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Dear Christians, if the Holy Spirit is Your Teacher and Guide . . .

indwelling of the holy spirit

Evangelicals believe that the moment a sinner is saved, God, in the person of the Holy Spirit/Holy Ghost, comes into the born-again sinner’s life and lives — somewhere, no one can say for sure where — inside of that person. This is commonly called the “indwelling of the Spirit of God.” Every true Christian® is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 6:19 states that the bodies of Christians belong to God; that these bodies are the temple, the residence, of the Holy Ghost.

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

In Romans 8:7-10,13,14,16, the Apostle Paul says that Christians have the Spirit of God dwelling inside of them.

Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God…The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

Those who do not have the Spirit’s indwelling are not Christian. How can someone know he is indwelt by the Holy Spirit? While Evangelicals tend to focus on right beliefs as evidence of salvation, Paul says that behavior is evidence of whether someone is led by the Spirit. Those who are in the flesh (unbelievers) cannot please God, but, according to Paul, Christians are “not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.” Paul speaks of death for those who live according to the flesh. True Christians® are to mortify (put to the death) the flesh. This mortification of the body brings life, both in the present and the afterlife.

Reflecting the Gnosticism found throughout the Bible, Paul tells the Church at Corinth that the things of God cannot be known apart from the indwelling of the Holy Ghost:

But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:10-14)

The natural man (non-Christian) cannot understand the things of God. Supposedly, only Christians can understand and correctly interpret the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. The Bible is the only book ever written that cannot be understood just by reading it. Unbelievers, according to Evangelicals, have sin-darkened hearts and are in bondage to the ruler of this earth, the prince and power of the air, Satan. According to the Bible, non-Christians are deaf and blind to Biblical truth. No unbeliever can understand the Bible without first being saved and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

New Testament scholar Dr. Bart Ehrman tackles unbelievers not understanding the Bible in a post titled Does a Person Need the Holy Spirit to Interpret the Bible?

I’ve never found it at all convincing that a person needs the Holy Spirit in order to interpret the Bible. As an agnostic, of course, I don’t believe in the Holy Spirit (since I don’t believe in God). But even when I did believe in the Holy Spirit, I thought that it was silly to claim that a person could not interpret the Bible correctly without the Spirit – for a couple of reasons that have always struck me as virtually irrefutable.

The first is this: if it’s true that the Holy Spirit is the one who provides the correct interpretation of Scripture, then why is it that so many people who claim to have the Holy Spirit cannot agree on what the Bible means? This is simply an empirical fact that is not open to dispute. Different Christian interpreters of the Bible, all of them claiming to be guided by the Holy Spirit based on humble prayer, come away with diametrically opposed interpretations of major important passages, of minor less important passages, and of major biblical themes and doctrines – just about everything.

I saw this vividly when I was myself a fundamentalist Christian: clear and hard-core different interpretations of major issues, by devout and spiritual Christians, based on how the New Testament was being read. As a poignant example: I had come out of a charismatic background where we believed that “speaking in tongues” was the clearest manifestation of God’s spirit, based on our reading of Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. At Moody Bible Institute, on the other hand, we were taught that charismatic activity, and especially the speaking in tongues, was a demonic activity and that the charismatic group from which I had come was misinterpreting these passages. Well, which is it? Both groups claimed to be representing the views of the Holy Spirit that had guided their reading of Scripture.

I could point to passage after passage after passage where well-meaning and clear headed Christians who claim to be given their understanding by the Spirit provide two, three, or four contradictory interpretations of the passage. So what is the evidence that the Spirit assists in interpretation?

The second reason I’ve never bought this is that as a complete agnostic who does not believe in the Holy Spirit, I have studied passages and come to the very same conclusions as those who claim the Spirit has told them what the passages mean. If I “need” the Holy Spirit to interpret these passages, why have I interpreted them in the same way that people who have the Holy Spirit has interpreted them? Seems like I’ve done all right without the Spirit.

And there’s a reason for that. Whatever you think about God, the Holy Spirit, or the Bible – the Bible is written in human languages following human rules of spelling and grammar and coming out of completely human situations lived in by human authors. To interpret the Bible you need to be a human, one who can read words and understand sentences. Even if the Bible is inspired, it is inspired in human words and is, therefore, susceptible of human understanding. My view is that the Spirit does not contribute to the process.

