From the Comments: How Do We Know the Holy Spirit Personally Indwells? Part 2

HolySpirit7Thomas Dohling responded to my comment with this question:

Thank you for the “abbreviated introduction.” However, how does God change/transform our hearts? Isn’t it through the sharp written word? There are Scripture passages to this effect which we know of. Or is it by faith? How does the Spirit indwell us?

Convince me please, it is important. I have to know definitively. I want my mental struggle of 33 years to end in a “logical” conclusion. I believe in an infinite God, the Eternal Spirit, with Whom everything is possible and beyond. I want to know whether He operates in our heart independent of the written word. If He does, how do we know it? How do we become aware of His power at work in us? (Using Paul’s language.)

I responded,

Thomas D,

Thanks for your questions. I have a touch of insomnia, and so I have time to answer.

First, in the Bible, “word” rarely refers particularly to the Bible as the written words of God. It’s usually the message from God. For example, the early church learned about Jesus solely from oral testimony. The first NT book likely wasn’t written until around 54 AD — a quarter century after the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The Gospels came after Paul’s letters, most likely.

Even in the First Century, the OT was found in the form of several scrolls, which were extremely expensive. I read somewhere that a Torah scroll might cost the equivalent of $500,000. Hence, they were kept safely stored in the synagogue to be shared by the entire local Jewish community.

That’s not to minimize the value of the written word, just to correctly define our terms and keep us in historical context.

Second, I’ve answered all these questions in my book The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace, which is now available as a free ebook download. (I know of two Bible colleges that changed their position on the indwelling based on my chapters on the Spirit.)

Third, obviously the Spirit works in conjunction with the word (written or oral), but not only that way. I speak from personal experience, as do many others. Even today, there are reports of Muslims from around the work seeking evangelists to teach them about Jesus because of dreams and visions they’re receiving. You can choose to doubt, but I see no reason to deny their testimony. I know too many people who’ve had experiences that can only make sense with the Spirit. To take a simple case, if you pray for someone to be healed, and God heals them, why deny that God did that through the Spirit? Why are we good with Providence even though the Bible routinely credits the Spirit with miracles?

Fourth, how does God change our hearts? Well, the passages I cited to you say the Spirit does it — and they specifically contrast God changing our hearts with our changing our own hearts. The promise is that God will do it. I believe the promises.

Fifth, we tend to reduce “the word” to rules and regulations about how to do church. The Bible speaks primarily about the Spirit’s work on our hearts. When you think of your religion as centered on patterns and rules, and you have to work hard to sort through the silences and inferences, you don’t feel the Spirit doing much — nor do you feel the need for the Spirit. But when you think of your religion as being being about having a heart like God’s, well, if I’m learning to love even those who hate me, maybe it’s because God is softening my heart through the Spirit.

Paul beautifully expresses the tension between our free will and God’s work in us in —

(Phil. 2:12-13 ESV) 12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

When we “work out” our own salvation — by learning to become obedient as Jesus was, in context — then it’s really God in us, through his Spirit, working in us to will (desire) and so to work for God’s pleasure. The “want to” comes from the Spirit, Paul says. It’s not that we have no free will, but that the Helper helps — not by magic but by softening our hearts to become more receptive. To shape us into Christ-like people.

(2 Cor. 3:18 ESV) 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

The verb is passive. We “are being transformed” by the Spirit into the image of Christ. Earlier in the chapter, Paul explicitly contrasts the Spirit’s work in us to mere letters written on stone — the 10 Commandments, surely —

(2 Cor. 3:3 ESV) 3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Paul gets this not only by inspiration but from Moses, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, etc.

Sixth, Paul uses the Exodus as a type or example demonstrating the nature of the Spirit’s indwelling. He indwells us just as God dwelt among the Israelites in the desert —

(Exod. 29:42-46 ESV) 42 It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. 43 There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. 44 I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. 45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.

