Indwelling in 2 Timothy: Gospel Faithfulness

2 Timothy 1:4 states the following, “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”

Paul’s letter to Timothy is concerned with doctrinal fidelity and gospel centrality in the pastoral context. Paul practices what he preaches as he passes on what he has learned to faithful men (2 Tim 2:22).

Paul is making a disciple of Timothy. He opens his letter with a lofty exhortation grounded in the rich truth of indwelling. In essence he states, “Timothy you have been tasked with protecting the message of the God-man who has come, died, and rose for our salvation. The Holy Spirit dwells in you and this is how you will accomplish your task.”

The Spirit takes up residence in believers for many reasons. In this text, his permanent residence in Timothy is connected to faithful ministry.The Holy Spirit is devoted to safekeeping the message of Christ. This means he is strongly opposed to any false doctrine that would challenge the claims of Christ’s person and work.

His indwelling work aids the pastor by infusing the same passion and devotion to doctrinal faithfulness. The Spirit protects the “good deposit” in and through the leaders of the church.

One important implication of this truth is that the Spirit will labor within every believing individual to insure they hold fast to the central claims of Christianity.The Spirit is fully aware that salvation depends on sound doctrine. Trusting a very specific individual who has done a very particular work is a salvific necessity.

Yet again the doctrine of indwelling is pastoral in nature. This time, however, we learn how indwelling equips and empowers the pastor for his unique task and calling.

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Indwelling in Romans: Life, Resurrection, and Belonging

“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. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 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.”

Paul’s treatment of the Spirit’s work is rich and nuanced in this text. Four times in three verses he uses language that firmly establishes the Spirit’s vocation of indwelling the believer.

We learn five important things about indwelling from this text. First, Paul connects being “in” the Spirit with indwelling. The man who has the Spirit residing in him is always “in” the Spirit. This is a static reality, one does not move in and out of the Spirit.

Second, an inextricable link is made between the Spirit and Christ. Paul identifies the third person of the Trinity as the Spirit of Christ. He also equates Spirit’s indwelling work with Christ’s presence in us. The Spirit mediates the presence and purposes of Christ within us.

Third, indwelling is equated with belonging. The Spirit’s presence in our lives communicates divine ownership. When God takes up residence in us by the Spirit we are secure in our adoption. The permanence of his new residence means that God will never leave or forsake us.

Fourth, the Spirit works life and righteousness in us in spite of our sin. The indwelling presence of God is a mighty force working our transformation. Change is inevitable for the person who has become the home of God.

Fifth, the promise of our resurrection is tied to the indwelling Spirit. The text’s logic draws a link between the Spirit who raised Christ from the grave and that same Spirit who dwells in us. If he raised Christ, it is certain, he will raise us as well.

Resurrection, transformation, and belonging, these all flow from the Spirit’s indwelling presence. The Spirit of Christ mediates the purposes and presence of Jesus in our lives. Paul helps us understand that being “in” the Spirit is the same as having the Spirit live within us.

In this text alone we see the significance of indwelling. Our current transformation, our future hope, and our status before God are all dependent upon it. We cannot overstate the importance of the Holy Spirit making his home in us.

Backing It Up: The Old Testament Hope of Indwelling

Before we press further into the New Testament passages that explore the truth of indwelling we need to back up and consider the Old Testament background to this magnificent promise. There are a number of places we could turn to look at this. I have chosen one key text from Ezekiel 36:26-27.

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

The Old Testament narrative is a lengthy illustration of the human need for divine intervention and transformation. Obedience to the law of God is found to be impossible apart from the grace of God at work in our hearts.

This situation can only be remedied by the peculiar work of the Spirit of God. This text touches on the promise of his coming and the powerful change that follows his activity.

In the context Ezekiel is describing what is elsewhere called the new covenant (Jer. 31). The new covenant is God’s decisive plan to penetrate human recalcitrance and create joyful obedience.

The heart of the new covenant is the coming Spirit. In this text, it is the Spirit coming to indwell human beings. Twice the language of “within” is used to denote the intrinsic activity of God’s Spirit. The Spirit’s coming is closely related to the heart surgery mentioned in the text. The old stony heart is removed with a soft responsive one.

Most impressive is the language of the Spirit “causing” individuals to gladly obey the commands of God. Indwelling grace is transformative grace. People are never the same when God takes up residence within them.

The possibility of obedience is created when the Spirit comes down. This is the new covenant promise and this is what the New Testament picks up and explores.

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 Holy Spirit’s Role at the Cross

Atonement theology largely centers on God the Father and God the Son. When we talk about the cross we are most often discussing the roles of Father and Son in that great work. But what about the Holy Spirit? Where was he on that fateful day? Did he play a role in the sacrifice of Christ?

There is one explicit text in the New Testament that touches this question. It comes from Hebrews 9:14. I have quoted this verse in its larger context (Hebrews 9:11-14).

“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit (δια πνεύματος αιωνίου) offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

The Son offers himself as a sacrifice to the Father through the Spirit. In other words, the Spirit played a vital role in the cross-work of the Son. He empowered, enabled, and upheld the Son on the tree in order to accomplish redemption. The following quotations are taken from a number of commentaries on the this verse from Hebrews.

