"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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  • « CPRF | Christian Publication Resource Foundation | Main | Images of the Savior (33 -- The Holy Feasts of Israel) »

    The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

    The following is an excerpt of a discussion here on Reformation Theology following in response to John Samson's fine essay on Wrestling with Predestination and Election. If this current post is of interest to you then I would encourage you to go there afterwards to read Pastor John's post and the interesting discussion that follows.

    John. Thank you for your reply, which has got me thinking (esp. the part about why some respond to the gospel and others don't). There is one issue I would love to hear your thoughts on. Calvinists always talk of the bondage of the will, etc and how one cannot come to Christ apart from a supernatural work (regeneration). How then does one explain the fact that some men found favour with God in the Old Testament, when they were unregenerate. Eg Joshua and Caleb whom the Lord said had a "different spirit" about them. Where did this believing spirit come from? Or what about Abraham, the father of our faith. The Bible holds him up as the ultimate example of faith, and yet he was unregenerate. Or why did Jesus marvel at the centurion's faith (if this faith was, according to calvinists, from God in the first place). In all these cases, it would seem the person themself found favour with God without being regenerated first (or at all). In fact, the whole Old Testament needs to be explained (with some believing and some not)as no one was regenerated then. I look forward to your thoughts.

    Thanks again for your important question which deserves an answer....

    you said >>>>>How then does one explain the fact that some men found favour with God in the Old Testament, when they were unregenerate.

    May I ask, are you speculating that people in the OT were unregenerate? Not sure what Biblical evidence you would hope to produce that would affirm such an assertion. Fact is, with all due respect to you brother, this understanding is quite wrong. In the Old Testament like the new, persons were saved by Jesus Christ plus or minus nothing (Read Galatians 3). Further, the OT often used terminology such as God "circumcising" the heart to indicate a work regeneration:

    "And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live." (Deut 30:6)

    Being from Deuteronomy, this promise of God's working in their heart was directly to the Israelites of the time. This circumcision of the heart is really the same experience as regeneration (Rom 2:29; Col 2:11-13). Regeneration is God granting the ability to hear, understand, believe, obey and enter the kingdom (See John 3 & the entire book of 1 John). Apart from the new birth men remain slaves of sin and the Devil (John 8:34, 44). Human nature has not changed from the beginning of time from OT to NT. People still need the Holy Spirit to believe lest they remain hostile to God by nature (Rom 8:7).

    The fullness of times has come when Jesus fulfilled the law on our behalf. But the Old Testament can be likened to a seed and a branch while the NT is like the full flowering and fruit of that same branch. The root is the same plant that brings forth the fruit. There may be degrees of difference as Jesus told the disciples prior to his resurrection that the Holy Spirit was "with them" but would be (future tense) "in them" (John 14:17), but this simply shows that the Holy Spirit was fully active in the OT in creation, and the prophets, priests and kings as well as the regeneration of individual children of promise. There should also therefore be no confusing the filling of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit's work of regeneration. They may be organically connected but they are not the same. One is the Spirit's work to renew the heart ... the other is the Spirit's indwelling. Indwelling is referring to the Holy Spirit's positive, pervasive, abiding, covenant presence in believers through the Spirit. The OT saints had the former with only limited presence of the latter.

    Further example:
    Sometimes in the Old Testament God even reveals behind the scenes how He enabled particular Jews to obey his Word when they were called to repent: In 2 Chronicles chapter 30, for example, when couriers with a message of repentance passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, they laughed them to scorn and mocked them when they were called to repent, "Nevertheless some men of Asher, Manasseh and Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the LORD." (Chronicles 30:11-12)

    The text says some tribes resisted the call to repentance, but only those tribes which the HAND OF GOD GAVE A HEART TO OBEY THE WORD, repented. So here is a clear instance of the Spirit of God working faith and repentance in the hearts of certain persons among Israel while leaving others to their own rebellious self-will...

    Hope this helps a little

    For a fuller treatment on this topic, I recommend God's Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments by James H. Hamilton, Jr.

    Posted by John on November 20, 2008 05:48 PM


    Thanks John H. for your insight once again.. I also responded personally to Timothy with the following, which says much the same thing as yourself:

    Dear Timothy,

    Thanks for your comments and question. You are right when you say "Calvinists always talk of the bondage of the will, etc and how one cannot come to Christ apart from a supernatural work (regeneration)." That's because John 6:44, 65 affirms this clearly. In reading through the rest of your comments though you are making the assumption that no one was regenerated under the Old Testament dispensation. May I ask why it is you assume this?

