Jeff S. Smith

Solid Food

Indwelling Spirit


As Romans chapter seven dealt with indwelling sin, chapter eight points to a subject of greater promise, the indwelling Spirit of God and Christ. Paul writes, "Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not his."

While this matter is one of great controversy with Calvinists, it need not be confusing to the new testament Christian. The Holy Spirit works in us and dwells in us in the same way that God and Christ do as we allow the divinely inspired word and example to influence our decisions and lifestyle so that we more perfectly employ and exemplify the will and wisdom of the Godhead.

In this article, we hope to establish the truth about the indwelling of the Spirit and then discuss six consequences of his abiding presence in the saint.

The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit is Beyond Dispute

That the Spirit dwells in the child of God is beyond dispute, but how he does so is another matter altogether.

In fact, the Bible teaches that all three members of the Godhead dwell in the redeemed. Before us, Romans 8:10 states that Christ is in us, yet no one believes that this is literal and that Jesus has somehow been divided up into person-size portions. We understand that this statement is akin to saying that I dwell in my daughter through the characteristics that she has inherited or learned from me. Furthermore, the Bible says that God dwells in us (1 John 4:12) when we love one another and abide in him.

The very idea presented here and by John that we abide in the persons of the Godhead while they also dwell in us shows that the relationship must be figurative, describing the influence that God has over us through his revelation in the Bible. Logic and the texts themselves eliminate a literal, physical interpretation of this relationship and every attempt to explain the mutual indwelling slips over into the figurative out of necessity.

Does a figurative interpretation of the indwelling cheapen the experience? Only to those who fail to see the glory in allowing the spirit of God to influence you through the masterpiece that is the New Testament.

Some commentators have ascribed to the Holy Spirit the devilish ability to possess individuals and compel them to act against their evil will. While many passages describe the supernatural abilities that were given by the Holy Spirit in the first century age of miracles, the Bible student finds none that suggest the Holy Spirit can turn people into his hypnotized, robotic slaves (cf. 1 Cor. 13:8-13 and 14:31-32).

Instead, the Spirit's influence is achieved when his weapon is engaged (Eph. 6:17). The Spirit's sword, his weapon to slice through error, misguided good intentions, and every secret thing, is the means by which he lays bare a man's heart and renders it ready for conversion (cf. Heb. 4:11-13). To suggest that God cannot affect our hearts, save by force, while the devil holds the ability to sway them freely is to argue that the lie is stronger than the truth and that the gospel has no genuine persuasive power (cf. Rom. 1:16).

The Example of Stephen

When the church in Jerusalem was fracturing over a benevolence issue, the apostles recognized the threat and dealt with it the best way they knew how; they decided to appoint seven Greek men to make certain that all the Greek widows received treatment equal to the Hebrew widows (Acts 6:1-7).

The apostles gave qualifications to precede this appointment: a good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and full of wisdom. What did it mean that the seven should be filled with the Holy Spirit? Judged in context, it evidently had something to do with their character, fitting in between a good reputation and wisdom.

Commentator Albert Barnes says, "This evidently does not mean endowed with miraculous gifts, or the power of speaking foreign languages, for such gifts were not necessary to the discharge of their office, but it means men who were eminently under the influence of the Holy Ghost, or who were of distinguished piety" (Barnes Notes: Acts, page 111).

Perhaps an illustration will help. Suppose a certain company is looking to hire a security guard and the supervisor deems the qualifications for this position to be physical fitness, ability to roof a house, and alertness. The middle quality is obviously out of place because it is not immediately related to the task; neither would miraculous abilities be necessary to serve tables (ask any waitress!).

Being filled with the Holy Spirit in this sense of the phrase had to do with the character of these seven men. Were their lives exhibiting the influence of this person of the Godhead, charged with making the holy lifestyle known? That Stephen was judged to be filled with the Holy Spirit here means that his life was influenced by the will and revelation of this person of the Godhead (Gal. 5:16-18). Stephen was showing the works of the Spirit, was led by the Spirit and was walking in the Spirit. He was filled with the Holy Spirit so that God's light was constantly reflected in the things he did and the words he said (Matt. 5:14-16). His character and record thus qualified him to serve in this capacity and ensure unity in the Jerusalem church.

What The Indwelling Holds For the Saint

Romans 8 reveals six things that accompany the indwelling Spirit, that blessed state in which one is in Christ and is influenced daily by the power of his word. "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:1-2).

A Changed Mindset (Romans 8:5-8)

The word mindset has become a favored buzzword in our society, describing a person's general outlook on life. Romans 8:5-8 makes a similar observation concerning those who have either a spiritual mindset or a carnal mindset. "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit." When the Holy Spirit dwells in you, the spiritual mindset rules your affections and strongly influences your decisions. Again, this does not occur by means of supernatural possession or even hearing a little voice whispering in your ear. The indwelling spirit affects our mindset and makes it spiritual by sowing the words of the New Testament into the soil of ready hearts (James 1:21), who are given to prayer, study, meditation and even conversation concerning God's will.

This passage paints the distinction between the lost and the redeemed with a single paintbrush, allowing for no intermediary category in which people can be spiritual some of the time and worldly the other. Such a divided mind is actually the full property of the devil, who can indwell just as easily as the Spirit when the sword of truth is denied access to man's heart.

Paul's portrait of spiritual and carnal men does not employ all the various shades and hues that we are accustomed to seeing in great works of art. It does not have shadows and considerations of individual perception. As a matter of fact, the artist, the Holy Spirit, employed nothing more than the black and white of sin and salvation. The carnal mindset is addicted to matters of the flesh, is not subjective to God's law, is not pleasant to his judgment, and places one at enmity with him until the result is eternal death. No shades of gray about that.