(Exod. 40:32-38 ESV) 32 When they went into the tent of meeting, and when they approached the altar, they washed, as the LORD commanded Moses. 33 And he erected the court around the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the screen of the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work. 34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 36 Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. 37 But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. 38 For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.

So although God is omnipresent, he had a special, intense, personal dwelling among the Israelites. Thus, Paul sees us traveling through the desert of life guided by the indwelling God through the Spirit. He lives among us to consecrate us and to lead us. And much of this language is found in Rom 8 — just as is Deu 30:6 and Eze 37 (the valley of dry bones). Paul assumes we know our OT. We don’t. I didn’t until I looked all this up to write the book.

Seventh, turn to Heb 8 —

(Heb. 8:7-9:1 ESV) 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. 8 For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” 13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

This is an extensive quote from Jer 31 (previously covered). God says that, in contrast to the Law of Moses, God will now HIMSELF write his laws on our hearts and minds. The Israelites had the Law of Moses in written form. Many memorized the whole thing. They studied it intensely — often knowing it far better than we know our Gospels. And God said that even obsessive study would not accomplish what he would accomplish in the hearts of the people.

[to be continued]

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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14 Responses to From the Comments: How Do We Know the Holy Spirit Personally Indwells? Part 2

  1. Ray Downen says:

    I question whether God is entirely responsible for what all of us believe and teach. Many who claim to belong to God write foolish things as I see it but which they apparently believe. To blame the Spirit for what every Christian thinks and writes hardly seems sensible. Yet I think that’s what I’m hearing Jay teach. So I must be misunderstanding. As just one example of what I speak of, some good friends of mind teach that Jesus returned to the earth in 70 A.D. to take vengeance upon the Jewish people who had crucified Him or for whatever purpose to end the Jewish reign in the “holy land.” The Christians who teach this are sure they were led by God’s Spirit to what they believe.

    I know some sincere Christians who thoroughly misunderstand the work of the Spirit, but they are convinced they have been led into all truth BY the Spirit. Jay is saying that the Spirit is active in non-Christians to cause them to seek to follow Jesus. Yet my understanding is that Jesus calls for US who believe to be responsible for sharing with others the good news. I see nothing in apostolic writing that would say the Spirit has to do the evangelizing. Or could. Or should do so.

    I think most Muslims have dreams of how glorious it would be for them to kill others in the name of their God. I have not met any former Muslim who credits a dream or vision with his/her desire to make Jesus their Lord. Maybe God doesn’t let former Muslims enter Missouri, and I now seldom leave Missouri. That may be why I find it hard to believe in conversion based on dreams/visions.

  2. Ray Downen says:

    I wish for a do-over. In my post which I failed to proofread before sending, I speak of “mind” when the word I had in mind was friends of “mine.”

  3. laymond says:

    Thomas pleads with Jay the following.
    “Convince me please, it is important. I have to know definitively. I want my mental struggle of 33 years to end in a “logical” conclusion.”

    Rom 8:24 For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?
    Rom 8:25 But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.

    Thomas, I suggest you read Rom 12 (patients is a virtue)

  4. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Ray wrote,

    To blame the Spirit for what every Christian thinks and writes hardly seems sensible. Yet I think that’s what I’m hearing Jay teach.

    1. I might credit with Spirit with some things, but I blame it for nothing. The Spirit, as a part of God, can do nothing but good.

    2. I’ve never remotely suggested that Christians lose their free will to the Spirit or otherwise. I’m not a Calvinist.

    3. The world is not binary. It’s not either “the Spirit has complete control of me and I have no free will” OR “the Spirit has no control of me and I have unfettered free will”. Why must we assume it’s either one extreme or the other?

    The SCRIPTURES plainly say that God himself, will by the Spirit, write his laws on our hearts and minds so that we’ll become obedient. Jer 31:31ff, Heb 8:8ff, etc. And we’re repeatedly told that God will change our hearts to soften them to become obedient.

