Question: A theologian on the radio said that in 1 Corinthians:6:19, when Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit being in us, he is using a figure of speech and that the Holy Spirit is not spatially present within the believer...that the indwelling is best described as a relationship...as one would say, “My beloved ones will always be in my heart.” I have always believed that the Holy Spirit, after the new birth, literally abides within the believer in the same way that my soul and/or spirit lives “spatially” within my body. The use of the word “spatial” is awkward, at best, when attempting to describe the “location” of a spirit being. But is it not correct to say that a human spirit dwells spatially in a body? I understand that God the Holy Spirit is omnipresent and not limited by time and space, but does He not literally dwell within each believer?
Response: We don’t understand how the human soul and spirit live within the body, but they do. Paul describes death as the departure of the soul and spirit from the body to be with Christ in heaven: “...absent from the body...present with the Lord” (2 Cor:5:8). Paul desired to “depart, and to be with Christ...” (Phil:1:23). He contrasted that with abiding “in the flesh” (v. 24), again showing that the soul and spirit literally dwell within the body while it is alive and leave it upon death. We can’t pinpoint a “location” of the soul and spirit within the body, but the fact that the souls and spirits of the redeemed who have died are literally with Christ in heaven is further indicated by the statement that they come with Christ to be reunited with their bodies at the resurrection and the Rapture (1 Thes:4:14). We have both biblical and logical reason to believe that the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ and the Holy Spirit within the believer, which brings life to spirit, soul, and body, is no less in each person’s body than is the human soul and spirit.
Our bodies are called “the temple of God” (1 Cor:3:16-17); the “body is the temple of the Holy Ghost” (6:19). Paul is specific regarding the body: “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ [bodily] from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Rom:8:11). That there is something more than a mere relationship, such as “My beloved ones will always be in my heart,” is quite evident. The believer does indeed have such a relationship, but it is voluntary and by faith, as when Paul prays for the Ephesians, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith” (Eph:3:17). That also would be true of the analogy Christ makes of the believer’s relationship to Him as that of a branch in a vine (Jn:15:1-10) drawing its life and sustenance for victorious living from Christ. This is a faith relationship, and the cutting off of the branches that don’t bear fruit and throwing them into the fire (v. 6) is due to the failure to live by faith a fruitful life; it does not mean that salvation has been lost.
It is clear that there is an indwelling of Christ and the Holy Spirit; however, that is neither established nor maintained by faith. Never are we told that to be saved we must believe that Christ and the Holy Spirit come to live within us. That we are born of the Holy Spirit (Jn:1:13, 3:3-8; 1 Jn:3:9, etc.), baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Cor:12:13), sealed by the Holy Spirit (Eph:1:13), and indwelt by the Holy Spirit is not ours by faith. It is a work God does in all who believe the gospel and who are born again. Indeed, we are told that this indwelling (“the Spirit of God dwell in you...if Christ be in you”—Rom:8:9-11) is proof of our salvation and the assurance that we will be raised from the dead. Again, “Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates” (2 Cor:13:5).
Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit “dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” (Jn:14:17). Surely this difference between being with and in that occurred at Pentecost is more than a deepening fellowship. It cannot relate to the omnipresence of the Holy Spirit, which is always true. Jesus promised that those who believed in Him would have flowing out from within themselves “rivers of living water” (Jn:7:38). John explains, “But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified” (v. 39). This promised indwelling of the Holy Spirit was so different from the relationship that the Holy Spirit had to the great prophets of the Old Testament that, by comparison, the Holy Spirit had not yet even been given! This indwelling is referred to as “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” God has created a permanent indwelling of the Spirit of Christ and of the Holy Spirit within believers’ bodies—and by faith He lives in our hearts.