Did the Holy Spirit Indwell Old Testament Saints?

New Testament Christianity teaches that the Holy Spirit resides within every saved person. At the moment of salvation God the Spirit takes up residence within the believer’s spiritual part of his being. What about the believers in the Old Testament. Did the Holy Spirit reside within them?

The Bible’s teaching about the Holy Spirit takes place primarily through the stories of the people of God. Few sections are specifically intended to teach about the Holy Spirit. The majority of those teaching passages are found in the New Testament. By observing how the Holy Spirit worked in the lives of specific people an understanding can be developed of the Holy Spirit’s Old Testament ministry.

The Holy Spirit was actively at work in the world before the coming of Jesus. The Old Testament describes various instances of the Holy Spirit coming upon individuals. The Holy Spirit came upon people to enable them to prophecy. (Numbers 24:2) Sometimes this “coming upon” happened at the beginning of their ministry like Othniel in Judges 3:10. Sometimes, like Samson, the Spirit came upon the person multiple times throughout their ministry. The Holy Spirit filled individuals like Bezaleel to perform a specific task. Very rarely does the Old Testament describe the Holy Spirit as “in” a person. Pagan kings said of Joseph and Daniel that the Spirit was in them. God told Moses that Joshua was, “a man in whom is the spirit.” (Numbers 27:18) Aside from these few references the Old Testament gives no indication that every believer possessed the Holy Spirit or was uniquely empowered by the Holy Spirit. The active working of the Holy Spirit was not the normal experience for Old Testament believers.

The Old Testament also presents the possibility of the Holy Spirit being removed from a person. This is the tragic case of Samson and Saul because of their sin. When David repented of his adultery and murder he prayed that God would not take His Holy Spirit from David. (Psalm 51:11) Those who knew the presence of the Holy Spirit were not assured of His continued working in them.

Jesus sums up the difference between the Holy Spirit’s ministry. In preparing the disciples for His departure Jesus promised to give them His Holy Spirit. He tells them the Holy Spirit was currently with them (Old Testament work of the Spirit) and in the future would be in them (New Testament work of the Spirit). (John 14:17) The Holy Spirit did indwell some believers before Pentecost, but that was not His usual ministry. The Holy Spirit empowered Old Testament saints without taking up residence within them. The Holy Spirit was with Old Testament saints. The Holy Spirit now resides within every child of God. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit in every believer is a unique thing that began at the day of Pentecost.

Is the God of the Old Testament different from the God of the New Testament?

A common assertion is that the Bible presents two very different depictions of God. The God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath who flooded the earth, wiped out cities and commanded the destruction of nations. On the other hand, the God of the New Testament is shown through Jesus to be a God of love. He is patient, ready to forgive and tender towards sinners. Does the Biblical presentation of God change from the Old to the New Testament?

Describing the God of the Old Testament as a God of wrath and the God of the New Testament as a God of love is a caricature. The Bible gives a uniform description of God. The God found in Genesis is the same God found in Revelation. God does not change. His character and purpose has remained the same throughout the history of mankind.

The God the Old Testament is a God of great love. When God showed a portion of His glory to Moses He declared Himself to be, “The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” (Exodus 34:6-7) The Psalms are full of descriptions of God’s love. “The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. The Lord is good to all:and his tender mercies are over all his works.” (Psalm 145:8-9)

Even in times of terrible judgment the compassion of God is evident. In the book of Lamentations the prophet Jeremiah weeps over the destruction of Jerusalem. Yet he says, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23) God’s love was not restricted to the Israelites. The prophet Jonah did not want to preach in Nineveh because he knew God is “a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and fo great kindness.” (Jonah 4: 2) Jonah hated the Assyrians, God did not. God rebuked Jonah for his callousness towards the Ninevites. God asked Noah if He should not spare Nineveh that had 120,000 children? Just like with Sodom and Gomorrah God was ready to forgive and hold back His judgment. From the very beginning of the Old Testament God shows Himself to be a God of great love.

The God of the New Testament is a God of wrath. Consider Jesus’ stern warnings about hell. He said in Matthew 25 that all those who are not His followers will be condemned to everlasting torment in hell. “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” Jesus promises the most terrible judgment on unbelievers. He is clearly a God of wrath.

