I received this question by email from a dear sister– “Do you have any thoughts on the question about if true believers during the Old Testament were actually indwelled by the Holy Spirit or is that only a reality in the New Covenant?”
All true believers in the Old Testament were recipients of the Holy Spirit, by nature of what regeneration truly means. If anyone under the Old Covenant truly knew the Lord, which we know many among Israel did, then they were by nature of that, regenerate, having the life of God within them and a new heart; is this possible without God Himself living within? No–regeneration presupposes the indwelling life of God within a person.
The difference between the Old and New Covenants, relative to this, is the fact that the full work of the Holy Spirit was still in progress in redemptive history; He was not dwelling within all Israel, but only in the true elect who knew the Lord personally. But outwardly, his presence came and departed, depending on the purpose of God being progressively seen in miracles, etc, or his empowering prophets for special works.
The full doctrine of the Holy Spirit was not as clearly unfolded in the Old as finally in the New, because Pentecost brought the Spirit in copious fullness permanently on Jew AND Gentile, which had never happened, thus the fulfillment and reality of Pentecost inaugurated the age or dispensation of the Spirit, which we now live in as the new covenant church.
But just because this is true, does not mean that individual salvation–possessing the saving knowledge of God personally–was any different in the Old Testament believer. They were justified, regenerate, and Spirit-indwelled believers just as much as New Testament believers. 1 Peter 1:11 speaks of “the Spirit of Christ being in them” — you can’t get any clearer than that.
This has been the right view for generations among all sound evangelical groups in history, and among the great preachers- Edwards, Spurgeon, Whitefield, John Newton, etc, and the finest theologians, such as Charles Hodge, John Murray, and many others, and among more recent Christian leaders, such as Wayne Grudem, Piper, Sproul, Paul Washer, and many other sound men.
The lack of clarity, false teaching and confusion on the Holy Spirit’s work in the Old Testament arose in the 20th century, thanks to a culprit theif called dispensationalism, a hermeunitical wolf in sheep’s clothing, which stripped the Bible of its unity and clarity regarding the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Sad reality, but true. But now this is being repaired, thanks to the writing and preaching of good men who are sound on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
– Mack Tomlinson