Indwelling in 2 Corinthians: Empowered and Sealed

“And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).

This text locates the Spirit in the heart of the believer. Here indwelling is connected to two important theological concepts. First, Paul connects anointing to indwelling. Anointing has a rich biblical history. Throughout the Old Testament the language of anointing was used to set apart objects and individuals for a particular task determined by God. Certain items used in the sacrificial system were anointed to make them holy in their usage (Lev 8:10).

Certain individuals were anointed for specific tasks related to God’s purposes. For example, certain kings (1 Sam 16:13), prophets (1 Kgs 19:16), and priests (Ex 40:15) were anointed to carry out their vocations to the glory of God.The anointing of people was coupled with the Spirit’s presence and empowerment. The anointing communicated that the Spirit was with the individual empowering them to fulfill their God-given role (1 Sam 16:13).

This anointing motif comes to a head in the work o Jesus. His title “the Christ” literally means anointed one and Messiah. He was the subject of Isaiah’s words in this text (cf. Lk 4:18).

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Is 61:1-2).

Jesus is the anointed servant of God tasked with saving the world. His work is enabled by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Through his death and resurrection he secures our redemption. In his ascension and exaltation he shares the Spirit with his people (Acts 2:33).

The Spirit now anoints all believers without exception. The indwelling of the Spirit universalizes anointing to include the entirety of the covenant people. The task assigned the new covenant people is to expand the kingdom of God by bringing the gospel to all nations.

The second theological concept in this text tied to indwelling is sealing and guaranteeing. The coming of the Spirit to live within us is equivalent to God setting his seal of ownership upon us. The text identifies God as the “one sealing us.” The Father is the subject of this sealing, the actor in our text. Believing humans are the objects of this sealing. God seals, believers are passively sealed.

God’s seal is God’s guarantee that we are his people and he is our God. It is the promise of inviolable mutual ownership. The doctrine of indwelling is a rich source of encouragement in this passage. It communicates the permanent empowering presence of the Spirit for the tasks to which we are called. It speaks of the assurance of belonging to God through his seal and guarantee.

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Indwelling in 1 Corinthians: No Longer Your Own

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

This is an important passage for the theme of indwelling as it situates the doctrine within an important redemptive historical theme, namely the temple. The text indicates that the indwelling presence of God signals the establishment of a temple. The strands of this theme are evident throughout the storyline of Scripture.

God dwells with his people in Eden. When Eden is lost his saving presence is manifest as he indwells the tabernacle and then the temple. Temple means God’s presence with his people. This is why the destruction of the temple leading to exile was so horrific to the Hebrews.

In the New Testament the temple theme finds ultimate expression in the incarnation. Jesus is the new temple (Jn 2:19-21). God’s presence is manifest fully and perfectly in Christ.

By faith people are united with Christ, the Spirit is granted, and they become temples of the living God. This text points to individual believers as temples. The New Testament also connects the corporate people of God to the temple motif (1 Cor 3:17).

The presence of God is now a reality in the physical bodies of believers. Temple language is always connected to indwelling, ruling, and covenant faithfulness. These concepts are now true for us. One implication and one imperative flow from the doctrine of indwelling in the text.

The implication is that we do not belong to ourselves. We are not our own. We were purchased at the cross and sealed as God’s possession by indwelling. God has made us his own through the blood of his Son and the home-making of his Spirit. Every square inch of our bodies belong to another.

The imperative attached to indwelling is the call to glorify God in our bodies. These bodies belonging to God are to be used for his honor and pleasure. The doctrine of indwelling is a game changer. It forever alters our sense of identity and compels to live in a way fitting of someone who is literally a residence of the divine.

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.

Absurd Grace

The Spirit is the quiet force behind the saving work of the Son. Yet, this unsung hero in our redemption refuses to sing about his contribution. He is fundamentally committed to singing the song of the Son (Jn 16:14). J.I. Packer gives a great illustration of this truth.

The Holy Spirit’s distinctive new covenant role, then, is to fulfill what we may call a floodlight ministry in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ. So far as this role was concerned, the Spirit ‘was not yet’ (John 7:39, literal Greek) while Jesus was on earth; only when the Father had glorified him (see John 17:5) could the Spirit’s work of making men aware of Jesus’ glory begin.

