August 13, 2020

Did the Holy Spirit Indwell Old Testament Believers?

Nathan W. Bingham & Sinclair Ferguson
Did the Holy Spirit Indwell Old Testament Believers?

Since we cannot come to saving faith apart from the Spirit of God, how do we account for believers prior to Pentecost? Today, Sinclair Ferguson compares how Old Testament believers related to the Holy Spirit with our experience today.


NATHAN W. BINGHAM: I'm here on the Ligonier campus with one of our teaching fellows, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson. Dr. Ferguson, did the Holy Spirit indwell believers in the Old Testament?

DR. SINCLAIR FERGUSON: Nathan, that's a really good question and I think it's one that is very often asked. And I think the reason it's asked is because first of all, there's not a single clear statement, I don't think, in the Bible anywhere that gives us the answer. Sometimes I think the question arises in people's minds because people point them to the words of Jesus in John 14:17 when He says to the Apostles, speaking about the Spirit He would send to them, "He is with you and He will be in you." And so often people make the distinction: in the Old Testament, under the Mosaic covenant, He was with believers; in the new covenant He is in believers.

My own view of that statement of Jesus is that He's not distinguishing between the old covenant experience and their new covenant experience. He's distinguishing between Himself and them. He's saying, "The Holy Spirit I'm going to send to you is actually with you in Me." They have seen the ministry of the Spirit in the life of the Lord Jesus. And what He's saying then is, "It's the Holy Spirit, who has been dwelling in Me, that I am going to send to you."

So, to back up, I think I would say this, that unless the Holy Spirit had dwelt in believers in the Old Testament, they couldn't have come to faith. If the Holy Spirit did not dwell in believers in the Old Testament, then the fruit of the Spirit would not have been produced in them.

But when the New Testament describes these things, it often uses Old Testament illustrations and examples. So, I would say the Holy Spirit did indwell believers under the old covenant. The difference is not so much in His indwelling but in the manner of their experience of Him and their knowledge of Him. In the new covenant, because of the coming of our Lord Jesus, we have a clearer view of who the Holy Spirit is and we have a richer experience of Him.

And I think those are the two important distinctions. It's maybe helpful to think about the same question in relationship to the Father. Was the Father the Father of believers in the Old Testament? Well, there isn't really a believer in the Old Testament who says, "Abba, Father." Does that mean He wasn't their Father? No, He was their Father, but they didn't have the kind of knowledge of Him as their Father that comes to us in our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, I sometimes see if you hold up the Sermon on the Mount between two fingers, you'll have piles more references to knowing God as your heavenly Father than you find in the whole of the Old Testament. So, the difference is not that the Holy Spirit didn't dwell in them. It's not that the Father wasn't their Father. It's that there is huge differences in the light, and then the experience between the old covenant and the new covenant, and between our knowledge of God through Christ and the knowledge God's people had before Him.