Is He Present or Not?
By Larry White
There is a doctrine, unique to some members of the churches of Christ and in some cases has actually become the congregation's creed, which attempts to explain the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the heart of a Christian only by means of God's word, that is, through the act of reading and engaging with the Bible. Such doctrines usually have nebulous explanations, if at all, and fall short of providing a clear mechanism by which a person such as the Holy Spirit could reside in the heart of a Christian by means of words.
I will show, by the scriptures that he is, of necessity himself, present in the Christian's heart and will mention the degree of faith we must have to believe it.
Is There A Medium?
In their attempts to explain this idea, for it is nowhere taught in the scriptures, some have used the idea of a Proxy, which is a deputy who acts as a substitute for another. It is from where we get our word procurator. By this teaching they imply that the Spirit is really not present but rather acting upon us by God's word as a substitute.
Some have said that he dwells in us through an Agent, a means or instrument by which a guiding intelligence achieves a result. Again, this is suggesting that the Spirit is not really present but only using God's word to affect us.
The term now being suggested is Medium, which is a means of effecting or conveying something; a substance regarded as the means of transmission of a force or effect. Thus, they still imply that the Spirit is not present himself, but rather that he dwells in us by means, the word of God being the medium.
This last explanation comes closest to saying that the Holy Spirit is the word of God than any other. For that, in the end, will be the only result obtainable when one teaches that the Holy Spirit, resides or dwells in the heart of a Christian only by the means of using God's word as his agency. The reason is because, in each term, what they are saying is that the Holy Spirit is not really present. He is simply not there.
Whether teachers say that he is not personally there, or immediately there, or literally there in the Christian's heart, they are effectively denying that he is himself present. You will probably not hear it stated clearly in the negative like that but rather there is a wide use of implication and avoidance of the denial. I will show that he certainly is present and effective in much of his work without any agency.
Of course the scriptures teach that God uses the tool of his word in our sanctification and discipline. That is not at issue. "And taking the sword of the Spirit which are the sayings of God." (Eph. 6:17). This is why we have preaching and teaching in the assembly, (2Tim. 4:2).
In 1Thess. 2:13 Paul said, "You have been chosen to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth." Both. The Holy Spirit himself sanctifying us is a means and so also is our faith in the truth. I would say these are distinct and concurrent. They would have to say that they are identical.
Location Location Location
One of the reasons that I have heard, while discussing this with members of the churches of Christ, that causes them to deny the presence of the Holy Spirit and then to explain away the references to that fact in the scriptures, is that they cannot accept the location of the Spirit being a human heart. They simply don't believe it.
I had one member ask me if the Spirit was in the heart within his chest, his blood pump. I looked at him in amazement and he laughed at me, as if that was his "Gotcha". I asked another man where he thought the Holy Spirit was if not dwelling in his heart, and he said heaven. So I asked him where heaven was and he said outer space somewhere. Intrigued, I pursued with the question, could we travel to that place in space, and he responded, "Yes." He thought God was in that fixed location and nowhere else. Then I tried to show him that if God could be located in space and time then he must have a beginning to his being and so a boundary which one could approach and reach him, like a skin. He didn't have a problem with that.
Others though, will readily concede that the Spirit is omnipresent, and if they would apply some faith in the unseen with that term, they could believe that he truly is present everywhere. Which of course, means that location is not a problem for God. It does not mean that he has proxies everywhere or that he uses a medium to fill the universe. It would mean rather, that the universe is in him, that he fills heaven and earth. Like Solomon of old said, "heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee." In modern language or that of quantum physics, he might be considered non-local. He is not limited to space or time. More on that later.
Another member asked me, "Does this mean that the Spirit is dwelling in everyone, saint and sinner alike? Since he is omnipresent, how can he not dwell in the heart of a sinner?" I responded, "Where would the Spirit feel at home?"
First, when we speak of the omnipresence of God we are talking about space and time, attributes of the material universe. The Spirit is not a physical or material being, therefore he has no problem with space or time. The human heart is also not a physical or material place. So the omnipresence of God does not really apply to his indwelling. Jesus used the illustration of the wind in explaining the non-locality of those who are born of the Spirit, (Jno.3:8-10). The question of Jesus to Nicodemus is appropriate here: "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?"
Second, the term “to dwell in,” OIKEO, οικέω, is from the word OIKOS, “an inhabited house”, and carries the idea of being fixed and operative in that dwelling. [Thayer] By dwelling in a place and residing in a place, you are not just a guest but a resident. There is also the term indwell, ENOIKEO which means the act of dwelling but emphasizing (with EN) that it is in a settled and permanent habitation.
These terms also carry the idea of having control over one's house. Where we reside is our abode over which we have command and control. In your house I cannot do whatever I please, but in my house I can make myself "at home".
The Holy Spirit indwells the believer and not the unbeliever. This is a mark of ownership to Christ. (Rom. 8:9) If one does not have the Spirit of Christ he does not belong to Him. In that sense he is our seal of ownership to Christ. We were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (Eph. 1:13).
