Question

Does the holy spirit dwell in us always? 

Answer

The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit dwells in those who are obedient to God’s Word, just as God and Christ dwell within the person who is obedient. However, there is more to your question than that answer provides.

It is important to notice who was promised the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, and to what degree the Holy Spirit would dwell in those people who received the promise.

A. John the Baptist told some in his audience, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). In Acts 2:1-4, this prophecy was fulfilled when the Holy Spirit fell on the Apostles, just as Jesus also prophesied it would in Acts 1:4-8.

So the Apostles were promised and received the baptism of the holy spirit.

B. Also in Acts 2, another promise concerning the Holy Spirit is made: “Then Peter said to them, “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).

Please notice that these people were promised “the gift of the Holy Spirit.” I call your attention to this because the text of this passage and others in Acts (which we will examine in a minute) illustrate that the “gift of the Holy Spirit” and the baptism of the Holy Spirit are not the same thing.

In Acts 1, Jesus promised the baptism of the Holy Spirit only to his apostles. When they received it in Acts 2, they were able to perform miracles, such as speaking in tongues (Acts 2:5-12). Peter promised the “gift of the Holy Spirit” to anyone who repents of his/her sins and is baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38, quoted above). There is no record of these people performing miracles. That appears to have been something that only the people who were “baptized” with the Holy Spirit could do.

Acts chapter 8 also supports this conclusion because, after Phillip “went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them” (Acts 8:5), they were baptized (8:16), but they did not receive the Holy Spirit (8:17,18). It took the laying on of the Apostles’ hands for someone to receive the Holy Spirit as the Apostles had it.

We also learn from this chapter that the people who received the Holy Spirit from the Apostles were unable to pass it on to others; they were limited to performing miracles. (Phillip received the Holy Spirit from the apostles in Acts 6:5-6; yet, he could not pass it on to the Samaritans [Acts 8:14-18]. Peter & John had to come down to give them the Holy Spirit [Acts 8:14-18]. Simon recognized this and offered money for the power to pass it to others [8:18-19].)

So, these passages show that the “gift of the Holy Spirit,” which was promised to those who obeyed Peter’s commands in Acts 2:38-39, was different from the baptism of the Holy Spirit that the Apostles received.

The only other recorded instance of a group of people having the Holy Spirit fall on them as it did the Apostles is in Acts chapters 10 and 11. Here, Cornelius and the people in his house received the Holy Spirit just as the Apostles had (10:47). In chapter 11, Peter, recounting the story of Cornelius’ conversion, says, “If therefore God gave them the same gift as he gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” (11:17). Although he refers to this as a “gift,” the passages we have already looked at illustrate that it is not the same “gift” spoken of in Acts 2:38. If it were the same “gift” that was promised to those who repent and are baptized into Christ, then the Samaritans in Acts 8 would have received it upon their conversion. As we have already seen, they did not receive the Holy Spirit as the Apostles had, and as Cornelius and his household did.

John 17 teaches that God the father, God the Son (Christ), and God the spirit (Holy Spirit) dwell in those who belong to God and are faithful. For those people, yes, the Holy Spirit does dwell in them always. However, for those who are not obedient to God’s will, the Holy Spirit does not dwell in them. Remember what Acts 2:38 says: to receive the “gift of the Holy Spirit,” you must show obedience to God’s commandments by fulfilling the requirements of the New Testament law as recorded there and elsewhere throughout the New Testament.

By Michael Molloy

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