Personal Indwelling of the Holy Ghost

by Patrick T. Donahue


This article is intended to defend what what is sometimes called the "personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit" position. This is the position that says that when an alien sinner repents and is baptized for the remission of sins, he receives the "gift of the Holy Ghost" just like Acts 2:38 says. That this gift of the Holy Ghost is the Holy Ghost himself, is clearly evident from the multitude of verses (such as Acts 5:32) that teach that God gives us the Holy Spirit as a reward for our obedience to him.

Harder To Debate The Pentecostals?

One of the reasons I am writing this article is because of the many times I keep reading and hearing that taking the "personal indwelling" view makes it harder to successfully debate or discuss with Pentecostals. In presenting a position in opposition to mine, a Christian recently wrote, "more importantly, this understanding of the statement (Acts 2:39) offers not one scintilla of support for the egregiously false blunderings of Pentecostalists and their supporters." My first response to this is that a doctrinal point is either true or not true based on its own merits; we should never believe something because it may make it easier to answer a particular false teaching. Secondly, the charge is simply not true. The "personal indwelling" view does not effect the discussion of passages that tell the duration of the gifts, like I Cor 13 and Zech 13. To the contrary, my experience has been that it is far easier to debate Pentecostals when they don't sense that you are just dodging the obvious meaning of the indwelling passages.

The Bible Teaches Both

A mistake has been made in the indwelling discussion: that it has to be one way or another; that it cannot be both. Those who believe that the Spirit only dwells "through the word" (that is, that the Spirit dwells in us as we obey the word revealed by the Spirit) assume that if one of the verses in question definetly presents the concept of Spirit dwelling through the word, then the rest of the passages must be doing the same. However, this assumption is not warranted.

Eph 5:18b, "be filled with the Spirit," is clearly talking about the Spirit dwelling through the word. How do we know that? Two ways. First, the parallel passage in Col 3:16 reads, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." So obviously, we fill ourselves with the Spirit when we let the word dwell in us, that is, when we obey the Spirit's word. Secondly, and very important to our discussion in this article, we know in Eph 5:18 that the command to "be filled with the Spirit" refers to obeying the Spirit, because it is just that, a command.

The Holy Spirit Is A Gift

That brings us to our next point. The reader will remember in many of our discussions with Pentecostals and Baptists, who claim that we must be baptized in the Holy Spirit to be saved, that we have made the correct argument that Holy Spirit baptism was not something that can be obeyed; instead, it was a gift from God. This same logic should be applied to our discussion at hand. Eph 5:18 is a command to be obeyed, therefore it must be talking about letting the Spirit dwell in us by obeying his word. But many of the other indwelling passages are not like this. Both of the two passages that we have already mentioned, Acts 2:38 and Acts 5:32, present the Holy Spirit as a gift given to us conditioned upon our obedience, instead of presenting the Holy Spirit in the context of a command to be obeyed, as Eph 5:18 does. The gift of the Holy Ghost in Acts 5:32 cannot be interpreted as the Spirit dwelling through the word, since it is not presented in the form of a command to be obeyed; instead it presents the Spirit as a gift that we will receive if we obey. Acts 2:38 is the same way. It does not command us to have the Spirit; it promises us the gift of the Spirit, conditioned upon our obedience ("repent and be baptized"). The "gift of the Holy Ghost" cannot be "receiving the word" (as some contend) in Acts 2. The receiving of the word occured leading up to the baptism (v.41), but the "gift of the Holy Ghost" was given conditioned upon (at) baptism (v.38).

Other similar passages which teach that the Holy Spirit is given as a gift to the believer are Lk 11:13, Jn 7:39, Eph 1:13-14, II Cor 1:22, 5:5, I Thess 4:8, I Jn 3:24, 4:13, and Rom 5:5. Let's look at three of these passages in particular. Eph 1:13-14, II Cor 1:22, and II Cor 5:5 all talk about the Holy Spirit being given to Christians as an "earnest." The Holy Spirit is given to us as an earnest, sort of a down payment, until we receive the "inheritance ... the redemption of the purchased possession." Now this promise is only given to faithful Christians. But the word itself has been given to the whole world, including non-Christians. These passages are obviously not referring to letting the Spirit dwell in us by obeying the Spirit's word. They are referring to something that God gives Christians in place of heaven until the time comes when we actually receive our heavenly reward.


In conclusion, let me reaffirm that we do let the Holy Spirit dwell in us by letting the word of Christ dwell in us, but that is not what Acts 2:38 and Acts 5:32 are talking about. They are talking about a personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which is not equivalent to living in obedience to God; instead it is given to us by God as a reward for living in obedience to him. Why not just accept the obvious meaning of all those passages like I Cor 6:19, "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own

[Editor’s Note: Thanks to Pat Donahue for the article! Pat can be reached at: Patrick T. Donahue, 4607 Old Railroad Bed Road, Harvest, AL 35749, (256) 721-0726,]

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