I remember walking to a church one winter evening to preach on the words ‘he shall glorify me,’ seeing the building floodlit as I turned a corner, and realizing that this was exactly the illustration my message needed.

When floodlighting is well done, the floodlights are so placed that you do not see them; you are not in fact supposed to see where the light is coming from; what you are meant to see is just the building on which the floodlights are trained.

The intended effect is to make it visible when otherwise it would not be seen for the darkness, and to maximize its dignity by throwing all its details into relief so that you see it properly. This perfectly illustrates the Spirit’s new covenant role. He is, so to speak, the hidden floodlight shining on the Savior.

Or think of it this way. It is as if the Spirit stands behind us, throwing light over our shoulder, on Jesus, who stands facing us. The Spirit’s message is never, ‘Look at me; listen to me; come to me; get to know me,’ but always ‘Look at him, and see his glory; listen to him, and hear his word; go to him, and have life; get to know him, and taste his gift of joy and peace[1]

The Spirit’s divine condescension does not cease with the saving work of the Son. His humble service is ever present in the life of the church and her individual members. We could speak to his work of conviction, regeneration, guidance, comfort, empowerment, mortification, assurance and resurrection. All of these would reveal unique glimpses into God’s grace and humility.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I am interested in addressing one particular area of the Spirit’s gracious work: indwelling. The New Testament makes an absurd claim about God’s residence. After Christ’s ascension God makes his home in his people by his Spirit. The completion of God’s saving project in Christ is accompanied by a change of the Triune address.

Indwelling means that God moves beyond being with us and shocks us with the grace of being in us! If this does not capture amazing grace I am not sure what does. There are a few New Testament passages that capture the theme of indwelling. We will explore each of these texts and then work out some implications of this doctrine as we continue on in this series of posts.

  1. J.I. Packer, Keeping in Step with the Spirit: Finding Fullness in Our Walk with God. (Baker Books: Grand Rapids, 2005), p. 57.

The Majesty of Divine Selflessness

Sometimes, outrageous biblical truths become commonplace to us. God is constant in his kindness to bring these familiar truths alive to us again and again as we read the sacred script. Old truth becomes fresh truth as the he opens our eyes “to behold wonderful things from the word” (Ps. 119:18).

These are things that have always been there, things we have read many times. He awakens us to truth we know, but don’t know. This has been my experience this last month with one particular truth: the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

There is a strange glory that surrounds the person of the Holy Spirit, a humble splendor. Graham Cole has said that the person and work of the Spirit is a window into “the majesty of divine selflessness.”

His posture is one of tireless condescension and self-effacing service all to the glory of Father and Son. The paradox of his glory is that you can’t really see it. He is not interested in drawing attention to himself. He always works behind the scenes.

This paradox is evident in his work of breathing life into creation through the Son’s speech. The wind blows where God wills but we do not know where it comes from or what it is doing.

We see this principle at work in his empowerment of prophets, priests, and kings. It is unclear to most where Samson gets his strength, where prophets get their words, and where kings get their wisdom.

The paradox is strong in the Spirit’s role as the helper of Christ. He miraculously brings about the birth of the God-man. He fills, empowers, and guides the Son throughout his life and ministry. He upholds the Son on the cross enabling him to offer a perfect sacrifice to the Father. He raises Jesus from the grave and secures his victory over death.

The humble work of the Spirit continues on in his work in our lives…the mind boggling reality of his gracious indwelling. In the next few posts we will explore this great theme.

The Unsurprising Incarnation

I continue to be amazed by the humility of God in the storyline of Scripture. God persistently comes low to engage his creatures. His chosen vehicles of self-disclosure are always understandable and meaningful to humanity. Whether he is walking in the garden with Adam and Eve, wrestling with Jacob in human form, or having a conversation with Moses face to face, God’s revelatory activity is marked by condescension.

