Personal Presence of the Holy Spirit—Not in Word Only

Published in IMPACT, May—June—July—August, 1981

A. Ralph Johnson


1Thes. 1:5.  “...our gospel came not to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit...”




In my unsophisticated state as a beginner student at Bible College in San Jose, California I thought Acts 2:38-39 offered the promise of the Holy Spirit to all who repented and were baptized.  However, one of the professors “knew better,” scoffing at such “Pentecostal nonsense,” declaring that the “gift” was salvation and that the Spirit works only through the Word.  This was the “safe” ground occupied by the esteemed fathers of the Restoration Movement in successfully warding off the “Holy Roller” excesses of “experiential religion” manifested by “quakes,” “shakes,” “jerks,” “barks” and “swoons,” so prevalent in the 19th century frontier revivals.  Thus, I was initiated to the “Word only” doctrine which old Archie Word, who rarely wasted words, curtly dismissed as making Pentecost seem like a bunch of Bibles must have been dumped on their heads!




In considering this issue, I would first caution against seizing upon a position merely to escape some other excess.  We can end up like the Biblical illustration of the man who fled from the lion and was bitten by a serpent.  It is true that sign-seeking and reliance upon “feeling,” rather than the word of God, has resulted in grave errors.  I am afraid that on Judgment Day a lot of people are going to be jolted to learn that what they thought was the Holy Spirit moving within them was only a quiver of their liver (cf. Matt. 7:22-27).  But, swerving off the road to the other side into rationalistic, powerless materialism may be just as fatal, and because extremes beget extremes, may actually serve to cause others to veer off into the very error we sought to escape.  The roads of history are littered with such wrecks of faith.  The ditch is just as deep on one side as the other.


Secondly, let us be cautious against permitting “explanations” of “possible meanings” to be accepted on equal footing with the simple, natural, obvious statement of the text in its own context.  Many years of experience has demonstrated that no matter how plain the statement, somebody will come up with an ingenious rationalization to escape its truth.  Our gospel is not veiled (2Cor. 3:15--4:4).  God intended it to be understood, and if anyone can say what God means, He can.  Let us beware of being corrupted from the "simplicity which is in Christ” (2Cor. 11:3). 


Thirdly, be cautious about appeals to the “fathers” and attempts to pressure by accusations of departure from the “old ground.”  This was one of the chief obstacles encountered by Jesus. There are those who will full well disregard the word of God to maintain their traditions (Mark 7:7-9).




Does the Holy Spirit dwell and function in the Christian, or is it only through the Word?  “You who profess to follow the Word, do you not hear the Word?”




A.        The Holy Spirit is a person, not a word.  If the Word was meant, why did it not say that?  Surely God knew that to say otherwise would be misleading.


1.   The Holy Spirit shares personality with the Father and the Son (Mat. 28:19).

2.   Throughout the New Testament, “Spirit” commonly indicates personality. God (John 4:24; 2Cor. 3:17-18), angels (Heb. 1:7, 14) and demons (Luke. 11:24-26; Mat. 3:11), are all “spirits.”

3.   The Holy Spirit has a “mind” (Rom. 8:26-27. cf. 8:6); and a “will” (1Cor. 12:11).

4.   He “speaks” (1Tim. 4:1), “hears” (John 16:13), “says” (Acts 19:15) and “teaches” (John 14:26).

5.   He can be “grieved” (Eph. 4:30) and “lied to” (Acts 5:3).

6.   He “searches” (1Cor. 2:10) and “comforts” or “helps” (John 14:16, 26; 16:7; 15:26; Rom. 8:26-27; Acts 9:31).

7.   He can evaluate whether things “seem good” (Acts 15:28).


B.   The Holy Spirit is clearly distinguished from the Word.

1.   The Holy Spirit was sent to teach the Word (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13).  The Spirit FIRST came and THEN taught the Word!

2.   The Spirit CAME to provide the special gifts (Knowledge & prophecy) through which the Word was given (1Cor. 12:8, 10; 2Pet. 1:20, 21).