The wrath of God is not only found in the gospels. Romans 1 warns “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” Colossians 3 teaches the Christian to put aside sinful attitudes. “For which things sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience.” The book of Revelation is filled with the wrath of God and the judgment of Jesus. The severity of the judgments in Revelation rival anything found in the Old Testament. In Revelation 19 Jesus is described as descending from heaven. “Out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of the Almighty God.” The Jesus of the New Testament is the God of judgment who executes His wrath upon all the lost.

The God of the Bible is the same throughout. Jesus and Jehovah are not two different Gods, or two different personalities of God. They are the same God who pardons and punishes sin. His love and His wrath are equally functions of His holiness. He is the Holy God, Sovereign over His creation, exercising justice and mercy, showing love and wrath, giving grace and punishment, to all. He is God who does not change.

How do I apply the Old Testament to my life today?

The Old Testament is profitable for Christians today. Understanding and applying the Old Testament can at times be challenging because it was written to God’s covenant people, the Jews. Important to understanding the Old Testament is remembering that Christians today are not the same as the Jews of 3,000 years ago.

Israel is not the church and Israel is not America. One cannot immediately apply the Old Testament commands to the New Testament Christian. Old Testament commands must be read with the understanding that Jesus has completed the Mosaic law (Ephesians 2:15) and brought in a new covenant with His people. The Old Testament reader cannot claim the promises given to the Jews as if they are promises to the church. One cannot view the judgments and blessings of the nation Israel as if God is going to do the same to America. Understand the Old Testament by recognizing who it was written to and why.

The Old Testament is not a book of puzzles that can only be figured out once the person has found the hidden key. The Old Testament must not be read as if it contains hidden truths that can only be discovered by modern technology or by interpreting secret codes. The Old Testament does not contain special meanings that were unknown until the church came along. The Old Testament is not the New Testament concealed in allegory, nor does the New Testament reveal the true, undiscovered meanings of the Old Testament.

Some things in the Old Testament are made more clear by the New Testament. Some things not revealed in the Old are made known in the New Testament. The Old Testament is best understood in light of the New Testament, but the meaning of the Old Testament is the same whether it was read before Jesus’ birth or two thousand years after His resurrection.

When reading the Old Testament the kind of book being read shapes how the book is understood. The book of Proverbs is not to be interpreted using the same methods as the book of Obadiah or the book of Genesis. History is different from poetry. Poetry is different from prophecy. Prophecy is different from the Psalms. The Psalms are different from the Law. These differences are very important. A command cannot be interpreted as if it is a promise. A Proverb should not be understood as if it was a prophecy. A detailed a look at how to understand specific kinds of Old Testament literature would take much more time and space than this article allows. Understand the Old Testament one book at a time according to the individual books literary genre.

Read the Old Testament as true history that is intended to teach of the glory of God, the plan of God to redeem a people to Himself, the Sovereignty of God and the holiness of God. The Old Testament is understood by following the normal rules of understanding written language. Look for purpose of the author in writing each book, or in some cases each section of the book. Understanding when the book was written and why it was written. Care must be taken to rightly understand what God said to the Israelites. Just like the New Testament the Old cannot mean something it never meant. Once the original intent and meaning of an Old Testament passage has been understood then principles can be drawn from the intended meaning and applied to New Testament Christians.

Every book of the Old Testament is of great profit to the believer today. Sometimes the Old Testament requires more work to understand how it applies to our lives today. Find good study materials, like commentaries and bible studies, to help. Study of the Bible takes work, but the Old Testament is no less profitable because of the energy required to mine its rich treasures.

How is the Old Testament relevant to Christians today?

Those with a basic familiarity with the Bible know it is divided into two portions- the Old Testament and the New Testament. For many Christians the Old Testament poses problems and challenges. The Old Testament is obviously written about and to the Israelites. How are these ancient Jewish books relevant to American Christians today?

The New Testament mentions several particular benefits of the Old. The stories of the Old Testament are examples and admonitions to modern day Christians (1 Corinthians 10:11). The stories of the Old Testament teach the blessings of obedience to God and the dangers of disobedience. The Old Testament is a treasure trove of truth lived out. Except for the gospels the New Testament is mostly concerned with doctrine and application. The Old Testament gives stories of the people of God that teach Christians today how to live.

