Indwelling in John: From With You to In You

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).

John 14-17 has been traditionally called the “farewell discourse.” Jesus is preparing his disciples for his coming departure. As to be expected, the disciples are anxious and concerned about their master leaving. Jesus aims to comfort and he does so by explicating some of the richest Trinitarian theology in all Scripture.

Jesus is leaving but the disciples will not be alone. He assures them that his effectual prayer will open heaven and God’s Helper will come down. The Spirit of truth will descend, an answered prayer, a divine gift.

The coming Spirit signals God’s enduring support and presence. By the Spirit God will now dwell eternally with his people (τὸν αἰῶνα). This text removes any possibility of divine withdrawal, for eternity.

John goes a step further. The eternal presence of God with us shifts to God in us. This is an unprecedented move. D.A. Carson captures this in his book on the farewell discourse.

“One of the most remarkable aspects of Jesus’ teaching in this passage, however, is that it is the triune God who takes up his dwelling in the disciples of Jesus. This truth is unavoidable: ‘I will ask the Father and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of Truth.’ . . . The Old Testament writers were concerned that God should live with men [citing 1 Kgs 8:27; Ezek 37:27; Zech 2:10] . . . John insists that this occurred historically in the incarnation: ‘The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us’ (1:14). But now we are brought a stage further: this God reveals himself to the individual believer and takes up residence within him [citing 2 Cor 6:16; Lev 26:12; Jer 32:38; Ezek 37:27; Eph 3:16, 17a; Rev 3:14-21].”[1]

The indwelling Spirit is an unparalleled gift. Jesus tells the disciples a little later that it exceeds even his incarnate presence with them (Jn 16:7). Who can fathom it? God residing in man!

Generosity has always characterized the one true God. He is ever giving the greatest gift to his creatures, himself. This is but another stage in God’s self-donation to broken, believing humanity.

The text indicates the particular role of the Spirit as he indwells believers. He will be another helper. Like the Son of God he will serve and support. The text does not indicate specifics of his helping role. The rest of the New Testament helps us flesh this out.

A few verses later Jesus elaborates on the dynamic of indwelling. “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” (Jn 14:23).

The previous verses indicate the Spirit’s residence within us. This verse expands the concept of indwelling to include the Father and Son. We are talking about the Trinity living within. God is indeed with us and now in us!

The implications of this are staggering. God has graciously welcomed us into his fellowship. More than that, he has stooped low and come to us. He has come knocking on our doors and has made himself a home within us.

Coming full circle we must remember that Jesus is speaking comfort to his disciples. The promise of indwelling is intended to bring confidence, peace, and hope. The doctrine here is pastoral to the core.

[1] D. A. Carson, The Farewell Discourse (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 46-47.

3 thoughts on “Indwelling in John: From With You to In You

  1. Without this indwelling, how could we even hope to walk according to God’s will? Jesus’ sacrifice atones for our sins, which is essential for salvation, but what about sanctification and living the kingdom life on this earth? What is the value of that? Is there eternal value to what sanctification produces in us on this earth? I read a Dallas Willard quote a pastor posted recently that stated: What matters is not the accomplishments you achieve; what matters is the person you become. To which, I asked: What is the relationship between the person you become on earth and the person you will be eternally in heaven/new earth?

  2. Your comment triggered the most recent post. Ezekiel’s discussion on the new covenant promise explores the link between indwelling and obedience. I couldn’t agree more, obedience is the effect, the indwelling Spirit, the cause. Your other thoughts are interesting as well. The whole discussion on sanctification is one that deserves more attention. I have often wondered if our thinking on this topic is overly focused on the “progressive” dimension of the doctrine. What are your thoughts on “positional” sanctification?

    1. I had not heard the terms ‘progressive’ or ‘positional’ used with sanctification before. But after doing a little research, I realized I was familiar with the concepts. One site added ‘perfected’ to the list to describe our heavenly existence. There, sanctification was defined as positional at the point of salvation. This formed the foundation of sanctification. Then, we progress in our sanctification by putting to death the deeds of the flesh and maturing as a Christian. Last, we are perfected in our sanctification in heaven when we will no longer be affected by sin. So it seems that we have the most (by comparison, not percentage) responsibility in progressive sanctification. What if we did absolutely nothing in this area? Would we still be sanctified positionally? It would probably be evidence that we never were.

      One thing I have had difficulty understanding is the fact (and I think you’ve contested this with me before) that we are forgiven of all sin – past, present and future – at the point of salvation. We don’t become un-saved when we sin as a Christian. We should still be under no condemnation in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1) positionally (there’s that word again). So what is the condition of the Christian with unconfessed sin in his life? I find very few verses that describe a Christian needing to confess sin (1 John 1:9 probably) and many that talk about a confession that brings salvation. Even the Lord’s prayer was prior to His atoning death, and may have been an old covenant model, when it talks about asking for forgiveness of sins.

      So, again, I wonder how progressive sanctification relates to eternity. Maybe it doesn’t directly. Maybe it’s just evidence of God’s work in our lives and our attempt at pleasing and honoring Him while living in the flesh.

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