THEME: Balancing Concepts of the Spirit’s Influence

by Kyle Pope

Synopsis: Does Scripture reveal information on the nature of the Spirit’s indwelling that helps resolve questions of whether His influence is “personal” or “only through the word”?


The great work of brethren during the Restoration Movement to reject denominational concepts went a long way toward sharpening our teaching on the Holy Spirit. No longer would we imagine that the Holy Spirit miraculously chose some to move to faith while leaving others in helpless predestined depravity. It is the Spirit-revealed word, the Spirit’s sword, that moves any soul to faith if it is only heard, believed, and obeyed (Rom. 10:17; Heb. 4:12-13). Although a few voices unwittingly seem to long for a return to such error, most brethren firmly reject the extremes of Calvinistic or Charismatic views of the Spirit’s influence. Our struggle is generally terminology, balance, and clear communication. We ask, “Is it a personal or a representative indwelling of the Spirit?” Or, “Does the Spirit work apart from or only through the word?” The answers given may lead us to assume that a person believes things he actually does not. How can Scripture help us avoid this confusion and accurately affirm what the Spirit has revealed about His influence?

Defining “Spirit”

Let’s first recognize the limits of our knowledge. Both Hebrew and Greek use terms associated with breath and wind to express the concept of spirit. “God is Spirit” (John 4:24a), which stands in contrast to “flesh.” The spirit and flesh are “contrary [lit.”lay opposite“] to one another” (Gal. 5:17). Jesus said, “a spirit does not have flesh and bone” (Luke 24:39, NKJV). The book of Job teaches, “there is a spirit in man” (Job 32:8a). In creation, “the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7, KJV). Physical death, by definition, is the separation of that spirit from the flesh. “The body without the spirit is dead” (Jas. 2:26a). In death, “the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Eccl. 12:7, NKJV; cf. Ps 104:29; 146:4; Eccl. 8:8).

This original giving of spirit has great significance. Animals have spirits (Eccl. 3:21), just as “all flesh” has the “breath [Heb. ruach=”spirit” ] of life” (Gen. 6:17; 7:15), but what God gave man was different. The full passage from Job says, “There is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding” (Job 32:8). Man’s spirit is from God, but is separate and distinct, not merely a borrowed life force. We are “made in the similitude of God” (Jas. 3:9). Since “God is Spirit,” our likeness to Him must refer to a likeness our spirit bears to His Spirit. God is “the Father of spirits” (Heb. 12:9). He is our “Father” (not according to the flesh)—our spirits are brought forth from Him. God “forms the spirit of man within him” (Zech. 12:1b). Part of this likeness involves a shared eternal nature. God has an “eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:14). He has always existed and will exist forever (Deut. 32:40). Man’s spirit had a beginning, but like His Spirit, it is eternal in nature. Of the “inward man,” Paul said, “the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16b, 18b). In eternity, this eternal spirit will either be clothed in a spiritual resurrection body no longer subject to pain and decay or in a body eternally subject to sorrow and unending corruption (Matt. 25:51; 1 Cor. 15:42-44; Rev. 14:10-11; 20:10, 15).

So, God is Spirit, and we are spirits bearing His likeness, but God also has a triune aspect to His makeup. One God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). These are not three gods, but each has His own distinct will. God the Son obeyed God the Father (Heb. 5:8) and yielded to His will (Luke 22:42). God the Son returned to heaven, while God the Holy Spirit was sent to the apostles (John 16:17). God the Holy Spirit would not speak of His own authority but what He heard (John 16:13).

Essentially, that is the extent of our knowledge about that aspect of God called “Spirit” and that part of ourselves called “spirit.” Both are unseen. God is the “invisible God” (Col. 1:15), yet His Spirit fills heaven and earth (Ps. 139:7-10; Jer. 23:24). While there are exceptions (1 Sam. 28:13; Matt. 17:3), generally, our “inward man” is “not seen” (2 Cor. 4:16b, 18b). The Spirit cannot be measured or quantified with our senses. It cannot be dissected and scientifically analyzed. Spirit transcends the natural world while intersecting with it. So, before we push any explanation of the scope of the influence of God’s Spirit upon our spirit, let’s first acknowledge all we can know about this is what God chose to reveal to us. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deut. 29:29). In this case, questions we have about this are likely not kept “secret” to cause frustration. How are we as finite, temporal creatures of dust to even conceive of things of such eternal magnitude? God has told us what we need to know and what we are capable of understanding this side of eternity.

