This is probably the most difficult facet of the Spirit's work for us to understand. The difficulty is not with the fact or reality of the Spirit's indwelling, but with the HOW. The fact of the indwelling is not disputed! Scripture declares that the Holy Spirit "dwells" in the Christian and Christians believe and accept such. I know that I do. We are trying to determine how, or in what manner or mode, the Holy Spirit dwells in us.
When one is baptized (immersed) into Christ (Gal. 3:27), one receives "the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). Just what is the "gift of the Holy Spirit"? Is the Holy Spirit Himself "the gift" or does it mean a "gift" that the Holy Spirit will give? If the Holy Spirit Himself is "the gift," that is, the personal indwelling in each Christian, why did Peter use the word "gift" at all? Why didn't Peter simply say: "You shall receive the Holy Spirit," rather than "the gift of the Holy Spirit"? In John 20:22, Jesus said to His apostles, "Receive the Holy Spirit." Definitely the promise was that they were to receive the Holy Spirit Himself in some way and not some "gift" that the Holy Spirit would give. On Pentecost the obedient believers were promised a "gift" that the Holy Spirit would give them as a result of their obedience to the gospel message, what was the "gift" they received? The forgiveness of their sins! Salvation! Redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ!
In what may have been his second sermon, Peter proclaimed to the crowd who gathered as a result of the healing of the lame man, that they should "Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord ..." (Acts 3: 19). On Pentecost, Peter promised those who would obey that they would "receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." It seems clear that Peter preached the same thing in both cases, just used different words. Hence, "the gift of the Holy Spirit" means the same thing as "times of refreshing". The "gift of the Holy Spirit" was the forgiveness of their sins. The "times of refreshing," which is figurative language, is an equivalent term. What a "refreshing" it is to be forgiven of our sins, redeemed and made heirs of God.
Paul wrote to the saints at Rome: "However you are ... in the Spirit ..." (Rom. 8:9). Question: Was Paul telling the saints that they were literally and personally "IN the Spirit"? Surely not. Do you, as a person, indwell the Holy Spirit of God? Your common sense tells you this is not a reality. It is figurative language. It can be argued with as much common sense and Scriptural support that YOU are personally "indwelling the Spirit" as to claim that the Spirit Himself is personally "indwelling" you! The Holy Spirit Himself does NOT literally and personally dwell within your person or being. It is impossible and no where does God's word teach such an idea! The Holy Spirit can no more literally and personally dwell in you than you can literally and personally dwell in the Holy Spirit. It is all figurative language, speaking of the closeness of the Christian and the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit can no more personally dwell within you than God HIMSELF can personally dwell within you; within your very being. Yet Scripture declares that God does "dwell" within us. But no one so far as I know actually believes that God Himself, that is, the very person of God literally dwells within us. We sometimes sing the song, "Let Jesus dwell within your heart." but I doubt that any serious student of God's word believes that Jesus Christ personally resides or dwells within us. It is all figurative language. Hence, to speak of the "indwelling of the Holy Spirit" is likewise to use figurative language. It is not to be understood as a reality. The divine Person known as the Holy Spirit can no more actually "dwell" within your person (being: body, soul, and /or spirit) than one human being can literally dwell within another human being, thus making two persons in one!
IT IS NOT AN INCARNATION! The word incarnation means "in flesh," or in carnal, fleshly form. Jesus came into this world incarnate, that is, in human form and flesh. John tells us that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God ... And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us..." (John l: 1-2, 14). Paul also speaks directly to this point in Phil. 2:5 - 11. He tells us that Jesus "existed in the form of God" and had "equality with God," but "emptied Himself ... being made in the likeness of men .... "
The point is that Jesus came into this world in human form, human flesh, which we speak of as incarnate or in flesh.
Now l urge you to understand this point: If the Holy Spirit literally and personally dwells within the Christian, then it must follow that the Holy Spirit has become INCARNATE also because He now dwells in a human body or person! Furthermore, this means that the Holy Spirit dwells somewhere within this sinful body or person! The Holy Spirit was not even in the apostles in this sense! The indwelling of the Spirit is not incarnation in any way whatever. The Holy Spirit does not Himself literally dwell in any sinful fleshly being.
Apparently it is this word "Spirit" that still confuses and gives some people a problem. To many people "the Spirit" is a mystery, unexplainable, and something like a better-felt-than-told concept. Most people shut out reason and common sense when faced with the "mystery" of the Spirit and the "spirit world".
If the Holy Spirit personally, actually dwells within you, then you are "larger" than the Spirit of God! Can you, with clear thinking and reason, actually believe and claim that you "contain" the person of the Holy Spirit within your person somewhere? If true, then in you somewhere, somehow, you contain a divine, eternal Being, and you have no evidence whatever to prove this. He is there, but you have no idea what He is doing or even if He is doing anything at all! You can't feel Him, hear Him, smell him, see Him, or taste Him; yet some think that He literally and personally dwells within their being somewhere!