    And Paul in Rom 8 speaks of our being “led” by the Spirit —

    (Rom. 8:14 ESV) 4 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

    But Paul urges us to submit to the Spirit’s leading —

    (Rom. 8:5-8 ESV) 5 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 set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

    He tells us to set our minds on the things of the Spirit.

    Just so,

    (Gal. 5:22-25 ESV) 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

    “Let us keep in step with the Spirit” is clearly an exhortation to allow the Spirit to bear fruit of the Spirit.

    (Gal. 5:16 ESV) 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

    Again, we are urged to “walk by the Spirit,” meaning we can choose not to do so.

    So which is it? Well, it’s something in between.

    The Spirit is a person who influences us to the extent we will let him. We can resist, grieve, and even quench the Spirit. And we can submit to the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, walk by the Spirit, worship in the Spirit, pray in the Spirit, and even be filled with the Spirit.

    You can take advantage of this blessing from God or not — your choice.

    One of my favorite analogies is power brakes. If you’ve ever had your engine cut off while breaking, you realized that 90% of the work was being done by the engine — even though you were in complete control of the brake pedal.

  5. The more we recognize the work of God in the transformation of our lives the less credit we can take ourselves, and the less room there is for us to think better of ourselves than of those other fellows who are not as far along as we.

  6. Contrasting voices causing confusion.

    Tell me what Jesus meant in John 14:23: “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.'” Does it mean that Deity will live with us? What does “come to him” and “make Our home with him” mean? Another thing, are these (and the every mention of the indwelling Presence) figures of speech? Or spiritual reality? How can one Person bodily live in another (us)?

    “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” Colossians 2:9-10, NKJV. Is this how we are indwelt?

    “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Romans 8:9-11, ESV.

    Here we have Spirit, Spirit of God, Spirit of Christ, the Spirit is life. Spirit of the Godhead dwelling in us? Why does the Apostle use the Spirit of God, the Christ, the Spirit? For emphasis? To say, God’s Spirit dwells in you?

    Jay G. – I don’t want you get tired or sleepy or suffer from a bout of insomnia. You have been patient with me and I thank you for it. I want satisfactory answers to properly understand this matter of the Spirit.

  7. laymond says:

    Thomas, it is possible, maybe probable, that Jay and I will disagree, but here is my thoughts on your confusion .

    The following is about your thought process, what your priorities are, are your priorities with God, or things here on earth. I believe it is said “you can’t worship two Gods ”
    KJV
    Rom 8:6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
    Rom 8:7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be

    The following is pretty much the same advise, given in Romans, follow Jesus , not deceitful traditions of men.

    Col 2:8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
    Col 2:9 For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

    Let’s revisit what John said.
    Rev 1:10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,

    This does not mean, John became a spirit, this means John was in deep thought, and this vision was reveled to him. If you or I were standing beside John at the time , we would have seen nothing.

    As I see it the spirit dwells in the Christian mind, their thoughts and actions. that is how the bible can be enough for salvation of the soul. (the soul is saved through both faith in God and our works showing we believe in God.)

    As for Jesus being indwelled bodily, I believe that means exactly what it said. but we are not Jesus.
    My belief is that Jesus received the spirits, or powers of God “fully”, as Jesus said I could not do these things, except that God does it through me.

  8. When we say that a child has the spirit of his father, we mean the child shares his father’s nature. Isn’t that how it is with us? When we have our heavenly Father’s nature (as revealed in the Bible), we have His Spirit in us. I accept this by faith. After all, we have been invited to partake in the divine nature! (see 2 Peter 1:4.) For the time being, I can not understand it any other way. The Bible also defines divine nature (godly nature).

  9. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Thomas D wrote,

    When we have our heavenly Father’s nature (as revealed in the Bible), we have His Spirit in us. I accept this by faith. After all, we have been invited to partake in the divine nature! (see 2 Peter 1:4.)

    Exactly correct, in my view.

