have chosen to live together in harmony. It is a result of the Christian choosing to be obedient to the teachings of God. "I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you" (I John 2:14). What is meant by the word of God abiding in you? It means that the teachings of God have a place of residence within your mind. You have made a home for it within your heart. And when God' s word is within us, God Himself abides with us as well. " Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father" (I John 2:24). Notice the direction in this last verse. It speaks of the Christian abiding in the Son and in the Father. It remains a two-way relationship. God becomes a part of our lives through His word and we in turn become close to God the Father and God the Son.
In John 14 we can see the interchange of living together in harmony. In John 14:11 Jesus stated, "Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me." By this statement Jesus is stating that He and the Father have a close relationship with each other. And not much further, Jesus expands the circle to include Christians. " At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you" (John 14:20). Once again it is presented as a two-way relationship. The Christian is in Christ and Christ is in the Christian.
Most people do not have a problem understanding this relationship until the Holy Spirit is thrown into the equation. Christians understand that the Father and Christ are in heaven. Their dwelling in the Christian and the Christian dwelling in them is simply referring to our close, harmonious relationship. But when the Spirit is mentioned, suddenly it becomes a mysterious possession of our beings. Yet, I would have you notice that between the verse speaking of Jesus and God being in each other and the verse that speaks of the Christians and Jesus being in each other is this verse: " If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you" (John 14:15-17). Is this any more mysterious than what is state before or after? No! It is almost parallel to I John 2:24 which we read earlier. If we keep God' s word then instead of saying the Son and Father abides in us, here Jesus says the Spirit abides in us. The word of God becomes the common meeting ground between the disciple and God. While we remain in that word, we share a close relationship with God – the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.
The Dwelling of the Spirit and the Dwelling of Christ
Much emphasis is placed on the Spirit dwelling in the Christian, but the New Testament speaks just as forcibly of Jesus dwelling in the Christian. In fact, it is used interchangeably in Romans 8:9-11. "But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you." Did you notice the shift from the Spirit dwelling in you to Christ being in you and then back to the Spirit dwelling in you? Obviously Paul sees the idea as interchangeable.
Christ is formed in us when we become Christians. " My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you" (Galatians 4:19). He dwells in us through faith. " For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith" (Ephesians 4:14-17). Once again in the same context, the Spirit is spoken of being in a man along with Christ dwelling in the man' s heart through faith. There is no difference in what is meant or how it is accomplished.
There is a gift that Christ gives each of us. " But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift" (Ephesians 4:7). We understand that it is a gift of salvation. But we then become wild in our imaginations when the Bible speaks of the Spirit' s gift. "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). I submit to you that the gift of Christ that Paul mentions is the same gift of the Spirit that Peter mentions. Paul mentions that Jesus bought our salvation with his blood in Ephesians 1:7 and the Spirit guarantees our salvation through promise of God written down for us in our Bibles. "In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory" (Ephesians 1:13-14).
The work of Christ and the work of the Spirit are intertwined. The relationship of the Christian with Christ and with the Spirit is similarly intertwined. God is one. You cannot dwell with Christ without also dwelling with the Spirit. When Christ is in us, the Spirit is also there, and so is the Father. When we are in Christ, we are also in the Father and in the Spirit.
The Dwelling Place of God
In the Old Testament, much is made of God spending time with His people. "I will dwell among the children of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them up out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them. I am the LORD their God" (Exodus 29:45-46). The tabernacle and later the temple represented God' s presence among the Israelites. Not that God physically dwelt in a building made by men' s hands. In dedicating the temple, Solomon stated, " But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built!" (I Kings 8:27). In that sense, God is too great, He is too mighty, He is too large for anything in this universe to contain Him. As the Lord stated, "Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest?" (Isaiah 66:1). God then answers where He choose to dwell, "But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word" (Isaiah 66:2).
The theme continues into the New Testament. The wonder of Christ is that God chose to live with men as a man. " And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). One day that relationship with God will be permanent. " And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God' " (Revelation 21:3). Meanwhile, each Christian is God' s tabernacle. We represent God' s presence in the world. "For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.' " (II Corinthians 6:16). Or as Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians, "Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's" (I Corinthians 6:19-20).
Where You Live is Your Choice
God chooses to live with people who love Him and does his will. Where we choose to live is also voluntary. "Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father" (I John 2:24). Take note of that critical word " let." Let that abide in you. It is your choice whether or not you will listen to God. It is your choice whether you will let the Savior in. " Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me" (Revelation 3:20).
So where have you chosen to dwell? In the world or with God?