The Holy Spirit And The Christian

On the first Pentecost after Jesus' resurrection from the dead, people were told, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). Now, I am well aware that there is wide disagreement among Christians over whether the gift of the Holy Spirit is a gift the Holy Spirit gives (viz., salvation) or whether the gift given is the Holy Spirit Himself (viz., the "ordinary" indwelling of the Spirit, which, in Acts 5:32, is promised to every obedient believer). We get no help from the standpoint of grammar, because grammatically the Greek dorea hagios pneuma, translated "the gift of the Holy Spirit," can mean either a gift given by the Holy Spirit or the Holy Spirit Himself given as a gift. Consequently, one must attempt to understand the use of this phrase by the context in which it is found. Unfortunately, the context of Acts 2:38 does not immediately give us any clue as to how the phrase ought to be understood. But fortunately, the Greek phrase is used one other time in the Scriptures (Acts 10:45), and the context clearly indicates that the Holy Spirit Himself is the gift being given.

This would probably settle the meaning of this phrase in the minds of most believers if it were not for the fact that Acts 10:45, in context (cf. Acts 10:44-47 and 11:15), seems to be referring to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, a measure of the Spirit that the Bible seems to make clear is not promised to every believer. However, just because Cornelius and his household received the baptismal measure of the Holy Spirit should not cloud the fact that the Greek phrase dorea hagios pneuma is referring to the Holy Spirit as the gift, i.e., "And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, as upon us at the beginning" (Acts 11:15) and "...the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word" (Acts 10:44). Therefore, when we see this same Greek phrase in Acts 2:38, it seems reasonable that we should understand it to mean the same thing (viz., that in this instance the Holy Spirit Himself is the gift being given). In addition, I think it should be clear that, in this case, the Spirit is given in what is called the "ordinary" or non-miraculous sense. When one adds to this Acts 5:32, which is an inspired commentary on the "gift of the Holy Spirit" in Acts 2:38, I believe one can teach conclusively that the gift of the Holy Spirit is the Spirit Himself. If not, why not?

In this connection, it is important to note that Acts 2:38 teaches that the Holy Spirit is given after baptism (i.e., the Holy Spirit was promised to all believers who would repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins). Nowhere in the Bible is it ever taught that the Holy Spirit was given to enable one to believe or repent, as some teach. In Galatians 4:6, the Bible says the Holy Spirit (identified in this passage as "the Spirit of His Son") is given to people because they are already children of God. What this all means is that one believes and obeys (i.e., "receives the seed" or Word of God, Luke 8:11-15) and then receives the "gift of the Holy Spirit." If, as some are disposed to say, the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian "only in and through the Word," then it seems clear that the Christian would have to receive the Holy Spirit before baptism, and this is contrary to Acts 2:38, as I understand it. In other words, Acts 2:38, if I have interpreted it correctly, teaches that we receive (heed) the word of God before baptism and the Holy Spirit after baptism. Therefore, one does not receive the Holy Spirit by receiving the Word. It is, therefore, my conclusion that although the Holy Spirit does not dwell in the child of God apart from the Word, neither does He dwell in the Christian only in and through the Word.

When one takes into account the passages that teach, either directly or indirectly, that the Spirit of God dwells in the Christian (Acts 5:32; I Corinthians 6:19; Romans 5:5; Romans 8:9-11; II Corinthians 1:21, 22; II Corinthians 5:5) and adds to these the widely accepted principle of Bible hermeneutics, which says: "Words should be understood in their literal sense unless such a literal interpretation involves a manifest contradiction or absurdity," then one is moved to accept the Bible as teaching—when it says, "the Spirit of God dwells in you" (Romans 8:9)—that the Holy Spirit actually indwells the Christian. Further, I know this not because I have ever experienced Him with my five senses (i.e., "a better felt than told experience"), but because the Bible tells me so. In other words, the Holy Spirit, through the written Word, "the sword of the Spirit" (Ephesians 6:17), has told me plainly that He dwells in me (cf. Romans 10:17).

Of course, some say the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian the same way Christ does—i.e., by faith (Ephesians 3:17). But, in order for me to be required to believe that this is true, it would need to be proven that the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian in the same manner as does Christ. In other words, just saying He does, does not make it so. Second, if it could be scripturally demonstrated that the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian "by faith," then one would still need to prove that faith is the manner (or mode) by which He dwells in the Christian, and not the condition that must be met before the Holy Spirit will actually indwell him. Based upon my understanding of Acts 2:38 and Acts 5:32, I believe that obedient faith is the condition which must be met before the Holy Spirit can be received as a gift.

What Does The Indwelling Spirit Do?

In addressing the question posed in the above subtitle, R.L. Whiteside, in Doctrinal Discourses, wrote:

What does the indwelling Spirit do? What if I am unable to answer that question? And what if no one else can give a definite answer, would our inability to answer the question nullify what God has said? If we cannot explain a thing, shall we say there is no such thing?

Whiteside's point is a valid one, especially in this materialistic age, which says, "If I can't see, hear, smell, taste, or touch it, then it just ain't so." But, and this ought not to surprise the careful Bible student, the Bible plainly tells us that the indwelling Spirit does do something for us—viz., He helps our weaknesses (Romans 8:26; Ephesians 3:16). Even though Christians do not always know what we ought to pray for, the Bible tells us that the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us. Although it is true that the esteemed Alexander Campbell taught that the "spirit" under consideration here was the human spirit, most Bible interpreters have not so understood this passage. Furthermore, I believe common sense tells us this passage must be speaking of the Holy Spirit and what He does for Christians—the ones who are clearly the "we" and "us" of this passage. But, someone says, "This is a controversial passage, and doctrine ought not to be established on a controversial passage." This is nonsense! And this is true even when such comes from the lips and pens of esteemed brethren. In truth, there are hardly any passages in God's Word that are not considered to be controversial by someone. We are convinced that this passage is considered controversial not so much because it is difficult to understand or interpret, but because of the preconceived idea some among us have that the Holy Spirit works only (i.e., solely) in and through the Word today.

All Things Work Together For Good

The apostle Paul relates the common predicament we all experience (Romans 7:13-25) in that battle that takes place between the old sinful self (the carnal mind or flesh, as Paul calls it), and the new spiritual mind we have in Christ Jesus, identified by Paul as being "in the Spirit" (Romans 8:9). And as paradoxical as it may sound, Paul says we are in the Spirit only when the "Spirit of God" or "Spirit of Christ" (viz., the Holy Spirit) dwells in us. This indwelling, according to the beloved apostle, functions as a "first fruits" (Romans 8:23)—an "earnest" and "seal," if you will (Ephesians 1:13,14)—of the heavenly inheritance that will one day be ours (Romans 8:24).

In this battle between "the flesh" and "the spirit" (cf. Galatians 5:17), we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37) because "all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). The immediate context is the work the indwelling Spirit does for us—work, incidentally, that we are unable to do for ourselves. No wonder Paul said "we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." He would surely agree with the apostle John, who wrote: "He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world" (I John 4:4).

With these thoughts of God's wonderful assurance in mind, I pray the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen (cf. II Corinthians 13:14).

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