    I believe Joshua, Caleb, Abraham and all Old Testament saints were regenerated in just the same way as believers are in the New Testament. The same Holy Spirit worked then as now.. David entreated the Lord "take not Your Holy Spirit from me." This prayer carries with it the asssumption that he already had the Holy Spirit working in His life.

    Was there something about these men and women that were different? Well no there was nothing inherent within them that would mark them out as special.. but like Noah they "found grace in the eyes of the Lord." Gen 6:8 He found grace because God gave grace and grace by definition is something undeserved.

    In Christian theology, we differentiate between the Deity and Humanity of Christ (we differentiate, not separate) for He is One Person.. 100% God and 100% man)...

    in His Divinity, nothing could ever surprise Christ, for He knew all things, yet I am sure Jesus marvelled at the centurion's faith because as a man, He was amazed at the activity of His Father, giving faith to a hostile Roman guard, while all others saw Him through only earthly eyes. God opened the centurion's eyes to see, and gave him faith - which is a gift (Eph 2:8, 9; Phil 1:29; 2 Peter 1:1).

    Hope that's a help Timothy. Thanks again for your comments.


    Just read another article that differentiated between OT and NT in that while regeneration is indeed a reality in both settings, the Holy Spirit indwelling believers is only after to the resurrection. He still regenerates and turns hearts to the awaited savior, effectively producing faith and subsequent obedience; yet He does not take up residence in them until after the ascention, specifically Pentecost.

    This is an awesome discussion, loving it much :). I was speaking to a friend of mine who's a student of theology on the same topic of regeneration, because I believe that regeneration is possible in the old testament, particularly as I study psalm 51 and ezekiel 36:26-27. Precisely because of the ekeziel verses however, I fail to understand how the indwelling and regeneration are seperate from each other, and how the indwelling has only taken place since pentecost, are we perhaps getting regeneration and the anointing mixed up? Having studied the book of acts carefully on this topic, I've drawn the conclusion that regeneration is the means of conversion, while the anointing is for spiritual gifts and ministries like prophecy, tongues, etc. I think this is confused because a manifestation, for example in peter's rebuke of simon the magician, is described as being full of Holy Spirit, but I believe the fullness simply to describe the manifestation of the prophetic gift, since John the baptist teaches in John 3 that the Spirit is not given by measure.

    Concerning the Holy Spirit being "with you", I don't believe this to be an "old testament/new testament" issue, but rather a failure to take the apostasy of israel into account, and the fact that the prevailing legalism left no room for acceptance of grace to take place, resulting in a failure to experience regeneration until Christ came to restore to israel what they had lost. You will remember that Christ first sent His disciples to the lost sheep of israel (Matthew 10:6)


    I'm new to this conversation, but have struggled with this topic myself many times. In a nut shell, I am currently under the belief that people under the Old Covenant were not "regenerated" (born again) as we understand regeneration under the New Covenant. I do believe that they were counted as righteous (in right standing) unto God under the precepts of the Old Covenant, but that regeneration was something exclusive to the New Covenant. Here is why:

    1) A mark of regeneration (the new birth) is being a "new creation" 2 Cor 5:17 As far as I know, there is no reference to this type of experience in the Old Covenant. And how could someone be "in Christ" placing faith in His sacrifice, before the sacrifice even took place. As the apostle John was stating in his gospel (1:12-13), through Jesus and the New Covenant, we now have the opportunity to be born of God (the new birth, "regeneration"). This was not something available under the Old Covenant.

    2) The indwelling (as has been mentioned in this conversation already) is exclusive to the New Covenant. But the reason that it is possible for God's presence to now take up residence in a New Covenant believer is because of the new birth (regeneration). God can not take up residence in a spiritually dead individual. This is because He resides in our regenerated spirit. He cannot reside in a dead spirit. The indwelling wasn't possible for people under the Old Covenant because there was no provision for regeneration.

    3) A mark of regeneration is total access to God. As born again believers we have access straight into the throne room of God (the most holy place), "by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain" Heb 10:20 If people under the Old Covenant could be regenerated, why were they not able to enter into the presence of God? Why did God have to remain sequestered from His people in the temple, 3 layers deep, behind the curtain? Why was only one person able to enter the holy of holies and only once a year?