This is not surprising as humility is fundamental to the life of the Triune community. It is the warp and woof, the lifeblood, indeed, the cardinal principal that orders the life of God. God the Father, Son, and Spirit are equally humble in their engagement with one another. Every exchange among the three persons is executed with a posture of humility. God’s life is a dance of three persons striving to outdo one another in honor. When the Triune God engages the world we would expect to see the same thing, and we do.

The manner of revelatory activity in the Old Testament prepares the reader for a humble Christ. The larger canonical context leads us to read the incarnation as “normative” divine activity. In many ways, the incarnation is the logical next step in the Triune God’s self-disclosure. Don’t misunderstand me, the incarnation is astonishing and overwhelming. My point is that incarnation should not be considered “abnormal” activity for the humble Creator. It is consistent with who God is and how he has revealed himself throughout redemptive history.

The incarnation serves to reinforce and deepen our understanding of the humility of God. It serves as a link to all past revelation and yet is a clear and drastic move forward in God’s self-disclosure. God the Son permanently takes to himself humanity. The life of God can never be the same! The more God shows us himself the more overwhelmed we become by the depth of his humility.

The humility of the incarnation prepares the way for the humility of the cross. N.T. Wright captures the trajectory of the thought we have been tracing as he talks about the cross. God does not show us something new about himself, He simply continues to show us who He is.

“God became on the cross what God always was. I may have it in me, in ability and desire, to climb Mount Everest; but until I actually go into training and do it it remains latent. You may have it in you to be a brilliant concert pianist; but until you get down to practice and performance, all that brilliance remains latent. God always was the God of love—generous, spontaneous, free and cheerful self-giving love; but until God, if we dare put it like this, gets down to practice and performance, that love at its deepest level remains latent. On the cross God performs the score composed before the foundation of the world. On the cross God at last scales the highest peaks. It isn’t just that the cross reveals God’s love in its most striking way. It reveals it because it enacts it. It becomes part of, indeed the most central part of, the personal history of God…And now, to all eternity, the cross remains at the heart of God, stands as the truest symbol of God, offers the most exact and precise exposition of God.” [1]

[1] N.T. Wright, For All God’s Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 56-57.

Luther: Meditating on the Cross

Luther loved to preach on the benefits of the sacrifice of Christ. If you read through his sermons you will quickly find that he consistently pressed the gospel into the hearts of his hearers. In a sermon on the cross he states this about the value of meditating on the work of Christ.

“Whoever meditates thus upon God’s sufferings for a day, an hour, yea, for a quarter of an hour, we wish to say freely and publicly, that it is better than if he fasts a whole year, prays the Psalter every day, yea, than if he hears a hundred masses. For such a meditation changes a man’s character and almost as in baptism he is born again, anew. Then Christ’s suffering accomplishes its true, natural and noble work, it slays the old Adam, banishes all lust, pleasure and security that one may obtain from God’s creatures; just like Christ was forsaken by all, even by God.”

Luther goes on to explain that the act of meditating and grasping the implications of the cross are divine gifts. It is by grace that we understand grace, according to Luther.

“It is impossible for us profoundly to meditate upon the sufferings of Christ of ourselves, unless God sink them into our hearts. Further, neither this meditation nor any other doctrine is given to you to the end that you should fall fresh upon it of yourself, to accomplish the same; but you are first to seek and long for the grace of God, that you may accomplish it through God’s grace and not through your own power.”

In Luther’s view, meditation must lead to application. We must take the truths of Christ’s cross and impress them into our souls. We must rest our faith upon the promises of God. In this sermon, Luther calls his listeners to connect their faith to the explicit promises of forgiveness and justification.

“Cast your sins from yourself upon Christ, believe with a festive spirit that your sins are his wounds and sufferings, that he carries them and makes satisfaction for them, as Isaiah 53:6 says: ‘the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all;’ and St. Peter in his first Epistle (1 Peter 2:24): ‘He bore our sins in his body upon the tree’ of the cross; and St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21: ‘Him who knew no sin was made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.’ Upon these and like passages you must rely with all your weight.”

The more I read Luther the more I appreciate his ability to probe the depths of the cross-work of God and bring his hearers along with him.