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.
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.