The Old Testament was written for our learning to give Christian’s hope. (Romans 15:4) The rich doctrines of the Old Testament encourage believers to endure and they give comfort in difficulties.The Old Testament gives many examples of faithful men and women that encourage believers to be faithful today. The Old Testament shows how the saints of old dealt with problems and trusted in their God.

The Old Testament points to Jesus. (Luke 24:27) On the road to Emmaus Jesus taught two of His disciples what the Old Testament said about Himself. Jesus’ teaching points to the vast body of material in the Old Testament that describes the work of the Savior. The work of Jesus did not end with His death and resurrection. His work will continue until all the promises of the Messiah’s kingdom are fully accomplished. Revelation reveals some details of this kingdom, but it is the Old Tesetament that gives a fuller picture of the reign of the Messiah.

The Old Testament is profitable for doctrine, correction, reproof and instruction in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16) For example, the Old Testament is the primary source for our doctrine of God. The Old Testament vividly displays the person, work and character of God. Through the histories, the commands, the psalms and the proverbs the reader is given a picture of the nature of God, particularly of God the Father, as He works in the world and with His people. The theology of the Old Testament is taught through proposition and experience. The proposition that the Lord is holy becomes plain when God destroys Nadab and Abihu for offering strange fire. The proposition that God is merciful becomes real when He repeatedly delivers rebellious Israel from her captors. The Old Testament is a practical theology that teaches through living illustration.

Paul says in Romans 4:24 and in 1 Corinthians 9:10 that the Old Testament was written for our sakes. The early church only had the Old Testament for at least the first fifteen years. Though they had the teaching and preaching of the apostles the only written Word of God available to the earliest church was the Old Testament. The Old Testament was written to Israel and it was written for us.

How were people saved before Jesus?

Since Christian’s believe that only those who trust Jesus for salvation will have eternal life how were people saved who lived before Jesus? Since the earth is between 6,000-10,000 years old most of history happened before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. This includes quite a few of the great saints in the Bible. Abraham, Moses and David, to name a few, lived before Jesus. Alexander the Great, Guatama Buddha, Confucius, Julius Caesar, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and many other greats of history lived before Jesus. Billions of people lived before Jesus’ time. The question of their salvation is an urgent one.

The answer to this question is, in one sense, very simple. The people who lived before Jesus were saved the same way as the people living after Jesus. Everyone who has ever been saved has been saved by trusting Him for salvation. Understanding the the answer is a little more complicated. Those who were saved before Jesus were saved by believing God’s promise to send a Savior and by trusting that promised Savior for salvation. As soon as man sinned, God began to tell humanity about the Savior. He promised Adam and Eve to give one who would crush Satan and defeat the curse of sin. Though the Bible doesn’t record the specific promises given in the time between Adam and Abraham we know that those living during that time knew of God and some believed Him. Hebrews 11:4 says that Abel was declared righteous (he was saved) because of his faith. Enoch and Noah believed God and were saved.

Through the story of Abraham more is recorded of God’s promise to save men. God promised Abraham that through his Seed all the earth would be blessed. That promised Seed is Jesus (Galatians 3:16). Abraham believed God and was made righteous. (Genesis 15:6) The same promise was made to Abraham’s son, grandson and great-grandson. Through Moses God announced the promises of salvation to all of Israel. Through Israel God made the whole world know that He is God. Through Israel God repeatedly showed pictures of salvation. God placed Israel at the crossroads of the ancient world so all the world would know He is God.

God did not just make Himself known through mighty deeds of deliverance and judgment. God spoke to the world through His faithful servants. In the years before Jesus was born God spoke to men of His promise to save. Though we do not have many examples recorded in the Bible, the testimony of men like Abel and Enoch let us know that God spoke to men in the earliest years of human history. Hebrews 11:6 declares that only by faith is anyone made pleasing to God. Romans 10 says that faith comes by hearing the Word of God. Throughout all human history the truth of God’s promised salvation has been available. Men knew the commands of God and knew the promise of God to give a Savior. In the days of Abraham God gave the first written Scripture. Through Moses and many others the Old Testament came into existence. Though the name Jesus was not known before the angel spoke to Mary salvation has always been through faith in Him. He is the Savior of the world promised to mankind since the day man first sinned. He is the only means of salvation. God spoke of salvation to humanity thousands of years before Jesus and those who believed God’s promises were saved.