In all my years of hearing brethren, as well as other denominational people, claim the actual personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit, I have never heard any of them tell us precisely what He does or says inside of them. Does He talk to you? In English? Trances? Visions? Hunches? Nudges? Feelings? Delusions? Do you consult Him? Does He consult with you? And there is yet another big question: Why would the Holy Spirit have to "dwell within you" in order to do what He does for you? If He has to literally "dwell" within you to do what He does for you, then why would this not also be true of Jesus Christ and God our Father?
Is what the "indwelling Spirit" does or says to you of a "subliminal" nature: that is, below the threshold of conscious perception? Are His speech and actions all in the subconscious part of your mind? How do you know? How can you know for certain that it is the Holy Spirit speaking and not some false spirit, or just the workings of your own mind? Remember: We can see what we want to see. Find what we want to find, believe what we want to believe, and justify ourselves in our own eyes. And even justify ourselves by the Scriptures to our satisfaction.
I recently listened to a good man talk for about an hour as he told about all the good and great things that the Holy Spirit was directly leading him to do; not one of them of a spiritual nature. Not once did he mention that God or Jesus Christ had told him to do any of these things he was promoting and trying to enlist others to help him do. Apparently neither of them are involved! With him it is all front and center for the Holy Spirit. In my view, he has been deceived into believing that he has the Holy Spirit literally dwelling in his person, giving him all these good ideas and directions and that this makes everything right and proper! At least, this was his claim.
Usually those who claim this "Holy Ghost religion and guidance" always feature the Spirit as the source of their help and it comes in a direct manner. It leads to something like "Get out of the way God, move aside Jesus, front and center Holy Spirit!" Any careful student of God's word, knows that God is front and center, with Jesus Christ in a secondary role, and the Holy Spirit in the servant role to both.
Just what does this "indwelling Holy Spirit" do for those who claim to have such? I have listened to some people tell about the guidance of the Spirit in their lives and 95% of the claims had to do with earthly, physical things, such as guiding them to parking places, telling them the color of car to buy, and other such mundane things. Does the Spirit directly tell people about investment ventures they should make? If so, how could they ever be wrong? Surely under His guidance every one could become rich! Surely He is always right in what He tells them. Does the Holy Spirit today give anyone the power or authority to cast a demon out of a man? This claim has been made. Of course, it's a deception and a fraud. It also appears that some of those to whom the Spirit speaks (?) are wrong more often than they are right in their predictions; and they even acknowledge that they are sometimes led by a false spirit!
Indeed Scripture teaches plainly that the Spirit dwells in the faithful Christian in some sense or way. The only point at issue is HOW the Spirit dwells in us. In my view, the Spirit dwells in the Christian in the same way that God dwells in us. In 2 Cor. 6:16, Paul wrote: "For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, 'I will dwell in them and walk among them.'" In 1 John 4:12, John affirms that "God abides in us." In 1 John 4:15 we read: "Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he [abides] in God." Surely the reader can see the use of figurative language here. It is clearly stated that God Himself abides in the saint. Also, it is clearly stated that the saint abides in God! Surely no informed disciple takes these statements to be literal.
Christ also "dwells" in us. Eph. 5:17: "... so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith..." In John 6:56, Jesus said "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him." Clearly we can see that this is not a literal personal indwelling with reference to God, Christ or the saint. Do you literally indwell or dwell in God? Or, in Christ Jesus? Do God and Christ literally indwell the saints? Surely you can recognize this as figurative language.
Why can't believers all understand that the spirit dwells in us in the same manner that God and Christ do? In Rom. 8:9 Paul wrote: "However, you are ... in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you." Here again we are said to be "in the Spirit" and that the Spirit "dwells in us." Clearly this is not a personal, literal indwelling of either the Spirit or the saint "dwelling" in each other. In reality it is a representative indwelling of the Spirit in us through or by the word of God.
The simple truth is that whatever the Holy Spirit does for anyone today is accomplished with and through the revealed word of God. At least, no one can prove that the Spirit works in any other way. Paul said that we are to "take ... the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph. 6:17). "Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth" (John 17:17). Do you recall how Jesus defeated the temptations of Satan with the "It is written," as He quoted the word with its power? Paul urged Timothy to "preach the word" (2 Tim. 4:2). "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). Peter told the saints that they had "in obedience to the truth purified your souls" and that they had "been born again ... through the living and abiding word of God" (1:21, 23). He declared that "newborn babes" should "long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation ..." (2:2). James wrote: "... in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls" (1:21). Paul told the saints to "be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord" (Eph. 5:19). Compare that to what he wrote to the Colossian saints: "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God" (3:16). Compare these two passages. To be "filled with the Spirit" is the same as to "let the word of Christ richly dwell within you".
Every act of the Holy Spirit upon man is affirmed also of the truth, the word of God. Today, what the Holy Spirit does the word of God does. The only way the Spirit works today is in and through the word of God. That word is this written word, the Holy Scriptures. All that we can know about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, sin and salvation, and man's responsibility, we must learn from the record God has given and preserved for us, that blessed old book that we call the Bible.