Ehrman is quite right when he says that Christian confusion over exactly what the Bible says belies the notion that the Holy Spirit lives inside Evangelicals, acting as some sort of divine GPS or search engine. According to many Evangelicals, all they need to do is say, Lord lead me/show me the way, and BOOM! their lives follow the exact course mapped out by the Holy Spirit. The same goes for understanding the Bible. Evangelicals metaphorically type their questions into God’s Google app, and BOOM! the Holy Ghost leads them to the exact book/chapter/verse answer. Awesome, right? No need to think. Just “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you,” with God promising “every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Matthew 7:7,8)

If the Holy Spirit lives inside EVERY believer, why can’t Christians even agree on the basics: salvation, baptism, communion, and whether masturbation is a sin. There are thousands of Christian sects, each guided by the Holy Spirit, each believing that their Jesus is the way, truth, and life and their little merry band of believers is the holder of the faith once delivered to the saints. Christianity might — I say might — be taken more seriously by non-Christians if sects/churches/pastors all spoke with one voice. But, they don’t. Instead, Christianity is rife with internecine warfare, with sects and churches competing with each other over money — err — I mean souls. Jesus said that the world would know that people were his followers by their love for one another. Hey Christians . . . how’s that loving one another thing working out?

Supposedly, being indwelt by the Holy Ghost gives Christians the requisite power necessary to live above sin (transgression of the law of God) and the world. I say supposedly, because from my seat in the atheist pew, I don’t see any difference between Christians and non-Christians. Am I missing something here, Christians? If all the above is true, if God the Holy Spirit, really does live inside of you and is your teacher and guide, why is it that Christians don’t live any differently from unbelievers? If, as John says, in 1 John 2:3,4,15, 29, 3:6:

….we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him…. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him….ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him….whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.

Can anyone really say that he or she is a Christian? 1 John 3:8 states that anyone who sins is of the devil! Can someone be a Christian AND a child of the devil? At this point, Evangelical readers likely will say, Bruce, Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven. Christians are works in progress.  Wait a minute, what about all the verses mentioned above? What about what 1 John 3:10 says, “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” John says the difference between God’s children and Satan’s children is behavior. The writer of the book of Matthew says in chapter 25 that on judgment day it will be what people did and did not do that will determine where they spend eternity.

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I am sure that I will hear from Evangelicals who will castigate me for “wrongly” interpreting the Bible. After all, I don’t have the Holy Spirit living inside of me, so how can I possibly tell others what the Bible says and means? Well, I just did. So much for needing the Holy Ghost to know what the Bible says. The aforementioned verses aren’t ambiguous, so what conclusions should unbelievers come to when observing how Evangelicals live their day-to-day lives? At best, we can conclude that Christians are, in every way, just like unbelievers; that if the Holy Spirit lives inside of believers, he is fast asleep or on vacation; that Christianity has no moral or ethical authority, given that Christians themselves can’t practice what they preach.

If you are an Evangelical, think about the notion that God lives inside of you; that the Bible is some sort of Gnostic book that can’t be understood by six-sevenths of the human race; that only the saved understand what the Bible teaches. Do you REALLY believe these things? Do you really believe that the moment I left Christianity that I lost the ability to understand the teachings of the Bible; that decades of reading and study disappeared from my memory, never to be remembered again? In what other realm do we see this kind of thinking?

Sadly, Evangelicals, unlike liberal and progressive Christians, stubbornly hold on to their literalistic interpretations of the Bible — interpretations that force them to endorse, support, and defend silly beliefs, no matter how stupid and ignorant it makes them look. There is little that any of us can do to reach people who think they know the punch line for the biggest joke in history. While mere worldlings feast on the plethora of literature available today, Evangelicals scour the pages of a book deemed inexhaustible, hoping to find Bronze age wisdom for twenty-first-century living.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar

    I want to apologize to every person who deconverted, where I told them as a Christian they never really were saved. I drank the church Kool-Aid then. The promises of the Holy Spirit fell flat. When I went to my an old IFB pastor as I deconverted, he told me that for doubting [I have major issues with the blood sacrifice foundation of Christianity] that I probably never really had been saved. The promises of being led by the Holy Spirit even for answers in life and guidance, fell flat and reality hit a wall. I have noticed too none of the Christians agree, not even among the “Remnant” types all the people who left the churches believing them to be Babylon. Where was the promised guidance or answers?

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    William Singourd

    A well written confession of disbelief.

    The eternal pin dancing of religious sects,resulting in enmity,strife and wars, reveals poorest focus on the image of God,Jesus,and the Bible story.

    I’ve thought it might be useful to write something called AVOIDING JESUS,or,How Christian Sects Focus On Anything Except Christ.

    The predilection for many conservative sects to preach from *trivial differences* in the New Testament and also from the most brutal passages of the Old, is of open witness.

    Sects that make a single difference primary are first in line here,e.g. for one, Seventh Day Adventists. (I do not say they are especially harsh, merely formally facetious.)

    *Trivial differences* covers ANY distinctions which, when set beside the core truths of the New Testament become as motes, no-things desirable by no one, and certainly nothing to raise a Church upon.

    The core truths are invested in the most overused word in the English language: love.

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      William Singourd

      Oops. Sorry, I left out the focus of the thread. All of my above with *Holy Spirit or not* required for accurate interpretation.

