Was The Holy Spirit Active in an Old Testament Believer’s Sanctification and Salvation?

Most would at least say that the Spirit was active at the initial point of a believer’s salvation in the OT (cf. Deut 30:6 with Rom 2:29). Good theologians begin to disagree when it comes to claiming that believers are progressively sanctified by the Spirit in the same way from one testament to the next.

It would seem that Israel at some point and at least to some degree understood the nature of the Spirit’s indwelling when God promised as much to the nation through some of her prophets (Ezek 11:19–20; 36:26–27; 37:14; cf. Jer 31:31–34). And while good men beg to differ, it is my understanding that what was promised involves the scope of this indwelling (for all of Israel) and not so much that God would sanctify the recipients of these promises in a fundamentally different way than how He had been doing so for individual believers in any OT era (i.e., that He would be in them and not just near them with His presence in Israel’s temple, which, as this explanation breaks down, did not always exist anyway, whether before or sometimes during Israel’s existence). If this understanding is correct, one is then left to figure out whether or not what was promised to all of Israel was already true of believing Israelites in the OT (or other believers that lived before Israel came to be, for that matter).

My painfully short answer to that final question is this―if one can be told that God created all things in the OT and then find out in the progress of revelation that the Son was involved in this creation (see Gen 1:1 with Col 1:16), so also we could be told in the OT, for example, that some walked with God (e.g., Gen 5:21; 6:9) and can now describe this walk in NT terms, that is, that the Spirit was at work in their sanctification. The absence of this terminology in the OT does not necessarily mean that this work of the Spirit was not present at that time.

To put it another way, one can say that the Spirit was active in salvation and sanctification in the OT and still recognize that there are differences between the Spirit’s manifold work in the OT and NT believers today, such as unique empowerments for service. The Spirit’s selective and occasional works for service then (e.g., Exod 31:3; Num 11:17; 1 Sam 11:6; 16:13) are now matched by a uniform grace to all believers to serve the body of Christ, recognizing that this grace is variously tailored for and thus differently displayed by one Christian to the next (1 Cor 12; 1 Pet 4:10–11). For those such as myself, the difference for the Spirit’s work in a believer from one testament to the next primarily involves what is given (or not) for his service and not for his sanctification and certainly not for his salvation.

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