I previously posted here and here regarding salvation for believers prior to the coming of the Spirit. The question is as follows: if the reformed ordo salutis is correct, how did believers prior to Christ’s ascension come to be regenerate and sanctified if the Spirit, at that time, did not dwell in their hearts? Alternatively framed: if the Spirit is required in the work of regeneration and this precedes repentance in the ordo salutis, how did believers come to repentance prior to the indwelling of the Spirit?
An open discussion took place over the last couple of days which has resulted in a (very) tentative solution. I found the discussion useful and, in the hope others might find it similarly helpful, thought I would reproduce it here (with permission from the contributors):
I sympathise with the problem, and I’d add as strong an emphasis to the giving of the Spirit to indwell as exclusive to the New Covenant as I can.I think my thoughts are very much in line with yours on the solution, that the Spirit worked in the hearts of OT (better OC? Same thing in Greek…) believers but without indwelling them.
Jeremiah 31:33-35 is very clear in showing how the giving of the Spirit, the priesthood of all believers and individual, personal relationship with God are marks of the New Covenant. So is OC salvation dependent on a moment of repentance beginning a personal relationship with God at all? That personal relationship is a wonderful feature of the New Covenant which OC believers can’t have known. The Spirit was certainly active under the OC, but came upon and also later left people (i.e. Saul).
I wonder if the problem is one of our own making in drawing up an NT ordo salutis that was never a feature of the OC, where salvation was a matter of being located in the Covenant the same as it is now, requiring the same work of the Spirit, but not with the same wonderful indwelling, and I agree that the next question is how sanctification is impacted.
Sorry that doesn’t add much, except hopefully some extra weight behind what you’d already got.
Yes, you’ve rather reframed the same question!
The issue with the above is it makes regeneration all but impossible (and sanctification nonexistent) in the OT. Sanctification is perhaps easier to deal with but Jesus is clear unless one is “born again” they cannot be saved and that necessitates regeneration of the spirit. So how were OT believers ever saved without that regenerating, indwelling work of the spirit?
Dispensationalism offers an immediate answer but the other problems it as a view causes are worse than the presented problem (which suggests it is not the answer). Some of your answer seems to border on the dispensational, which is not particularly satisfying
You seemed like perhaps you’d appreciate a little confirmation of the Spirit’s indwelling being distinctly NT, no?
Why exactly does it make them impossible though? Can the Spirit only accomplish those through permanent indwelling, or could he have worked them then without indwelling? It may be that I’ve not read or thought deeply enough on the specifics, but the indwelling doesn’t seem like an absolutely necessary part of regeneration or sanctification.
And I utterly sympathise and am probably be more firm than you in dismissing dispensationalism’s solution!
I agree indwelling is a new covenant phenomenon – Jesus words are meaningless otherwise. That is the crux of the problem. Nevertheless, It is dispensational to suggest salvation was by, and worked through, other means in the OT. So, I want to avoid that. Moreover, it seems regeneration and justification are tied exclusively to the Spirit’s indwelling.
Your suggestion that the Spirit could achieve regeneration/ justification without indwelling is interesting. It would solve the issue neatly but I’m not sure there is scriptural warrant for the claim as regeneration is tied so closely to indwelling. That would fit in with my proposed sanctification argument but how can the spirit regenerate and bring perseverance without indwelling?
Before dispensationalism ‘proper’ theologians and commentators often spoke of dispensations, but dividing history into just two as per the covenants, rather than the fanciful however-many there are in “Schofieldism.” We shouldn’t avoiding a good solution because a study Bible abused it should we?
Could another angle help crystallise thought here? To be saved, under either covenant, is only a matter of positionally being in it. In the New Covenant that is achieved by the Spirit. I know we will baulk against the suggestion, but wasn’t it actually by means of obedience in the Old Covenant? Ah… as I write that I realise the uniting factor is faith. If the uniting factor as Scripture states it is faith, could we accept that regeneration was not actually part of the Old Covenant, where justification is?
If regeneration can’t be separated from indwelling, and indwelling was categorically not OC, regeneration not being OC seems to follow. On first thoughts I’m happy with that, being another wonderful benefit of the New Covenant achieved in Jesus. You may have already spelt it out and I’ve forgotten between sermons, but what’s the problem with that?
I agree – we shouldn’t throw out the good because we baulk at the term. However, I’m trying to avoid suggesting salvation was by another means under the old covenant (it wasn’t, it was always by faith, and it simply is dispensational to say otherwise).
