The Holy Spirit’s Indwelling Ministry in the Old Testament

Were Old Testament believers, as a necessary part of their sanctification, permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit? In this post I will respond to this question by initially providing a few resources that treat this subject and then provide a brief theological argument for OT indwelling (this blog post is based upon my journal article “Were Old Testament Believers Indwelt by the Spirit?” [Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 9 (2004) 215-64]).

Many dispensationalists would respond disapprovingly to this question, as illustrated by

However, what has gotten my attention recently is that some non-dispensationalists, while claiming to be Calvinistic, also reply negatively. For example,

In contrast to those who deny the Spirit’s OT indwelling work for believers, here are a few key resources that argue for it.

In addition to the cited sources, the theological argument for OT indwelling needs to be examined. Initially, we need to consider two aspects about the Spirit that have significance for this theological subject. First, to understanding indwelling, we should take note of the Spirit’s omnipresence. This doctrine teaches that the Spirit with his entire being permeates all of creation, yet at the same time he is completely distinct from creation. God’s, and thus also the Spirit’s, unlimited presence is taught in Jeremiah 23:24: “‘Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?’ declares the LORD. ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the LORD” (also Eph 1:22-23). The Spirit’s omnipresence certainly must include humanity, both regenerate and unregenerate. Second, while the Spirit is everywhere present, he is not uniformly present in the same way in all of the created realm. For example, the Spirit’s unique presence in the Holy of Holies is different than in creation and in his presence in believers differs from unbelievers.

What, then, sets the believer apart from the unbeliever? The saving work of the Spirit makes the difference, part of which includes his indwelling ministry. Indwelling refers to the Spirit’s saving influence that begins at regeneration and continues in sanctification. At the most basic level, the Spirit’s “spiritual” presence is a qualitative change in relationship whereby the Spirit is salvifically related to the elect, but is not salvifically related to the reprobate. Based upon this, indwelling, when used to describe this saving relationship with the Spirit, is something of a metaphor to describe the Spirit’s permanently sustaining the saving relationship that was begun at regeneration. To state this another way, indwelling in the believer is that necessary and progressive work of the Spirit that internally transforms him or her into the renewed image of God.

To see how this relates to the OT saint, this understanding of indwelling is inextricably connected to total depravity and regeneration. First, the doctrine of total depravity teaches that every person since the Fall is conceived with an inborn moral and spiritual corruption that permeates his entire being. This doctrine also includes total inability, as Romans 8:7-8 teaches: “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God” (emphasis mine). Unless God does something to change the mind, will, and affections of sinful people, they are helplessly lost and eternally condemned. My argument is that it is only through the initial life-giving ministry of the Spirit, regeneration, and his life-sustaining ministry, indwelling, that a person’s internal disposition, whether living in the OT or NT eras, is effectively changed so that they initially and continuously seek after God.

Second, there is only one way to overcome spiritual death, whether one lived in the Old Testament period or the New Testament era, and this is by God giving a dead sinner spiritual life. This is known as regeneration. Regeneration can be described as an implanting of spiritual life in the spiritually dead (see John 3:3, 5, 6:44, 65). Such a definition is certainly related to the biblical description of man as being “dead in trespasses and sin.” But it also appears that regeneration involves the impartation of a new disposition, a new complex of attributes, including spiritual life, in a pervasively corrupt man. Because of total depravity, the Spirit, of necessity, had to be actively involved in the Old Testament in order to regenerate fallen sinners. From a theological perspective, it is difficult to conceive of the Spirit imparting a new disposition at regeneration, then withdrawing his saving presence after regeneration and leaving the Old Testament believer to spiritually fend for himself. If indwelling is a necessary entailment from regeneration, then it follows that the Holy Spirit indwelt Old Testament saints. If OT believers were not indwelt by the Spirit, it was impossible for them to grow in grace.

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6 thoughts on “The Holy Spirit’s Indwelling Ministry in the Old Testament

  1. Aaron Webb says:

    Bob, thank you for a clear reminder of our God’s power to save fully at any time in humanity’s existence. Dispensationalists too often build a two-tiered relationship between the OT saints and NT saints. Your words are encouraging as well as instructive. Thank you.

  2. Aaron Webb says:

    Bob, thank you for a clear reminder of our God’s power to save fully at any time in humanity’s existence. Dispensationalists too often build a two-tiered relationship between the OT saints and NT saints. Your words are encouraging as well as instructive. Thank you.

  3. Bob McCabe says:

    Hi Aaron,

    It is great to hear from you. It has been some time since we have been in contact.

    I agree that in soteriology this is not an area to craft out a two-tiered system.

    Thanks,

    Bob

  4. Bill Provenzano says:

    Hi Dr. McCabe,

    I have thought for a long time that it was impossible for OT believers to live by faith without the work of the indwelling Spirit in their lives.

    I remember people (mature Christians) telling me that I was ignoring the new testament, that it was clear the new testament taught otherwise. When I would ask them by what means an OT believer could ever repent, believe and obey, I never heard a good answer.

    Thanks for the post. Very encouraging.

    Godspeed

  5. Mike white says:

    Here is your mistake Bob (-:
    You equate being born again with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
    John 7 tells us…
    On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
    Acts 2 tells us…
    Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
    Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

    What then is John and Luke speaking about in these two passages if not the indwelling of the Holy Spirit?

    What then is being born again if not the indwelling of the Spirit?

    When you were born the first time, of Adam, you were born with a corrupt self centered spirit. We read that it is not subject to God, that it follows after Satan, and it is unable to grasp the things of the Spirit.
    But when you are born again, you are born of God, with a new nature, a God centered spirit that seeks to obey God.

    This describes you, your change, who you are now. In addition to a new heart, you have, as a NT saint the Holy Spirit abiding in you and with you, a Helper to aid you in your journey. He is able to be indwelt with you, uniting you with Christ because Jesus has paid the price, died, rose from the dead and has risen to heaven and glorified!

  6. Scott Tucker says:

    Wow! This blog looks just like my old one! It’s on a entirely different subject but it has pretty much the same layout and design. Wonderful choice of colors!