Vol. 2 - No. 6
A Few Thoughts On The
Indwelling of The Holy Spirit
by Dennis C. Abernathy
There seems to be quite a bit of discussion of late on the subject of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It seems to this writer that the discussion is more about the work of the Holy Spirit as it relates to our salvation than it is the indwelling. After all, when we talk about the Spirit indwelling (especially is this true with those brethren who hold to a non-miraculous, literal, personal indwelling), the discussion hinges on the purpose of such an indwelling of the Spirit's body.
I do not believe the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian's body, literally and personally, whether it be miraculously or otherwise. I believe the Holy Spirit works today only through the Word of God. I believe the Scriptures teach that He works today only through the Word of God in regards to the alien sinner and also the Christian. If I understand what my brethren who hold the personal indwelling position are saying at all, it seems to me that they argue one way for the alien sinner, concerning the Spirit, and then argue another way for the Christian. In other words, they say the Spirit works only through the word with regard to the alien, but the Christian has the Spirit indwelling him in order to help him with some things (although they are often less than plain on what the things are the Spirit helps the Christian with).
When I stated these sentiments to a brother (whom I respect as knowledgeable in the Scriptures and skilled in debate), he wrote me and stated that my reasoning along these lines disturbed him somewhat. He then stated the following: "If the Bible were to teach that God worked with the Christian differently regarding the operation of the Spirit than he works with the alien, would you reject the Bible teaching because you can't understand why God would do so. This is the way sectarians treat the Scriptures. After all you do believe that God deals differently with the Christian than He does the non-Christian in other areas, don't you? Example, 1 Peter 3:12. If the Bible taught that God worked with the Christian through the indwelling Spirit in a special way for His own glory and holy purposes there would be no dilemma or problem involved. It would simply be a matter of accepting it by faith and affirming the truth of it without questioning God's reasons for it. The Bible does not teach that the alien has the Spirit indwelling him. The Bible does teach that the Christian has the Spirit of God indwelling him. However, as I emphasized in my last article, the Bible does not teach that the indwelling Spirit does anything to the Christian separate and apart from the word. The Bible does teach that the indwelling Spirit does some things for the Christian that the Word of God does not do. But since God has chosen to give His Spirit to indwell the Christian for reasons of His own choosing, then who are we that we can withstand God?"
Let us examine what we have just read and try and "get at it" with the searchlight of Truth. First of all, I don't believe God works differently regarding the operation of the Spirit, with the Christian than He does the non-Christian (alien). If I might ask, "How does the Spirit influence the Christian any differently than He does the alien? What does the Spirit do for the Christian in some other way than through the Word, that He is not willing to do for any man who will obey through the Word?" To cite 1 Peter 3:12 to prove God works differently regarding the operation of the Spirit with the Christian than he does the alien is not even on the subject. This passage deals with prayer. I understand why my good brother does it. It is because of Romans 8:26-27 which deals with the Spirit and prayer, and it is the only passage in all of God's Book that He can go to in hopes of showing something that the Spirit does for the Christian separate and apart from the Word. To do so, is a misapplication of the Romans passage and also a misunderstanding of the work of the Holy Spirit. But maybe we'll have an article on Romans 8:26-27 at a later date.
My good brother stated, "if the Bible taught that God worked with the Christian through the indwelling Spirit in a special way for His own glory and holy purposes, there would be no dilemma or problem involved. It would simply be a matter of accepting it by faith and affirming the truth of it without questioning God's reasons for it." To this statement I would say Amen! "IF" the Bible taught what he is saying. But I believe we need an explanation of some matters. This brother has the indwelling Spirit working with the Christian in a special way for God's own glory and holy purposes. What is meant by "working with the Christian in a SPECIAL WAY? The only way I know of the Spirit is working today is through the Word of God, which surely is for God's own glory and holy purposes. We need to know how else the Holy Spirit works!
Next, our esteemed brother says: "The Bible does not teach that the indwelling Spirit does anything to the Christian separate and apart from the Word. The Bible does teach that the indwelling Spirit does some things for the Christian that the Word of God does not do."
To this writer, the above statement appears to be a quibble. The Calvinists have always taught the same thing except they apply it to the alien sinner and the saint, and our brother applies it only to the saint. I want to make it clear that I am not accusing this brother in Christ or any other brother who holds the personal indwelling position of being a Calvinist, but I am saying their reasoning is very similar. To explain why I have reached this conclusion I want to quote from the Nashville Debate, (May 27, 1889) between J. B. Moody (Calvinist) and J. A. Harding (Christian). One proposition they discussed was as follows: "The Scriptures teach that man is so depraved in mind and heart that he is unable without a direct enabling power of the Holy Spirit to obey the Gospel of the Son of God."
In explaining the Calvinist's position, J. B. Moody said, on page 416, second paragraph: "Such are their views of the great work to be done in man, and for man, that the scriptural doctrine of additional divine power becomes a necessity." Remember, our brother said the indwelling Spirit does some things FOR the Christian that the Word of God does not do.