Where I see an issue with your proposal boils down to total depravity. How can someone ever be saved without a working of the spirit beforehand? We usually call that working ‘regeneration’. On your view, justification is reached without regeneration in the OT. That seems to speak against Paul.
So, the question remains: how is one regenerate ie saved without the indwelling of the spirit? Evidently many OT were justified but, if justification necessarily requires regeneration and repentance, how is this possible without the indwelling work of the spirit?
I don’t know if any of these thoughts can help but… there are two extremes to avoid: flattening out the distinction between the OT & NT, and creating such a distinction that we fall into dispensationalism. There is both continuity and discontinuity between the two covenantal periods. Mistakes come when we either emphasize the continuity or discontinuity. May I suggest that it might not be entirely helpful to think of the coming of the Spirit as a matter of space-time travel. Clearly, prior to Pentecost, the Spirit was already present. On a basic level, the Spirit, as God, is omnipresent. In a particular sense, the Spirit was present in the Messiah, who had the Spirit without measure. Added to this, John 20:22 records Jesus breathing on his disciples and saying receive the Holy Spirit. This act takes place prior to Jesus’ promise in Acts that the disciples should wait in Jerusalem to receive the Spirit. This is clearly not a matter of presence as opposed to absence, lest we rob the Spirit of his deity or ongoing work. It is not that the Spirit was present in heaven and absent on earth prior to Pentecost, yet present on earth and absent in heaven subsequent to Pentecost. Flattening out this ‘coming’ of the Spirit into a mere space-time travel is an error of catagory tantamount to asking ‘what colour is the Holy Spirit?’ or ‘how much does he weigh?’ Rather, the coming must be seen in terms of his work and the capacity of that work. The prophesies of Joel fulfilled at Pentecost were not of a Spirit who had previously been inactive, but of an unprecedented work of the Spirit. The unprecedented work spoken of is not that of regeneration, hence we need not view the OT believers as being absent from the regenerative work. It is helpful, I believe, to view the coming of Christ to see how these ‘comings’ are utilized in Scripture. Christ is omnipresent, yet the eternal Son of God did come in the incarnation in fresh capacity for the work of salvation. Following the ascension, Christ remained omnipresent as to his deity, yet believers may still speak of Christ’s presence with them in public gatherings of the body of Christ. Yet we still await the ‘coming’ of Christ for the work of consummation. All of these comings are not merely space-time arrivals viewed in contrast to previous absences, but in terms of capacity and work.
Thanks for your input, some very helpful thoughts.
I certainly agree with you regarding the ongoing presence of the Spirit. Clearly, the Spirit was ‘present’ in some sense prior to his giving. I was certainly not suggesting the Spirit was somehow inactive and not present prior to Christ’s ascension. What I was suggesting was that the Spirit did not dwell in the hearts of believers prior to this. The question then concerns regeneration: how is regeneration possible without such indwelling (not specifically related to his presence altogether)?
I think I disagree with your view of Christ’s current omnipresence. Christ’s ongoing presence with us is explained through his giving of the Spirit and is tied intricately to the nature of trinity. Indeed, Christ is with us to the end of the age by his Spirit – he is not bodily with us! Christ is currently bodily in Heaven acting as an advocate for us with the Father. The claim to Christ’s presence in the gathering of believers, in my view, is rather a red herring because that specifically relates to church discipline. It actually makes clear when church discipline is meted out correctly, just as Christ has given authority to the church and guides them by his Spirit, it is as though such discipline has been enacted by Christ himself. I see no reason from the text to go beyond this application and some reason elsewhere to argue that such a claim would be false if explained apart from the presence of the Spirit. This is not really a reference to his actual, bodily presence. It would be my contention that Christ is omnipresent by the nature of the trinity. He himself is currently resident in Heaven, with the Father, in a resurrection body.
So, clearly you are right to point out the fact the Spirit was present and active prior to his giving. Certainly, Jesus had the Spirit by virtue of the trinity. Jesus giving of the Spirit to the disciples came post-resurrection. The statement in John 20 seems to be an act of Jesus as a pledge of the Holy Spirit to come, not the point specifically at which they received the Holy Spirit (otherwise Thomas is left out). Clearly, just as Acts details the extending out of the gospel in salvation-history, it began with Jesus’ giving of the Spirit to the disciples at pentecost and, over time, the extension to larger and wider people groups. Again, the giving of the Spirit strikes me as the first step in the indwelling of the Spirit as part of the account of the extension of the gospel in salvation-history starting with the disciples. So, I’m not sure this really sheds light on the question at hand (this is merely the first time the Spirit is given).
