Recently at White Fields, we did a 5-week study on the person and work of the Holy Spirit, called “The Spirit Filled Life” (click here to view that series).
One of the questions that is sometimes asked about the Holy Spirit, is whether God will ever remove the Holy Spirit from a person because of disobedience or sinful actions.
Certainly there are verses which talk about God removing the Holy Spirit from people, such as Psalm 51:11, where King David prays, “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” David prayed this in the wake of his sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11), so that brings up the question: Are there times when God removes the Holy Spirit from someone if they do something really bad?
Furthermore, in 1 Samuel 16, is says that the Spirit of the Lord departed from King Saul, and in the Book of Judges, it says that the Spirit of the Lord departed from Samson.
So, does this mean that God will REMOVE his Spirit from YOU, if you live in a bad way? If so, that would be a pretty big problem, because Romans 8:9 says “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”
Understanding the Three Relationships the Holy Spirit has with different groups of people
In order to answer this question and understand what it meant for David, Saul, and Samson – and what it means for us today, we have to first understand the 3 different relationships that the Bible tells us the Holy Spirit has with different groups of people.
Relationship 1: “WITH” All People
In John 14:17, Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit had been with them up until that point.
Jesus then he told them that the work of the Spirit in the world is that He brings about conviction in people’s hearts and minds about 3 things: Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment (John 16:8)
In other words, the Holy Spirit is at work in the world in every country, with all people, and he is whispering in their ears and speaking to their hearts about the fact that 1) They are sinners (they have fallen short of God’s perfect standard), and 2) God is righteous, so therefore 3) There is coming a day of judgment when they will have to stand before that righteous God and give account for their lives.
The purpose of this conviction is not to just make people feel bad about themselves; the purpose is to draw them to Jesus by bringing them to a realization of why they need a savior, so they will embrace Jesus and what He has done in order to save them.
Relationship 2: “IN” those who have been redeemed by Jesus
Jesus told his disciples in John 14:17: The Holy Spirit has been WITH YOU up until this point — but soon, the Holy Spirit will also be IN YOU.
This indwelling of the Holy Spirit is something that was prophesied by the Old Testament prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah, that one day God was going to put His Spirit within His people (Ezekiel 36:27), in order to transform them from the inside out.
For people in the Old Testament, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was always a future event, but after Jesus had died and resurrected, we read in John 20:22 that Jesus met with his disciples and he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” It was at this moment, that the disciples received the Holy Spirit within them, and it was at this moment that they were “born again.” (See also: “What does it mean to be “Born Again”?)
What it comes down to is this: Only those who have put their faith in Jesus have the Holy Spirit within them, and every person who has put their faith in Jesus has the Holy Spirit dwelling with them.
The Bible tells us that when you put your faith in Jesus, God puts his seal on you and gives you His Spirit in as a guarantee (2 Corinthians 1:23). Furthermore, the regenerating and indwelling Spirit is called “the Spirit of Adoption” (Romans 8:15) It’s His guarantee that you belong to Him, and you are His.
The indwelling Spirit sanctifies, leads, guides, strengthens, and transforms from within.
Relationship 3: “UPON” Some people at different times, to empower them to do what God has called them to do
Remember how in John 20 Jesus breathed on his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”? Well, right after that, Jesus told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem and wait until the Holy Spirit came upon them. (Luke 24 & Acts 1:4)
But… if they just RECEIVED the Holy Spirit, then why did Jesus tell them to wait for the Holy Spirit?
Because: this is speaking about two different relationships with the Holy Spirit!
When Jesus breathed upon them, they received the Spirit IN them (and they were born again) — but then they were to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come UPON them: to EMPOWER THEM to carry out the mission Jesus had given them.
That’s why Jesus His disciples in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come UPON you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Throughout the Old Testament, before people could have the Holy Spirit WITHIN them — we read that the Holy Spirit would come UPON people, to empower them to do things God had called them to do. For example, it says that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon! (Judges 6:34 NKJV) We’re also told that the Holy Spirit came UPON Samson, and UPON David, and UPON Elisha, and others — to EMPOWER them to do what God had called them to do.
So, Jesus was promising his disciples (and us) — that the Holy Spirit will also come upon us, to empower us to carry out the callings He has placed upon our lives.
Remember: in the Old Testament, the Spirit was WITH people (to bring conviction) and the Holy Spirit was UPON people (to empower them), but at that point that Spirit was not yet WITHIN people. So when we read in the Old Testament about God “removing” his Spirit, it’s not in the sense of a person who had the Holy Spirit dwelling within them, rather it’s in the sense of God removing the empowering work of the Holy Spirit from those people.
But for a person who has been sealed by the Holy Spirit indwelling them, we never read of God removing His Spirit from someone in that sense. The indwelling Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Adoption. God does not un-adopt us when we make mistakes and mess up, rather: he disciplines us like a loving Father (see Hebrews 12).
If He has SEALED you, as a guarantee of your salvation, that’s exactly what it is: He has placed his Spirit within you as a guarantee that He will see you through and bring to completion the good work that He has begun in you.
If you are His child, He won’t give up on you – and that’s really good news!
For more on the 3 Relationships with the Holy Spirit, see this study: The Promised Helper
For more on the question of God removing His Spirit, see this study: The Work of the Holy Spirit in the Life of a Believer