Wednesday, 26 August 2015

God's Indwelling Spirit

     In trying to understand and explain the Holy Spirit’s role, we can observe two extremes: (1) those who attribute nearly every emotion and experience to the direct working of God’s Spirit; and (2) those who refuse to even consider the possibility that the Spirit may function beyond His long-completed work of inspiring the Bible. This brief article does not attempt to answer all the difficult questions surrounding this admittedly complex issue. As one studies the biblical doctrine of the Holy Spirit, like any other aspect of God, the vastness of the subject can be overwhelming. To what extent is the Spirit currently involved in our lives, and exactly how does He work?
The Spirit and the Word
     There is no question that a crucial function of the Holy Spirit has been the transmission of the divine will from the heavenly throne to man on earth. God’s revelation was delivered by the Spirit to specially chosen individuals (Eph. 3:5; 2 Pet. 1:21) until that message was complete in its written form (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Jude 3; Rev. 22:18-19). The word of God is now the medium through which the Spirit representatively accomplishes His work (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12). But does the Holy Spirit have a role to play beyond the instrumentality of the Bible?
The Gift of the Holy Spirit
     We learn from Acts 2:37-38 that when the Spirit’s message of truth (preached by Peter) convicted the hearts of sinners and instructed them to repent and be baptized, at least two things were to happen as a result of their obedient response: (1) the remission of sins, and (2) receiving “the gift of the Holy Spirit.”1 The questions are, what is the gift of the Holy Spirit and is it still available today?   
     Although the miraculous outpouring of the Spirit is also called “the gift of the Holy Spirit” in Acts 10:45 (cf. 11:17), most would agree that the special circumstances of Acts 10 are not typical for all baptized believers.2 In fact, for the first five and a half chapters of Acts there is no record of anyone possessing the miraculous power of God’s Spirit except the apostles (2:43; 4:33; 5:12). Grammatically “the gift of the Holy Spirit” can refer to either a gift the Holy Spirit gives (subjective genitive), or the Holy Spirit Himself as the gift (objective genitive), or it could be a combination of these two possibilities.
     The first consideration is a gift that is given by the Spirit. Notice in Acts 2:38-39 the words “gift” and “promise” in connection with the remission of sins at baptism for those who are called. We are called by the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14) and are partakers of God’s promise in Christ through the gospel (Eph. 3:6). Those who are called “receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:15). By obeying the gospel we “receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified” (Acts 26:18). The Bible tells us that “eternal life” is both the promise of God (1 John 2:25) and “the gift of God” (John 4:10, 14; Rom. 6:23). Salvation by God’s grace is also called “the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Since salvation is not possible without the remission of sins (1 Cor. 15:17-19), and remission of sins is not available apart from baptism (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 22:16), could it be that “the gift of the Holy Spirit” is the promise of eternal life which is received when one’s sins are forgiven at baptism?3
     Another consideration is the Holy Spirit Himself as the gift. The apostles declared that “the Holy Spirit” is given to those who obey God (Acts 5:32), and the Holy Spirit is said to indwell God’s children (1 Cor. 6:19). It is true that both the Father and the Son indwell Christians (1 John 4:12, 15-16; 2 John 9), but they do so representatively “by the Spirit” whom we have been given (1 John 3:24; 4:13). Biblically, grammatically, and practically the subjective/objective genitive options are not mutually exclusive but readily harmonize.4 This is further clarified when we consider the expressed purpose of God’s indwelling Spirit.
The Indwelling Spirit
     The Bible teaches that after we have heard and believed the word of truth and have entered Christ, we are “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” (Eph. 1:13-14). We can only be “in” Christ if we have been baptized “into” Him (Gal. 3:27), and then we are said to be “sealed” with the Spirit, who is our “guarantee” or “pledge.” Also note that He is referred to as “the Holy Spirit of promise” (cf. Acts 2:38-39), and is mentioned in the context of “the forgiveness of sins” and obtaining “an inheritance” (Eph. 1:7, 11).
     In the Bible the word “seal” signifies proof or authenticity of ownership (cf. 1 Kgs. 21:8; Est. 8:8; Rom. 4:11). Because we have this seal, the Lord “knows those who are His,” with the accompanying expectation of spiritual purity (2 Tim. 2:19). We are to glorify God in our bodies because we now belong to Him and have His Spirit abiding in us (1 Cor. 6:18-20). To live in sin is to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16). Note that the Spirit does not bear witness to our spirit, but with (summartureō), meaning “to testify or bear witness together with another, add testimony.”5 In addition to our own spirit, which confirms whether or not we are living in accordance with the Lord’s revealed will, the Holy Spirit Himself searches our heart and bears testimony to God. I might deceive myself but not the Lord. 
     The Holy Spirit also serves as a “guarantee” or a “pledge” of our inheritance (cf. 2 Cor. 5:5). That is to say, as long as we have God’s Spirit dwelling within us, we have the assurance of eternal life. Is it possible, then, to lose this guarantee? The Bible warns us not to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed ...” (Eph. 4:30). The Lord turned against His erring people in the past when “they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit” (Isa. 63:10). After violating God’s will, David prayed: “do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (Psa. 51:11). While the Spirit is our seal, testifying to God that we belong to Him, God will not recognize as His those who continue to practice iniquity (2 Tim. 2:16-21). Since it is possible to forfeit salvation by falling back into a sinful life (cf. 2 Pet. 2:20-22), it must therefore be possible to lose salvation’s guarantee.
