THE LANGUAGE OF INDWELLNG
The New Testament clearly teaches that there is a special relationship between the Christian and the Holy Spirit. This relationship is defined as an “indwelling” of the Spirit. It is an indwelling relationship that one does not have with the Spirit before he becomes a child of God through obedience to the gospel.
Though the Spirit works on the heart of the alien sinner before baptism through the spoken or written word of the gospel, He indwells the Christian in a special relationship after baptism. God maintains this special relationship with His people until King Jesus comes again. It is then that our relationship with God will be truly personal.
When discussing the indwelling of God in the Christian while in this world, we must be careful to not literalize metaphors of human location in reference to God, and thus, localize God. The very nature of words as “in,” “here,” “there,” and “indwell” in our human vocabulary carry with them an earthly meaning of location. We are either “here” or “there.” But God is “here” and “there” at the same time. Therefore, when earthly words are used in the Bible to refer to the presence of God, they must first be understood metaphorically.
We cannot place God in a particular location. When we use words as “in,” “with,” “enter,” “upon,” etc. in reference to God, we often force an earthly and human characteristic or action upon God. However, when such words are used to refer to God, there must be a metaphorical meaning that is implied. God is beyond the source of our metaphors, that is, He is beyond the earthly definition of our words.
We do not serve a God who is confined to a location as we are so confined. We would not locate God in the physical structure of a temple. We would not, as apostate Israel, place Him on top of a mountain or confine Him to a literal definition of our own bodies. Literalizing beautiful metaphors in reference to God leads us to misunderstand the wonderful relationship God has with His creation. This relationship is explained with words that are of this world, but indicate something that is far beyond this world. We must not confine God to this world with a literal definition of our words that are used in the Bible to define either His existence or actions.
It is true that the Holy Spirit used “words of location” to explain the work, being, and presence of God. This is particularly true in His relationship with His people. However, we must understand that the Holy Spirit was limited to the use of our dictionary. If He would have used a “heavenly dictionary,” we would not have been able to understand the Bible. “Heavenly words” have no earthly definitions. One must understand, therefore, that earthly words fall far short of explaining heavenly concepts.
For the above reason, the Holy Spirit in inspiration used metaphors in order to explain those things with which we have had no experience. Simple words as “in” and “indwell” are often used in a metaphorical sense to explain something that is greater than our human experience. Therefore, something greater than the earthly definitions of the words is being conveyed by the Spirit when these words are used in reference to the Holy Spirit.
Biblical interpreters have often made an unfortunate error here. In failing to understand the inability of human words to define that which is beyond the human experience, they have humanized numerous concepts concerning God. This unfortunate practice has led to a great deal of confusion in our attempts to understand the nature and indwelling of God. By forcing God to conform to the definitions of our earthly words, we have created a god after our own image and after our own desires.
However, we are not alone in failing to recognize the fact that God is beyond human description. In other words, He is far beyond the definition of the words of our dictionary. Because the Jews failed to understand this, they also had difficulty in understanding metaphors that were used in reference to their relationship with God. This was especially true concerning their tendency to localize God to Palestine, and specifically to a temple once it was constructed. Their localization of God was clearly brought out in their concept of the “God in a temple.”
By the time of the kingship of Solomon, Solomon knew that the people would seek to locate God in the temple that was newly constructed. When he completed the temple in Jerusalem, therefore, at the inauguration of the structure, he reminded the Jews,
“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built!” (1 Kg 8:27; see 2 Ch 2:6).
Solomon was right. Nevertheless, the Jews’ earthly understandings persisted throughout their history. When Israel was deep into their apostasy of turning from the God of heaven, God rebuked them by saying, “Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build me? And where is the place of My rest?” (Is 66:1).
Israel persisted in localizing God in Jerusalem, and in particular, in the temple. Unfortunately, they missed the metaphors, and thus, missed a true understanding of the omnipresent Deity who created them. We often do the same today.
Since God is God, He does not dwell in a particular location, for it is superfluous to affirm that He dwells here or there in His creation. He is! And the fact that He is God means that He cannot be confined to a “location.” He cannot be located somewhere in His creation. He is located everywhere. The words “here” and “there” refer to the position that material objects or individuals have with one another.
God was not “there” in the temple while we are “here” in our houses. God is both “here” and “there” at the same time. Therefore, we do not go to the temple in order to encounter God. He is both in our house and in the temple at the same time. Such is the nature of His existence. God Is!
Stephen rebutted the Jews “localization theology” in Acts 7:48: “The Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands.” Stephen then quoted Solomon’s statements to remind the Jews that God never intended to dwell in a temple as they desired (At 7:49,50). It is simply not possible for God to be omnipresent, and at the same time, located. This is a logical contradiction.
Paul made the same argument to the Greek philosophers that Stephen made to the Jews, who also had the concept of placing God at a particular location. So Paul argued in Athens, “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands” (At 17:24).