      My position?

      More pin dancing!

      Thanks for your post, it’s got me in a better mindset today…

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    I’ve always wondered where the “Holy Spirit” “dwells” when it is inside us. I mean where the organ that it resides. With my computer, when I’m adding a new program, the installer asks where I want it to reside on my hard drive. So does the “Holy Spirit” live in the brain, spleen, liver? If it’s the gall bladder, then that explains why I don’t have the “Holy Spirit” in me, as mine was removed.

    Inquiring minds want to know.


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      It might be the appendix, apparently it had some function with the immune system. I guess it helped store some spiritual immunity against Satan’s attacks on my faith. Of course mine is gone now and the devil succeeded as I am the only nonreligious person in my family that I know of as well as being the only one without an appendix?.

      The only empirically verified part of this post was the appendectomy.

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      Scott and Trenton. The Mississippian period (circa 800-1600 A.D.) American Indians in the Mississippi River Basin believed that the human spirit of a living person lives inside their bones. When a person died, a bone had to be broken to let the spirit out so it could travel to the Milky Way strip where it meets the horizon, leap onto it, and walks its path to the World Above. Maybe the Holy Spirit lives with the human spirit inside the marrow of the bones.

      Feel free to visit my blog at the following safe link:

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    So, if unsaved people can’t read or interpret the Bible correctly, then why do fundagelicals hand Bibles out in hopes of saving people — especially in foreign countries? Why are there Gideon Bibles in hotel rooms? Why do soul-savers hand out tracts filled with Bible verses? Why do they keep pushing non-believers to read the Bible?

    Once again, we see the illogical reasoning of the fundagelical mindset. Not that they’ve EVER let logic and reasoning infiltrate their thinking anyway…..

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      You raise a great question. I’ve been told that the Holy Ghost gives sinners just enough understanding from the Bible that they will know they need to be s-a-v-e-d. And what Bible verse teaches this? Dammit, Bruce, quit using the Bible…you are a sinner! Trust me, it’s in there, s-o-m-e-w-h-e-r-e…..

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      If they become Christians it’s the Holy Spirit guiding them, if they don’t become Christians it’s all the more proof they cannot read or interpret the Bible. God has cloaked their eyes or understanding or what not, like he hardenend Pharao’s heart. You just can’t win with these people…. Or in other words, they cannot allow you to win, because that might cause doubt and doubt is the poison they cannot permit to touch.

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        Doubt is allowed as long as you only ask the right people for answers and come to the exact same conclusions as them?. this and ignorance about the science can lead to people thinking Ken Ham is a credible scientist and that their pastor and/or the Bible has answers for everything. Its like asking Josh Duggar for marriage add-vice.

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    John Arthur

    Hi Bruce,

    The holy ghost did a great job on the butcher of Canaan, commanding him to exterminate the Canaanites. With enthusiasm, he and his troops carry out their violent god’s orders killing not only the Canaanite troops but defenceless women, little children and babies putting them to the edge of the sword. To make sure they did a thorough job this hero of the Christian faith, Joshua, had his troops burn some of these cities to the ground.

    Fundamentalists justify this barbaric behaviour as being commanded by their god. Their imaginary holy ghost dwells within them and poisons their minds with their views of the wrath of god, retributive punishment and eternal punishment in their god’s eternal torture chamber for finite “sins” committed in finite time. Some holy ghost guiding them!


    John Arthur

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    So if Christ isn’t real and the bible is debunked, what then? what hope do we have? are we really just like animals? its easy to discredit the bible and truth when you have everything you want, and everything you need. Resource and necessities are at your fingertips. but to those dying everyday, suffering everyday, imprisoned for the rest of their lives, sick and suffering, families being slugthered throughout third world country, those who are starving. I guess I would say think about that for a moment? bible might be confusing at times but there are three things that just makes so much since?1. The morality of human beings? 2.Evil exist? 3.death and destination.

    if There is no Christ, then we must provide answers to the following:
    1. Sin (evil in this world) 2. what is good and what is evil? 3. we realize that we all have flaws even when we make mistakes, killings, rapes, drug addiction, pornography, if you talk to a lot of these people, they have a smart mind, wise and nice but the temptation is hard to overcome. so they fall but a lot of times with regret. 4. so with that being said, we really need a perfect person that forgives us. Jesus. 5. Earth cannot be the end or is it? so if bible is debunked, u cannot give answers to the tough questions of life. you are basically saying, eat, live and die. I guess that sums it all for you. I would like to hear your answers to those questions.

    in the end, I have read the bible and have seen how confusing it is at times but when it comes to Sin, flaws, imperfect, evil, purpose, savior, destination. It makes so much sense. and if it doesn’t make sense to you, good luck finding the answers to all the troubles we have.

