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
- Charles Ryrie, The Holy Spirit (42)
- Larry Pettegrew, The New Covenant Ministry of the Holy Spirit (27-28)
However, what has gotten my attention recently is that some non-dispensationalists, while claiming to be Calvinistic, also reply negatively. For example,
- Jim Hamilton, God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old & New Testament (25-56)
- Graham Cole, He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (144-45)
In contrast to those who deny the Spirit’s OT indwelling work for believers, here are a few key resources that argue for it.
- Leon Wood, The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament (68-70)
- Sinclair Ferguson, The Holy Spirit (68)
- Geoffrey Grogan, “The Experience of Salvation in the Old and New Testaments,” Vox Evangelica 5 (1967) 4-26
- Gary Fredericks, “Rethinking the Role of the Holy Spirit in the Lives of Old Testament Believers,” Trinity Journal 9 (1988) 81-104.
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.