by William J. Stewart
The Scriptures talk about the Holy Spirit dwelling in the child of God (Romans 8:9, 11; etc.). The apostle John identifies that as part of the confidence we can have in the Lord (1 John 3:24). However, what if we commit sin? What if we have done wrong, but not yet repented? Is the Spirit of God jumping in and out of the believer in step with each occasion of sin and subsequent repentance?
The apostle speaks of the pure and righteous walk of the child of God (1 John 2:6, 29; 3:3, 7, 10). He warns, “no one who abides in Him keeps on sinning” (1 John 3:6, ESV). In 1 John 2:1, he wrote, “these things I write to you, so that you may not sin.” The aim is to not sin. However, in the same verse, he continues, “if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” John is not encouraging, minimizing or justifying sin, but if we succumb to temptation, he assures us there is forgiveness in Christ. If we have sinned, we do not cease to be a Christian, but there’s a problem needing a solution. Sin separates us from God. To restore a right relationship with God, we must repent (1 John 1:9).
In Galatians 3, Paul acknowledged that they had received the Spirit (v 2). However, he grilled these brethren about their turning to the Law of Moses. He asked, “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect in the flesh?” (v 3) In Galatians 5:4, he would tell them, “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” He doesn’t tell them they no longer have the Spirit, but rather implores them to “wait for the hope of righteousness by faith” through the Spirit (5:5). He calls upon them to live in the Spirit, walk in the Spirit and be led by the Spirit (5:16, 18, 25).
In James 4, we find brethren who are being led by their passions and thus doing things they ought not, even to the point of being described as “adulterers and adulteresses” (James 4:4). They are told by the writer, “…do you think the Scripture says in vain, ‘The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously’?” (v 5) The indication is that despite the fact they were off track, the Spirit was still present, jealously yearning for them to do what was right.
Jude 1:19 describes some as “…sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.” Why is it said that these did not have the Spirit, while others do not have such said of them? In the context, it is clear that they had committed themselves to being a disturbance among God’s people, and were intent on doing evil (Jude 1:4, 8, 10, 12-13, 16, 18). These were guilty of what the apostle John called “sin leading to death” (1 John 5:16). They willfully set themselves against God (Hebrews 10:26). The same text in 1 John speaks of those “who commit sin not leading to death.” So, what distinguishes a sin leading to death from a sin not leading to death? It is the willingness of the offender to repent. We know from Jude 1:19, those who are guilty of sin leading to death do not have the Spirit. What of those who are guilty of a sin not leading to death?
Consider David as an example. In Psalm 51:11, he wrote, “Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.” He had lazily stayed home when he should have gone to war. As a result, he saw a woman he should not have laid eyes on, lusted after her, committed adultery with her, and eventually, to cover up a pregnancy, he murdered her husband by the arrows of their enemy. After being confronted by Nathan, David wrote this Psalm of repentance. He didn’t say, bring me back into Your presence, or give Your Spirit to me again. If David had not repented of his sins, we’d have a different story, but he acknowledged the evil he had done and turned from it. It was not his pattern; it was out of character for him. Was God upset and disappointed? Absolutely. If David wouldn’t repent, would he have died in sin? Absolutely. But these were sins not leading to death (he willingly repented), and sin whereby the Spirit had not been taken from him.
One last thing to consider, the Spirit is referred to as our guarantee and seal (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:14; 4:30). What kind of guarantee or seal is the Spirit if every time I sin, the guarantee is revoked and the seal is wiped off? Do I need to acknowledge my sin and repent? Absolutely. If I do not, I will die in my sin. If I do not, I am guilty of a sin leading to death. Until I realize and repent of my sin, I may be resisting the Spirit (Acts 7:51), and I am grieving the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), and quenching the Spirit’s influence in my life (1 Thessalonians 5:19). But does the Spirit jump in and out of my life with each and every sin? I find no evidence of that in Scripture.