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Pneumatology Series: Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

Updated: May 2


For believers, the Holy Spirit indwells us at conversion. It is from this ministry that many of his other ministries flow. Jesus mentioned the Spirit’s indwelling to his disciples before his death and resurrection. In John 14:17, Christ said this, “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you.” From Christ’s words, it is clear the Spirit was already with the disciples but would be with them in a different way after his death, resurrection, and ascension. Likewise, in John 16:7, Christ said, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you.”

Old Testament & New Testament

Since the disciples and other Old Testament saints had the Holy Spirit and experienced his ministries before Christ’s ascension into heaven (cf. Acts 1-2), what is the difference between the Holy Spirit’s ministry to believers in the OT and the NT? Because of Christ’s words that the Holy Spirit was “with” the disciples but would be “in” them (John 14:17), some have said the difference is simply that in the OT the Holy Spirit was “with” or “on” believers, but in the NT, he dwells “in” them. However, further study of the OT tells us that is not correct. The Holy Spirit also indwelled people in the OT. Consider a few examples: Genesis 41:38 says Joseph had God’s Spirit in him. “So Pharaoh asked his officials, ‘Can we find a man like Joseph, one in whom the Spirit of God is present?’” Numbers 27:18 (ESV) says the same about Joshua. “So the LORD said to Moses, ‘Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him.” Likewise, Daniel 4:8 (NKJV) says the same about Daniel. “But at last Daniel came before me (his name is Belteshazzar, according to the name of my god; in him is the Spirit of the Holy God).”

Then, what is the difference between the Holy Spirit’s dwelling ministry in the New Testament versus the Old Testament? Two things:

1. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit’s dwelling is universal and not selective.

In the OT, God’s Spirit came upon select people such as the king, the priest, and the prophet, but in the NT, the Spirit indwells all believers. Consider John 7:37-39:

On the last day of the feast, the greatest day, Jesus stood up and shouted out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, ‘From within him will flow rivers of living water.’” (Now he said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were going to receive, for the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.)

The Spirit would be given to all those who believe in Christ. Likewise, Peter said this in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” In fact, to not have the Holy Spirit means that one is not born again. Romans 8:9 says, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him.” Also, Jude 19 describes false teachers this way: “These people are divisive, worldly, devoid of the Spirit.” If we do not have the Spirit of God, then we are not saved.

Are there any other differences between the Spirit’s indwelling in the OT and the NT?

2. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit’s dwelling is eternal and not temporary.

Consider these descriptions of the Holy Spirit in the OT: In 1 Samuel 16:14, it says this about King Saul, “Now the Spirit of the LORD had turned away from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him.” Also, in Psalm 51:11, David prayed this, “Do not reject me! Do not take your Holy Spirit away from me!” Clearly, the Holy Spirit came upon believers in the OT and dwelled within them, but at times left. With Saul, the Spirit left him because of his rebellion against God. The Spirit’s leaving him represented a lack of empowerment to lead Israel as God’s representative.

What about the Spirit’s ministry in the New Testament? Will the Spirit ever leave a believer? In John 14:16, Christ said this about the Spirit’s new ministry, “Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.” When describing the Spirit’s ministry to the disciples, Jesus described a change from the Spirit’s Old Covenant ministry. God’s Spirit would dwell with his disciples forever.

The difference between the Holy Spirit’s indwelling ministry in the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is that in the New Covenant, the Spirit indwells all believers and indwells them permanently.

Why is the Spirit’s ministry of “indwelling” so important? As mentioned, the Holy Spirit’s indwelling is essential to his other ministries. Because the Spirit indwells believers, he also convicts, enlightens, seals, empowers, and gifts, among other things.


How should this Spirit’s indwelling ministry affect us?

1. The Holy Spirit’s indwelling reminds us of God’s great love for us.

One of the greatest symbols in our societies of love is living together. Families live together. Two singles meet, fall in love, get married, and moved in together for the rest of their lives. Likewise, God loved us so much, he moved in with us permanently. In fact, since Scripture teaches that in heaven, we are no longer married nor given in human marriage (Matt 22:30), the Holy Spirit’s indwelling ministry is an even greater residency than we ever experience on earth. It’s eternal! Again, this reminds us of how much God loves us. This is especially important when tempted by the devil to doubt God’s love or his plan for our lives. Christ died for us, married us, and indwells us forever, through his Spirit.

2. The Holy Spirit’s indwelling reminds us to be good hosts.

Ephesians 4:30 says, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” We should give careful attention to our words, thoughts, actions, relationships, entertainment, etc., in order to not grieve God’s Spirit who indwells us. In fact, we must go above simply not sinning but also seek to live God-honoring, righteous lives that please God. In this way, God’s Spirit can be at home within us, instead of being treated as a neglected (or abused) visitor.

3. The Holy Spirit’s indwelling reminds us of our eternal security.

If the Holy Spirit indwells us forever (John 14:16) and has sealed us until the day of our redemption (Eph 4:30), then this means that true believers will never lose their salvation. God will never leave us as orphans; we shall be part of his family and dwell with him forever.


  1. What stood out most in the reading and why?

  2. What is the doctrine of the Spirit’s indwelling and why is it so important?

  3. What is the difference between the Spirit’s ministry to believers in the Old Testament and the New?

  4. What are some applications we can take from the Spirit’s indwelling of believers?

  5. What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?

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