3.  The Holy Spirit and the Word are repeatedly distinguished in the same passages (Acts 16:6; 2Cor. 6:6-7; Eph. 6:17-18; 1:13; 2Thes. 2:13; 1Thes. 1:5; Heb. 6:4-5).


C.  The Holy Spirit came in person.  He did not just send the Word.

1.   He came to Jesus in a bodily form (Mat. 3:16; Mark. 1:10; Luke. 3:22; John 1:32,33).

2.   He came visibly upon the apostles (Acts 2:3.  cf. 1:8)

3.   He came “upon” others (Acts 10:44-45; 11:15-17; 8:16; 19:6).  These hardly sound like the descent of the Word.


Some have claimed that this is only the “power” of God.  However, “power” is also distinguished from the Holy Spirit (1Thes. 1:5; Acts 10:38; 2Cor. 6:6-7).  If it doesn’t mean what it says, it appears to me that some people must be relying on the very thing they are attempting to deny--a special gift of being able to understand what God “intended” without saying. 


Others will argue that this “coming” was only to those with miraculous gifts.  However, it says he came and the promise was to all.  He did come and the same words are applied to those who did NOT receive the gifts.  No rule of grammar would support making one literal and the other metaphorical.  The choice of the Spirit to be manifested openly in one case or only to work inwardly in the other, in no way discredits the reality of His presence.




The promise of the Holy Spirit clearly extended to those beyond the Apostles.  The statements are general and in no way limited to those with the special inspired gifts.


A. The Holy Spirit was to come and remain “forever” (John 14:16-18).  The fact that His coming was sometimes manifested by miraculous powers, in no way requires that it always be so.  His work extends to things other than miraculous gifts (Rom. 8:16, 27; Gal. 5:22,23; John 16:8).  The special manifesting gifts (1Cor 12:7) had special limited objectives (Mark 16:20; Heb. 2:4) and were subject to special limitations (1Cor. 13:8-13; Zech. 13:1-6; Eph. 2:20).  Even in the days when the special gifts were needed to provide and confirm the Word in getting the church established, all did not have them (1Cor. 12:29-30.  cf. whole chapter).


B.   The promise of receiving the Spirit extended to “any man” who thirsts (John 7:37-39; cf. Heb. 6:4 “tasted”).


C. All who are baptized into the “body” “drink of the Spirit (1Cor. 12:13).


The “body” is the church composed of individual members of Christ (1Cor. 12:27-28; Eph. 1:22-23; 2:15-16, 22; 3:6, 10; 4:4, 12, 15-16: 5:23, 25, 32; Col. 1:18, 24).  As seen in John 7:37-39, “drink” means to receive the Holy Spirit.


We “drink of one Spirit” when baptized “into” (Greek: “eis”) Christ (Rom. 6:3, cf. 4-7, 17-18; Col. 2:12-13; Gal. 3:27; cf. 26-29; 1Cor. 10:2  cf. 1-12; 2Cor. 5:17; Mat. 28:19; Mark. 16:16; Acts 8:16; “in” = “eis.”  Cf. 22:16; 2:38 “for” = “eis”).  Compare also 1Pet. 3:21; John. 3:5-8, and also 1John. 5:6, 8; Titus 3:4-6; 1Cor. 6:11; Eph. 5:26).


It may be contended that if “body” and “drink” can be metaphorical terms, why can not “spirit” be speaking of a “spiritual attitude” since, “the Holy” does not precede it?  In reply, there are many non-metaphorical words in the passage.  The context must be the determining factor.  “Body” is specifically identified as being figurative (1Cor. 12:27) and “drink” is a metaphor relating to the body’s function. The context clearly establishes “Spirit” as the Holy Spirit (12:3).  It is common for “the Holy” to be omitted (cf. Mark. 1:8, 10; Luke. 3:16, 22; John. 1:32-33) rather than laboriously repeating it over and over before every use of “Spirit.”