Ø  Salvation is possible only when sins are forgiven (1 Cor. 15:17-19).
Ø  The sins of a penitent believer are forgiven at baptism (Acts 2:38; 22:16).
Ø  Salvation is therefore granted at baptism (1 Pet. 3:21; Rom. 6:3-5).
Ø  Salvation is both a promise and a gift of God (Rom. 6:23; 1 John 2:25).
Ø  The Holy Spirit is both a promise and a gift of God (Eph. 1:13; Acts 5:32).
Ø  The Lord saves those who obey Him (Heb. 5:8-9).
Ø  The Lord gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32).
Ø  The Holy Spirit serves as a guarantee of God’s gift and promise of salvation (Eph. 1:13-14; 2 Cor. 5:5).
Ø  The Holy Spirit, therefore, must be given at the same time salvation is granted, namely at baptism (Acts 2:38; 5:32).
Ø  Since continued faithfulness is necessary to maintain one’s salvation, continued faithfulness must therefore be necessary to retain the indwelling Spirit (1 John 1:7; 2:3-6, 15-17; 3:24).
Other Functions     
     Are there other functions that also may be ascribed to the indwelling Spirit? Romans 8:26 tells us that “the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses.” While this is undoubtedly accomplished through the instrumentality of the word (Rom. 15:4), the passage goes on to explain that the Spirit makes intercession for us when we do not know what we should pray for as we ought (vv. 26-27). Could it be that the indwelling Spirit is how God enables us to withstand and escape seemingly insurmountable temptations? (1 Cor. 10:13). Is this what Paul had in mind when he prayed that God would grant us “to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:16)? The Holy Spirit most certainly does not take away a person’s free will or remove one’s responsibility to evade sin, but even the most devout Christian cannot conquer sin by his own fallible strength (Jer. 10:23; Rom. 7:14-25; 1 Cor. 10:12). Note the cooperative effort when you put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit (Rom. 8:13).
     While we surely want to be open to anything the Lord has provided to aid in our spiritual walk, at the same time we ought to be sensible enough not to attribute things to God or to His Spirit for which He is not responsible. Contrary to what many seem to believe, the Holy Spirit is not God’s agent of providence (cf. Heb. 1:14). When people confidently affirm, “I know God did this”6 or “the Holy Spirit led me to do that,” how can they be sure? If it has not been revealed in God’s perfect word, how do we know these emotional and subjective “leadings” are not from one’s own subconscious will, or from the subtle influence of others, or even from the devil? Many conflicting doctrines, subsequent divisions, and inappropriate behaviors have been accredited to and ultimately blamed on God and His Spirit. Since each one of us will be held accountable for every careless word spoken (Matt. 12:36), we must be careful not to presumptuously credit God with specific things that cannot be substantiated in His inspired word.
     While it is important to note that the Holy Spirit is distinct from the word of God, at the same time the Spirit and the word are inseparable. Without the Holy Spirit we would not have God’s word (Eph. 3:3-5; 6:17), and without God’s word we would have neither knowledge of nor the possibility of receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:2; Eph. 1:13). The word of God is “the sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17) which effectively works in those who submit to it (1 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 4:12). The Spirit-inspired word teaches us how to become children of God, and once we have obeyed and been saved by it (Jas. 1:18, 21; 1 Pet. 1:22-23), we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit to testify to God that we belong to Him as the redeemed in Christ and to guarantee our salvation as long as we abide by His teachings (Acts 2:38; 5:32; Rom. 8:16; Eph. 1:13-14). How do I know that I have God’s Spirit living within me? The Bible tells me so.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are from the NKJV.
     2 There are at least three different manifestations of the Spirit in the New Testament. (1) The baptismal (full) manifestation was received by Christ (Acts 10:38), and to some degree by the apostles (Acts 1:4-5; 2:1-4) and Cornelius’ household (Acts 10:44-47); it was direct and temporary. The purpose was to confirm Jesus’ identity and message (see Tempted as We Are), to equip the apostles to carry on the Lord’s ministry, and to verify God’s acceptance of Gentiles (see Holy Spirit Baptism). (2) The secondary manifestation was received through the laying on of apostles’ hands (Acts 8:14-17; 19:6; Rom. 1:7-11; 2 Tim. 1:6) and was indirect and temporary. The purpose was to provide a means for God’s revelation and its confirmation in the absence of the complete New Testament (see Questions 2). (3) The ordinary (non-miraculous) manifestation is received by all who obey the gospel (Acts 5:32; 1 Cor. 3:16-17) and is abiding. The purpose is to establish a new relationship as the redeemed belonging to God (see Questions 1).
     3 This could extend further to include all other spiritual blessings available in Christ as well (Acts 3:19; Eph. 1:3).
     4 At the end of the day, whether or not I believe it or fully comprehend it or can adequately explain it -- it is what it is, and the reality of what the Lord does is not jeopardized or thwarted by my personal ignorance and limitations. Irrespective of the specific details of “how, we can be assured that God is present and working in our lives (e.g. Eph. 3:16-17), which is all we need to know. 
     5 Harold K. Moulton, The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised 382.
     6 We can know that God providentially works in our lives (Rom. 8:28), but we cannot always be certain about the specifics (cf. Esther 4:14; Philemon 15). For an outsider's perspective on this, see Libby Anne's "The Most Unconvincing Evidence for God Ever," <Link>.

Related articles: Wes McAdams' Understanding the Spirit's Role

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  1. Very well done. I am a strong proponent of the view that the gift of Acts 2:38 is the miraculous measure. I believe the evidence leans in this direction best. Although your article and study do not favor this view above the other I believe your treatment of this subject is fair and balanced. Your writings are always scholarly and well done. Thanks Kevin.

  2. Thanks for sharing. Very well done.