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The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Lives of Evangelical Christians

indwelling of the holy spirit

What do Evangelicals mean when they say that they are “indwelt” by the Holy Spirit? The Got Questions website — the go-to place for Evangelicals when they have theological questions — defines the indwelling of the Holy Spirit this way: the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the action by which God takes up permanent residence in the body of a believer. Simply put, when unregenerate sinners are saved/born again the third part of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, permanently moves into their lives, becoming their ever-present teacher and guide. The Holy Spirit filled the God-shaped hole in their hearts. He is an ever-present reality in their lives, even when they sin. Evangelicals can grieve the Holy Spirit by their actions, but they can’t make him move out and leave them alone. According to proponents of once-saved-always-saved, Bruce Gerencser, the Evangelical-turned-atheist is still a Christian. The Holy Spirit — also called the Holy Ghost — still resides inside of me, although he seems to be upset and pissed off about my godlessness and sinful behavior these days. 🙂

There ya have it. That’s what all Evangelicals everywhere believe about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit! Thanks for reading. I jest. The Bible says in Amos 3:3: How can two walk together unless they are agreed? While Evangelicals generally believe the Holy Spirit indwells all believers, their beliefs diverge from there. Arminians, for example, would take issue with Got Questions’ claim that the Holy Spirit takes up permanent residence in the body of believers. Arminians believe unbelievers can lose their salvation/fall from grace. Some of them believe that if a person falls from grace — looking at you Bruce — he or she can not regain their salvation. Once lost, always lost. Other Arminians think believers can fall in and out of grace, repeatedly. Years ago, when I was the manager of a Christian bookstore in Heath, Ohio, I got into a discussion with a Freewill Baptist youth pastor about the “security of the believer.” He explained his position this way: suppose he drove home on the freeway at eighty miles per hour, knowing that the speed limit was sixty-five. He knew that he was deliberately breaking the law, a violation of Romans 13:1,2:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers [laws, police officers, speed limits]. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

If, in the course of speeding, he drove off the road, hit a bridge, and died, he would go to Hell. Why? Because the moment he chose to deliberately “sin” (break the speed limit) he lost his salvation.

The owner of the bookstore, who happened to be a member of the church I pastored, at the time, was also an Arminian. When I asked him at what point does a Christian lose their salvation? he refused to answer me. All he told me was that there was a “line,” and that if people crossed that line, the Holy Spirit moved out of their lives.

Further complicating matters is what Evangelicals call the “filling of the Spirit,” the “baptism of the Spirit,” or being “indued with power from on High.” Some Baptists (and other Evangelical sects) believe that once people are indwelt by Holy Spirit, that’s it. They believe that Christians have all of the Holy Spirit they will ever need. Other Baptists, especially Independent Fundamentalist Baptists, believe that not only can believers be indwelt by the Spirit, they can also be “filled” with the Spirit (or indued with power from of High). These special fillings are given to believers so they can do great exploits for God. I experienced the filling of the Holy Spirit many times, especially when preaching.

Charismatics, Pentecostals, and other Evangelical sects believe in what is called the “baptism of the Spirit.” Similar to the filling of the Spirit,” the baptism of the Holy Spirit — a one-time act or a repeated act, depending on the sect — leads to supernatural behavior: things such as speaking in tongues, healing people, raising the dead, and other acts that only God can do.

Are you confused? Let me add to your confusion. The “believers” in the Old Testament were not indwelt by the Holy Spirit. According to many Evangelical sects, the Holy Spirit had not yet been given to believers, This didn’t happen until the Day of Pentecost as described in the Book of Acts. Until then, the Holy Spirit came “upon” believers from time to time, but did not indwell them.

You will find variations of these aforementioned beliefs among Evangelicals, each with its own take on the Holy Spirit. You would think God would have spoken clearly on such an important issue, but alas he did not. One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism? Not in Evangelicalism, where the unity of believers is subservient to being right. I have no doubt that Evangelicals who stumble upon this article will stomp their feet and say, “that’s not what I believe, or what my church believes, what my pastor believes!” 🙂


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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    Somewhere in the atheist blogosphere, I read that, when accosted by an evangelist at their door or in the street, one guy replies, ‘Sorry mate, lost cause I’m afraid, I’ve already comitted the unforgivable sin against the holy spirit.’ I’ve not had the chance to try that yet, street preachers are not common in the UK, but intend to if I meet one. A couple invade our busy tourist town some summers. Personally, since deconversion, I always refer to the HS as the holy ghost…..seems a much more accurate name to me!