So, this leads me back to the question. How were OT believers (and those whom were with Christ) regenerate without the Spirit’s indwelling? That is not to say the Spirit was inactive and unmoving but how was regeneration, repentance and justification worked without such indwelling? If we want to argue that the Spirit did these things prior to the inauguration of the new covenant (which we may well be correct), we must explain the difference in what Jesus says about the Spirit’s coming. Why is it better that he goes away if the Spirit already regenerates, justifies and sanctifies? Is not Jesus making a purely artificial and pointless distinction if that is the case?
Well, I might have missed the morning this morning…I can’t think of any books I’d have that would be specifically on this subject, though commentaries of the key passages might help.
In the systematic theologies I’ve got there’s not so much help, Grudem and Reymond don’t seem to say much at all about the issue, though Grudem’s citing of the new heart in Ezekiel 36 may suggest a more dispensational than unity-focussed approach.
Bavinck seems to head that way from what I can tell. Page 47 of the 4th volume of Reformed Dogmatics highlights the impossibility of human input to regeneration, the requirement for it in Deuteronomy, Joshua, Psalm 51, etc, and the promise of God’s working through the Spirit in the New Covenant. He then shows how John the Baptist and Jesus spoke of this need for internal renewal, but he doesn’t seem to say much about how that worked, or acknowledge the development.He sums up the section (page 52) saying how the presentation was different but the OT and NT both point to the same reality, but he seems to leave it as an expectation as far as OT believers are concerned and doesn’t attack the question you’re asking.
Culver seems the brightest hope of the Sytematic Theologies I’ve checked so far. (On page 692-3) He begins by focussing on the presence of the theme in OT history, among the patriarchs, as an underlying theme in Deuteronomy for the generation who had seen their parents perish though redeemed from Egypt. He comments a little on the question of when Jacob was converted, and then says, “it does seem clear, however, that spiritually the sons of Jacob scarcely rose above a coarse level of moral and spiritual outlook. The records of the time do not say anything specific about a persona level of fellowship with God.” Deut 30:6 seems to be a promise of regeneration by the hand of the Lord, but more immediate than a Messianic promise. He then says, “in any case the story of Old Testament Israel describes many sincere people who approached the ideal of the circumcised heart,” and that “these evidences – and much more – demonstrate that whether called regeneration or not, there were some, even innumerable multitudes, who were ‘born again’ before Jesus uttered the memorable words of John 3.” His treatment of OT prophecy does the same as Bavinck and others, showing that there was something coming of a different order, or a different magnitude at least.
Unfortunately they all seem to brief to really tackle the question, but they confirm the frame some more! There must be a change with the coming of the New Covenant, something that was not present before. But there is also continuity with OT believers being saved through faith, and evidence of spiritual rebirth present in OT characters.
One thing I think we can say is that clarity came with the New Covenant, and what before was a difficult thing to define or even detect is now something that has been revealed and is known by all. Maybe from that we can say that the Spirit’s work under the OC was difficult to detect (as in John 3, not knowing where the wind/spirit blows), whereas now the Spirit has been given to permanently indwell us. And so the Spirit was active before, regenerating (but in some somehow lesser sense?), perhaps even indwelling, but now the work is known and appreciated to a far, far greater degree. (I’ve got a half dozen more I could check, but from the four so far I don’t get the feeling it’ll be worth the effort! I’ll hopefully be in WEST for a couple of days this week, I could see if there’s anything on it there.)
Yes, i checked out Grudem, Berkhof and Milne on this, none of whom really give a satisfactory answer (mainly because they don’t deal with the specific problem). I’ll keep looking.
Clearly, salvation is, and always was, by faith. The question is how did that faith come to be when the Spirit had not yet dwelt in the hearts of those who believe?
I think the on/in distinction between OT and NT may be significant i.e. the Spirit was ‘on’ individuals in the OT but was not yet ‘in’ them. That would potentially accord with your view that regeneration could occur without indwelling and would allow for the view that regeneration occurred whilst the Spirit was ‘on’ an individual whilst ongoing sanctification only occurred once the Spirit dwelt ‘in’ believers. Thus, for OT believers, sanctification/glorification were effectively simultaneous whereas for us they are not. The issue with this is whether the biblical data really bears the view out
I think it has to be something like that, and I think on/in sounds like a very good way to approach it. Sanctification as a benefit of the NC certainly seems to fit with the prophetic passages that speak of the people then knowing God’s word and being able to keep it in contrast with the repeatedly failing OT nation, though perhaps it isn’t entirely ruled out of the OC ‘on stage.’