The Holy Spirit in a Christian

To frail creatures of dust, God has given a remarkable promise. Joel wrote, “It shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh” (Joel 2:28a). On Pentecost, Peter said this was fulfilled (Acts 2:17). Yet, what does that mean? How was God’s Spirit poured out, and how was it upon “all flesh”? Clearly, this is not teaching that God indwells all flesh as God the Son became flesh (John 1:14). Christians do not become mini gods. Jesus was anointed “with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 10:38)—not describing a change in His nature but the source of His actions.

On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit fell upon the apostles (Acts 2:1-4). This was a special outpouring that carried promises unique to the apostles. Jesus said they would “receive power” (Acts 1:8). He promised the Spirit would “guide” them “into all truth” (John 16:13), teach them “all things” (John 14:26a), and remind them of “all things that I said to you” (John 14:26b). When they spoke, they were promised, “it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11; cf. Matt. 10:20; Luke 12:12). These promises were not made to all Christians. Only the apostles, the household of Cornelius (Acts 10:47; cf. Num. 11:25), and those upon whom the apostles laid their hands (Acts 8:18) enjoyed the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in this way.

Many Scriptures, however, affirm the Holy Spirit would be given to all true believers. John speaks of “the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive,” identifying it as “the Holy Spirit” (John 7:39). Peter spoke of “the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:32). Paul urged self-control, because “your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you” (1 Cor. 6:19). How do we understand this aspect of the pouring out of God’s Spirit?

“Spirit” as Mindset

To fully understand this subject, we must also recognize another way the term “spirit” was used of one’s attitude and mindset. John the Baptist would come in “the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). It was said of Elisha, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha” (2 Kings 2:15). Elijah was not reincarnated in Elisha or John. To share one’s attitude, mindset, values, and purpose is to share one’s spirit. We speak of a “patriotic spirit” or a “free spirit,” but biblical writers used a deeper sense. In Scripture, all thoughts and attitudes originate from the mind of a spirit, whether God’s Spirit, or that of created beings. To follow or accept teaching is to follow a spirit. John warned, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). This is not demonic possession or mental manipulation but teaching contrary to truth or in harmony with it. John explained, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God” (1 John 4:2-3a; cf. 1 Cor. 12:3).

This is evident throughout Scripture. When James and John wanted to call down fire upon a Samaritan village, Jesus told them, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of” (Luke 9:55). Their attitude did not reflect God’s Spirit working within them. This was “the spirit of the world” (1 Cor. 2:12) or the “spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). Faithful brethren walk “in the same spirit” (2 Cor. 12:18; cf. 4:13), while those in error “receive a different spirit” and a “different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4).

Words and “Spirit”

In Scripture, there is an inseparable connection between words and the spirit that produced or influenced those words. In biblical language, to allow words to influence the heart is to allow a spirit to influence the heart. In Proverbs, as Wisdom personified “calls aloud” (Prov. 1:20), she promises, “I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you” (v. 23). In Micah, the Lord asks, “Is the Spirit of the LORD restricted?” then asks in another way, “Do not My words do good to him who walks uprightly?” (Micah 2:7). God’s Spirit is not restricted because God’s Spirit works through His words. God’s Spirit and God’s words are often set parallel to one another. In Isaiah, God says, “‘As for Me,’ says the LORD, ‘this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth’” (Isa. 59:21a). That is not saying God’s Spirit is only His words, but it is describing God’s Spirit working through the words that His Spirit revealed.