If location is not the issue, then what else could be the reason for a denial of his presence?
I think the root of it is a rejection of immediacy, or something spiritual happening without an agency, the Holy Spirit himself being the agent, which logically becomes a rejection of anything supernatural happening in our mundane world.
I think that this is an over-reaction to Pentecostalism. Alexander Campbell argued against the direct operation of the Holy Spirit on the heart of an ungodly sinner as taught in Calvin's Irresistible Grace. This digressed by the undiscerning into the doctrine that the Spirit, not only does not affect the sinner's heart, but neither does he dwell in anyone's heart, including God's children. So they end up rejecting anything supernatural happening in the world and try to force a modified naturalism onto a religion that is essentially supernatural.
For instance, it is a reaction against or rejection of the idea that God could change the believer by the new birth at baptism, giving him access to the spiritual realm immediately, ("you are not in the flesh but in the spirit", Jno.3:5; Eph.2:6; Rom.8:9-ff). It is a rejection that God could strengthen with his power, our inner selves by his Spirit (Eph.3:16); a rejection that he could be personally present and could know our hearts better than we know ourselves, and on our behalf, be able to make requests to God on a level that we cannot utter with words (Rom.8:26-27).
If someone counters that it is not a disbelief that God could do these things, it is just a disbelief that he does, I would say that if you believe that God could, then why not believe that he does when his word says he does?
"But now we have been dissevered from the Law, having died to that in which we were bound, so that we should serve in newness of spirit and not in oldness of letter."
Paul had a hard time getting Christians to divorce themselves from the Law both in justification and sanctification. But he knew that it was imperative that they be free of it. In this passage he is showing why it is not only preferable but necessary to leave the Law behind and be joined to our new husband, Jesus Christ. For the issue, as he sees it, is in the nature of how we serve God. That is why he has no article before either spirit or law. The problem was not the Law of Moses as such, but law in general, any law thus inscribed by letter that ruled over them. In the letter they had written and codified requirements to which God's children were bound in slavery. They could only try to serve God through the flesh. They could not serve God with a new spiritual life. In the spirit they were free to live unto God and be led of the Spirit by faith and be governed by a law written in their hearts, a well of water springing up unto everlasting life.
I can see a parallel here that when people teach that the only effect God can have on our hearts is through our reading of his word, then we are serving in the letter just as surely as the Old Testament people did – through the flesh. We are not serving God in the spirit, quickened by the Spirit of life. This is further evidenced by the present day saints' insistence that Christians are under law. They have taken God's revelation of his will written by the inspired apostles of Christ to the churches in the first century and turned them into a law that they treat like a legal document. If they would but heed Paul's teaching concerning the bondage of a law system, they could escape the trap of a legal mind and have their minds renewed, relying on the leading of the Spirit. "If you are led of the Spirit, you are not under law." (Gal. 5:18)
In summary, they are denying that there is an immediate supernatural affect for us and in us by the Holy Spirit himself as the agent. It is a rejection of spiritual insight, an insight that is due to the life of our new birth, an effect of which we can be aware and by which we can discern the will and the thought of God and have the mind of Christ with a first hand experience of what his word tells us about our spiritual life, (Eph.1:17-18; 2Cor.3:17-18). Serving God in the spirit is not against the scriptures; and these are they which testify of these things.
What Is The Agent?
He is the Spirit of life. But, they say, "Jesus had the words of life". True. However, that does not mean that the Spirit is the word of God. The words of life tell us about our spiritual life and about the Spirit who makes us alive. (2Cor. 3:6)
He is the Spirit of Truth. But, they say, "Thy word is truth." (Jno. 17:17). True. However, that does not mean that the Spirit is the word of God. He revealed the word and led the apostles into all truth (Jno.16:13 ). He is the Spirit of truth because he allows us a face to face insight of God who is the foundation of reality. (2Cor. 3:13-18)
He is the Spirit of Holiness. But, they say, "we are sanctified by the truth which is God's word" (Jno.17:17). True. However, that does not mean the Holy Spirit is God's word. There are two aspects to sanctification. We are set apart from the world through our keeping the truth of God's word. We are also enabled to overcome the power of sin by the ruling of the Spirit of life, his indwelling. The truth is that which we believe; sanctification is something the Holy Spirit works in us by giving us spiritual life as we in obedience believe and follow his word (2Thess.2:13; Rom.8:1-11).
Instead of saying that the Holy Spirit uses the agency of God's word, it would be more appropriate to say that the word uses the agency of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit makes it real for us by quickening in us a spiritual life by which we can perceive the meaning of God's word. It is "the light of life." We have the truth of God's word in us, as an experience of spiritual life. We recognize in ourselves and from our experience what God's word is talking about. We "get it". The natural man does not get it. He does not receive or understand the things of the Spirit. The carnal mind is at enmity against God. He that is in the flesh cannot please God. (1Cor.3:12-16; Rom.8:1-11)
The thing they are denying is any affect the Holy Spirit can have on us apart from what the reading of God's word can produce. They, in effect, deny any contact with the spiritual realm in which we live, therefore they have to reject the personal presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer, throwing the baby out with the bath water. To do this, they have to deny the very word of God on which they focus.