In Greek, the definite article, “the” is not used identically with that in English.  It is not always necessary when something is specific.  To assume “spirit” to be something else than what the context indicates is a violation of contextual rules.  It is incumbent upon the objector to demonstrate the exception.


It may also be argued that this is concerned with receiving the miraculous manifestations when baptized in the Holy Spirit.  However, the Greek construction of the phrase, “by one Spirit we are baptized” is different from, “baptized in the Holy Spirit,” as found in all of the other passages.  Here the Holy Spirit is represented as the prime mover behind our baptism (providing the Word which is heard and convicting of sin (Rom. 10:17; John 16:8; Eph. 5:26).  The direct connection of “drink of one Spirit” with being baptized into Christ’s body clearly indicates that all who are baptized receive Him.


      It has been claimed that the "Spirit" in 1Cor. 12:13 is the Human Spirit, or "a spirit if humility."  This won't wash.  The context clearly indicates he is speaking of the Holy Spirit.


1 Corinthians 12:3 Wherefore I make known unto you, that no man speaking in the Spirit of God saith, Jesus is anathema; and no man can say, Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit.

4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.

7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit to profit withal.

8 For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom; and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit:

9 to another faith, in the same Spirit; and to another gifts of healings, in the one Spirit;

11 but all these worketh the one and the same Spirit, dividing to each one severally even as He will.

13 For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit.

"Drink of one Spirit" certainly does not appear to be speaking of the human spirit.  We drink of the Holy Spirit (verse 3), the "one spirit" listed throughout the context.


It is really far-fetched to try to make such scriptures as John 3:5, "born of (ek-out of) water and Spirit" to mean we are born of the human spirit.  Read the context.


D. The Spirit is promised to those who ask (Luke. 11:9-13; cf. Acts 22:16).


E.   The Spirit is promised to “all that are afar off, even to as many as the Lord our God shall call,” on condition of repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38-39, cf. Gal. 3:14).


The claim that the “gift” here is eternal life (Rom. 6:23) or forgiveness, really makes the statement redundant, and, to say the least, is presumptuous.  Nothing contextually supports such an idea.  The Greek word translated, “gift” (“doorea”) in Acts 2:38 is not the same as in Rom. 6:23 (“Charisma”).  Throughout Acts, Luke uses “doorea” to identify the Holy Spirit as being the gift (Acts 8:20; 10:45; 11:17).  The verb, “receive” is also used in other passages in connection with the Holy Spirit identified as the gift (Acts 8:15, 17, 19; 10:47).


F.   The Holy Spirit is given to them that obey him (Acts 5:32).


G.  The Spirit is the “seal” that identifies us as belonging to Christ (Eph. 1:13-14, 4:30; 2Cor. 1:21-22).


H.  The Spirit is the “earnest” or pledge, that we are God’s possession to be preserved to Him in redemption (Eph. 1:12-14; cf. Eph. 4:30; Rom. 8:16; 1John 3:24; 4:13).  This earnest of the Spirit is “in our hearts” (2Cor. 1:21-22).


I.    We have our access to God in the Spirit.  We are built together for a “habitation of God” in the Spirit (Eph. 2:18, 22.  cf. 1Cor. 3:9, 16; Rom. 8:26-27).


J.    Without the Spirit of God in us, we cannot please God (Rom. 8:1-9).  The “Spirit of God” is the Holy Spirit (Mat. 3:16; Mark. 1:8; Luke. 3:16, 22).


K. Without the Spirit of Christ, we are “none of His” (Rom. 8:9). Cf. Gal. 4:6; 1Pet. 1:11; Phil. 1:9


Some have denied this to be the Holy Spirit, maintaining this is only a “spiritual attitude about Christ.”  In reply:

(1)   The Holy Spirit IS the Spirit of Christ according to 1Pet. 1:10-12. 

It testified before of the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.  This is prophecy and in Peter’s second letter he says these things did not come by interpretation of men but by the Holy Spirit (2Pet. 1:19-21).

