Question: "Can you lose the Holy Spirit?"
Answer: The Holy Spirit is the third Person in the triune Godhead. The Holy Spirit indwells believers at the moment of salvation. We know from 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19–20 that the bodies of Christians are the Spirit’s temple. The teaching of the New Testament is that the Holy Spirit’s indwelling is permanent. We cannot lose the Holy Spirit.
The Old Testament relates occasions in which the Spirit left someone, such as King Saul (1 Samuel 16:14) or Samson (Judges 16:20). However, in those days the Holy Spirit worked differently than He does since the time Jesus rose from the dead. In the Old Testament, the Spirit is never said to “indwell” anyone; rather, He “came upon” people for a time to accomplish specific purposes (Judges 3:10; 1 Chronicles 12:18). The Holy Spirit inspired the prophets to proclaim truth to the people (Ezekiel 11:1–2). He instructed the leaders of Israel (1 Samuel 16:13). He inspired the writing of Scripture (2 Peter 1:21). But He did not indwell those people as He now does with believers in Christ.
Before Christ’s finished work and ascension, the Holy Spirit came and went, but He no longer works that way. He does not come and go in the lives of believers today. Just before His arrest, Jesus promised His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit, who “lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). The Amplified Bible emphasizes the permanency of the Spirit’s presence: “He lives with you [constantly] and will be in you.”
Acts 2 describes the transition from the Old Testament economy to the New as it pertains to the Holy Spirit. The disciples were gathered for prayer, waiting for the promise of the Father, in obedience to Jesus (John 14:26; Acts 1:4, 8). As they prayed, the Holy Spirit fell upon them all and filled them (verse 3–4). Jesus’ promise was fulfilled, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit came upon all who had trusted in Christ. That outpouring resulted in courage in the face of opposition, love for all humanity, and supernatural gifts and abilities to further the gospel (1 Corinthians 12:4; Hebrews 2:4).
Salvation is impossible without the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). Jesus explained this to Nicodemus in John 3:1–21. Nicodemus, a leader of the Jewish religion, wanted to know what laws he could keep or additional actions he could perform that would guarantee eternal life. Jesus responded that there was nothing Nicodemus could do and that salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit’s work in a repentant heart, no one can be born again, regardless of how many “sinner’s prayers” he prays or Christian actions he performs. It is the Holy Spirit who regenerates and renews a heart (Titus 3:5).
An issue related to losing the Holy Spirit is eternal security. There is debate among Christians about whether or not someone can lose his or her salvation. To lose salvation would be to lose the Holy Spirit who provides it. In fact, Scripture says that the Holy Spirit “seals” our salvation until we experience its completion in the presence of God (Ephesians 1:13; 4:30). For the Holy Spirit to vacate a heart that He had promised to seal would make Him unfaithful. One of the Holy Spirit’s tasks, after moving into a believing heart, is transforming that person into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 8:29), and we have the promise that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (Philippians 1:6). We do not believe the Spirit will undo His work of regeneration, give up on His transformative work, or redefine eternal life to mean “temporary life.”
Since we did not “find” the Holy Spirit, it is doubtful that we can “lose” Him. Some take issue with the word lose and say that, while a Christian cannot lose the Holy Spirit, he or she can forfeit the gifts and salvation He brings by a willful renouncement of Him. However, Ephesians 1:13 says, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” Can a believer truly break the seal placed on him by God? The Holy Spirit is the mark of a true believer; therefore, to lose Him would be to lose any hope of salvation in the future.
Ephesians 4:30 warns us not to “grieve the Holy Spirit.” And 1 Thessalonians 5:19 says that we can “quench the Spirit.” These passages do not imply that the Holy Spirit has left us, only that He is sorrowful because of our sinful actions. The grieving and quenching of the Spirit hinders our fellowship with Him but does not nullify our salvation, in much the same way that a rebellious child may lose the fellowship of a parent but is not kicked out of the family.
What causes confusion on this issue is that we cannot know whether someone else has truly been born of the Spirit or whether he is the “shallow soil” as Jesus described in Luke 8:1–15. Some people seem excited to follow Jesus and may exhibit what appear to be supernatural gifts, but they were never truly born again. Jesus addresses those people with a stern warning in Matthew 7:21–23. Many people profess to have the Holy Spirit but eventually prove that they were imposters when their lives turn away from following Him (see Romans 8:14). Such people did not lose the Holy Spirit; He was never theirs at all (1 John 2:19).