Jesus makes this explicit of His own teaching. He declared, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). The Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of Truth” (John 14:17; 15:26) and “the Spirit is truth” (1 John 5:6). Paul asked, “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Gal. 3:2; cf. Rom. 10:17). Notice, Paul either equates “hearing” the words that produced faith with receiving “the Spirit” (or in conjunction with it). We must remember “the sword of the Spirit. . . is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17).

Inspired writers spoke “by the Holy Spirit” (Mark 12:36; cf. Matt. 22:43; Acts 1:16; 28:25). David said, “The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2). This allows New Testament writers to describe the interpretation of Scripture as listening to the Spirit (Heb. 3:7; 9:7-8). To reject God’s word is to resist or reject the Spirit (Acts 7:51; 1 Thess. 4:8). To accept words the Spirit revealed is to receive and be led by the Spirit. Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23). John said, “he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us” (1 John 3:24). Paul told the Ephesians that “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Eph. 3:17). The pouring out of God’s Spirit allows the Holy Spirit and God the Son and God the Father to dwell within the Christian (Rom. 8:9-10; John 14:23; cf. Matt. 10:20; 1 Pet. 1:11).

As the New Testament teaches it, focusing on the things the Holy Spirit has revealed is being led by the Spirit. Paul wrote, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:5). This is a choice. Paul commanded Christians to “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18) and to “walk in the Spirit,” not fulfilling the “lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16; cf. v. 25). This is a choice with eternal consequences. “For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life” (Gal. 5:8). “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13). This choice defines our identity. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). Being led by the Spirit, through focusing on the things revealed by the Spirit, produces fruit in our lives, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23a; cf. Eph. 5:9, KJV, NKJV). This is how Christians experience “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17; cf. 1 Thess. 1:6). “To be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6). This is how “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5; cf. Col. 1:8). God doesn’t make us feel love, joy, or peace, but these are fruit born from letting the Spirit’s sword shape our hearts and lives. This is the “comfort of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:31), the “comfort of the Scriptures” (Rom. 15:4).

“On All Flesh”

There is one final element of the promise of Joel 2:28 that we must explore. How did this outpouring come upon “all flesh”? Obviously, flesh is limited here to human beings. Only we share the spiritual similitude to God, allowing His Spirit to impact our spirit in an enduring way. Let’s notice some specific promises regarding the Spirit’s work.

The Bible says God’s omnipresent Spirit searches all human hearts, through our spirits. “The spirit of a man is the lamp of the LORD, searching all the inner depths of his heart” (Prov. 20:27). Paul appeals to this fact regarding prayer. When words fail us, Paul says, “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26). The Holy Spirit is not an intercessor in the way Jesus is (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 1 Tim. 2:5). This concerns how God knows our hearts. Paul continues, “Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:27; cf. Eph. 2:18). As in Proverbs, God’s Spirit, through our spirit, searches the heart. What does He find? Earlier in the chapter, Paul declared, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16). The Spirit-revealed word has gone out into all the world. In that sense, the Holy Spirit has been poured out on “all flesh,” but as the Spirit searches all hearts, does it find God dwelling in all hearts? No. Paul wrote, “you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Rom. 8:9).

This paints a curious picture. The Spirit searches to see if God’s Spirit is within the heart! Paul told the Ephesians, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:13-14). He told the Corinthians God “has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Cor. 1:22; cf. 5:5). In ancient times a seal was pressed into clay to indicate ownership or authorship. How does this apply here? A Christian is led by the Spirit as he sets his mind on things revealed by the Spirit. This is allowing God to dwell within us. This brings forth fruit: “the fruit of the Spirit.” Like a seal impressed in the clay of our hearts, it demonstrates whether God’s Spirit lives within us or not. As the Spirit searches the heart, He either finds the imprint of His work or finds it lacking. Its presence within our hearts is our guarantee of eternal life. Paul wrote, “if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11). Oh, that every soul would allow Christ to dwell in our hearts through faith (Eph. 3:17)!


If you would like to explore this subject further, please see my book How Does the Holy Spirit Work in a Christian? (Athens, AL: Truth Publications, Inc., 2019).

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