(2)  The Holy Spirit was sent by Christ to testify of Him (John 15:26; 16:14), to bring to remembrance what Christ said (John 14:26) and would be Christ coming to them (John 14:18).

(3)  “Spirit of Jesus” and “Holy Spirit” are used interchangeably in Acts 16:6-7, according to the best authorities.

(4)  The “Spirit of the Lord” (Jesus, Acts 4:33) is the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:9, 3).


L.   We must have the Spirit of Christ in order to call God our “Father” (Gal. 4:5-6; 3:26-27; Rom. 8:14-15)


If some should contend that Romans 8 is speaking of the miraculous measure of the Spirit, note that Rom. 1:11 indicates they had no Spiritual gifts.  In an attempt to dispute this, some have cited Rom 12:6 but that is speaking not just of the church at Rome but of the Body of Christ in general (12:5) which included Paul, himself.




      The terminology used to describe the coming of the Holy Spirit clearly presents it as real and not just a figure.  No words could have said it better.  The variety of words and the number of times repeated throughout the New Testament cannot be figurative.  Furthermore, the same words are repeatedly used in similar ways concerning other personalities.


  1. The Holy Spirit himself was “promised” (Acts 2:39, 33; Eph. 1:13-14; Gal. 3:14).
  2. He was “sent” (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7; 1Pet. 1:12).
  1. He “descended” (Mat 3:16; Mark. 1:10; Luke. 3:22; John 1:32-33).
  2. He “came” (John 15:26; 16:7-8, 13; 19:6; Mat. 3:16).
  3. He is “given” (Luke. 11:13; John 7:39; 14:16; Acts 2:38; 5:32; 8:18, 20; 10:45; 11:17; 15:8; Rom. 5:5; 2Cor. 1:22; 5:5; 1Thes. 4:8; 2Tim. 1:7; 1John 4:13; 3:24).
  4. He is “received” (John 7:39; 14:17; 20:22; Acts 2:38; 8:15, 17; 19:2; Rom 8;15; 1Cor. 2:12; Gal. 3:2; 3:14).
  5. He can be “had” (Rom. 8:9; Jude 19).
  6. He is “in you” (John 14:17; 1Cor 6:19; 1Pet. 1:11; 1John 4:4)
  7. He “dwells within” (John 7:38; John 14:23; Rom. 8:9, 11; 1Cor 3:16; 2Tim. 1:14; 1Jn 3:24).
  8. He abides in the “inward man” (Eph. 3:16).
  9. He dwells “in the heart” (Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:26-27  cf. 8:6-11).
  10. He can “fill” a person (Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 6:3, 5; 7:55; 9:17; 11:24; 13:9, 52; Eph. 5:19).
  11. He can make us a “habitation” of God through the Spirit (Eph. 2:22).
  12. We are a “temple” in which He dwells (1Cor. 3:16; 6:19-20)




This is the chief point of issue with those who deny the personal presence of the Holy Spirit in the Christian.  They maintain that accepting his literal coming opens the floodgates of dependence upon feeling rather than the Word of God.  I appreciate their concern, but truth must be accepted in faith that God knows best.


A. The Holy Spirit came to give and confirm the Word (John 14:16-18, 26; 16:7, 12; Mark 16:20; Heb. 2:3,4.  Thus, the Holy Spirit came BEFORE the Word (in NT times).  The word was certainly important. But, to attribute all of the Spirit’s work to the Word is to claim more than one can prove.  Without the Holy Spirit having first come, there would have been no Word.


  1. The Spirit is the one who wields the “sword” (Eph. 6:17).  It wasn’t just mailed to us for our use.


  1. The Spirit came personally to convict us (John 16:7-8).  Why say He “came” for that purpose if He never came?


  1. The Holy Spirit came to “comfort” or “help” (John 14:16-18, 23; Acts 9:31; Phil. 2:1).  (I need it.  I don’t do so well in my own wisdom and strength!)


