The Holy Spirit And The Believer


How does the Holy Spirit dwell in us?

There are two schools of thought concerning this question, one insists that the Holy Spirit literally dwells within the Christian and the other insists that the Holy Spirit doesn’t literally dwell within the Christian.

Literal Indwelling Of The Holy Spirit

In Acts 2:38-39 Peter said, “Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

Acts 5:32 states, “And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

It should be clear that the giver in these verses is God and the gift is the Holy Spirit J. M. Powell one of the most informed men on Restoration History at the age of 90 in 1997 stated, “Until recent years, as far as I know, all of my preaching brethren taught that the gift of the Holy Spirit is the Spirit himself.”

By contrast today many ardently believe the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian only “through the word.” By this they mean He dwells in us “representatively” through the Word. The Word of God and the Holy Spirit are not the same. The Holy Spirit is the third person in the Godhead. The Holy Spirit inspired certain men to write the Word. Thus, the Word is not the Holy Spirit.

The “Gift of the Holy Spirit” in Acts 2:38 was not the Word, because the people had already received and believed the Word before they were baptized, Acts 2:41. Before we became Christians most of us had a certain amount of the Word dwelling in us or else we would never have obeyed the Gospel.

If I build a house with a hammer and a saw, does this mean I dwell in the house through the hammer and saw?

To say water gets into a tank by means of a pipe does not mean the water never gets into the tank. Some argue that the Holy Spirit dwelling in us is a figure of speech. If so, then we must also conclude that God and Christ dwelling in us is figurative also. It would also mean that Christians dwell in Christ and his church figuratively.

Do Christians only dwell in the church figuratively?

Certainly not, we literally dwell in the church which is the body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:27 / Ephesians 5:30. The way I know the Spirit dwells within me is because the Lord says He does. About a dozen times the Scriptures tell us that the Holy Spirit dwells in us. For example, in 1 Corinthians 3:16, Paul writes, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

1 Corinthians 6:19 says, “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?”

Paul told the Thessalonians, that God “has also given us His Holy Spirit’ 1 Thessalonians 4:8. In Romans 8:11 Paul writes, “But 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.”

In Romans 8:9 Paul says, “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.”

The word “you” in this phrase refers to the brethren, the children of God. The word “in” is the translation of the Greek preposition “en” and Thayer says it means “in the person.”

“Dwells,” simply means to abide. The Spirit of God makes his home in us, not in temples made with hands, Acts 17:24. Paul tells us that our bodies are the “temple of the Holy Spirit.”

The Greek word for “temple” is a word that means the dwelling place of deity.

It is said that Barnabas was a good man, “full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” Acts 11:24. Here we have the Holy Spirit linked with faith and a man is said to be filled with both. Seven others were said to be “full of the Spirit and of wisdom” Acts 6:3 / Acts 6:5.

Where did the faith and wisdom reside?

No one doubts that Luke intended for us to get the idea that faith and wisdom resided within these men. If faith and wisdom were in these men was not the Holy Spirit in them also?

When writers wished to convey the idea that men were filled with wrath, fear, jealousy, sorrow, joy, peace, etc. they used this very same word that is used to tell us that persons were filled with the Holy Spirit.

The gift of the Holy Spirit is not a miraculous gift. His indwelling does not mean that we would have certain feelings, experiences or perform miracles.

Today God works through natural laws to bring us blessings. Can we not believe the Spirit dwells in us in a non-miraculous way just as God and Christ dwell in us in a non-miraculous way? It is no more miraculous than God’s hearing and answering our prayers is miraculous.

Do we mean miracles will be involved if we say to a brother or sister, “God bless you?” We can ask God to be with someone without having to think that God has to perform miracles to be with him. Must Christ perform a miracle to strengthen us? Philippians 4:13.

Paul prayed that God would strengthen Christians with might by his Spirit in the inner man, Ephesians 3:16.

Does it take a miracle for the Holy Spirit to do this?

It may be a mystery but not a miracle. To say that the Spirit dwells within us is no more miraculous than saying the Word dwells in us. We cannot even understand how the Word of God dwells in our minds any better than we can grasp how the Holy Spirit dwells in us. We do not even understand how our mind or our soul dwells in us.

In fact, we would not even know we have a soul had not God told us. The Spirit’s dwelling in the Christian is no more miraculous than God or Christ dwelling in him. Jesus told his apostles, “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” John 14:23

Is this just figurative language or is it literal?

A failure to understand the Spirit’s indwelling is due in part to a tritheistic concept of God. There is one God (essence), but there are three distinct personalities in that one God, each of them called God. That one God is spirit, John 4:24. So there is only one self-existent eternal, omnipresent Spirit. And when that one Spirit dwells in a human body, it is correct to say that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwell in him.