Why don’t Christians follow all the Old Testament laws?

No Christian in the world follows all the laws given in the Old Testament. No Christian even attempts to follow all the Old Testament commands. Regardless of how a person views his obligation towards the Old Testament, the keeping of the laws regarding temple worship and sacrifice is impossible in this present day. Very few Christians are concerned about their inability to offer a burnt offering in the temple. Very few Christians attempt to keep other commands. Most Christians are not concerned if their garments contain fibers from different kinds of materials or if the meat they are eating falls into the category of “clean”.

Why Christians do not keep all the Mosaic law? The typical answer given to this question breaks into three categories the laws given to Israel at Mt. Sinai. Ceremonial laws were those which governed the worship of the Israelites. Civil laws were those given to govern the operations of Israel as a nation and her people as citizens. Moral laws were those laws which summarize God’s universal standards of right and wrong (the ten commandments are usually cited as an example of the moral law). The common explanation asserts the ceremonial laws are fulfilled in Jesus, and thus are no longer needed. The civil law is no longer needed because God does not at this time have a self-governing nation as His people on earth. The moral law is the only portion of the Mosaic law which is still binding on people today.

This author prefers a simpler view to the classic one given above. The Christian is under no obligation to obey the law of Moses because Jesus has fulfilled the law of Moses and because the church is not Israel. The law given to Israel was intended for that nation from the time of Moses until the time they finally and fully rejected their Messiah. The law given to Israel was always limited in its scope, purpose and duration. Christians today are under obligation to keep the commands given to believers in the New Testament. Christians have no responsibility to observe a Sabbath because that law was in no way repeated to the church. Instead, Christians are under obligation to do something that is not found at all in the Old Testament- gather together every Sunday with other Christians. When the New Testament repeats an Old Testament command Christians are bound to obey it, but asking Christians why they do not follow all the Old Testament laws is a bit like asking an East Berliner why he doesn’t follow all the laws of Communist Germany.

This does not mean the New Testament Christian disregards the Old Testament. Some of the laws given in the New Testament are summations of Old Testament laws. For example, the New Testament forbids immorality but does not describe what that is. To understand what God defines as immoral sexual behavior one has to read the Old Testament. The Old Testament also gives the historic and moral foundation on which New Testament commands are based. When Jesus was asked about divorce, he pointed to the events of creation recorded in Genesis 1-3. The Christian does not scorn the Old Testament but reads and studies it to learn the character of His God and the nature of the requirements God places on His people.

Because God’s character does not change one would expect significant overlap between the commands given to Israel and the commands given to the church. One would expect similarity between the Law and New Testament commands. One would expect the same basic principles to be at the foundation of God’s commands to His people. One would expect certain unalterable, moral laws to be universally applied to all men. This is exactly what we find when comparing the laws of the Old and New Testament. Christians don’t follow the commands of the Old Testament because God has given in the New Testament the commands which He expects believers of this age to obey.

Do people with tattoos go to hell?

Tattoos are an increasingly popular way for people to decorate and modify their bodies. Tattoos have a history that stretches back thousands of years and today tattoos are a part of the culture of the most primitive tribes and the most advanced cities. Though in years past some have taught otherwise, nothing in the Bible describes tattoos as the mark of the beast. Tattoos are not an unpardonable sin. The presence of a tattoo on a person does not automatically disqualify him from heaven. No single sin condemns someone to hell. People are condemned to hell because of the sin nature, the natural bent to wickedness that all possess at birth. David says in Psalm 51, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Even before a person exits the womb, he is a sinful creature. This sin nature is why people go to hell. Individual acts of sin are an expression of the sin nature which all people possess. Consequently, none are condemned to hell because of being tattooed.

Similarly, people do not go to heaven because they were good enough to not get a tattoo. None enter heaven because of an action taken or a sin avoided. Heaven is reserved only for those who trust in the grace of God and receive the gift of forgiveness purchased by Jesus on the cross. Because the problem is one of human nature, the solution is not behavioral. The solution is a transformation of nature. To enter heaven one must be given a new nature, a nature that is righteous and acceptable to God. The new nature that man needs has been provided by Jesus and is freely available to any who will turn to Christ to be cleansed of guilt and transformed into righteousness.

