Indwelt: The Presence of God In Us

Biblical scholar Alfred Edersheim said this about the indwelling of the Spirit. “The absolutely highest stage of intercourse with God is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament Church, when man’s individuality is not superseded nor suppressed, but transformed, and thus conformed to Him in spiritual fellowship.”

During the last few months we worked through a series of posts on the indwelling Spirit. I have spent time expanding what was written. I wanted to share the finished product with you. My hope is that you will find it helpful, encouraging and challenging. Please let me know any feedback you may have. Thanks so much! Here you go: Indwelt: The Presence of God In Us.

Round 2: Why does God’s Indwelling Presence Matter?

We explored some of the implications of indwelling in the past post. We talked about reframing our discussions and thinking on the presence of God, increasing our appreciation for the cross and resurrection, and heigtening our worship of the Triune God. This post concludes our work together on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I have chosen a few more important implications to consider. Here we go!

  • Our thoughts on belonging and assurance must be deepened. The theme of belonging runs through this doctrine like a thread. The New Testament repeatedly makes the connection between God’s residence in us and his ownership of us. God is deeply interested in giving his people assurance and confidence in their status before him. This status has objective and subjective dimensions. Through the cross-work of Christ we are justified and declared righteous through Christ. Through Christ the Father views us as blameless, perfect, and sinless. This is an objective reality that we believe by faith. Faith stumbles on this truth because our subjective experience is not yet consistent with our position before God. This is where the Holy Spirit comes into the picture. The New Testament helps us understand that the Holy Spirit translates objective truths into subjective experience. In other words, through the cross we are guaranteed forgiveness and righteousness, the Spirit helps us experience the love of God behind this and the certainty of the grace he has given us there. By indwelling us the Spirit is a constant companion working into our hearts confidence, assurance, hope, and helping us hold fast to the truth that we are sons and daughters of God. He helps us feel and know what is true.
  • Our dependence on the Spirit in gospel ministry must mature. The Indwelling Spirit requires a reframing of how we think about and do ministry. The New Testament made plain that doctrinal faithfulness, empowerment and moral integrity are grounded in the Spirit who lives in us. Cultivating this understanding leads to a quiet trust and more precise dependence on God the Spirit. For example, times of study, prayer, writing, preaching, counseling, and conversation can be engaged with a posture of reliance and listening. The acknowledgment that God is close and present to support gospel advancement and ministry changes everything. This awareness, designated as “keeping in step with the Spirit” (Eph 5:25), is a tremendous encouragement for those called to be ambassador’s for Christ in any ministry context. Consistently recognizing and verbalizing dependence to the Holy Spirit along with expressing gratitude is one way we grow and mature in ministry.
  • Our hope and certainty in the future must be strengthened. The power of the Holy Spirit residing in us is highlighted when we look at our promised future. The New Testament is clear, resurrection awaits. This is our hope. As Graeme Goldsworthy would say, our resurrection is “future history.” It is certain. The doctrine of indwelling is an anchor of the soul as we consider this hope. The Spirit is responsible for living in Christ and raising him from the dead. He is responsible for creating life out of nothing, for breathing that creative breath on the Son that enabled him to walk out of the tomb the third day. This same Spirit now dwells in us and guarantees that he will bring life to our mortal bodies and that death will not have the final word. Resurrection is coming and the Holy Spirit is responsible for making it happen. There are many uncertainties when it comes to the future, but the most important things are not up for grabs when the Holy Spirit resides in us.

These are just a few of the important implications of the doctrine of indwelling. I am convinced there are many more worth our time and consideration. Take for example the concept of humility. Indwelling is a rich resource for thinking through what humility looks like. Or we could look at transformation. Indwelling would force us to consider interesting dimensions of both the passive and active dynamics of change. Or we could explore the language of grieving or quenching the Spirit in connection with indwelling, would this change how we view our sin? There is much more here, I encourage you to explore and think deeply about this tremendous gift!

Round 1: Why Does God’s Indwelling Presence Matter?