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    Brian Vanderlip

    People seem to like ghosts, unholy or holy. I loved Casper as a kid but he was the friendly ghost, not at all like the Holy Ghost who tells little kids they are evil at birth but he loves them!

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    I nevervliked the concept of the Holy Spirit/Ghost living inside me. I have enough going on in my brain without adding extra voices to the mix. I get that indwelling of the HS is the evangelical version of having superpowers, but I never saw anyone at church or fundamentalist Christian school who exhibited superpowers so…..what’s the point of inviting God’s spy into your life if you can’t at least jump over buildings or run faster or have xray vision? ((Snark))

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    So if the author of the Bible (God), in the form of the Holy Spirit, lives inside each believer, how is it that there are so many different interpretations (and outright disputes) about what the Bible really teaches? I, and probably many other ex-evangelicals, often heard the mantra “unity on the essentials, vigorous debate on secondary topics”. I question that all Christians agree even on what the “essentials” are. Does God really desire his followers to split over non-essentials (and why is there non-essential doctrine anyway????)? If it was important enough for God to write it down, why isn’t the Holy Spirit giving the same interpretation and unity on all doctrinal topics?

    The fact that there is so much disagreement among Christians would imply that the Holy Spirit is not indwelling most of them. That would further imply that most of those identifying as Christians are not TrueChristians, yet most Christians are certain that they are TrueChristians.

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    Karuna Gal

    I went to liturgical churches, and they didn’t make much of the Holy Spirit, at least from this layperson’s perspective. He/she/It got trotted out at Pentecost and was promptly forgotten afterwards. Or when you made your Confirmation he/she/it was mentioned during the ritual but once you got your face slapped that was it. I guess the church brand is decisive in which elements of Christian lore get (over)emphasized or neglected, i.e. selling points. 🙂

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    Karuna Gal…that’s the same sentiment that was taught in my southern Baptist church…they considered most Pentecostals demon-possessed!
    The Holy Spirit was some kind of god helper, but we never really spoke about it too much.

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    I attended all kinds of churches while growing up. The pentecostal churches were by far the most entertaining.
    I can’t think of people speaking in tongues without recalling Marjoe Gortner in his tell-all movie. If you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely worth a watch.

    My mom was an officer in a Jesus club waaay back when. One of her friends, who had been a believer her entire life was kept from joining the board of the club because she doleful sigh had not received the baptism of the holy spirit.

    Yep, good enough to get into heaven, not good enough to join the officers of the Jesus Club off in Butthump, Oregon.

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    Karuna Gal

    Amimental – What were the perks of the Jesus Club in (giggle) Butthump, OR? And how did they know someone received the Holy Spirit? Secret handshakes or a multiple choice test?

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      Well, in that small community religion is first and foremost a social activity. (It’s not really called Butthump, but there’s a whole lotta butthumpin’ going on there to this day.)

      My mom’s friend did not speak in tongues, therefore could not be part of the board of the local Jesus Club. It was actually called Women’s Aglow, and don’t get me started we’ll be here all damn night. LOL

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          Brian Vanderlip

          Butthump, sir, has two T’s, not three and if you had ever spent any time there, this is something you would not mistake. Down Fido! Silly dog!

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          I’m not sufficiently brave to actually look that up on tehGoogle… one time I was looking for a photo of a jackhammer to put on my blog… oh my GOD my eyes were opened. Do not google search jackhammer images. Trust me.

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          Karuna Gal

          Bruce, the innocent and pure Midwestern lad you once were still lives somewhere inside the worldly, shaggy, bring it on bruiser you have come to be. Awww. 😉

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    Something that’s now obvious to me is conservative Christian theology’s exclusion of women in their version of God. Instead of a father, mother, and child (and I know many families look very different from this nuclear American model, but bear with me please) there’s a father, a son–male child–and a ghostly presence of undetermined gender who is often also called “he” as the third member of the family. It’s an odd view of the family, to say the least. The woman is completely left out, even though it’s the woman who throughout history has done the bulk of the work of raising children of all genders. No wonder it has been easy for churches to mistreat women. We’re denied the godlike status ascribed to the men. That has become the elephant in the living room for me.

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      AYLOGOGO77 that is an excellent point. Talk about patriarchy! And Jesus’ mother, while not a deity, was revered in most Christian sects for being a virgin willing to be the surrogate mother of a deity. That’s it. And I guess that’s the closest Christianity gets to revering a woman.

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Bruce Gerencser