A full answer to the question of tattoos must also consider if it is sinful to get tattooed. Some tattoos are going to be sinful because of their content. That which is obscene or profane is sinful, even if other tattoos might be acceptable. Tattoos are prolific in our culture. The days of only a fringe few being tattooed are long gone. No longer are tattoos immediately connected with rebel groups or gangs. The New Testament does not give a specific prohibition against getting a tattoo. The Old Testament did prohibit the Israelites from getting tattooed. Leviticus 19:28 says, “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19 contains a combination of timeless commands (do not prostitute your daughter; do not seek after wizards) and temporary commands (do not round the corner of your beards; do not eat bloody meat). The command against tattoos in verse 28 is specifically addressing the idolatrous worship of the pagans in Canaan making the prohibition against inking the flesh challenging to categorize as timeless or temporary. However, the weight of the chapter is against those things associated with idolatry and includes tattoos in the category of idolatrous practices.Though the context of Leviticus 19 does not give definite clarity on whether or not this is an absolute principle, it seems to me that the burden of proof lies with those who would defend getting a tattoo.

Though I am reluctant to communicate a definite prohibition against all tattoos, I would give a couple serious warnings. If there is any legitimate possibility the tattoo is going to be associated with idolatry, wicked groups or sinful behavior, do not get it. If you have any doubts at all about the righteousness of getting a tattoo, don’t get one. If the motivation for getting a tattoo is to look cool or to gain acceptance, don’t get one. Though tattoos may be permissible, and certainly will not condemn one to hell, the Old Testament association of tattoos with idolatry, the need to live wisely in this world and the Christian’s maintaining a Godly testimony would seem to indicate it is best for a child of God not to get inked.

Do conservative Christians want America to follow the Old Testament laws?

In some of the many debates about morality, a few have accused conservatives and Christians of wanting to put America under Old Testament law. The implication is of a fundamentalist movement that wants to enact a Christian version of Sharia law. The angry retort accuses Christians of thinking America should burn witches and stone homosexuals. Is there any truth to this? Do Christians think American law should be like the law of Moses? What should Christians think about the laws of Israel and their application to America today?

Most conservative Christians do not secretly yearn for a day when America is under the law of Moses. The law of Moses was a unique system of laws unfit for use in any other country of the world. The law of Moses was not just a religious law. It described the right ways of worship andd sacrifice. It defined right and wrong, commanding some behaviors and forbidding others. The law of Moses was more than religious law. The law of Moses was also civil law. The laws given to Moses by God described how the nation of Israel would be governed. It assigned punishment for crimes, maintained civil order and directed those who arbitrated God’s law. At that time Israel was a theocracy, a government by God mediated through His prophet Moses. Israel had no elected leadership, no constitution, no king, no ruling body. God was Israel’s supreme ruler and He ruled directly over the affairs of the nation.

Most Christians are not seeking to turn America into a theocracy. Such an effort would be futile and contrary to God’s commands for Christians today. God has never commanded the church or individual Christians to establish a Christian nation ruled directly by God. Christians have been commanded to exert a positive influence on the morals of others. Christians recognize that the moral laws found in the Old and New Testament are God’s unchanging standard of right and wrong. Christians would love to see the nation move to a place of obeying those moral laws, but Christians do not desire to overthrow the existing system of government to enact a pseudo-spiritual political agenda.

The focus of all Christians should be on a goal higher than the passing of new laws or the defense of existing laws. The Christian recognizes that human behavior is the symptom of the evil that exists in every human heart. As a result, the Christian’s goal is the transformation of the heart. The Christian must not be content to be a lobbyist or legislature. The Christian must be anxious to tell the gospel to everyone he meets so the heart of individuals will be changed by the power of God. Only when the heart of a man is changed, turned from sin, cleansed by God and made new, will he be able and wanting to obey God’s laws. The laws of a nation can only order the actions of a people, they can never change hearts.  Christians are not interested in making America a theocracy like Israel, but are anxious to preach the gospel to every creature.