Holy Spirit: Indwelling (Part 1)

I know of no one (who believes the Bible) who denies the fact of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Bible speaks of an indwelling of God, the Father (John 14:23; 2 Corinthians 6:16; 1 John 4:12-15; 2 John 9), an indwelling of the Christ (John 14:23; Romans 8:10; Ephesians 3:17; 2 John 9), and an indwelling of the Spirit (Romans 8:9-11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19).

While the fact of the Spirit’s indwelling is not a point of controversy, the manner of the Spirit’s indwelling has been passionately discussed and debated through the years.

In this writing, we will set forth the common views held by brethren. There are three major views.

 1.   Literal Indwelling

This is without question the most popular view. Many good brethren have held this position (e.g. Gus Nichols, Hugo McCord, Roy Lanier Sr., Johnny Ramsey).

Brethren who hold this position, typically believe that at baptism the Holy Spirit literally takes up residence within the believer. Several passages are used in support of this: (1) Those baptized were promised, “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). (2) The Holy Spirit was given to who obey God (Acts 5:23). (3) Various passages mention the Spirit dwelling in Christians (e.g. Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; 2 Timothy 1:14).

Many who hold this position grant that there is a miraculous component to some of these passages. However, they believe that the Holy Spirit still literally indwells, though non-miraculously. For example – “the gift of the Holy Spirit” includes the miraculous (Acts 2:38 cf. 10:44-48). However, it is reasoned that a non-miraculous measure must continue, since those on Pentecost were told, “the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39).

A word of caution to those who do not hold the position of a literal indwelling: Not all who believe in a literal indwelling are Calvinistic or Pentecostal in their thinking. Most, among us, do not believe in continuous revelation. Though, I have met a few who do, following their subjective feelings and thoughts thinking that such is guidance from the Holy Spirit.

2.  Figurative Indwelling

This is also a quite popular view. Many good brethren have held this position (e.g. Alexander Campbell, H. Leo Boles, Foy Wallace Jr., Guy Woods, Perry Cotham).

Brethren, who hold to this position, typically believe that when a believer allows God’s word to live within him, it can be said that the Spirit dwells in him. Consider these illustrations: (1) If I said, “I see your father in you,” I would be speaking figuratively. I would mean that you have certain characteristics and mannerisms which identify you with your father. (2) “Robert Browning said, ‘Open my heart and you will see graven on it Italy.’ Does anyone think that the word ‘Italy’ or the boot shaped outline of Italy is literally tattooed on Browning’s heart?” (Ron Crosby, Indwelling of Deity, Hammer and Tongs, March – April 1995). (3) Here is an illustration from Reader’s Digest (April 1979, p.61), “A young lady writing on the positive influence of her deceased parents said, ‘Both my parents will remain in my nerves and muscles and mind until the day I die'” (Crosby, ibid). No one would deny that figurative language is being used. Even so, many brethren believe that such is the case with the indwelling of the Spirit.

Here are a few passages which are sued to support such: (1) Ephesians 5:18-20 and Colossians 3:16-17 are parallel passages. Ephesians 5:18 instructs “be filled with the Spirit.” Colossians 3:16 instructs “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”   (2) The indwelling of Christ seems figurative. (a) Paul said that it was no longer he who lived but Christ lived in him (Galatians 2:20). This is obviously figurative language. It is a contrast of rulers, Paul’s rule v. Christ’s rule. (b) He wrote to the Galatians, “I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19). He obviously has in mind the same type of indwelling he had (cf. Galatians 2:20). (c) Paul prayed for the Ephesians that “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:17). This prayer was for those who already had faith (cf. Ephesians 1:15). (4) Satan dwelt in Pergamos (Revelation 2:13). No one takes this literally. This simply means that Satan’s influence was especially strong there.

Those who hold this view do not believe “the gift of the Holy Spirit” has anything to do with a non-miraculous indwelling. Some believe that this refers to salvation (Galatians 3:26-29 cf. Genesis 12:1-3 cf. Acts 3:24-26). Others believe that this refers to miraculous endowment (cf. Acts 10:44-48).

