When the disciples were troubled that Jesus was going to leave them, Jesus made a promise to them (and all future disciples) that they would not be left alone as orphans, but that the Holy Spirit was going to permanently come and be “with” them and be “in” them (Jn 14:17). This promise is a major change from the Old Covenant and describes how God works among His people in this New Covenant era. From the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) to the present day, every true believer experiences the abiding and forever presence of the third member of the Trinity. Because the Holy Spirit is not a power (like the Jehovah Witnesses claim) but the third person of the God-head being fully God, Christianity then is not simply a religion but a supernatural miracle whereby “the life of God comes to dwell in the soul of man.” This phrase was used by Henry Scougal, a Scottish minister and theologian in his wonderful book, The Life of God in the Soul of Man originally published in 1677 but recently republished by Sprinkle Publications in 1986. Scougal recognized that Christianity is not simply 1) theological correctness, 2) moralistic modification, or 3) affectional emotionalism (see Justin Taylor’s review of the book). Christianity is not just some system of thought or behavior, but rather the very life of God indwelling the new born believer. Scougal says it this way, “True religion is a union of the soul with God, a real participation of the Divine nature, the very image of God drawn upon the soul, or in the apostle’s phrase, ‘it is Christ formed within us’” (Gal 4:19, see also 2 Peter 1:4).
Different from the Old Covenant
There is a radical discontinuity in how the Holy Spirit operated among God’s people from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. It is not true to say that the Holy Spirit never indwelt believers in the Old Testament. Joshua was “a man in whom is the Spirit” (Num 27:18). As Ezekiel prepared to confront a rebellious Israel, he also was filled with the Spirit (Ezek 2:2, 3:24). Prophets were filled along with Joseph and Daniel (Gen 41:38, Dan 4:8-9, 18, 5:11-14, 6:3). However more numerous are illustrations that the Holy Spirit did not indwell, but actually temporarily came “upon” particular leaders of Israel in order to empower them for particular works (see Moses, Num 11:17, Joshua, Deut 34:9, Gideon, Judg 6:34, Jephthah, Judg 11:29, Samson, Judg 14:6, 19, 15:14, David, 1 Sam 16:13). In summary we can conclude that the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in the Old Covenant was an infrequent, temporary indwelling that involved only selected leaders in Israel (Biblical Doctrine, John MacArthur & Richard Mayhue, pg. 367).
Do You Have the Spirit?
Rightly understanding the inhabitation of the Spirit should help us think correctly about conversion. To be “born again” (Jn 3:3-8) means that something radical has happened to us. Christianity is not just becoming religious, or believing some major doctrinal points of view. Scougal identified an important point that the 21st century church would do well in taking heed. In this age, becoming a Christian means placing your faith in Christ and, as a result, something radically supernaturally happens to you. So, the question for all of us is NOT 1) have you prayed a prayer, 2) have you walked an aisle, 3) have you been baptized, or 4) do you attend church. The doctrine of the indwelling Spirit demands that we ask “Do you have the Spirit of God living in you?” (2 Cor 13:5)
Gift of God by Faith
The Holy Spirit is a gift from God that comes by faith in Christ. Jesus was clear in John 7:37-39, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive.” Paul was clear in Galatians 3:5 when he said, “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” The answer to that question is clearly faith as Paul says in the next verse that “those of faith are the sons of Abraham.” Every believer in this age who truly repents of their sin and places faith in Christ will receive the Holy Spirit. And He will indwell fully, not partially. Immediately at conversion, every believer will be baptized once and for all (Eph 4:5-6) by the Spirit creating a new union with Christ, and with the body of believers (1 Cor 12:13).
Romans 8: 4 Blessings!
When the Spirit indwells us, everything changes and the believer is blessed. First, we have a new relationship with Christ and the Father. Paul says that when the Spirit inhabits us we “belong to Christ” (Rom 8:9) forever, never to be lost again (John 6:39). Furthermore, we are adopted into the family of God and are able to say “Abba! Father! The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:15-17). So, the indwelling Spirit creates a living union with God the Father and God the Son. We become children of God whereby God the Father cares for us and we can cry out to Him. The Spirit’s indwelling guarantees that we are now a part of the family of God.
Second, we have new leadership in our lives. Paul says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Rom 8:14). When the Spirit invades our lives there is a new leader in charge. Since the Spirit is the one leading He leads us to love the things of God, and directs us into new paths. He changes our view of God’s commandments, whereby they are no longer burdensome, but a joy to obey. The Spirit conforms us into the image of the Son and gives us the “fruits of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22-26). The Spirit’s presence guarantees a transformation. And that transformation becomes more and more evident when we yield to the Spirit’s leadership. We are called not to be “drunk with wine” but be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). This filling is not the same as indwelling but is the response of the believer to the Holy Spirit’s leadership. Just as a hand “fills” a glove and controls it, or wind “fills” a sail and leads it, so the Holy Spirit must be yielded to in order that we might be controlled by Him. Spiritual maturity comes by learning to yield to the Holy Spirit’s new leadership in our lives.
Third, we have a new freedom from sin. Paul says, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:2). The law of Christ and His will are written in our hearts empowering us “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:4). So, the indwelling Spirit empowers us and frees us from the dominion of sin. This doesn’t mean that we will be perfect. In fact, our present sin will cause us to “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:24). But we will see a radical difference as we walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh. We are called to live holy lives because we are indwelt by the Spirit (1 Cor 6:19).
Fourth, we have a new security. When the Holy Spirit resides in us we are secure forever unable to lose our salvation! God began His work in eternity past when He predestined us. And His work continues in us by guaranteeing that He will glorify those whom He predestined (Rom 8:30). The Holy Spirit’s indwelling is the “guarantee” (like a down payment) and the one who “seals” us (2 Cor 1:22, Eph 1:13-14) ensuring that we will ultimately be saved and secure. This is why Paul says that nothing shall be able to “separate us” from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31-39).
Walk Wise, Sing and Give Thanks
Since we have been baptized by the Spirit, we must be controlled by the Spirit. Being controlled by Him will move us to be careful how we walk in this day, not as unwise but as wise making the best use of the time because the days are evil. We must also sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father (Eph 5:14-21).