E.   The Spirit helps our weakness.  He makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be utteredHe that searches the hearts knows the mind of the Spirit (Rom. 8:26-27; Eph. 6:18; 1Cor. 14:15; John 4:24; Phil. 3:3; Jude 19-20).


F.   The Spirit is the means through which we have access to God (Eph. 2:18, 22).  (It appears that not only did the Word come to man through Him but also our needs are in turn conveyed back to God through the same means.)


G.  We are strengthened with power through the Spirit in the inward man (Eph. 3:16-17; cf. Phil. 4:13).


H. By the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body (Rom. 8:134; Gal. 5:16-25).


I.    The Holy Spirit is the means of Christ being with us (John 14:16-18, 23, 24-28; 14:26; 16:7).  Jesus was sent first.  In order for the Spirit to come Jesus had to go away and send Him.  Thus, we see that Jesus now is with the father in heaven and communicates with us through the Spirit.


J.    The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given to us (Rom. 5:5; Gal. 5:22-23; 2Tim. 1:7; Col. 1:8).


K. The Holy Spirit produces “joy” and other fruits (1Thes. 1:6; Gal. 5:22; Rom. 14:17; 15:13).


L.   Whether we are in the flesh, or in the Spirit, is conditioned upon whether the Spirit of God dwells in us (Rom. 8:9).


M.  The Holy Spirit is the means of our sanctification (2Thes. 2:13; 1Pet. 1:2).


N. As we have shown previously, our very status as the recognized possession of God and being raised like Christ, depends upon our having the Spirit (Rom. 8:6-11, 16; Gal. 4:6; 5:24; Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30; 2Cor. 1:21-22; 5:5).


O.  We know that he abides in us by the Spirit which he gave us (1John 3:24; 4:13) and He “bears witness” with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16).




The “Word-only” advocates maintain that the Holy Spirit operates in us exclusively through the Word. 


I.    It is argued that to admit the indwelling presence is to open the floodgates to “Holy Roller” excesses.



A. This is not a valid argument.  It is an appeal to prejudice. 


B.   It is unscriptural.  Paul never used such an argument to prove that the false prophets of his day were wrong.


C. The Bible provides very effective ways of countering Charismatic excess.  We will not be able to do it better with this argument.


D. We may actually bring greater harm by turning people away through our own extreme, or lessening direct reliance upon the Spirit’s help.


Far more damage may be done by denying the Spirit’s presence.  Some students in the school in California who accepted the “Word only” doctrine, when faced with the frustrations of the field, turned from that extreme to the charismatic error.  It left them trying to use a textbook to lift themselves by their own bootstraps.  They needed a God at hand--not one that was far off.  Even the school itself ended up swinging from the “word only” extreme to being largely charismatic influenced.  Meanwhile, the next school I attended who accepted the indwelling was never effected by the Charismatic error.


            It is simply not true that accepting the view that the Holy Spirit dwells within us makes us more susceptible to the Pentecostal excesses.  We have never had any problem with it in our churches.  On the contrary, we have been successful in winning people out of it.


II.   Some argue that there is nothing the Holy Spirit does that is not provided through the Word.


This claim is presumptive.  It presumes that because the Word is given by the Holy Spirit that therefore the Holy Spirit cannot be also present.  Think.  Is it logical that if a man were said to have been cut by a sword that the owner could not have been present to use it? (Eph. 6:17-18)  This is just as much in error as one who would claim that because the Holy Spirit is said to do things attributed to the Word that therefore the Word only functions through the Holy Spirit.


Furthermore, it is simply not true that nothing is done by the Holy Spirit other than what is said to be done by the Word.  The Word cannot “make intercession” for the child of God and cannot be properly said to “know” his needs and weaknesses (Rom. 8:26-27).  It is clear that the Word alone cannot resolve the struggle of strengthening the inner man (Eph. 3:16; Gal. 5:16-25; Rom. 8:1-14).  If this were possible then Paul, who had the Word, would have been able to win the struggle without the Holy Spirit’s help. (Rom. 7:15-25 and on into chapter 8).