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      Sometimes not having all the answers makes life more interesting. Not having the answers gives us the ability to ask more questions. Even if life is ultimately meaningless, it seems much more fun to make my own purpose than waiting for one to be handed down by a fictional sky daddy who set his own creation up for failure and then demands that we worship him for it.

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      ….but when it comes to Sin, flaws, imperfect, evil, purpose, savior, destination. It makes so much sense….

      How convenient you ignore the bits about mixed fibers, eating shellfish, marrying your rapist. Explain them.

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      well, ,momo, no one needs your god/christ that is a genocidal maniac, child killer and slavery supporter. We have plenty of hope, thanks to us humans. The bible is easy to discredit, its promises failing every self-proclaimed christian. Funny how you god does nothign at all for those dying every day.

      morality is a human invention, and we can see human morality change over time, which includes what christians believe as moral too.

      there is no sin, just the delusions of christians that some god agrees with them on what they don’t like. christians can’t even agree on what good and evil are, so your whining fails yet again. We do realize we have flaws, but funny how the bible fails in descibing them, and it has this god approving killing, rape, etc.

      no one needs your lies about the “tough questions of life”. No one needs you, and that is why I think so many christians get their panties in a knot. No one gives you the adoration you think you deserve.

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      “you are basically saying, eat, live and die.”

      I mean, when you look up Ecclesiates 8:14-15
      “14 There is a futility that is done on the earth: There are righteous men who get what the actions of the wicked deserve, and there are wicked men who get what the actions of the righteous deserve. I say that this too is futile.

      15 So I commended the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be merry. For this joy will accompany him in his labor during the days of his life that God gives him under the sun.”


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    If someone bears false witness while claiming to be led by the Holy Spook (for example, attempting to tell a non-believer something about the non-believer that is obviously a load of bollocks), does that constitute the Unforgivable Sin? 😀

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    I lived that disagreement when I was a child. I was raised in a Southern Baptist church, but I attended a fundamentalist Christian school from ages 11-18. The doctrines between the 2 entities were basically the same. The everyday rules, though, were different. The church I attended was a lot more lax on dress code, hair length, whether someone could go to the movies or the roller skating rink, what type of music and instruments were appropriate for worship services, etc…. When I questioned my mom about it, she said that the school chose its own rules for its own reasons, not because God said to do them. When I pointed out that the school cited Bible verses in support of their stances, she countered that those verses didn’t specifically state those things but were interpretations the school applied broadly to try to support their stances. I asked why God didn’t direct them, or us, in a different direction, and she said she didn’t know, but that each person has to make sure they’re interpreting correctly. None of that really satisfied me though, and I bided my time until I could safely escape.

    Anyone who has read the whole Bible and actually thinks it’s a guide for how to live is missing large segments of genocide, how to treat one’s slaves and women as lesser creatures. I mean, I should just turn myself over to my husband to command, and if he wants to keep slaves, who’s stopping him? Would his deeply held religious beliefs allow him to keep slaves, or would the US Constitution override his religious beliefs? ((Snark))

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    So, Keith Green had a big impact…..on the ground…. in a plane overloaded beyond its limits and flown by a pilot who wasn’t properly endorsed to fly in type.

    God’s will. He can be a bastard like that.

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    Barbara L. Jackson

    You make my point exactly. I am agnostic because of all the different groups of Christians there are and each one thinks their view is the only correct view. They have had physical wars.

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    The Bible is a record of people of the times (c. 900-800 BCE? to c. 200 or so CE, lots of time!) occupying a particular corner of the world (Palestine) and then branching out into the civilization of the amazing Roman Empire. Read that way, not looking for historical facts but seeing how the writers thought at various times, it’s an interesting and precious historical record. It tells us a lot about those people, and although I’m a geologist at heart*, I’m interested in how human civilizations evolved, and how ancient people thought.

    My neighborhood lost power for a few hours a couple of days ago–we were having more of a heat wave in lowland California than our power grid could handle–and I laid on my bed, in the dark heat, and thought about how people dealt without a power grid in ancient times. Gods below, we are a creative and resilient species when when we choose to be. We are also jerks when we choose to be, and the Bible is full of deity-justified examples of that.

    *Maybe I’m a historian at heart, because rocks tell us about the history of our planet.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    Let’s see…When I grew up as a Catholic, the Holy Spirit didn’t indwell in me because the Bible didn’t make sense to me. (The Church discouraged us from reading it for ourselves, but never mind.) When I became an Evangelical Christian, I read the Bible and could talk about it (I led a study group.) But it still didn’t really make sense to me; some thought I had some sort of spiritual “gift” because I could lead a “godly” Bible study and uttered some babble that some–and I, for a time–believed was “the spirit speaking through me.”

    So did the spirit ever–or always–dwell within me?

    I now see my faith, prayer and trying to live by the Bible literally–which, of course, is impossible–as futile attempts to reconcile with trauma I experienced early in my life.

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