The indwelling of the Holy Spirit

By Don Ruhl

The subject of the Holy Spirit is not an easy one to discuss. If you have not discovered this, then just talk to any number of people from any church, including the Churches of Christ, on almost any topic about the Holy Spirit and you will find out fast just how many different ideas there are. There are differences on: His nature, that is, is He actually a being or just some kind of a spiritual energy force? His work, that is, does He operate on people’s hearts directly or does He do it through some type of instrument, such as the Scriptures? Is He deity or not? and so forth.

In this article I want to examine the dwelling of the Holy Spirit in Christians. Even here there is a great deal of controversy, and I know that this single article will not settle all of it. You may come up with different conclusions, but it does not have to disrupt our fellowship, unless someone makes an issue of it, or teaches something that obviously contradicts the Scriptures.

The Plain Teaching Of Scripture 

That The Holy Spirit Dwells In The Christian

In John 7:37–39 Jesus makes a general promise to anyone who believes in Him that he or she can have the Holy Spirit:

On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” [Here is John’s inspired commentary on what Jesus said, D.R.] But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

In 1 Corinthians 6:12–18 it is obvious that Paul is discussing the human body. In verse 13 he talks about food for the stomach. In verses 13 and 15–18 he talks about sexual immorality, or fornication, which is something that is done with the body. Verse 14 mentions the resurrection of the body. Then to strengthen his argument that Christians should not commit fornication Paul says this in verses 19 and 20:

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.

Galatians 4:6 teaches that we have something as Christians which we did not have before and that is the Spirit of Jesus Christ, which in other places is understood to be the Holy Spirit: “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’” There are other passages, but these are plain enough in helping us to see that the Holy Spirit dwells in us. So you may be wondering what is the controversy.

The question is not whether the Holy Spirit dwells in us (though there are a few individuals who are denying that He in any way dwells in us), but the dispute is how or in what manner does the Holy Spirit dwell in a Christian. I am of the opinion that Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit is literally and personally in the Christian, but that the how or the manner is not revealed.

There are many good, thinking brethren who believe that the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian representatively through faith and the word of God.

Many People When They Hear “Holy Spirit” Hear “Miracles”

That is, they affirm that if the Holy Spirit does anything, then He does it miraculously. Can the Holy Spirit be involved in providence without it being miraculous? (For example, compare Matthew 7:11 with Luke 11:11–13.) Why do they insist that the literal indwelling of the Spirit implies that it has to be miraculous?

The Issue Of Fellowship

We do not have to divide on this issue. However, many people are trying to push this issue to a test of fellowship. They believe that the literal and personal indwelling view is an encouragement to Pentecostalism, but it is no more so than their position encourages deism!

The Arguments Offered

Some ask: “What does the Holy Spirit do that the word does not do?” Or they ask: “If the Holy Spirit is in the Christian, then what is He doing there?”

Let me ask in response what does the Father do that the word does not do? If the Father does anything besides what the word does, then: Is it miraculous? Does this imply that Scripture is insufficient?

They believe that the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit implies that the Scriptures are incomplete. It is interesting that there are brethren who contend that the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit implies that the Scriptures are insufficient, but those same brethren will use psychology in addition to Scripture to help someone with the issues of life, or with seeing if a man should go to preaching school.

Whether or not the Holy Spirit is doing something in the Christian is beside the point, because God says that the Holy Spirit dwells in us, and if He is doing nothing more than dwelling in us, then we are to accept it.

If God wanted us to know that the Holy Spirit literally and personally dwells within us, then how would He have said it other than the way that He did? Many brethren see this point on the days of Genesis. They will ask if God wanted us to think that the days were literal 24-hour days, then how else would He have said it? Good question. In the same way I ask, if God wanted us to think that the Holy Spirit literally and personally dwells in the Christian, then how else would He have said it?

Here are at least three things that the Scriptures affirm about the Holy Spirit in us:

Ephesians 1:13 teaches that we have the Holy Spirit as a seal:

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…

Romans 8:9–11 teaches that we have the Spirit within us, waiting for the day of the resurrection that He may resurrect our bodies:

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.

Romans 8:15, 16 and Galatians 4:6 affirm together that the Holy Spirit witnesses back to the Father along with us that we are children of God. First we hear Romans 8:15, 16:

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.

