WITH YOU AND IN YOU
T. PIERCE BROWN
Although it is doubtful that I can add anything significant to the outstanding efforts of sound, scholarly brethren regarding whether the Spirit of God actually abides in a Christian, or only abides in him figuratively through the word, perhaps the following comments may still be of some value.
Jesus said in John 14:16-17, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter (Gr. Paraclete), that he may be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth: whom the world cannot receive; for it beholdeth him not, neither knoweth him: ye know him; for he abideth with you, and shall be in you.” It is my strong conviction that when the Holy Spirit used a particular word or phrase, He did it for a purpose. When He says that the circumcision is justified out of faith and the uncircumcision through faith (Romans3:30), he is emphasizing two different things for two different groups. He is not saying that there are two ways of being justified, but is emphasizing the source in one case and the means in another, which I have discussed in another article. In every case, whether it is in the tense of the verbs, the preposition used, the case form, or whatever grammatical construction is under consideration, it is my considered judgment that there is a purpose in it.
Such is the case of the phrase “with you and in you” in the reference in John14:16-17. As far as I know, no one who is normally classified in the brotherhood as a conservative, sound scholar denies that anyone who has the Holy Spirit dwelling in Him only has the Holy Spirit dwelling in him through the word. That is, if he has not heard and obeyed the gospel, he certainly does not have the Holy Spirit. This does not settle the question of whether the Holy Spirit actually dwells in the Christian, or only figuratively dwells in him. There are those who ridicule in bitter sarcastic terms the idea that the Spirit could literally dwell in a person. I would ask such a person, “Does your own spirit literally dwell in you, or do you merely have a figurative spirit?” If the latter, it must be that “The body without the spirit is only figuratively dead” — whatever that might mean.
Other astute scholars maintain that since Christ cannot literally dwell in a person, and since God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit are all said to dwell in a person, then they all dwell in a person in the same way, figuratively, as the word dwells in the person or controls his life. Again, as far as I know, there is no disagreement among sound, conservative, scholarly brethren about the fact that unless the word of God dwells in a person and controls his life, he certainly has no right to claim that he has the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. Brethren like Gus Nichols and Guy Woods who differed about the subject never differed about that aspect of it.
One of the problems with such discussions is that when we think of Christ, we normally think of a human being with a body. The idea that Christ, a person, could literally dwell in a person would bring to mind something like the little baby dwelling in the womb of Mary. The very idea is incomprehensible, if not monstrous, if one conceives of Christ in some bodily form dwelling in a person.
However, if one is willing, as he considers the physical birth, to admit his ignorance of the exact modus operandi of how one partakes of the nature of his physical father, and his ignorance of exactly how we become partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4) when we are born from above of water and the Spirit, he should be humble enough to know that he cannot speak with Papal infallibility concerning the impossibility the God’s Spirit actually dwelling in a Christian. Since I do not understand how my own spirit dwells within me, and why if someone should hit me on the head as hard as he can with a club, my spirit would leave me, but why it would not leave me if I should be hit on the hand with the same force, I do not attempt to explain all about it.
It is easier for me to conclude that when a person obeys the gospel, and has become a partaker of the divine nature, since he was begotten by the Spirit through the word, the Spirit then actually is in him. Those who assume that it means no more than having the word in the mind can try to explain how an atheist can memorize the Bible and be able to quote it far better than many Christians might and yet not have the Spirit dwelling in him. As far as I know, no one on either side of the issue takes the position that the mere knowledge of the word is equivalent to the Spirit dwelling in one, but that it at least would include an attitude of obedient submission to that word.
But the fact that Jesus uses three prepositions to describe the relationship of the Spirit to the Christian should give us some reason to study the subject in more detail. He is to be with us (meta) as far as fellowship is concerned, by us (para) in personal intercession on our behalf (as we may use an expression “I will stand by you in your trouble”), and in us (en) in His indwelling us.
One does not need to assume some Pentecostal idea of a “direct operation of the Spirit in the conviction and conversion of a sinner,” to believe that the actual indwelling of the Holy Spirit may strengthen the Christian (EPH. 3:16) as it calls to his mind some passage of scripture that he has laid up in his heart, or that He may help him to resist temptation in the same way (1 COR. 10:13). Those who deny that the Holy Spirit can suggest anything to our minds may have some difficulty in showing how the Holy Spirit could strengthen anyone or help him to resist temptation through the Word, if He did not in some fashion bring to mind the particular passage that dealt with the issue. If a man were tempted to lie, I know of nothing in the scripture that would suggest the impossibility of the Spirit which dwells in us suggesting that we know that God has told us, as in Col. 3:9, “Lie not one to another, seeing ye have put off the old man with his doings.”
It seems easy enough to distinguish between the false idea that the Holy Spirit operates in a way to bring us a new revelation of how God wants us to live, and that the Holy Spirit can give us the wisdom or remembrance of God’s word that will enable us to act wisely and properly in various circumstance in life. Most of my life I have heard sound gospel preachers who heard a prayer offered in their behalf, “Give him a happy recollection of the things he has prepared,” without rebuking the one leading the prayer with the charge of being a false teacher who was urging some Pentecostal idea. Yet, it is surely evident that if God gives a person a recollection (either happy or unhappy) of the things he has prepared, He does something in addition to the fact that the preacher has memorized some passages. I am willing to take the position that the Holy Spirit is with us, by us and in us, and does something specific in each of those relationships until I learn better from God’s word.
T. Pierce Brown
1068 Mitchell Ave.
Cookeville, TN. 38501
Phone: (615) 528-3600