June 19, 2024

The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

Sinclair Ferguson
The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

The very same Holy Spirit who indwelt Jesus throughout the course of His life now dwells in every believer. Today, Sinclair Ferguson begins to unfold the wonderful implications of this indwelling.


Yesterday on the podcast, we were talking about the Holy Spirit and remembering Jesus’ promise that He’d send Him to the disciples as another Counselor, another just like Himself. But then He said it was to their advantage that He, Jesus, would leave them and the Spirit come to them. And for some of us, maybe many of us, maybe most of us, that’s actually hard to believe. How could that be to their advantage? After all, which would you rather have: Jesus or the Holy Spirit? I think most of us would say, surely, Jesus. But I suspect we’ll never really get to know the Holy Spirit unless we get to the bottom of these words of Jesus in John 16:7. And the key to understanding them is found in His earlier words when He promised them the other Helper, the Holy Spirit. He said the world can’t receive the Spirit because it doesn’t see Him or know Him, but then He added, “You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:17).

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I think these words are often, perhaps usually, understood as Lord Jesus meant something like this: “In the old covenant, the Spirit was with God’s people. But in the new covenant, He’s going to be in God’s people,” as though Jesus was answering the question, What’s the difference between the old covenant experience of the Spirit and the new covenant experience? The answer: the Spirit was with people in the old, but He’s in people in the new.

I want to suggest that we think about these words in a different way because I believe that what our Lord is saying is this: “Unlike the world that doesn’t know the Spirit, you already know the Spirit I’m going to send to you because you’ve seen Him in Me. You’ve seen Him dwelling in My life these past three years. He has been with you in Me. And it’s that very same Spirit who has been with you in Me, on My life, indwelling Me these years, that is the Holy Spirit I’m going to ask the Father to send to you.”

Do you remember how in Numbers 11, the Lord took the Spirit who had been on Moses and shared that same Spirit with the seventy elders and they started prophesying or praising God? And remember, the same thing happened to two other men, Eldad and Medad, and someone complained: “They shouldn’t be prophesying. They shouldn’t have the Spirit.” And Moses said: “I wish all the Lord’s people were like that. I wish the Lord would give all His people the Spirit He has given to me and the seventy elders.” Well, now you see what Jesus is saying is this: “What Moses and the law couldn’t do, I’m going to do because you’re all going to receive the very same Spirit you have seen and known in Me.”

Some weeks ago on Things Unseen, we noticed the often overlooked words of Simon Peter in his Pentecost sermon. He said that Jesus had gone to the Father and received from Him the promise of the Spirit and was now pouring Him out on the church. Put these verses together, and what do you find? You find that the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, went to the Father and said: “Father, You promised Me something, and it’s time for that promise to be fulfilled. You promised that I could send the very same Holy Spirit who dwelt in Me to dwell in my dear friends, My disciples, and then in all Christians.” You see what this means? It means that the Holy Spirit who was in the life of Jesus from the moment of His conception right through the whole of His ministry, until the end of His life, when by the power of the eternal Spirit, He offered Himself as a sacrifice to the Father. That’s the same Spirit that the Lord Jesus was promising to give to His disciples. Not another spirit, but the Spirit of the Lord Jesus.

It’s maybe not surprising the disciples couldn’t take this in, but you see, this is why the Spirit is another Helper just like Jesus, because He is actually the Spirit who was dwelling in the life of Jesus these thirty-three years, and that’s the Spirit He promised to send to the disciples.

I never cease to wonder at the implications of this. Here are some of them. Jesus Himself in His flesh could not indwell His disciples, but He can do that by His Spirit. I sometimes think about it this way: How many Holy Spirits are there? Is there the Holy Spirit who dwelt in Jesus, and then another Holy Spirit who came to indwell the disciples, and perhaps a multitude of Holy Spirits who come to indwell each of us? Well, no. Well, is there then one Holy Spirit who dwelt in Jesus and another Holy Spirit who dwells in all disciples? Well, again, obviously the answer is “No.” There is only one Holy Spirit—the very same Holy Spirit who indwelt the Lord Jesus throughout the whole course of His life. And when He comes to indwell a believer, then we understand why it’s to our advantage that Jesus has gone to the Father and asked the Father if He can send His own Holy Spirit to every single one of His disciples.

And if you think about it, it’s because each Christian is indwelled by one and the same Spirit of the Lord Jesus that we are so wonderfully united, first of all, to the Lord Jesus Himself, and then wonderfully united to each other. It’s no wonder that the Apostle Paul says that Christ indwelling us by the Holy Spirit is actually the hope of glory, and we’ll think more about that tomorrow.