At the bottom of page 416, Mr. Moody says: "I will confirm the whole by the analougous truth that saints who have light and life need this additional power, so that without it they can do nothing; then surely is it needed by the sinner, who is in the darkness and death of depravity." Remember our brother says God works with the Christian through the indwelling Spirit IN A SPECIAL WAY and the Calvinists simply say that saints (Christians) need ADDITIONAL DIVINE POWER.
On page 425 at the bottom of the page, after quoting Romans 8:26 and Zechariah 12:10, Mr. Moody says: "If the infirmities of saints require the help of the Spirit, surely the infirmities of the ungodly require as much. If Paul needed the Spirit after baptism to help his infirmities in prayer, he surely needed this help before baptism."
On page 509, bottom of the page, Mr. Moody says: "Now to decide this question for all and forever, just let him turn and read John xiv. 16, 17, and the parallel verse, 23, and chapter xvi. 10-14, and tell us how it is that the Spirit 'himself' (immediately) operates on the Christian, and yet, not himself, but immediately operates on the world in conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgement."
On the very next page, 510, Moody says: "But Mr. Harding has a plea that compels him to do violence to the connection and the doctrine, and to say that the Spirit Himself immediately operates in one verse, and not Himself, but mediately through Peter and the truth operates on the world; and while his brethren, following their father and founder, say the Spirit is in the Word always, and not otherwise, for either saint or sinner, yet Mr. Harding thinks He is in the Word, and in addition to the Word, for the saint, who has infirmities and needs help, but neither personally, nor in the Word for sinners, but that all sinners have access unto the Father by Peter, through the truth -- the truth sufficient, the truth only, the truth minus the Spirit."
Now, to the last quote, Mr. Moody says on page 531, 532: "He believes the Christian has infirmities and needs an extra divine power, but that to the sinner the Word is sufficient. Then Christianity exerts a disabling power. Besides, he is so inconsistent as to predicate certain things of the Spirit when reference is had to the saint, but when like language is used of the sinner he denies the honor to the Spirit."
Now, dear readers, I cannot see a dimes worth of difference in what J. B. Moody (Calvinist) said, and in what our brother in Christ is saying. Can you? Moody just applies it to BOTH sinner and saint and my brother applies it to just the saint (Christian). I believe brother Harding did a good job in that debate but was shown to be inconsistent on this point, and never answered this argument clearly and plainly (see page 525). Notice please, that Moody simply uses the phrase "additional divine power" and my brother says "the indwelling Spirit in a special way."
I want to quote one other thing that this good brother wrote in his correspondence to me: "Those who insist that the Holy Spirit of God and Christ has never left heaven and does not Himself indwell the Christian have robbed themselves of one of the great, powerful, and most holy influences to live close to God. Paul used the knowledge and understanding that the Holy Spirit actually and really dwelled in them, as a reason for the Corinthian Christians to live a holy and godly life."
Is it hard to see what is said here? In other words, it is the "non-miraculous, literal (the Spirit Himself actually and really being inside the body of the Christian) indwelling of the Holy Spirit" that influences us to live close to God, and is the reason to live a holy and godly life! To this I would say that it seems passing strange that the Corinthians had the MIRACULOUS indwelling of the Spirit, and they had more problems than almost any church we read of in the Bible. Why is that? Because they refused to let the GOSPEL do what God intended. Our response to the love of God, our obedience to Him, our spiritual service, our living godly lives, is brought about THROUGH THE GOSPEL. When we understand and obey the gospel of Jesus Christ, and our actions are motivated by that gospel, OUR SERVICE IS SPIRITUAL. Our service is BY FAITH (Romans 10:17). Brethren, we need simple preaching of the Word of God to motivate people to do right, to live closer to God, and not SOME MYSTERIOUS IDEA that they HAVE THE HOLY SPIRIT LITERALLY INSIDE THEIR BODY (although, they say, they may not even detect His being there), and that SOMEHOW (which we cannot explain) He will influence us to live closer to God.
I firmly believe this to be the major fault with the literal indwelling position. IT WEAKENS THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL. According to brethren who hold this position (if I understand what they are preaching) we much preach the gospel, people must obey the gospel, but JUST THE GOSPEL is not enough. We need the Holy Spirit literally indwelling our physical bodies (non-miraculous of course) to do FOR US some things (that we can't exactly explain) that THE GOSPEL CANNOT ACCOMPLISH! I ask, what happened to the plea for the "all-sufficiency of the gospel?"
These few thoughts are written in love, with no hurt intended at all. I see dangers inwrought in the position some of my brethren are holding concerning the indwelling of the Spirit, and I see the need to address such dangers. If I am wrong, I need to know it, and you will be my friend if you will, by the Scriptures, prove that to be the case (1 Thessalonians 5:21).