A distinction is made between receiving the word (Acts 2:41) and letting the word dwell richly within a believer (Colossians 3:16). Consider this: it is possible in some sense to receive Christ before baptism (John 1:12 cf. Galatians 3:26-28), and yet this is certainly not the same as Christ formed in a believer (Galatians 4:19 cf. 2:20). Receiving the word refers to a willingness to listen (cf. Acts 17:11). It, at times, is used of favorably receiving the word or for obeying the gospel (Acts 8:12 cf. 8:14; 10:48 cf. 11:1). Letting the word dwell richly in one’s life refers to a Christian whose life is ordered by the Word. Colossians 3:15a reads, “let the peace of God rule in your hearts…” [the peace of God refers to the Gospel of peace (Romans 10:15; Ephesians 6:15)]. Colossians 3:16a. reads, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…” These thoughts seem parallel.

A word of caution to those who do not hold the position of a figurative indwelling: Not all who believe in a figurative indwelling are Deists, nor do they believe that the Spirit is the word. All, whom I know, believe that God providentially works in this world. None known to me thinks that the Spirit is the word. Example – A man may split wood with an axe. It may be said that the man split the wood. It may be said that the axe split the wood.  However, such does not make the man an axe. The Holy Spirit gave man the inspired word. It is by means of that word man is converted and sanctified. However, the Holy Spirit is not the word.

3.  Miraculous Indwelling

This is a less widely held view than the other two. It really is not a totally distinct viewpoint, but may be considered a sub-point to the previous position. There are good brethren who have held this position (e.g. Franklin Camp, Guy Woods, Stephen Wiggins).

Brethren, who hold this position, believe that many or even most of the Holy Spirit passages have to do with miraculous endowment and gifts, and have nothing to do with a non-miraculous indwelling. The following points are typically made: (1) The term “gift of the Holy Spirit” occurs but twice in scripture (Acts 2:38; 10:44-48). Acts 10 clearly refers to miraculous endowment. (2) The “giving” and “receiving” of the Spirit is often connected with miraculous endowment (Acts 8:14-18; 10:44-47; 11:17; 19:1-6; Galatians 3:2, 5; Ephesians 3:7; 4:7-13). (3) The term “filled” with the Spirit is often connected with inspiration and miracles (Luke 1:15 cf. 1:76; Luke 1:41 cf. 1:42-45; Luke 1:67; cf. 1:67-79). (4) The context of Acts 5:32 is miraculous (cf. Acts 3:1-7; 4:1-10, 15-19; Acts 5:17-32). (5) The church at Corinth is referred to as “the Temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19). God did not literally dwell in the Tabernacle and Temple of old (1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chronicles 2:6; 6:18; Acts 7:47-50; 17:24-25). However, He did manifest Himself in the Temple (2 Chronicles 7:1-2). The Tabernacle/Temple represented His presence (Exodus 25:8; 29:45-46). Sometimes, there was even a visible manifestation (Exodus 40:34-38; Leviticus 16:1-2; Deuteronomy 31:15; 1 Kings 8:10; 2 Chronicles 7:1-3). Likewise, the church represents Him, and at Corinth there was at this time a visible manifestation of His presence (1 Corinthians 12-14).

Those who hold this position do not believe that the promise of Acts 2:39 refers to a non-miraculous indwelling. Some think the reference is to salvation. Others believe the reference is to miraculous endowment (cf. Acts 2:16-18). The word “call” (proskalew) is not the word used for being called by the gospel (kalew). This word is used of being called to an office, position, or work (cf. Acts 13:2; 16:10).

A word of caution to those who do not hold the position of miraculous indwelling: Not all who hold this position are Pentecostals, and not all are Deists. All known to me believe in prayer and providence.

While it is true that brethren differ over this matter, this should not be viewed as a matter of fellowship. So long as one’s position does not change what man must do to be saved, how man is to worship, and how he is to morally live, and other essentials, there is no reason to divide.

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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