P.T. O’Brien

“The precise meaning of the unusual phrase through the eternal Spirit, by which Jesus offered himself to God, is difficult to determine. It has been taken to refer to: a) Jesus’ own spirit, as designating his inner disposition in offering himself for sinners, b) the divinity of Christ; and c) the Holy Spirit. On balance, we prefer (c), a reference to the Holy Spirit. Apart from 4:12, the preceding references in Hebrews to ‘spirit’ in the singular have been to the ‘Holy Spirit.’ The listeners, then, could be expected to identify the eternal Spirit with the Holy Spirit (3:7; 6:4; 9:8; see 10:15, 29). The adjective eternal suggests an eschatological dimension to the Spirit’s activity, linking the expression with the eternal redemption he has obtained for us (v.12)…The Holy Spirit anointed Jesus as high priest for every aspect of his ministry, including his sacrificial death.”

 John Johnson

“Here the Holy Spirit is seen as continuing His empowering work that had been carried out throughout Jesus‘ ministry, even up to Christ‘s death. This must be seen as a mission of the Holy Spirit, that is, to empower Christ, as He does all believers, yet on the scale of par excellence.”

“Jüngel sees the Holy Spirit at the Cross as the bond of love that holds the Trinity together. At such a crucial time, when the unity of the Godhead is most at jeopardy because of the necessary abandonment, the Spirit becomes the link, the glue that preserves the blessed unity of the Trinity. With Moltmann, one finds that the Spirit is the link, but he gives more focus to the communion of the wills as pointing to the Divine Unity at the Cross. Also, the Spirit for Moltmann plays a vital role in the action of bringing all Godforsakenness into the divine being and transforming it.”

“If Jesus was empowered throughout His ministry from baptism through the healings, teaching, andraising others from the dead, then surely the Holy Spirit contributed more in the ministry of the Cross than simply being glue. Rather, without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit living within Jesus, and in complete unity, perhaps Christ would have succumbed to pushing the cup aside. In all Three Persons, the total self-giving is so evident that, in this case, the Holy Spirit gives of himself fully to the Son in order to strengthen Him for what lays ahead—the Cross. Thus, while the Spirit may be the bond of love between the Father, Son, and Spirit at the Cross, He also became the empowering Presence within Jesus that enables His humanity to endure the cup of suffering and triumph faithfully.”

D.A. Carson

“How different the sacrifice of Jesus Christ! He ‘through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God’—that is, not ‘by the Holy Spirit,’ but “through [his own] eternal Spirit,’ an act of will, a supreme act of voluntary sacrifice, the Son acquiescing to the Father’s plan.

“More persuasive is the suggestion that πνεύματος αιωνίου reflects an allusion to the Isaianic servant; Christ, when empowered by the (eternal) spirit, is able to complete his work sacrificial work effectively…Likewise, the Spirit that made the Christ sacrifice efficacious once for all is the same spirit that makes the new covenant evidential and efficacious for its recipients.”

David Allen

“He now clearly shows how Christ’s death is to be estimated, not by the external act, but by the power of the Spirit. For Christ suffered as man; but that death becomes saving to us through the efficacious power of the Spirit; for a sacrifice, which was to be an eternal expiation, was a work more than human. And he calls the Spirit eternal for this reason, that we may know that the reconciliation, of which he is the worker or effecter, is eternal.”

“In any event, 9:14 is remarkable, because it is the only verse in the NT that affirms the Spirit’s involvement in the atonement. Some scholars who read δια πνεύματος αιωνίου as a reference to the Holy Spirit have seen an allusion to the Isaianic servant of Yahweh theme in the language of 9:14.”

“Bruce affords the most eloquent defense of this view: Behind our author’s thinking lies the portrayal of the Isaianic Servant of the Lord, who yields up his life to God as a guilt offering for many, bearing their sin and procuring their justification. When this Servant is introduced for the first time, God says: ‘I have put my Spirit upon him’ (Isa 42:1).29 It is in the power of the Divine Spirit, accordingly, that the Servant… accepts death for the transgression of his people, filling the twofold role of priest and victim, as Christ does in this epistle.”

“Once we acknowledge ‘through eternal Spirit’ to be a reference to the Spirit of God, it is difficult to deny our text’s conveying some no­tion of a divine empowerment for Christ’s critical self-sacrifice…the three passages that mention the Spirit in connection with the Servant (Isa 11:2; 42:1; 61:1) do in fact affirm that the Spirit functions as a source of empowerment for the Servant.”

“Both in Isa 11:1-5 and in 42:1-4 the prophet develops an imagery of a coming savior figure that will inaugurate an era of blessing. Again, both texts affirm that he will establish peace and justice in the land/earth, that he will (successfully) plead the case of the under­ privileged of the people and judge the ‘wicked’ (see 11:3-4; 42:3-4). In regard to the man’s equipment for this lofty task, both passages foretell his being aided by the Spirit (11:2; 42:1, 4).”

“Δια πνεύματος αιωνίου thus indicates the Holy Spirit sustained the high priest (here: Christ entering εις τα άγια, 9:12) in the execution of his most critical cultic appointment. The Spirit is called ‘eternal Spirit’ to bring out the (extraordinary) eschatological significance of the Spirit’s assis­tance in Christ’s once-for-all priestly action επί συντέλεια των αιώνων.”

John Piper

“Verse 14 says that the whole Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—were involved. ‘Through the eternal Spirit [the Holy Spirit] he offered himself [the Son] without blemish to God [the Father].’ The result is that all the sins of his people in the Old Covenant were covered by the blood of Jesus. The animal sacrifices foreshadowed the final sacrifice of God’s Son, and the death of the Son reaches back to cover all the sins of God’s people in the old time period, and forward to cover all the sins of God’s people in the new time period.”