Steve, I realize I did not answer the question. However, I tried to present something that might help with the reasoning process. It seems the logic goes this way: the Spirit came at Pentecost/in the New Covenant, therefore prior to the ‘coming’ he must have been absent in some way. I realize that you would not present a position where the Spirit had been previously inactive, yet the activity of the Spirit prior to Pentecost does demonstrate the that the ‘coming’ does not preclude a continuity between the Spirit’s work in NT believers and OT believers (though a discontinuity remains). The question is whether or not the regeneration and indwelling of believers belongs to the continuity or the discontinuity. Paul’s discussions in Romans seem to indicate that the means of salvation belongs to continuity despite the discussions in Hebrews that demonstrate the ‘shadow-like’ nature of the revelation of that salvation to OT believers. I would caution against renouncing Christ’s omnipresence in the present age, as omnipresence belongs to the divine nature. The early church fought a long battle against those who claimed Christ lost elements of the divine nature. As you pointed out, the ‘special presence’ of Christ with his people is ‘by the Spirit’, yet this is differentiated from omnipresence. However, we are free to use the Biblical language (whilst understanding the underlying systematics). The Biblical language provided in the upper room ministery is that the Father and Son make their home with the believer. Whilst realizing the role of the Spirit in this, the Biblical language is not inadequate to describe this. Have you read Wright on the Spirit in the OT. I haven’t read it all, though I seem to remember he addresses the issue.
One thing I’ve always found helpful with the ordo salutis is that it is not so much a chronological order, as it is a logical order. The logic is driven, in part, by total depravity. If man is radically incapable of pleasing God, then regeneration must logically precede repentance and faith (as you know). As total depravity is traced by Paul to Adam in Romans, the ordo salutis cannot be limited to the NT period, lest we restrict total depravity. Likewise, Paul’s ‘golden chain of redemption in Romans 8 makes this process an eternal one.
Let me just deal with easier, side-issue. I am not denying Christ’s divine nature nor am I intending to claim he somehow ‘lost’ his omnipresence. I am arguing, since he is eternally the God-man, his divine nature is now forever linked to his human nature. Thus, whilst Christ’s divine attributes are possessed alongside his human attributes, they are not always expressed. As Bruce Ware puts it, “he accepted finite limitations to the full expression of his infinite divine qualities, while he also possessed those divine qualities in their infinite fullness”. Given that Jesus continues to live as a man, this means that his omnipresence – just as when he was on Earth – has not ceased to exist. Nevertheless, He possesses omnipresence whilst, as a man, not fully expressing it. Therefore, his presence with us now is better explained by the nature of the trinity rather than by reference to omnipresence.
The harder issue is the one at hand. Clearly, we agree the Spirit worked and was active during OT and NT periods. You state:
“the activity of the Spirit prior to Pentecost does demonstrate the that the ‘coming’ does not preclude a continuity between the Spirit’s work in NT believers and OT believers (though a discontinuity remains). The question is whether or not the regeneration and indwelling of believers belongs to the continuity or the discontinuity. Paul’s discussions in Romans seem to indicate that the means of salvation belongs to continuity despite the discussions in Hebrews that demonstrate the ‘shadow-like’ nature of the revelation of that salvation to OT believers.”
I would venture that Ezekiel’s comments in 36:24-28 rather rule out your suggestion that indwelling can occur without the ‘coming’ of the Spirit. It is quite clear Ezekiel sees a time (future) when God will put his Spirit into the hearts of his people. That suggests such an indwelling of the Spirit had yet to occur and the result of this indwelling looks remarkably close to what we might call the ongoing work of sanctification. I see no way around that on your view (unless we want to argue Ezekiel was making a totally arbitrary point where there is no real distinction).
I agree with you, that the ordo salutis is both logical and driven (in part) by total depravity. I also agree regeneration must logically precede repentance and this cannot be anything other than a working of the Spirit. If we tie indwelling and regeneration tightly together (and I see why we would do this), this is rather where the conundrum arises for, unless we make a nonsense of Ezekiel, we must argue there was an indwelling of the Spirit where Ezekiel makes clear there was none.