    4) a mark of the New Covenant is an end to the sacrifices. This is because Christ's sacrifice had the power to pay the price to ransom back God's creation and make possible the regeneration of His worshipers. If people under the Old Covenant could be "regenerated" it would mean that Christ's sacrifice would have been applied to them and their sins would have been taken away. If so, then there would have been no need to have animal sacrifices every year to hold God's wrath at bay. As Heb 10:1 -4 states:
    "The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

    I realize that Calvinist theology demands that people under the Old Covenant be regenerated in order to follow God, in order to validate it's first point "Total Depravity" and it's definition of said "depravity". Without the Old Covenant worshipers having to be regenerated in order to follow God, the first point of Calvinism becomes invalid. Without that first point, the remaining 4 points fall apart. I get the need to defend this view. But, can someone please give me a credible defense for it? I've read quite a few really shabby attempts (no disrespect intended) which were easily shredded with good biblical exegesis.

    Would someone please take the time to address my 4 reasons for believing as I do and supply some strong evidence for the view that people under the Old Covenant could experience regeneration?

    Thank you,


    "And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live." (Deut 30:6)

    This statement is directed toward people living in the Old Covenant. And does not David pray to the Lord not to take away the Holy Spirit from him.

    Are you trying to say that a person in either old or new covenant could believe the gospel APART from any work of the Holy Spirit? This is the heresy of Pelagianism which the entire church rejects, both Calvinists and Arminians alike.


    For the one question you asked of me, no, I don't believe that people just believe without a work of the Holy Spirit. I believe the Holy Spirit is always drawing people. I am speaking specifically of the New Birth (regeneration). In your response to me (I think it's to me) you supplied one Scripture verse in an attempt to claim that God was offering the circumcision of the heart (regeneration) to the people he was talking to at that particular time.

    But if you read the previous 5 verses, you will see that God is giving a promise of a future event to the nation of Israel as a whole after it has been scattered to all the nations and then regathered into the land He promised their forefathers. This is a prophesy of the Diaspora which didn't take place until 70 AD. It was not a promise to the people of the time it was spoken.

    1And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath driven thee,

    2And shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul;

    3That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee.

    4If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the LORD thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee:

    5And the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers.

    6And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.

    This is indeed speaking of regeneration (I believe), but it is speaking of a future time for Israel. It matches up with the other scriptures from Jer, Ezek, and Joel, and it is referring to New Covenant provisions.




    It appears that the Deuteronomy passage is speaking to the immediate hearers and to their descendants. It is not merely speaking of the future new covenant promises only. There is no obedience to God apart from circumcision of heart.

    As one of many OT examples, In 2 Chronicles 30 it shows that a message of repentance will not be heeded unless God first give someone a heart to believe.... I would encourage you to read the following....

    "So the couriers went from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them. 11 However, some men of Asher, of Manasseh, and of Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. 12 The hand of God was also on Judah TO GIVE THEM ONE HEART TO DO what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the Lord."

    All the persons who heard the message mocked the messengers EXCEPT the ones who were given a heart to do what the King and princes commanded. Regeneration is when the heart is changed from stone to flesh. No one believes while their heart is still stone. But when God puts in a new heart, the people eagerly follow. This is the pattern through the whole Bible OT and NT. Read Psalm 119. It continually speaks appealling to God for eyes to see wonderful things out of his law "give me life according to your word! teach me your statutes! Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works. I will run in the way of your commandments WHEN YOU ENLARGE MY HEART"

    If such grace is necessary for a believer to obey, HOW MUCH MORE an unbeliever??? You think an unbeliever can come and believe without inward heart work, but simply obey due to some outward persuasion? Even David, the believer, needed inner grace to see and follow God. He asks God to give him life in order to walk in His ways.

    The heart is naturally proud and stiff against God and his law. The natural man (that is the man without the SPirit) cannot understand Spiritual truth and thinks it is folly (1 cor 2:14). It is only when the Spirit is given that that the sinner can rise above himself. To say that man can naturally incline himself to God apart from a work of inward grace is believe something contrary to the gospel.

    Then you said, "the Holy Spirit is always drawing sinners."

    Really? In John 6:44 that passage you appear to be appealing to, it says "no no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise them up at the last day."

    If you read the immediate context of the verse you cite it states (John 6:37) that "All that the father gives to Me will come to me."

    Notice. Both texts use the phrase "come to me" He is talking about the same thing: Faith.

    So if you read the "draw him" in context it is saying that ALL that the Father draws to Christ will believe." He does not say "some" but "all". Again in John 6:65 (the same context) Jesus says "no one can come to me unless God grants it."