The spiritual mindset then is the opposite:

  1. It is addicted to matters of the spirit, set on things above, not on things of the Earth (Col. 3:1-4).
  2. It is submissive to the law of God, not calling Jesus "Lord, Lord," while refusing to obey his will (Luke 6:43-49).
  3. It is pleasant to God's judgment, walking in the light as he is in the light and enjoying fellowship that extends both heavenward and across the redeemed among men (1 John 1:5-7).
  4. It makes one a friend of God until the result is eternal life: "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. You are my friends if you do whatever I command you" (John 15:13-14).
  5. A changed mindset is transformed and renewed, offering itself as a living and daily sacrifice to God and making the tough choices when sin beckons and righteousness reminds (Rom. 12:1-2).
  6. It is set on different things than the world tends to offer, things that are nobler and pure (Phil. 4:8-9). The spiritual mindset knows when to switch off the television, turn away from evil companions and rally beneath the security of the cross.

You Belong To God (Romans 8:9-10, 14-17)

"And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness."

All we discuss in the matter of redemption is made simpler when one understands that the blood of Christ was the purchase price by which God bought us back from the devil's stable of slaves.

In the Old Testament, when Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery, don't you know that old Jacob would have paid any ransom to regain his son? Yet no earthly means would have sufficed to pay our ransom and so God sent Jesus to complete the transaction on the cross (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 1:18-19).

John combined this blessing with responsibility: "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know him .... And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure" (1 John 3:1-3).

This quest for moral purity is specifically applied to sexual chastity by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:15-20. As the body of a Christian is a temple of the indwelling Spirit, so that temple must be kept pure and free from adulterating sin. The same writer told the Thessalonians that sexual chastity was the will of God, their sanctification (1 Thess. 4:1-8), that lifestyle choice which clearly distinguishes them from a world beset with sexual curiosity and gratification. The presence of the spirit in our hearts increases the reason and resolve to withstand temptations that would tear us away from our redeemer.

A Hope of Resurrection (Rom. 8:11, 18-25)

Paul mentions the hope of resurrection as a blessing of the indwelling Spirit: "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."

There is the initial resurrection from baptism's watery grave, that sends the new man off on his walk of faith (Rom. 6:1-6). Then there is the last resurrection from graves of dust that sends men and women off into eternity.

So many people live this life with no hope of anything beyond the grave; many even dread what is on the other side, for they recognize that they cannot save themselves and yet they cannot submit to God's grace either. Don't take that hope lightly, nor ignore it: "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable" (1 Cor. 15:19).

It is that spirit who raised Christ from the dead and allowed him to break the bonds of Hades and ascend into heaven, a feat which will be imitated on behalf of all the faithful who have made their bodies temples of the Holy Spirit while they waited to enter the eternal temple beyond the clouds.

Puts You In Debt (Rom. 8:12-13)

We often hear the Holy Spirit's presence now described as an earnest (2 Cor. 1:21-22, 5:5) or guarantee of the blessings to come. The indwelling Spirit provides evidence that we are not bound to receive that which we have earned.

Remember that the wages of sin is death and that only through God's grace are we able to avoid that miserable pay check and take a pleasant gift in its place (Rom. 6:23). God can never be put in our debt; therefore, salvation can never be earned by works. A single sin (committed even in ignorance, even in youth*) makes it forever impossible that one could merit anything better than eternal death. The fact that the son of God had to die for us and that we receive the Spirit as an earnest of our eternal inheritance puts us in debt to God.

Debtors must be people of gratitude and humility who put to death the deeds of the body which lead to death (Eph. 4:20-24). The indwelling Spirit reminds us of the blessing and obligation we have with God. His presence, felt pleasantly when we make good choices, and painfully when we stray, is evidence of the precious promises and solemn warnings God has made us. It is a presence understood when the scriptures guide and validate our decisions and we reflect the glory of their author.

Help With Weaknesses (Rom. 8:26-30)

Romans 8 includes a somewhat mysterious promise regarding the help that the Spirit provides in times of weakness and inability to communicate one's needs.

I am not sure that I understand everything about this passage, but a few things I can tell. The Christian is aided in times of weakness by a spirit who intercedes with God for him through groanings which cannot be uttered. If indeed the Holy Spirit is the one under consideration, he still does not do anything to the child of God, but for him.

Although this work is mysterious, it is in the vein of our Lord's ongoing assistance to us (Heb. 4:14-16). Whatever the precise meaning of this promise, it is weighty and wonderful. When we feel our weakest and unable to communicate our need, we will be helped.

Perseverance (Rom. 8:31-39)

"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?"

This passage really needs no embellishment. The indwelling Spirit, whose presence is recognized in the fruits we bear and the poisons we avoid, helps us to press on toward the prize, no matter what obstacle comes.

Some ask, "Should I feel the indwelling of the Spirit?". The question reflects a Calvinistic influence that salvation is better felt than told. Indeed you should feel that you are right with God, but you should not think that you are right with God just because you feel good. You should allow the Spirit to swing his sword into your heart and then examine your own deeds to see if they are fruits of the Spirit or works of the flesh (Gal. 5:16-26). When you are full of faith and doing right, you can trust, know and feel that the Spirit is in you. He dwells there, not literally, but in the figure of the influence of his word.

* Youth refers to that time once a person has reached a maturity of accountability and should not be understood to refer to infancy.

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