    (2 Pet. 1:3-4 ESV) 3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

    This is not just reading and obeying (although it certainly includes reading and obeying). It’s about a change in our natures to have a nature a something like God’s own nature — a spiritual/Spirit-ual nature.

  10. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Thomas D (Part 1),

    Sorry. I’m old and get sleepy. And I work for a living during the day. So that’s how it goes.

    I don’t think Col 2:9-10 is dealing with the Spirit’s indwelling. It’s speaking of God-ness of Jesus — that he is fully God — and because of that, the salvation he brings is entirely sufficient. Colossians deals with a heresy involving the worship of angels and otherwise treating Jesus as less than enough.

    But I believe John 14:23 is speaking of God and Jesus living in us through the Spirit. The same discourse (John 13-17) speaks extensively of the Helper or Paraclete (the Spirit) coming — and you have to read the whole thing as a unit. Clearly, Jesus is pointing to the Spirit throughout the discourse (among many other things). In John, Jesus speaks like a tapestry. Not linear at all. Rather, there are threads that weave through the discussion so that, when you’ve seen them all and step back, you see the picture woven by the words. Very Eastern and very cool.

    The scriptures speak of the Spirit living in us and of us living in the Spirit — which is weird to the literal, Western mind. Obviously, there’s an element of metaphor here, and the metaphor is built on the Temple and Exodus — God dwelling among the Israelites in the tabernacle/Temple and as a column of smoke and fire — which were quite literal. We’re told the new covenant indwelling will be like that — just as God’s Presence/Glory/Shekinah was present in the Holy of Holies.

    To go a little deeper, the Jews thought of the Holy of Holies as a place where heaven and earth met. The Celts used to speak of places with “thin walls,” meaning places where the separation between heaven and earth was very thin. In the Holy of Holies, there was a hole in the fabric of the universe, allowing heaven and earth to meet. God was thus simultaneously present in heaven and in the Temple. (It helps if you’ve read the Chronicles of Narnia. Imagine heaven as right next to you but invisible because your brain and eyes aren’t wired to see spiritual things. But sometimes God opens up our senses to perceive what has always been there. Angels don’t have to travel far to be seen by us. Rather, the miracle is in letting us seeing things not made of gluons and bosons and quarks. The spiritual world is made of other stuff. Maybe. I’m riffing off C. S. Lewis and it makes sense, but Gabriel is probably laughing at my lack of comprehension.)

    So somehow or other, in the physics of heaven, when we’re saved, the part of the universe where we exist has a hole ripped open to connect us to heaven and heaven to us in ways we cannot perceive with our senses but which are very real — allowing the Spirit to live in us just as God lived in the tabernacle and the Temple. Something like that. (More to come as we dig further into the Revelation, by the way.)

  11. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Thomas D (Part 2),

    Here we have Spirit, Spirit of God, Spirit of Christ, the Spirit is life. Spirit of the Godhead dwelling in us? Why does the Apostle use the Spirit of God, the Christ, the Spirit? For emphasis? To say, God’s Spirit dwells in you?

    Yes. Exactly. To emphasize that the Spirit is not independent of Jesus and God and should not be worshiped as an alternative deity (quite tempting when the Spirit is healing the sick etc.) Context governs, and here we’re looking at the whole Bible as context. After all, in the OT, the Spirit is the Spirit of God or YHWH. The OT says quite a lot about the Spirit but never in a way that contradicts monotheism. Not the same as God but not not God, either (both “nots” are intentional).

    Of course, the NT often declares Jesus to be YHWH (several recent posts cover this point). Hence, the Spirit of the LORD (YHWH) is the Spirit of Jesus or the Christ.

