Did Old Covenant Saints have the Holy Spirit? “It is the Spirit who gives Life”


Holy SpiritJesus claimed in John 7: 37-39 that through coming to him one would receive the “living water” synonymous with the presence of the Holy Spirit. By the work of Jesus, the Spirit will come in fullness and power to mark out the people of God by evidence of true belief. In John 4, Jesus had said that this water would “become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” This is a fulfillment of Isaiah 44:1-5, and we find the image reiterated in Revelation 22:17. This ever-flowing stream of living water brings both the present reality and the sure future inheritance of eternal life.

Have any ever received eternal life without this living water? Here in John 7, Jesus speaks of the Spirit’s coming in the fulfillment of the New Covenant, creating a people as a community, not by circumcision but by the new birth, creating a fellowship whose common trait is forgiveness of sins and the sanctifying operations of the Spirit. Israel was not that community, for they were marked off by ceremonies, particularly the ceremony of circumcision of males, not by the moral and spiritual perceptions peculiarly the mark of those called and sanctified by the Spirit.

The Spirit had not yet been given in that way, as the creator of the community, but he had been given to individuals among the remnant of Israel and even to those elect among other peoples. All of those that had the persevering faith leading to eternal life could not have been void of the Spirit of God. Both faith and faithfulness are the fruit of the Spirit’s operations, and both of these existed in those people of faith in Hebrews 11. The affections described there could not have existed without the operation of the Spirit of God. Noah’s “reverent fear” was a manifestation of the presence of the Spirit in his life; Abraham’s “looking forward to the city that has foundations” was evidence of the abiding presence of the Spirit; Moses’ “choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” and his consideration of “the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt” show the secret but continual presence of the Spirit’s gracious work.

None of these affections or loyalties can exist on the one hand, or be maintained on the other, apart from their being the constant production of the Holy Spirit. If these in the roll call of faith did not have the Spirit, they would have no principle in them that opposed the desires of the flesh, would be given over to those desires as are the reprobate, and would thus “not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:17-21). Paul wrote, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Romans 8:9). This does not refer to a superfluity of blessing, or the possession of a gift irrelevant to eternal life; it instead establishes a condition of moral necessity true of any believer in any age. If Abel did not have the Spirit of Christ, did he belong to him? If Joseph did not have the Spirit of Christ, he did not belong to him? If those “wandering about in deserts and mountains and in dens and caves of the earth” did not have the Spirit of Christ, even they did not belong to him. But they did belong to him, and that belonging was effected by the abiding presence of the Spirit.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Is one who has no indwelling of the Spirit a spiritual man? If not, then he considers the things of the Spirit of God as folly. Did Moses consider the Exodus folly or the Passover folly? These were spiritual things, and Moses saw their significance as types of the redemptive work of Christ, the “reproach of Christ.” After Jesus had said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life,” Peter said, “We have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:65, 69). Did he believe this and confess this without an initiating and continuing effectual work of the Holy Spirit? Regeneration and indwelling are operations of the Spirit morally necessary for faith and perseverance in that faith.

Since the Spirit of God is the Spirit of truth, his operations in sanctification in the new covenant are more powerful and thorough than before the coming of Christ, for the shadows and types now are fulfilled and made clear by His appearing. The explanation of the person and work of Christ by the inspiration of the Spirit may now have full effect in securing for Christ a people for his own possession zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14). As distinct from that remnant of true believers in Israel, these believers have the example of Christ, the teaching of Christ, the dying grace of Christ, the fullness of the revelation in Scripture, the community of saints to exhort, reprove, and encourage, and the variety of gifts granted to the church by the Spirit in Christ’s ascension (Ephesians 4:1-7). After Christ’s ascension, this gift of the Spirit marked the new community and people that believed in him with corporate holiness, personal holiness, and gifts for teaching and order (1 Corinthians 12:3-13). We thank God for regenerating grace and persevering grace given believers in all ages by the Spirit. We thank him for the special gifts given when Christ was glorified, putting us into a fellowship of believers, and granting each member of that believing body a gift of the Spirit so that we will “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly” (Ephesians 4:15, 16).

Share this post:

8 Responses to “Did Old Covenant Saints have the Holy Spirit? “It is the Spirit who gives Life””

  1. This is very interesting; I had not thought of it this way before. However, one question arises: what is the significance of Pentecost, if the disciples were already regenerate, indwelled believers? What “power from on high” (Luke 24:49) were they still waiting for?

    Perhaps you could address this question in a future post? (Or perhaps you’ve already addressed it somewhere!)

    Thanks for your faithful ministry of the Word.

  2. Tom,

    It is a delight to see some straight thinking on this issue about which so many are confused in our day. Thank you. I would not have said anything differently.


  3. Pascal Denault (@pascaldenault)

    Thanks for this article! What do you think of Dr. James Hamilton thesis (O.C. believers were regenerated but not indwelt by the Holy Spirit, based on John 7:39)?

  4. Donald E. Hartley

    A crucial factor must be distinguished. There is a biblical distinction between “receiving the Spirit,” “coming upon,” “baptized with the Spirit,” and “clothed with the Spirit” (all phrases used for the same phenomenon) versus the indwelling of the Spirit. Acts 2 (Pentecost) has nothing whatsoever to do with regeneration or indwelling. Indeed, the believers on this occasion were already indwelt. Nowhere in Scripture will you find any of the above expressions used for indwelling. What was Pentecost about? It was about reception of power when the Spirit would come “upon” (not “in”) them. It is not as one book on this subject wrongly interprets it as, “receiving the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.” That is an example of isogesis not exegesis. Until this distinction between biblical language speaking about the empowerment versus indwelling is fully understood and maintained, there will continue to be confusion on the subject from both the pew, pulpit, and professor.


Leave a Reply