Denying God's word has its effects too. It establishes a dictum in which there is a mental disconnect to what is plainly stated and therefore a group-denial that it exists. You will see them completely ignore the passages that teach it. The group-denial, which is usually enforced, creates fear and hatred of anything that would contradict the dictum. This poisons the whole environment where free investigation, and the natural progression in faith and joyful understanding is stifled, if not quenched altogether. People with faith most of the time get expelled from such places. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God, but not there. Being expelled from such a place is a blessing, for it is not those of faith that are being expelled but Christ in them. "The Spirit of glory and God rests upon you." (1Pet. 4:14)
The Requirement of Three Passages
There are several passages that require the Holy Spirit to be personally present to have any logical meaning. Here are three. Rom.8:26-27; Eph. 4:30; and 1Cor. 6:19.
Rom. 8:26-27 "Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now, he who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because he makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
Likewise, is not a contrast but a simultaneous groaning in concert with ours even though it is distinct from ours. (v.23) we groan, (v.26) likewise the Spirit groans.
Helps, is the word συναντιλαμβάνεσθαι, to take a burden on oneself; συν, with someone, αντι, in his place. Therefore, to share a burden with someone with a view to easing him. This help is what the Spirit "himself" does along with us as our partner. The words in our Bibles cannot do this.
Our weakness is the fact that we are here in the flesh after we are saved. We have our limitations in that we are spiritual beings, yet have never been away from the flesh. We have spiritual needs that we don't fully understand. We do not know what to ask for, in order to pray as we ought. But the Holy Spirit knows us better than we know ourselves. So the Spirit intercedes for us to God. And again, the verse says that it is the Spirit himself who does this. That suggests he intercedes as the personal agent.
He himself makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered. He communicates what we need to God without words, the needs that we find inexpressible. So, when we pray we come to a point where what we want to say, no words can fully describe. That's when the Spirit communicates to God what we are incapable of communicating or fail to even recognize according to his purpose.
This happens in the believer's heart. We know this: 1. because that is where the Spirit dwells (Gal. 4:6, 2Cor. 1:22), and 2. the appellation given to God proves it (v. 27). "He that searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is." The person who would know what the Spirit is communicating is the one who searches the hearts, because that is where the Holy Spirit happens to reside. The opposite is also true; (1Cor. 2:11) the Spirit knows the mind of God, the deep things of God. Therefore he can intercede according to the will of God. The groaning of the Spirit is always in conformity with the purpose or plan of God which is to be realized in the believer. Since He sees perfectly both the need of our hearts and the purpose of God, then both are understood perfectly in the intercession. This is why He helps, because what we need to pray for, we don't always know or understand - we just have a sense of our need.
This language cannot be understood unless the personal presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer's heart is allowed in our understanding.
The second passage is:
Eph. 4:30-31 "And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and anger and wrath and brawling and slander, be put away from you, with all malice."
This verse shows us not the fact of personal indwelling, but the relationship we have with the Spirit as a result; a result that one would expect from a personal indwelling. The Christian can grieve Him by corrupt speech (v.19), plus bitterness, anger and rage, brawling and slander (v.31).
But then why should the Spirit be so grieved instead of the Father or the Son? The reason this would grieve the Holy Spirit as distinct from the Father or the Son, is because all these things coming from the Christian's mouth issue from his heart where the Holy Spirit happens to dwell. It would be the same as being a resident in the house of a family who bitterly tore at each other all the time. We would not be comfortable there, neither would the Holy one from God.
This is the same motivational strength that Paul's argument has on us in our third example. In 1Cor. 6:19, what kind of reason would we have against committing fornication in this verse, if what Paul said about our bodies being the Holy Spirit's inner sanctuary was not a reality.
I Cor. 6:19 "Or know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have from God and you are not your own? For you are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body."
Since the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts, and our hearts are temporarily located in our bodies, so our bodies are said to be His temple, (NAOS) or sanctuary. The divine being must be there personally or this language means nothing.
By the phrase "which you have" or "which you hold from God", Paul intends to emphasize the extra-human origin of the Spirit whom the Christian receives. And he also emphasizes by this the dignity of the body in which the Spirit dwells.
The Holy Spirit is personally present, and these verses require it.
Now, I usually have a lot of reservation about criticizing what other people believe, but not in this case. Firstly, because these hardy truth-seekers have a long history of debate and examination of others' belief systems, and will never shy away from a critical study. And secondly, if there is one fault in their theology, this is it, and it is a big one. It is the elephant sitting there in every assembly.
Faith in the unseen spiritual realm and our living in it, is extremely important to our maturity and spiritual understanding. We are not just sinners that got washed; we are the sons of the living God. Faith that God is present and working in and through us is necessary for our work in the kingdom. Teaching otherwise is to quench the faith of God's children and close the door to a rich and intimate communion with our Father and with what he is able and willing to do on our behalf.
"He who did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" Rom.8:32