Now listen to Galatians 4:6:

And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”

Here is the significance of these two passages. Both the Old and New Testaments teach that the truth in regard to a person on any matter is established by at least two witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15; 2 Corinthians 13:1). Therefore my witness alone is not sufficient to establish that I am a Christian. Nor will the Holy Spirit witness alone that I am a child of God, if indeed I am not. In Romans 8:15 Paul says that we cry out to God, “Abba, Father.” In verse 16 Paul says that the Holy Spirit also bears witness with (not to) our spirit that we are children of God. Galatians 4:6 helps us to understand Romans 8:16 better. The Spirit is sent into our hearts. From the position of our hearts He cries back to God, along with our spirits, “Abba, Father.” He says this from our vantage point, because we are sons, we are the children of God, so that both of us, that is, the Christian and the Holy Spirit, say “Abba, Father,” to God, showing that we are indeed the children of God.

Some ask: “Did Satan literally fill the heart of Judas? If not, then how can it be asserted that the Holy Spirit fills the heart of any human?”

In Luke 22:3 the Scriptures teach that Satan entered Judas: “Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve.”

John 13:2 seems to indicate that Satan himself had not actually entered Judas, but that Satan introduced something to Judas, which he accepted, so through an idea Satan was in Judas: “And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him.”

The assumption is that Satan did not literally inhabit the body of Judas. People do not consider that maybe Satan put the idea there by being in Judas’s heart. Either way it was something that Judas accepted.

Did demons literally possess people? If demons, that is, unclean spirits inhabited bodies, then cannot the Holy Spirit? These brethren generally acknowledge that demons dwelt in people, so their point about the devil in Judas is really moot.

Some ask: “If you as a Christian literally have the Holy Spirit, then what keeps me from falling down and worshiping you?”

Is Jesus Christ God? If so, then are the Catholics right in practicing the worship of Mary, for there is no question that she literally had Jesus within her when she was pregnant?

These people are confusing indwelling with incarnation. In Jesus the Word became flesh, but with Mary Jesus simply resided in her body. Likewise the Holy Spirit resides in the body of a Christian, which is not an incarnation.

Some teach that: “The gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38 cannot be the Spirit Himself, but a gift that He gives (which they teach is salvation and they will compare Acts 2:38 with 3:19).”

One brother told me that it is impossible for the expression “gift of the Holy Spirit” to refer to the Spirit Himself, because that would be repetitive and bad grammar, so it has to mean a gift that the Holy Spirit gives. I then said that I would give him a “gift of $20” and guess what? He had no problem understanding me. He did not accuse me of using bad grammar or of being repetitive, but he knew the gift was the $20 itself.

Some teach that: “The sealing of the Holy Spirit requires a visible sign, which would be miraculous.”

Remember earlier that I showed you Ephesians 1:13, which refers to the Holy Spirit as a seal for us. My question is to whom must the seal be visible? Is it us? No, not necessarily. It is to God and perhaps to the angels and the devil (See Ezekiel 9).

There are other Scriptures that show that we are sealed with other things, but it is not necessarily visible to us, hence no miracles are involved. Second Timothy 2:19 tells us expressly about another seal upon us, which I have never seen upon anyone, unless that just means that not one child of God is on the earth today:

Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”

Revelation 9:4 refers to the seal of God on the foreheads of God’s people, but again there is no visible sign for us, but it is something which God Himself sees.

Some teach that: “You receive the Holy Spirit only in the sense that you receive the word of God.”

This means that someone can have the Holy Spirit before they are Christians. In Acts 2:38 Peter made this great promise:

Then Peter said to them, “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.”

Then verse 41 gives this information:

Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.

In verse 38 the apostle had taught that after repentance and baptism the people would receive the remission of sins and receive the Holy Spirit. Yet if the Holy Spirit is merely received as you receive the word by faith, then they had the Spirit before they were baptized, thus contradicting Peter’s inspired promise.

This also implies that Christians do not receive the Spirit in any different sense than what the Old Testament saints did. Remember John 7:37–39. This indicates a giving of the Spirit more than just the receiving of the word, because the word had already gone forth.

What The Indwelling Does Not Imply

It does not necessarily follow that the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit implies the direct operation of the Spirit upon the heart of the sinner to convert them. The Spirit does this through the teaching of the word. Nor does it imply the automatic ability to work miracles, nor inward feelings or promptings in which the Spirit is telling us what He wants us to do.

Therefore if someone asks you if you believe the Holy Spirit dwells in you, then you should say yes. If they ask why, then tell them because the Bible says so. If they ask how does the Holy Spirit dwell in you, then you will have to say that other than through faith you do not know. The Lord does not give the how, but merely says that it is so. If we cannot understand how He does it, then it is not for us to deny it, but in simple faith to accept it. (It is also a fact, that the only reason I know that I have a spirit, my own, is that the Bible tells me so—created in the image of God.)