The Bible does not separate the persons of the Godhead; it distinguishes between them but does not separate them, except where the humanity of Jesus is involved. Jesus said he and the Father would make their abode with all who love him and keep his word, John 14:23. The Father and the Son, dwell in us in the same way the Holy Spirit dwells in us. They all make their abode in us.

We do not claim to know how He does this, but we believe it because God’s Word says so. Since faith comes by hearing the Word of God, Romans 10:17, we believe He dwells in us by faith, not by something we feel. Think how the Godhead must feel when after repeatedly saying the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian, some say, “No, you really do not dwell in us at all. You just dwell in us representatively through the Word.”

There is no power in a hammer to drive a nail unless the agent or owner uses it; there is no power in a sword to kill the enemy unless and until it is used by the soldier.

The Gospel is powerful to convict men of sin and bring them to Christ for salvation because the Holy Spirit uses it. He got the word from the Father, 1 Corinthians 2:10-13, revealed and recorded it through the apostles and prophets, confirmed it through miracles, and ever since Pentecost has been using it as his instrument to convert and sanctify men. It is through the Word that men are made Christians.

But none of this proves to the slightest degree that the Holy Spirit dwells in the Word or that his indwelling is through the Word only, or that two of the persons in the Godhead are in heaven and one is on earth dwelling in the Word.

What does the indwelling Spirit do for us?

At the time one becomes a Christian the gift of the Holy Spirit serves as a seal (identification) and as an earnest (pledge or down payment) on our future inheritance in heaven. 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5.

We can “abound in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit” Romans 15:13. We can be “strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man” Ephesians 3:16. From within our hearts (because we are sons), the spirit “helps in our weaknesses,” and makes “intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” The result is, “all things work together for good to those who love God” Romans 8:26-28.

See also Galatians 4:6. The Hebrew writer admonishes, “Let us, therefore, come boldly to the throne of grace, (not the Word) that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” Hebrews 4:16

Is this not part of the intercessory work of the Holy Spirit? The “love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” Romans 5:5

Knowing that the Holy Spirit dwells in us motivates us to be a better people. It helps us restrain from doing things with our bodies that are wrong such as some of the works of the flesh, Galatians 5:19-21.

Someone once said, ‘Explain to me how our ‘human spirit’ dwells within us and I’ll explain to you how the Holy Spirit dwells within us!’

Let us rejoice and be thankful for the continual abiding presence of the Godhead in us. Now may “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” 2 Corinthians 13:14

Non-Literal Indwelling Of The Holy Spirit

Jesus made a promise to the apostles that He would send the Holy Spirit, who would guide the apostles into all truth. Peter says that they didn’t write down their own words, but the very words of God, as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. Further, Paul said that when people read what the apostles wrote, they would understand the apostles’ insights into the mystery of Christ.

The Scriptures further argue that they are able to make the person of God complete and equipped for every good work.

But what is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit?

The indwelling is commonly explained to be the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit. We are told that we need to listen to God speaking to us through the Holy Spirit who will help us and tell us what we should do. Is this correct?

The Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian

The first thing we need to do is show that the Scriptures do speak of the Holy Spirit dwelling in the Christian. There are 6 references to the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. John 14:17 / Romans 8:9 / Romans 8:11 / 1 Corinthians 3:16 / 1 Corinthians 6:19 / 2 Timothy 1:14.

What we need to do is explain what this means for the Holy Spirit to dwell in us. We might be surprised to find out that the Scriptures reveal there are many things that dwell in us.

Who else dwells in the Christian?

God the Father dwells in us

There are 8 references to the Father dwelling in us, John 14:23 / Ephesians 2:22 / Ephesians 4:6 / 2 Corinthians 6:16 / Philippians 2:13 / Hebrews 13:21 / 1 Peter 3:15 / 1 John 4:4.

 Notice that God says that He dwells within His disciples. I haven’t yet heard someone argue that God the Father personally dwells within the soul of every believer.

Not only does God dwell in us, but Christ dwells within us

There are 7 references to Christ dwelling in us. John 14:23 / John 15:4+7 / Romans 8:10 / 2 Corinthians 13:5 / Galatians 4:19 / Ephesians 3:17 / Colossians 1:27.

Again, I have never heard any argument presented that Christ literally and personally dwells within the soul of every believer, telling the believer what to do. No, these arguments are reserved for the Holy Spirit. Yet, the same language is used to describe the work of the Father and the work of Christ.

Sin can dwell in us

‘But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me’. Romans 7:17

‘Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me’. Romans 7:20

Paul says that sin can dwell within us. Does Paul mean that sin literally and physically dwells within the Christian, causing us to be unable to do what is right? I have never heard such an argument.