    Notice the universal positive (all) and the universal negative (no one).

    "No one" can believe in Jesus unless God grants it AND "ALL" to whom the Father grants will believe.

    If you read the plain language and are honest, it leaves no room for your universal understanding of the word "draw". For all who are drawn will believe according to the text. You have to appeal to another passage where Jesus is speaking to Greeks (not Jews) which is completely out of context in order to validate your viewpoint. When Jesus says he will draw all men to himself in that passage he is obviously referring to all men without distinction (Jews and gentiles) not all men without exception, which he already distinguished in John 6. Jesus has entered us into a new phase of redemptive history where his saving power goes forth not merely to Jews but to all people, tribes, nations and languages (Rev 5:9)

    John 6 leaves no room for the view that the Holy Spirit is drawing all sinners. The text can only mean that all who the Holy Spirit draws will come. Read it in context.

    Also why does the Holy Spirit need to draw men at all? If men hae a free will then they could come without the Holy Spirit, no? The fact that they need the Holy Spirit demonstrates that they could never come if left to themselves. Which means apart form the work of the Spirit they have no free will but it is in bondage to corruption. As soon as you acknowledge the need for the Spirit you, by definition, acknowledged that fallen man has no free will.

    Timothy, do you ascribe your repenting and believing to your own wisdom, humility, sound judgment or good sense? Or to Christ alone? Was your response to the gospel different from your neighbor because of something in you or because of Christ alone?

    Salvation is ALL OF GRACE. Jesus gives us everything we need for salvation, including a new heart to believe. Give glory to God for everything you have, not just some things.

    Anyone interested in this topic should take the time to read the following book which gives an excellent exegetical demonstration of the Spirit's work of regeneration in the OT

    God's Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old & New Testaments by James M. Hamilton, Jr. (Author)


    THank you for explaining your view. I still find it puzzling that God would be promising them something they (according to your view) already had. He is speaking to the Nation of Israel at that point in Deut. THey were already His people. They were already in covenant with Him. So why is He promising something that he states will be better than what they currently have? It will be a better covenant with these particular benefits. If they were already experiencing those benefits, as they must've been according to your view, it makes no sense that God would be listing those benefit as benefits of a better covenant than the one they currently had with Him.

    And this would be come a very long discussion if I got into the points you make in the New Testament. So for now, let me look into this book you are suggesting, and then I will be back to talk some more.




    If you look closely at the text is explains clearly that circumcision of heart is a prerequisite for obedience to God. An uncircumcised heart, which Israel had in large number, was not the least bit interested in God, complained against God and were stiff-necked against God. All signs of unbelief. But God's covenant call to obedience in Deuteronomy a promise of circumcision of heart, something they did not have in any large numbers at the time. But please note... Romans chapter 9 explains clearly that not all physical children of Abraham were children of promise (Rom 9:7)

    Remember that Jesus said no one can believe in him unless God grants it (John 6:65) and all whom he grants in Christ (all whom He draws) will believe (John 6:37).

    Jesus could not have spoken in plainer language. These are hard hitting but remind us that God gets all the glory for our salvation, even for our humility to believe the gospel.

    From all appearances, you appear to be telling me that as many as believe are then ordained to eternal life. but doesn't the Bible reverse that order and teach (and I quote) 'AND AS MANY AS WERE ORDAINED TO ETERNAL LIFE BELIEVED.' (Acts 13:48). You also appear to be promoting the idea that 'salvation depends on human will', but the Bible teaches that 'it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy." (Rom 9:16) From my vantage point is seems you are saying that no one knows the Father except those who choose the Son. But the Bible teaches (and I quote) 'no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him' (Matt 11:27).

    The Bible indeed commands all men everywhere to repent and believe the gospel. But a command or imperative just tells us what we ought to do, not necessarily what we are able to do. This is not unlike someone who borrows $10 million from a bank to start a new company but instead squanders it in a week of wild living in Vegas. Your inability to repay the debt does not alleviate you for the responsibility to do so. Likewise God commands us to believe in his Son, but in Adam we owe a debt we cannot repay. Without the Holy Spirit we are unable to raise above our own resources and see the truth, goodness and beauty of Christ. It tales a work of grace to raise us from the death of sin by his quickening Spirit.

