Question:

Jeffrey,

Thank you for your wonderful work in teaching the Bible and for your web site. I have become much stronger in the faith as a result of your help. I have come upon a statement that I am not sure is correct:

"At baptism God sends His Spirit to dwell in us. He marks us as true sons (Ephesians 1:13-14). The Spirit will also raise our bodies from death, or mortality, when Christ returns. In that resurrection, the Spirit finalizes forever "our adoption as sons" (Romans 8:23)."

Does our spirit, which comes from God, come at baptism or is this verse referring to the Holy Spirit? Spirit is capitalized in the verse, but should it be?

Thank you.

Answer:

People have a strong tendency to make assumptions about what "dwell" means. They imagine that a piece of the Spirit enters into the person -- almost like being possessed. However, this conclusion ignores the many other passages that talk about God, the Father, the Son, the Word, and Love dwelling in us as well. For a detailed explanation see Indwelling.

"In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory" (Ephesians 1:13-14).

"Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit"" (Acts 2:38).

"Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee" (II Corinthians 1:21-22).

"And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption" (Ephesians 4:30).

At baptism, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). The gift is expressed as is singular, so it is a single gift of significance. However, the wording in Acts 2:38 is a bit vague.

  • You can read this as the Spirit itself being the gift -- in the sense that Paul said it in II Corinthians 1:21-22.
  • Or you can read it as a gift that comes from the Spirit -- the promise of salvation at judgment day if we are found to have remained faithful -- in the sense that Paul used it in Ephesians 1:13-14.

Actually the giving of the Spirit itself is a metonymy. A metonymy is where the name of one object is used as a synonym for a closely related object. For example, "He gave him a bottle to drink" means that the contents of the bottle was consumed and not the bottle itself.  Here the Spirit is used as a metonymy for the gift the Spirit gives to each baptized believer -- the promise of salvation. It is a promise found in the word of God, delivered by the Spirit through the apostles and prophets. "And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (II Peter 1:19-21). We carry that word around with us in our hearts and since those words came from the Spirit, we carry the Spirit and His promise with us in a figurative sense.

We know that it is figurative because a literal reading doesn't make sense. If the Holy Spirit is given literally to the believer, then it makes it sound as if the believer has control of the Holy Spirit. If it is claimed that a piece of the Spirit is given to each believer, then how is that different from the fact that God's presence is everywhere? Would not the Spirit already be there? "Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, "Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night," Even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You" (Psalms 139:7-12). But as a metonymy the phrasing makes sense.

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