Question: Is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit a concept or a practical reality?

Now this is another question which I’ve been thinking about lately. I am meeting with some young guys from our Youth Group every week. It is a leadership training, where I want not only to teach them things, but I want to think stuff through with them. (That is because I feel that the statement is true: The first generation believes it, the second generation assumes it, and the third generation denies it. Whoever said that…it’s true.) They need to develop their own views and convictions to be a real benefit to the body of Christ.

We are going through different books together, right now it’s Calvary Distinctives. Now at Calvary Chapel we are big on the three different Greek prepositions which point to the different ways God relates to us/works through us by the person of the Holy Spirit. But this time I really wanted to get down to the knitty gritty: Who is this…Encarnación? No, but seriously, I wanted to find out with them what these things practically mean for us. We made a list that looked like this:

para (beside): conviction of sin, encouragement, comfort; Jesus said to his disciples about the comforter: He will be with you always.

epi (upon): annointing, empowering, equipping, authority (which here refers to a supernatural authority, independent from the question if it’s backed up by the character of the person)

en (in): indwelling, sanctification, personal growth, authority (which here refers to the authority that comes with integrity)

Now there were actually two questions which came up in my mind: First, is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit only a ’spiritual reality‘, or is it ‚practical or nothing‘? Can I say that God lives in a person, or is at home there, even when there is no practical implications such as repentance, personal growth, sanctification? Secondly, and this is a conclusive question: if it not so much meant as a theological concept or spiritual reality, then couldn’t I say that God also indwelt believers under the Old Covenant?

I’ve been taught, that the indwelling is a mark of the New Covenant, made possible only by the blood of Jesus. I always believed it, but never really studied that for myself. Is that true? One of the boys wrote me an eMail some days later, and asked me this same question. He read first Peter 1:11 and was wondering what the deal was. It is talking about the OT prophets there, and it says that they were „trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.“ ‚In‘ is of course the same Greek preposition.

So I thought about it and asked Dave Guzik to find an answer. He pointed me to the OT prophecies for the New Covenant. And it’s true, the Ezekiel and Jeremiah passages do speak about something inward rather than something outward. But did God really mean the indwelling, when he said that he would put his spirit inside them? Now please don’t get me wrong here! Of course I believe in the indwelling! I just wonder about it’s nature (see question 1), and about how unique it is to the New Covenant.

A day later, as I was reading in Ezekiel in the morning, I read this verse in my ‚today’s chapter‘: „Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!“ (18:31-32) Now God here tells them to go and get themselves a new heart and a new spirit. The only way in which this can make sense – and I believe that that’s the way it was meant in this context – is that this simply refers to a new attitude. So my question is this: could it be that the indwelling speaks very practically of ‚God in someones life‘, made possible by that person through a changed attitude (repentance)? If the answer to that question is Yes, than of course this was also possible and available for a believer in the OT.

The point I am struggling with is this: imagine you were a very carnal Christian. There were not really any real outward implications of God dwelling in your life. Imagine you would travel back in time and see a man like Moses. A man deeply committed to God, walking with God and – in the truest sense of the word – a holy man. With the understanding of the indwelling as I have it now (as a doctrine), you could go to Moses as a carnal Christian and tell him, that God lives in your heart, is at home in your life, while in his live that wasn’t the case. I don’t know, but I wonder if God maybe wants us to think about him dwelling in our hearts in a more practical sense. When would you normally say, that someone lives in your heart? When you love him. Can you say: I don’t love him/her, but he/she lives in my heart? Not really…

I have to think now of the Corinthian church, who was very carnal, and to whom Paul wrote: „Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own“ (1 Cor. 6:19) as a reason to not commit sexual sins. So maybe it is possible. But it is still very wrong (for which the Corinthian church is a perfect example) to seperate the spiritual reality from the lived-out practicality. Maybe someone can share his thoughts on this?

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  1. Just a few thoughts on the topic; hoping to be corrected if I am wrong in any understanding and seeking strengthening in faith by discussing theology!

    In the letter to the Romans Paul makes an interesting point: “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.”(Rom 8:9). He states that every believer has the spirit of God dwelling in him. It is the spirit which empowers the believer to live a spiritual life which is acceptable unto God. The indwelling of the spirit ascertains the eternal destination of man; this is what we read at the beginning of the second letter to the Corinthians: “Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts”.
    I agree that the indwelling of the spirit is a concept and a spiritual reality so to speak. Which automatically brings me to the question: What worth is a spiritual reality if it is not testified in the life of the believer?
    If there is absolutely no proof, no fruit at all, to see in a life of a believer, I would doubt his faith in the Lord. Is it the faith that saves? Or is it just knowledge of the one who is on the throne?
    Concerning the OT I believe that according to the passage in Peter there was an indwelling of the spirit. I wonder whether it was granted to every Old Testament believer though, maybe it was only given to the different writers of the bible. As for the new covenant there is a more convenient and a more general outpouring but also an indwelling of the spirit. We are guided by the Spirit and not by a pillar of fire or cloud. He sanctifies us until the day we meet with our Lord.
    That God would live in us, being as close to us as He could ever be, fills me with awe; Possible through true faith and essential for the Christian walk.

  2. I agree with the statements about NT pneumatology. I am just wondering, if even the indwelling of the Spirit in the New Covenant refers to something practical, rather than just a ’spiritual reality‘. (The question goes deeper: can something be theologically but not practically true?) I like the reference to Romans 8. It looks like Paul is treating the indwelling of the Spirit as both a spiritual reality and a practical fact: „For those who are habitually dominated by the sinful nature put their minds on the things of the sinful nature, but those who are habitually dominated by the Spirit put their minds on the things of the Spirit. (…) the mind dominated by the sinful nature is hostile to God, for it does not marshall itself under the command of the law of God, neither is it able to. “ (5-8) So he says that the indwelling Spirit dominates the mind (a changed mindset – repentance and faith). So if a OT believer was living a life of repentance and faith, having areas of his life brought more and more under the control of God’s power – was he not indwelt? But I agree…the indwelling of the New Covenant must go somewhat deeper.

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