I have spent the last two months posting on the grace of God provided to us through indwelling. Indwelling being that merciful commitment of the Father and Son to send the Holy Spirit to take up residence within those who trust the gospel. Indwelling is the stunning reality that God the Trinity lives within us and refuses to ever leave us. We have explored a number of texts in the New and Old Testaments that communicate this peculiar doctrine.

In this final post on the theme I want to draw together various strands and explore the important implications of this biblical truth. I want to answer the question, “so what?” What does it matter? How does it impact us? As we grasp what this truth really means for us we will find that God is communicating rich things to us and providing a wealth of spiritual resource. Since there is so much here I will break the implications into two posts.

I have chosen the language of “must” because I believe that the grace of God in such a doctrine is capturing and compelling. When we are moved we move.

  • Our understanding of the presence of God must be impacted. God’s immediate presence throughout the biblical storyline was connected to the garden, tabernacle, temple, Christ, the church, and individual believers. The new covenant signals a shift in experiencing the immediate presence of God, from external to internal, temporary to permanent. The incarnation was God’s strong way of saying, “I am with you.” Indwelling is his affirmation, “I am in you.” Could God get closer? God’s nearness is now a static reality, the Spirit is no renter. He is here to stay. We have been purchased and our name now serves a divine address. His presence is a reality from morning to night, in all our conversations, while we work, when we play, in our sin, in our joy, in our faith, in our doubt, he is always with and in us. When we grapple with the question that we all do, “where are you God?” the doctrine of indwelling needs a voice.
  • Our appreciation of the cross and resurrection must grow. The coming of the Holy Spirit was inseparable from the new covenant. The new covenant was God’s promise of transformation, forgiveness, and his permanent presence. This covenant was enacted through the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The gift of indwelling was purchased by the blood of Christ. Without the cross indwelling would not and could not happen. Indwelling then is another wonderful dimension of God’s love and kindness flowing from his cross. The empty tomb is no different. Only a victorious, reigning King could commission the Spirit to complete the work he began on the earth. When we worship God for the kindness of residing in us we must never forget that the cross and resurrection made this promise a reality.
  • Our worship of the Triune God must be heightened. Indwelling is not solely the work of the Holy Spirit. The New Testament indicates that he takes the lead in this work, but he is not alone. God the Father and God the Son are said to join the spirit in this new residential endeavor. This makes sense theologically when we consider the absolute unity of the Trinity while holding in tension the distinction of persons. Consider the tremendous humility of God the Father, Son, and Spirit. Not only does God humbly create us and graciously redeem us, he comes to live within us! Leaving the throne room of heaven he makes a residence of us. Consider the tremendous passion of God in his love for us, his commitment to change us, his willingness to be present with us! The doctrine of indwelling is fuel on the fire of intelligent and passionate worship. How could it be any other way?

In our next post we will conclude our focus on the indwelling of the Spirit as we explore some further implications. Let me know your thoughts….are there other important implications of this truth that you would suggest?

The Indwelling Christ

Most discussions on indwelling appropriately focus on the Holy Spirit. At the same time, it is important to see a number of texts that connect indwelling to Christ. In fact, the New Testament is quite clear that the indwelling Spirit is the mediator of Christ’s presence with his people. Jesus indwells us by means of the Spirit.

Take for example Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-19. He asks God the Father that the church would be “strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

The link is clear. Now take a look at these texts that speak of Christ indwelling his people.

  • “In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:20).
  • “If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness” (Romans 8:10).
  • “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
  • “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
  • “The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us” (1 John 3:24).
  • “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
  • “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4 ESV).

The same principle can be seen in connection to God the Father. Take a look at 1 John 4:13-16.

“By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit…Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”

God the Father abides in his people through his Spirit. Indwelling is a Trinitarian dynamic, something we briefly touched on in one of the first posts in this series. The text that best captures this comes from John 14:23, “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.” By the Spirit the Father and Son reside within those who believe.

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.

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 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.

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.