This is what makes the on/in distinction between OT and NT quite attractive. If it is possible (and this is a big IF) for the Spirit to regenerate without indwelling e.g. the Spirit regenerates a believer whilst ‘on’ them without being ‘in’ them, then we have grounds for saying Ezekiel was really talking of the new covenant in which we are given God’s Spirit whilst also maintaining regeneration as a work of the Spirit in both OT and NT. The potential resulting difference in these two states, to which Ezekiel seems to allude, is that the indwelling Spirit allows us to keep God’s commandments (i.e. there is a process of sanctification) whereas with the Spirit ‘on’ a believer, sanctification and glorification may be simultaneous.
Now, that seems to be a compelling position but I am not yet wholly convinced this is borne out in the biblical data. It is certainly attractive but my concern is whether it is correct
* Two further comments were written under the original article (accessible here) following this discussion. I reproduce them here for completeness:
I think the distinction is between the spirit being given for particular people at particular times for a particular purpose in the old testament – eg. Bezalel, gideon, samson list goes on ‘spirit was on them’ and as you rightly point out God’s desire to pour out his spirit on all people (Joel) and put a new heart within them (Ezekiel). This outpouring very clearly begins on the day of Pentecost and is very clearly distinct from all that has gone before – i think before only a few good experience the in filling of Gods presence and power, and maybe even then it was in a different way. I don’t think its about how you experience salvation. Clearly people could identify Jesus as messiah and believe in him before the day of Pentecost, and in acts we see believers who then receive the holy spirit. Your question was primarily about salvation but i think its coming down to whether there is a distinction between God’s ability to influence hearts and minds (by his spirit) and God’s desire to create people experiencing the presence of his spirit drenching them as a separate thing. Peter sees that Jesus is the Christ and Jesus says that is because his father in heaven has revealed it to him, the Peter who then has a dramatic encounter with Gods spirit on the day of Pentecost is then a separate issue not just restricted to the question of salvation. In the OT they achieve their salvation through faith, though they do not know the means, and it is credited to them, but they do not get to know the Holy Spirit the way we do. And perhaps if that is not clear in many churches, if it looks just like knowing God in the old testament, maybe that is because the teaching on the Holy Spirit isn’t in line with what God has done.
Thanks for your comments. Certainly some helpful things in there.
I think we must be careful about suggesting “the distinction is between the spirit being given for particular people at particular times for a particular purpose in the old testament”. This is the very Dispensationalism we are trying to avoid!
Scripture is clear that salvation was (a) always by faith and, (b) never limited to the Jews alone. Paul says “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Rom 9:7f) and the OT is replete with non-Jews coming to faith (Rahab, Ruth, Nebuchadnezzar, Naaman, etc). In the case of Nebuchadnezzar specifically, here we have a nation used as a judgment against the Jews becoming a light to other nations at a time when Israel were spiritually nowhere. So, faith was always themeans of salvation and this always extended beyond a “particular people”.
You seem to be emphasising the manifestations of the Spirit and bring Joel to boot in your comment. On this, you are right that Pentecost marks the first point in salvation-history where Joel’s prophecy takes hold. However, I specifically didn’t refer to Joel because he is dealing with an altogether different issue that is not really pertinent to the question (though not entirely unrelated).
Ezekiel, on the other hand, envisages a time at which God’s Spirit will be placed into the hearts of believers, the fruit of which is an ability to keep God’s law as we ought. Unless Ezekiel is wrong, or making an arbitrary distinction, this must mean that God’s Spirit was not in the hearts of believers (at the time of writing) and they were not able to keep God’s law as they ought. This seems to be directly related to the sanctifying work of the Spirit.
Paul makes clear that saving faith is the result of the regenerating work of the Spirit in our hearts. So, the question follows, how were believers previously saved if the Spirit did not dwell in their hearts? It may appear either Ezekiel is wrong (the Spirit already dwelt in hearts despite his statement to the contrary) or, Paul is wrong (the regenerating work of the Spirit is not always necessary for salvation (cf. Rom 8:9ff). Of course, the truth is there must be some answer that unifies both…
…I think the on/in distinction between covenants is significant and Paul’s comment could easily apply to the Spirit ‘on’ those in the OT just as it applies to the Spirit ‘in’ those in the NT. The distinguishing feature between the on/in would appear to be (a) the ongoing process of sanctification prior to glorification (Rom 8:26) and; (b) the inner testifying witness of the Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5; 8:16) both of which accord with Ezekiel’s view of the differences between these two covenantal states.