    OT and NT work of the Spirit is indeed different but such differences are a matter of degree of the Spirit's dwelling with the believer. does not change. Jesus says the Spirit quickens, the flesh counts for nothing (Jn 6:63). Human nature did not change from OT to NT, but the degree to which the Spirit dwells with his people changes... for OT believers were saved by Christ every bit is much as NT believers. Time is not a factor for God for from God's perspective Jesus was the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world. But the radical change highlights the climax of redemptive history in Christ.

    May the Lord richly bless your studies.

    Christ Alone

    Please notice that the promise of Deut 30 of heart circumcision "And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live." is NOT ONLY spoken in the first person BUT ALSO in the same context is the call of God to CHOOSE LIFE "that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days" (Deut 30:19)

    ON a similar note, if you recall, the Israelites referred to believers in the Old Testament as those who have circumsized hearts, while they called unbelievers, like the Phillistines, those with "uncircumcised hearts", so even in the OT itself the Jews appropriated the promise of the circumcised heart to themselves. Some examples...

    Acts 7:51 "You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts"

    Jeremiah 9:25, 26: Behold, the days come in which I will visit upon every one that is circumcised in the foreskin, upon Egypt, and upon Judah, and upon Edom, and upon the sons of Ammon, and upon Moab, and upon all that are cut off at the comer, that dwell in the wilderness for all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart

    Ezekiel 44:6 And thou shalt say to the rebellious, even to the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; O ye house of Israel, let it suffice you of all your abominations,
    7 In that ye have brought into my sanctuary strangers, uncircumcised in heart, and uncircumcised in flesh, to be in my sanctuary, to pollute it, even my house, when ye offer my bread, the fat and the blood, and they have broken my covenant because of all your abominations.
    8 And ye have not kept the charge of mine holy things: but ye have set keepers of my charge in my sanctuary for yourselves.
    9 Thus saith the Lord GOD; No stranger, uncircumcised in heart, nor uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary, of any stranger that is among the children of Israel.

    Lev. 26:41: If then their uncircumcised heart be humbled

    Isaiah 52:1 Awake, awake, put on thy strength, 0 Zion put on the garments of thy beauty, 0 Jerusalem, the city of holiness for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean.

    Romans 2:29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

    So, in other words, this should be more than sufficient to answer your question by demonstrating that Deut was the time God made the covenant with Israel in which God was committing Himself to them. Most of Israel, therefore, did not have "life" up to this point (in Deuteronomy) - were "uncircumcised in heart". May the Lord grant us all eyes to see even more clearly.

    Hey Tim,

    I am not a theologian but will share what I understand concerning OT regeneration in answer to your questions.

    Most of your questions seem to carry the same underlying idea that there was no provision for regeneration. You have to remember that it was never the sacrifices that saved people in the Old Testament. From the beginning God prophesies over Adam and Eve and shares that He has a plan to fix their mess and that it will be through the SEED of a woman that He will bring his deliverance and reconcile man to God (hence the fascination with the genealogy and the constant looking out for a Savior who would be a human savior.

    The Old Testament people knew that a savior was coming, one born of woman. Their sacrifices were made 'in faith' of a future savior. It wasn't the sacrifice that saved them, this was merely an outworking of their faith in the future savior (or SEED of a woman). But just as we can slip into thinking our prayers, going to church or good deeds may save us - many OT believers started to put their faith in the system (or works).

    Jesus says of Abraham that Abe saw his day and rejoiced. 1 Peter 1:10-11 we see that the prophets also got glimpses of the future savior but were puzzled in regards to his suffering (Isaiah in particular) and they searched for answers concerning the future savior. David spoke of how he saw Jesus with God, "And the Lord said to my Lord." Daniel saw Jesus and he too was amazed that 'one like the son of man' - a human like himself, was given all authority and power.

    According to Romans 8, salvation comes only by the Spirit. Jesus is surprised that Nicodemus doesn't understand what it means to be saved or born again, especially since he is the teacher of Israel. He should have had the best understanding of all. Abraham was righteous through faith. Can someone be righteous without the Spirit?

    Not sure how helpful any of this is but hope it sheds a little light. And it is possible my theology is not 100% accurate so feel free to correct or challenge any inaccuracies.


    Hello You got to remember God imputed his righteousness whose righteousness Jesus Christ's why because he believed God then Righteousness was applied and yes its Gods righteousness not his own

    Hello You got to remember God imputed his righteousness whose righteousness Jesus Christ's why because he believed God then Righteousness was applied and yes its Gods righteousness not his own

    No where in the book of acts that I can see are we told to count the cost before believing and the disciples of John were asked did you receive the holy Ghost since you believed

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