III.       Some maintain that the Holy Spirit cannot dwell within us today because there are no visible manifestations.


In reply let it be noted that in the Bible not everything the Holy Spirit did was openly manifested by some miraculous act.  God is free to act as He pleases when He pleases, and where he pleases.  He is not obliged to restrict Himself to what we can see and understand (Deut 29:29).  At one time He chose to openly display His power to confirm His Word (Mark 16:20; Heb 2:3-4).  Today He has chosen to do otherwise.


To argue that there must be some miraculous manifestation the Holy Spirit if the Holy Spirit is present, undercuts the very basis of God being with us and answering prayer.  James 1:5-7 says that if we lack wisdom to ask of God who gives to all…But let him ask in faith, nothing doubting…for he will receive nothing.  In spite of what men may suppose, God is not dead, on a long journey, or asleep.  Heb 11:6 says that he who comes to God must believe that He is and is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.  We walk by faith, not by sight (2Cor. 5:7).


Acts 8 has sometimes been cited to prove that only those with miraculous gifts have the Holy Spirit.  It speaks of them being baptized but not having had the Holy Spirit fall “upon” them.  However, note that while it does say that the Apostles prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, it does not actually say that they had received no measure of the Spirit when they were baptized.  This is clearly speaking of receiving the measure of the Spirit manifested by coming “upon” them (cf. Luke. 24:49; Acts 1:8; 2:3; 10:44,45; 11:15; 19:6) with miraculous “power” as a visible manifestation.  It is not discussing the personal presence within.  As we have previously shown, every Christian must have the Spirit to belong to Christ.


Today, the Holy Spirit manifests Himself to us through our willingness to stand faithful to Christ and overcome the flesh.  A “wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign” (Matt. 12:39).


IV. The “fruits of the Spirit” have been cited as being better explained among outsiders if the Holy Spirit dwells representatively through the Word.


However, the wicked have fruits which, though sometimes similar, may not be from the Spirit at all, whether in or out of the Word.  False prophets use “sheep’s clothing” (Matt. 7:15).  Satan’s ministers appear as ministers of righteousness (2Cor. 11:13-15).  Publicans and sinners had “love” (Matt. 4:46).  There is a “faith” that is dead (James 2:14-26).  One can say, “Lord, Lord” and yet be denying him (Matt. 7:21-23; Titus 1:16; cf. 1Cor. 12:3).  There can be a “joy” that is not from God (James 4:9).


V.  Some have questioned how it would be possible for the Holy Spirit to be “poured out” and how could He, as a person, dwell in many people at one time?


Again, He is not dependent upon my limited understanding for His capacity.  God’s ways are past finding out (Isa. 55:8-9; Rom. 11:33).  There is nothing to which we can liken Him (Isa. 40:25-28).  Indeed, how can He hear so many people in the world all praying at once?  Rationalism proves nothing other than our own ignorance.




I would like to close this with two thoughts.  First, the Bible plainly says that “the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Rom 8:9-11; 2Tim 1:14) so why cannot it mean what it says?  Why speak of the Holy Spirit as coming and dwelling within us if it is not so?  Why would God use misleading language when it would be so much simple to have said it was only the Word?  If God did not say what He meant, who can better say what He meant?


Finally, it concerns me that the underlying assumptions tend to be so materialistic.  I have difficulty seeing the validity of arguments aimed at proving that nothing is done by the Holy Spirit, except through the Word, when common sense indicates that by its very nature this would also exclude answers to prayer.  James says that if any man lacks wisdom he should ask of God who gives to all liberally (1:5-8).  Thus, we do have direct help from God.  This cuts right at the root of their whole case.  If God actively works to provide wisdom, it is clear that we are not solely dependent upon the word for help.  That, of course, leaves the charismatic a pretext to follow His own feelings as divine guidance.  But it also leaves it open for the Holy Spirit to be the means of God helping us in prayer and giving strength.  Praise God! We are not left desolate (John 14:18)!