    Some wish to take each verbal construction and treat it as different — but the point is the sameness. When Paul uses different words to refer to the same person, he’s helping us see the Spirit from different angles. If I call my wife “beloved,” “my better half,” “my salvation,” “my soulmate,” etc., I’m talking about the same person but giving you a deeper, richer sense of our relationship and who she is. The more new metaphors, the better you understand. The goal isn’t to uniquely name. It’s to help us see something that is outside of natural human experience. So it’s metaphor upon metaphor. The Spirit is “poured out”, a “fountain,” “Living Water,” a dove, the divine nature, etc. All good, all true, all pointing to something at the very edge of our ability to understand.

  12. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Charles M,

    Yep. One of the barriers to accepting the doctrine of the Spirit is the humility it requires. If it comes from the Spirit, I can’t take credit for it. And that seems to be a problem for some of our Bible schools. It leads to arrogance of a particularly ugly kind.

  13. Gil T says:

    Yes, Thomas, God transforms our hearts. He does this through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in us. The Spirit accomplishes this indwelling and his work in us through the word. I understand. This says a lot, and it says nothing if I can not explain this with words for the edification of the saints in Christ.

    I am aware of the derision and snickering from some of my brothers and sisters at the mention of the Spirit dwelling in the believer through the word. This is what they share in common with existentialists and sensualists. The former can say he/she has had an experience which authenticates him/her, but he/she can not explain it with words. Likewise the sensualist can say he/she “got” the Holy Spirit or that he/she knows it was the Holy Spirit because of the emotional outpouring to which they gave themselves, but like the existentialist they can not explain it with words.

    Words sound like and are a drab artifact dismissed by some brothers and sisters over the supposed much more fun and trendier relationships. However Jesus said, the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. (John 6:63) Then again when Philip expressed the exasperation of the disciples for Jesus to show them the Father he reiterated the significance and value of words.

    The answer to the your question brother is (like all answers) found in Jesus. Specifically, this question: How did deity dwell in Jesus? Jesus made it quite clear in his response to Philip. He simultaneously asserted that the Father dwelt in him as he also explained the proof of that indwelling.

    Note the prioritization of these things by Jesus which he cites for Philip and the disciples. The proof is in 1) the WORDS, and 2) the WORKS. (John 14:10,11) Furthermore, Jesus reveals to the disciples that the Spirit of truth/Helper/Comforter/Holy Spirit, all synonyms used by Jesus of the same deity, is WITH them and will be IN them. The saints are given to saying, even if they do not understand or can articulate with words what they profess, that the Holy Spirit dwells in them. This is true. However, it is equally and just as true, as Jesus revealed to the disciples, that the Father and the Son dwell in the believer. If these words spoken by Jesus are insufficient and unacceptable for the saints then be aware that there is nothing to prevent such dangerous criteria from being applied to so many other areas and matter of faith and obedience.

    However religious and pious we might have been in our speech and conduct when we were drawing closer to Jesus the Holy Spirit was WITH us. He did not to be IN us until we submitted humbly in obedience to Jesus as Lord and Savior. This is not a splicing or dissecting of original Bible language words. It was Jesus himself who made that distinction between the two. (John 14:17) Mostly, it is overlooked by the saints.

    Yes, the cries have been heard about limiting the Holy Spirit to ink and paper. This a shallow taunt in the face of the words of Jesus to the Sadducees: “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the scriptures or the power of God?” and “You are seriously mistaken.” The word of God was true and powerful when God first spoke it himself, when Moses said what God had said, when the prophets said what God had said, when Jesus said what the Father had said, when the apostles said what the Holy Spirit had said, and when the saints in Christ say what has been written by the Holy Spirit. There was never a point in the course of the revelation of the will of God when what God spoke ceased to be any less true or powerful or to be obeyed before it was written, before it was printed and after it was printed.

    Lastly, let not your heart be troubled. If the disciples who live, walked, talked and ate and touched him struggled to grasp who it was that was in their midst we ought not be shocked or appalled when we hear our brothers and sisters struggle to understand the indwelling of deity in them.

  14. I am grateful to the brethren for patiently teaching me. I have many more ideas to share and learn, but let me digest what has been presented for now. May God bless all of you.

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