In the mythological religion of the Greeks, the gods were conceived to be in different locations at different times. The Greeks had a humanized concept of deity. They created gods after their own imagination, and thus, when they thought of their gods they thought that the gods behaved as man. However, neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament teach such a concept concerning the true God of heaven.
Solomon, Stephen and Paul all maintained the same argument that was based on the statement that God made to Israel: “Has My hand not made all these things?” (At 7:50; Is 66:2; see Ps 102:25). In other words, God was saying that He could not dwell in something that is innate or material that He Himself had created. How could that which is created, box in He who creates it?
Our earthly understanding is that we build a house, and then, “dwell” in that house. However, God created the timber, the nails and all the construction materials. How do we think we can confine God by that which He has created? Israel could not confine God to the four walls of a temple. Neither can we confine Him in any “holy” structure that we would suppose to build for Him.
In reference to the omnipresence of God, the Psalmist wrote that the whole earth is full of His glory (Ps 72:19; see Hk 2:14). We cannot escape the presence of God, “for in Him we live and move and have our being” (At 17:28). We have our being in Him. He does not have His being in us. His existence is not dependent on our existence, nor on our imagination.
The fact that God exists means that He is omnipresent. We are in His presence at all times. He is simultaneously here, there and everywhere. He cannot be localized on the far side of the planet of Mars, or in another galaxy. He cannot be localized in any part of His creation. We cannot escape His presence even if it were possible to travel at light speed beyond our galaxy.
The nature of Jesus’ incarnation argues the omnipresence of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Paul wrote concerning Jesus,
“Who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Ph 2:6,7).
John affirmed that “the Word was with God, and the Word was God … and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:1,14). Before the incarnation, God the Son was in Spirit (Jn 4:24). However, He “localized” in the flesh of man in order to dwell among us in this world.
Though we may not understand all the implications of the incarnation of the Son of God, it is evident that God “localized” in some way on earth within the form of flesh that could be handled and touched (1 Jn 1:1-3). The flesh could be touched, nevertheless, the Deity that is spirit, could not. Therefore, the incarnation was necessary in order for the Father to offer for us His Son in bodily form.
At this point in time (the incarnation), a “personality” of God (the Son) focused here on earth in a fleshly body for a special purpose. Such affirms that beyond the physical dwelling (the body), Jesus as Deity before the incarnation was not here or there. He was God in omnipresent existence in eternity. What He was on earth was in contrast to what He was in eternity. In incarnation He took on human characteristics, and thus, human location in respect to the position or relationship that people have with one another. Therefore, in the state of incarnation, God the Son was “here” or “there.” But in the heavenly state in the spirit, God the Son was neither “here” nor “there.”
When considering the omnipresence of God, David felt extremely human in understanding. “Such knowledge,” he wrote, “is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it” (Ps 139:6). He was right. These things are beyond human comprehension. By inspiration David tried in Psalm 139:7-12 to help us understand the marvelous omnipresence of God.
“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.”
We are not the servants of a God who is confined to some location in order to have a relationship with mankind. If one should so think that God must be in a particular location in order to be close, then God would ask,
“Am I a God near at hand,” says the Lord, “and not a God afar off? Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I shall not see him?” says the Lord; “do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the Lord (Jr 23:23,24).
God is present at all times—He is close—because in Him we live, move and have our being.
The omnipresence of God the Holy Spirit, is a difficult concept to understand since omnipresence is not a characteristic of man. Nevertheless, we must understand the nature of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the context of the omnipresence of Deity. The metaphorical use of earthly defined words can take us only so far in comprehending the being and presence of God the Holy Spirit. Our imagination must take it from there. When we discuss the omnipresence of the Holy Spirit, therefore, we must not debate over our imaginations concerning the interpretations of metaphors. How can we possibly understand that which is beyond our experience?
Disputing over metaphors that were meant to take our minds into the realm of the supernatural is futile. The extent of our argument often defines the level of our inability to appreciate the Holy Spirit’s use of metaphor in order to explain His presence and relationship with man.
The Bible states that the Spirit indwells the Christian. However, determining the nature of the indwelling leaves us to ask some questions about things we do not understand. To ask the questions, and subsequently receive no answers, does not frustrate us. We will never understand everything about the indwelling work of the Spirit. However, we do need to caution ourselves about attaching human definitions to words that the Spirit used to explain a divine relationship that He has with us. The problem often comes when the Spirit used our words to communicate a divine relationship, while we argue over locations.
When we come to the Scriptures, we must therefore caution ourselves not to humanize God with our terms of location. Men in general often have a Jewish or Greek concept of God’s presence and existence. In some cases, we are still struggling to overcome a childish concept of God who supposedly has long gray hair, an old looking face, and sits on a great white throne on a cloud. In our literalization of figures of speech in the Bible, and lack of recognition of great biblical metaphors, we fail to allow the Holy Spirit to take our minds beyond this world. In literalizing the metaphors, we have cheated ourselves of greater understandings concerning the nature and being of God and His relationship with His children. We must in the end conclude that God is far beyond our comprehension, and therefore, we must never confine Him to the definition of our earthly words.
[Chapter from a forthcoming book.]