So we need to ask an important question, what does it mean for sin to dwell within us? When we answer this, we will know the answer to the Holy Spirit dwelling within us because these two concepts are in the same context in Romans.

Sin dwells in us when we allow ourselves to be controlled by the flesh. Sin rules our lives. We aren’t following God’s commands, but we are following our own ways, our own desires, and our own lusts. This is exactly how Paul explains these concepts a little bit later in Romans, Romans 8:5-11.

Notice verse 5 says what it means for sin to dwell within a person, they ‘set their minds on the things of the flesh.’ In verse 6 Paul says such a person is ‘governed by death.’

The person has his thoughts on the world. He is fleshly, worldly, and is mindful of the physical. Thus, sin dwells within the person.

What does it mean for the Father to dwell within the Christian? What does it mean for Christ to dwell within the believer? What does it mean for the Holy Spirit to dwell in the Christian?

Paul explains that those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on spiritual things, Romans 8:5. Rather than be worldly and deathly minded, the person who has the Spirit of God is spiritually minded, Romans 8:6.

Please notice that verse 9 says that we are ‘in the Spirit’.

Does this mean we literally dwell in the Holy Spirit?

No, we are talking about a relationship and fellowship that exists between the Holy Spirit and ourselves.

Often, people use Romans 8 to show a personal and literal indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Christian. But the context is so often neglected. Romans 7 and Romans 8 are not separate letters. Paul is drawing a contrast between the person whose mind is set on the flesh and the person whose mind is set on the spiritual. The person whose mind is on the flesh does things that are hostile toward God. Therefore, sin dwells in that person.

However, the person whose mind is set on spiritual things does things that are pleasing to God. Therefore, the Spirit dwells in that person. Paul is making a simple contrast and isn’t teaching that the Holy Spirit lives in us and makes decisions for us. If we can understand how Christ dwells in the Christian, then we can understand how the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian, John 15:5-7.

Notice that if we abide in Christ that Christ’s words abide in us. This is how we dwell in Christ and Christ dwells in us. The Scriptures are speaking about a relationship that exists between ourselves and God when we let God rule our lives rather than letting sin rule our lives.

Notice these parallel statements by Paul, which explain these terms.

‘And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.’ Ephesians 5:18-19

‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.’ Colossians 3:16

Notice that in one instance Paul speaks of our need to ‘be filled with the Spirit’ and in another instance calls it letting ‘the word of Christ dwell in you richly.’ How is one filled with the Spirit?

By letting the word of Christ dwell in each of us richly. How does the Holy Spirit dwell in us? By having the word of Christ dwell in us and rule our lives.

There is nothing mystical about what Paul is saying concerning the Holy Spirit, Christ, or the Father dwelling in us. We don’t argue that Christ’s presence literally resides in us, causing us to know God’s will and make decisions. We don’t argue that the Father’s presence literally resides in us, causing us to know God’s will and make decisions.

Why should we change the rules and say such things about the Holy Spirit? I believe the only reason we do so is because of the name of the Holy Spirit. The word ‘spirit’ or ‘ghost’ causes us to speak of the Holy Spirit in mystical terms. But the Holy Spirit is just as much of a person as the Father and the Son.

The Holy Spirit is deity, not an active force. The Holy Spirit can be lied to and can be grieved. The Holy Spirit is not a mystical vapour. ‘Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.’ Acts 5:3-4

I believe that when we erase from our minds some sort of mystical nature from the Holy Spirit and consider Him in the same terms that we think of the Father and the Son, we realise that the Holy Spirit cannot physically and literally dwell within us. Terms are used to refer to the Holy Spirit just like the Father and the Son who dwell in us.

Incidentally, the Bible says that ‘we are in Christ’ and there are 57 references which tell us this and the Bible also tells us that ‘we are in the Holy Spirit’, 2 times the Bible tells us this.

The Spirit dwells in us when we allow the word of God to rule our lives. The Spirit of God dwells in us when we submit our lives to the rule of Jesus Christ. Paul is not saying something mystical. If the Holy Spirit operates in our decisions beyond the Scriptures, then we do not need the Scriptures to know God’s will.

If the Spirit tells us what to do, then the Scriptures aren’t able to make us complete and fully equipped for every good work, as Paul argued in 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

The Scriptures never teach the believer to listen to inward promptings of the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures don’t teach the Christian to search within oneself for the answers. While this all sounds very spiritual, the Scriptures don’t teach these things.


So, there we have it, two schools of thought, two differing opinions on how the Holy Spirit dwells within the Christian. Whatever conclusion we personally come to, let us remember that however, He dwells within us, He is God’s gift and guarantee of our eternal salvation.