God is Spirit. Human beings aren’t able to see Him unless He reveals Himself. In the OT, there are many accounts documenting His disclosure to man in visible forms. For example, He came in the form of a man to speak to Abraham about the birth of Isaac, Abraham’s son (Gen 18). After more than 400 years, God appeared to Moses commanding him to bring His people out from Egypt, fulfilling the promise He spoke to Abraham (Gen 15:16). In this particular instance, God appeared to Moses in a flame of fire in the midst of a burning bush (Exod 3:2).
However, the most dramatic fashion of God revealing Himself to man is by dwelling in him. At the same time, this also raises a very important issue: How do you know that God is in you? What is the evidence if there is any? Incessant debates have gone on for years and still continue, showing no sign of subsiding over this man-made controversy. One premise used in support the dwelling of the Spirit in a person is that it is visible to others around him. This is not entirely unbiblical. However, understanding the truth requires a more careful analysis and a better insight based upon the teachings of Christ.
One example is Joseph having the Spirit of God in him, which did become noticeable to others (Gen 41:38). Let’s study the story more closely: Here it was Pharaoh’s first time meeting with Joseph. In the course of interpreting Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph did not fail to magnify God and introduce the Lord God to him (Gen 41:16, 25, 28, 38). Joseph, in a way, had educated Pharaoh to know that whatever he possessed came from God. Being a foreign dignitary, he would not have known the Lord without Joseph’s narration of the Lord. No wonder (Gen 41:37) Pharaoh came to the conclusion that the Spirit of God was in Joseph, when he deemed that Joseph’s advice was good.
Another example is Daniel who had the Spirit of God in him. The work of the Spirit, through Daniel, had become evidently clear to many (Dan 4:8, 9; 5:11, 14). Daniel rose to power and fame because he was bestowed with the supernatural gift of interpreting dreams. His ability and strength to solve riddles, enigmas and know the future were unmatchable by any wise man in the kingdom of Babylon and Persia in his time. Like Joseph, Daniel always talked about God in his service to the various kings (Dan 2:28, 44; 5:18, 21, 23). In fact, the wisdom that God gave to Daniel, time and again, brought these kings to their knees. They recognised that Daniel’s God was far superior to all other gods (Dan 2:47; 4:37; 6:26). That is why they came to the conclusion that God’s Spirit was in Daniel, whenever he revealed wisdom from God.
Looking at both OT examples, could we conclude that we have sufficient evidence to confirm the Spirit dwelling in a person in the NT?
Actually, there is a common feature in both examples. The wisdom and knowledge of Joseph and Daniel were immensurable and were from God. That the Spirit was in them is an undeniable fact; their wisdom given by the Spirit was unparalleled to any other in their time. In view of the supreme understanding they had, it became natural for others to conclude that the Spirit of God was in them. However, these examples teach us about the abiding presence of God in the lives of the ancient saints. They are not intended to teach about the evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit or confirming the Holy Spirit in a person.
In the gospels, however, Jesus gives clear instruction regarding the receiving of the Holy Spirit. While we fully agree that God’s Spirit was with the OT’s believers, we observe that, according to the Bible, the abiding presence of the Spirit in the NT after the ascension of Christ differs from that of before. If not, Jesus would not have spoken about the coming of the Spirit (Jn 7:37-39). One example is that in the ministry of Jesus, He empowered the disciples to do the work (Mk 6:7, 12). They were given the power of God (the Spirit). Yet, after His resurrection, Jesus told His disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they were imbued with power from on high (Lk 24:47, Acts 1:8). Surely, there is a difference between the two functions of the Spirit before and after His ascension otherwise Jesus would not have made a distinction between the two.
Most crucially, Jesus talked about the receiving of the Holy Spirit after His glorification (Jn 7:39, 16:7). The Spirit that raised Jesus from death was going to live in the apostles (Rom 8:11). The Spirit played the function of enabling them to overcome death when they yielded to Him. Before that function could be fully played out in their lives and of those with whom they would come into contact, they had to first ask for the coming of the Spirit. For that reason, the 120, in unity, waited for the coming of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.
On the day the promise of the Holy Spirit came, for the first time, the possession of knowledge and wisdom was not used as evidence to determine the receiving of the Spirit, though at that point in time the minds of the apostles had been opened to know the Scriptures (Lk 24: 45). Instead, Jesus gave them clear evidence to know the Spirit had come (Acts 2:2-4). This fulfils not only Joel’s prophecy, but also brings to pass Christ’s extended invitation to those who are thirsty to come and drink of the living water.
When the onlookers were drawn to the scene of the believers who received the Spirit by the sound from heavens, Peter stood up to preach to them. He spoke about the prophecy of Joel concerning the coming of the Spirit (Acts 2:17-21). However, the coming of the Spirit only took place after Christ overcame death and had been raised up to heaven (Acts 2:29-32). This corresponds with Christ’s announcement concerning the coming of the Spirit (Jn 7:39). The coming of the Spirit came with a definite sign that the onlookers were able to see and hear (Acts 2:33) – which is the speaking of tongues (Acts 2:2-4). Since then, this has become the standard of evidence that the apostles adopted to determine the receiving of the Holy Spirit thereafter (the Spirit in a person) – (Acts 10:44-48; 19:7).