Romans 8:9 lets us see just how critical acknowledging the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is: “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.”

220 NE Savage Street • Grants Pass • Oregon • 97526-1310 •

7 thoughts on “The indwelling of the Holy Spirit

  1. well brother i do not agree with the indwelling of the Spirit. if you understand Joel’s promise it was so they could see the miracles. those passages you quoted where it shows the Spirit in them is true. they had the gift. they could perform miracles just like at corinth where it’s explained in chapter 12. Eph. 4 says there is one spirit and every time you see the spirit in n.t. it’s active. what was it that caused the people to stop and listen to peter. he had the spirit and the people saw it and peter said that was what got their attention. when Peter was preaching to Cornelius the spirit came on them and peter said they saw it! they spoke with tongues. that’s how Peter and others knew they had the Spirit. the Churches in the 1st century had the Spirit because the apostles laid their hands on them. Acts 8 shows the christians had been baptized in the name of Jesus but none had recieved the Spirit. When Peter went there and laid hands on them they recieved the gift of the Spirit. Simon saw it. Paul laid hands on the ephesians in acts 19 they spake with tongues. not before Paul laid his hands on them. those passages that you quoted applied to the churches then. Miracles ceased and the spirit did it’s job. what was the purpose of the Spirit being given in the 1st place. Jo. 14,15, and 16:7-13 shows us why. it was guide them into all truth, now we have the truth. that’s the spirit Paul talks of in eph. 4. Now if the christians in acts 8 had not recieved the spirit why not? and don’t say that was the miracleous spirit because there is only one spirit. not one we don’t know what it’s doing but the one we could see. even Peter in acts 11 said,”when we saw” that tells me if one had the spirit you could see it. that was the seal in Eph. 1:13,14 if a king sent out a report he would set his seal on it. if he didn’t the person it was going to didn’t know if it came from the king or not. people knew when they saw the miracles that the people were doing then they would know it was from God.

    • Dear Jerry,

      Thanks for your kind reply.

      I have offered my understanding of the Scriptures, and when I read Romans 8.9–11, which Paul wrote to the church in Rome, not simply to apostles, or only to people who could work miracles, he made it plain that if we do not have the Spirit of Christ in us, then we do not belong to Him, and that the Spirit is in us for the resurrection.


  2. I hope this is not taken in a negative spirit as I am sincerely interested in finding the truth on this important issue. Here is my question: You said in your article, “I am of the opinion that Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit is literally and personally in the Christian, but that the how or the manner is not revealed.” I assume you are a Bible believing Christian who desires to “speak where the Bible speaks, and to be silent where the Bible is silent.”
    Therefore, can you provide me with the verse or verses that actually say the Holy Spirit is “literally and personally” in the Christian? I am familiar with all of the passages that teach that Father, Son and Holy Spirit “dwell” or “abide” or “live” etc., in the Christian. I know of no passage that says that either one or all are in the Christian “literally and personally.” Thank you very much!

    • Don,

      You have read all the passages and my comments upon them. What more can I say? For me, Romans 8.11 makes the case clear,

      “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.”

      First, Paul speaks of the Spirit dwelling in us, then he speaks of the One who raised Jesus from the dead and that He will give life to our “mortal bodies,” through His Spirit who dwells in us. My understanding of that passage is that Paul drove home the point that the Spirit dwells in us, that the Holy Spirit dwells in the “mortal body,” of a Christian. How else can that passage be understood?

      Also, when you consider all the passages on the indwelling of the Spirit, if the Lord wanted to give us the impression that the Spirit dwells in us, how else would He have said it, other than the way that He said it?

      Don Ruhl

      • Don Ruhl,
        I wrote both your first and last name since my first name is also Don. Less confusing.

        I read your reply and appreciate your thoughts. I have read this kind of reply many times in the past 40 plus years of dealing with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Nobody denies (nobody that I know anyway), that the Holy Spirit dwells in us. Bible teaches Father dwells in the Christian. Bible also teaches the Son, Jesus Christ dwells in the Christian. The issue is HOW? Does Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwell “literally and personally” as you said, or “by faith” which is accomplished through the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God?

        I asked you for a passage and your provided none, which is another way of saying, “To answer your question Don, there is no Bible passage that says what I said.” On the other hand the apostle Paul tells us in very plain language in Ephesians 3:17, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” That’s what I believe and teach because it’s actually found in the Bible.

        However, I see no reason to argue over this. You are my brother in Christ and I respect you.

        Thanks for your reply.


        Don Skeels

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