Doctrinal Residents

The Indwelling Holy Spirit

  • But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. (I John 2:20-21) 
  • But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him. (1 John 2:27)

In contrast to doctrinal renters, John urges his people to abide. The text is a bit wordy, but essentially John urges them to stay put. Those that left the faith showed they were never in truly in it. How does God keep his children in the faith? How do we abide?

What John calls “anointing,” Paul calls the more familiar term to us “indwelling.” Both words describe the work of the Holy Spirit. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)

This is the third person of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit, who upon salvation comes spiritually and dwells within us. This indwelling means many things: our bodies are temples of God; God’s presence is with his people; power for life and ministry; gifts and enablements. John’s concern here is how true Christians remain faithful to the true gospel. One way this happens is the active role of the Holy Spirit within us to help us understand the truth. Theologians call this illumination. The Spirit within us gives us spiritual understanding.

John says you don’t need anyone to teach you. He doesn’t mean that teaching is not needed otherwise why would he write this letter? What he means is that they already knew the gospel and they had the Holy Spirit; they didn’t need a new or different teaching. They already had the truth. You don’t need these other teachers and you certainly don’t need what they’re teaching. The Spirit within us helps us identify lies and falsehoods by helping us understand the truth. He indwells us – presence. He illuminates us – understanding.

The Word of God/Gospel

Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. (1 John 2:24)

What you “heard” – they heard the saving message of Jesus. They heard the Word of God. If that abides in you, you will abide in it. If you stay faithful in your personal belief in the true gospel, you will abide in the Son and the Father.

Christianity is creedal. True Christianity is confessional. There are objective truths that it holds to, the tenets or fundamentals of the faith. These are what we are called to abide in. If we don’t abide in them, if we change our doctrinal address on the core truths, we can call ourselves Christians but we are not.

Before he died, the famous atheist Christopher Hitchens was interviewed by the Unitarian Marilyn Sewell. Ironically the atheist Hitchens calls out the Unitarian Sewell who calls herself a Christian and he says, you may call yourself a Christian, but you are not.

Sewell: “When you speak of religion in your book…it seems to be that you are generally referring to fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the Scripture literally. And I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement—that Jesus died for our sins, for example. Do you make a distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?”

Hitchens: “Well…I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, in other words, the Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and that by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you are really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.” (You may listen to a larger portion of the interview here:

We couldn’t say it any better ourselves. “Christian” in our culture is such a slogan and label that to say you are a Christian means almost nothing anymore. What do you mean? Do you believe in the historic gospel of Jesus as fully God and man who died on the cross bearing the real guilt of our sin? Do you believe he died and on the third day rose again? Do you believe he ascended to heaven and will come again someday? Do you believe that the Bible is God’s Word and perfectly tells us God’s will? Do you believe Jesus is coming again and that there is a future resurrection for all who believe in him? Do you believe salvation is by faith and not by anything we do or earn? We could go on.

To abide means we plant our faith in the historic gospel of Jesus and we don’t go anywhere. We don’t follow doctrinal fads. We aren’t easy prey for the folks that knock on our door with white shirts and ties. We don’t hear something new and novel and think, I’ll go there. Why? God keeps all his children living at the same address. He keeps us there not by locking us in some prison but by placing in our hearts the desire to stay there, by his Spirit and by his Word.

Word and Spirit. The Word is the objective, the Spirit is the subjective. The Word propositionally says things that draw lines of distinction. This is true and this is not. This will save and this will not. It says these are the boundary lines of the gospel address. Stay in the boundary lines and stay in true salvation. Cross this line and you believe a gospel, it is just not a saving one.

The Spirit is the subjective. He works in our hearts and our minds so that we understand God’s Word and want God’s will. Isn’t it wonderful that God gives us his Spirit to keep us believing the truth? Is this not another reason to praise him? Is this not another reason to see that all of salvation is of God?

Together they keep our minds and our hearts tethered to the true gospel. Or as John writes, they keep us abiding. The Spirit and the Word abide in us which keeps us abiding in salvation.

So why is this important? Look at the promise for all who abide. Verse 25, And this is the promise that he made to us – eternal life. God promises abiding, eternal life. There we live by his power just like we live by his power now, only then fully and eternally face to face. That’s all the more reason not to doctrinally move across town no matter how nice it might seem there. Eternal life is for all who abide.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2013 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address ( on the copied resource.

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