Christians make the claim that Jesus Christ indwells each of them. They make the claim that the Holy Father indwells them. They agree with Paul that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God and of the Son of God indwells each Christian. There are texts that say those things and I for one, among millions, believe those texts. I believe the living God, His Living Son and the living Holy Spirit of God dwells in each Christian.
If I truly believe that (and I do) is that enough for me to be regarded as faithful to the Holy Scriptures?
I never have a dispute with a biblical text (I know a number of teachers who think we should have—after all. “Paul was just another guy with theological views.” I’ve heard that said. Moving on.)
Is it worth trying to gain some clear understanding about what it means that God “dwells in” us? Or is it one of those “academic” questions that has no “practical” value? Or is it one of the “unanswerable” questions that there’s little point in our discussing?
I sometimes think I will leave it entirely alone and then I hear things said that I think are injurious as well as incorrect. Not long ago I heard a preacher list sins against the Holy Spirit and the first one he listed was this: to deny that the Holy Spirit literally resides inside the Christian’s body is sin. I heard him say something close to that and let it pass but this time he said it was a sin if you didn’t believe it. Then just recently I heard another teacher assure his hearers that the reason they (Christians) could defeat all kinds of evils was because Jesus was inside them. Jesus was spatially located inside their bodies.
Myself, I’m content to believe that the Holy Spirit helps Christians in their struggle against the evil they wrestle with. I know He does. I’m also content to believe that He can do it whether or not He’s spatially located inside our bodies.
But is it sin if Christians do not believe the Holy Spirit literally takes up spatial residence inside our bodies? I’m certain it’s no sin! There are enough sins to deal with without preachers inventing more.
Is it correct/wise to teach Christian assurance that moral transformation is possible because Jesus is spatially located inside our bodies?
I don’t think that is either correct or wise and I wish we would stop saying it. I’ll give you my opinion about that shortly.
I’d like to make a few things clear:
- I believe the Holy Spirit is a “person” (rather than a good force or influence or attitude).
- I believe the Holy Spirit is a “member” of the one Triune God, as are the Holy Father & the Holy Son. Whatever makes God to be God, the Holy Spirits shares that.
- I do not believe the Holy Spirit is the Bible or the words of the Bible—I do believe that He superintended the writing of the words and the canonizing of the Holy Scriptures, the Bible.
- I believe He is the Spirit of the Holy Father and the Holy Son and by Him the Father and Son indwell the Church (and consequently each member of the Church which is Christ’s Body).
- I believe the Holy Spirit “indwells” Christians!
- I believe the moral transformation and growth of Christians is due to the work of the Holy Father and His Holy Son accomplished through the Holy Spirit.
If I believe all that why would I make an issue of a “literal, spatial locating” of the Holy Spirit inside the bodies of Christians?
First, because I think it’s a misunderstanding of what the “indwelling” texts mean to say.
Second, because I think it rests Christian assurance of moral transformation on a faulty foundation.
Thirdly, because I think it generates needless offense among non-Christians many of whose moral character and behavior is as good as the moral behavior of many Christians.
It appears to me that when Jesus calls his disciples (John 15) to “dwell/abide in Him” that He wasn’t talking about their spatially locating themselves inside Him. When He prays that his followers will be “in God” (John 17) as He was “in God” and would be in them that He wasn’t spatially locating Himself or them inside the Person of God or vice versa. When Paul speaks of Christ “dwelling in our hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3) I’m certain he isn’t physically locating Him in the physical pump or the physical body. When people by faith are baptized into Christ (Romans 6) they don’t physically, spatially locate inside Christ.
I think these are all temple or tabernacle metaphors or spatial metaphors that speak of relationship, union and intimacy.
The Corinthians were not literal physical “temples” or a temple, either individually or as an assembly. They were not literally physical “parts of Christ” nor were they literally “one spirit with Him” nor did they literally become one physical body with the temple prostitutes. The entire section is saturated with metaphors and there is no good reason to say the Holy Spirit is literally spatially located inside the bodies of these Christians. We’re told they were “bought” with a price but we don’t believe there was a literal exchange—it’s ransom metaphor.(See 1 Corinthians 6.)
The Spirit of God “wrote” the Holy Scriptures but He used humans and their speech to do it. Spatial metaphors are all over the place and so are relational or event metaphors and other figures of speech..
God does not “come” or “come down” from “somewhere” though we hear such speech all over the OT. (Genesis 11, Isaiah 19, Psalm 18.) Paul says his heart is “wide open” (2 Corinthians 6), he has Philemon “in” his heart. People obey “from” the heart (Romans 6) and make melody “in” their hearts (Ephesians 5), the world “lies in” wickedness (1 John 5), Satan “dwells enthroned” in Pergamos (Revelation 2) and “enters” Judas (Luke 22), Christians are “living stones” that make up a “temple” and Christ is a “foundation stone” (1 Peter 2), Christians are “resurrected” and “sit with” Christ “in” the “heavenly places” (Ephesians 2). The Holy Father “dwells” in Jesus and He “dwells” in the Father (John 14), God dwells in His faithful ones and His faithful ones “dwell” in Him (1 John 3 & 4), Sin “dwells” in people (Romans 7), God does not “dwell” in man-made structures (Acts 7 & 17) and God “dwells” in man-made structures (Psalm 9), those who eat Christ’s flesh and drink His blood “dwell” in Christ and He “in” them (John 6), God “walks” among and “dwells” in the obedient (2 Corinthians 6), Christians “live in” and “walk in” the Spirit (Galatians 5). There’s nothing in any of this to do with physical, spatial location. Revelation repeatedly speaks of those that “dwell upon the earth” and the phrase has nothing to do with their location but with their “non-heavenly” hearts and lives (compare Colossians 2:12 & 3:1-3) while the phrase those who “dwell in heaven” has nothing to do with spatial location but with their relationship with God (Revelation 3 & 6 & 11 & 13 & 14 & 17 and 12:12). We don’t notice how saturated the Bible is with metaphors and other figures because our own speech is so saturated with them that we don’t recognize them as figures of speech.
Correct or incorrect I take these “in” and “indwelling” texts as metaphors the way I take “body” to be a metaphor when it refer to the Church as Christ’s “body”. What do you make of this:
I have a sinful habit I’m finding hard to overcome.
Don’t worry about it, Christ is literally inside your body and He can overcome it.
What does His being literally inside my body got to do with my overcoming this sin?
That’s how you overcome it with Christ literally being inside your body.
Yes, but what does His being literally inside my body got to do with my overcoming this sin? You mean just the fact that He’s literally inside me is my assurance that I can beat this sin?
You can’t beat it by yourself but His being literally inside your body makes the difference.
Does His being literally inside my physical body do something to me?
His dwelling in you makes a difference.
Yes, but by “indwelling” you mean His being physically located inside my body and that makes the difference to my strength?
Look, don’t worry about your sin if you’re not able to beat it, He can beat it and He’s literally inside your body.
Well, I know He can beat it but I don’t understand how His being spatially located inside my body affects my ability to overcome this sin.
Just believe it. Mohammed isn’t inside Muslims, Buddha isn’t inside Buddhists, Confucius isn’t inside followers of Confucius but Christ is inside Christians and it’s because He is inside them that’s why they can beat sins.
So that’s why Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus and atheists and any other non-Christians can’t overcome evil habits because Christ isn’t inside them?
Well, actually non-Christians can and do overcome sins.
Without Christ being inside their bodies? So Christians must have the Holy Spirit or Jesus inside their bodies in order to overcome sins but others can overcome sins without Him inside their bodies? I wonder how that works?
Please pursue me on this if you wish. My email is email@example.com