New Testament Christians
A comparison of the spiritual condition of the Old Testament believers and New Testament Christians.
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What was the spiritual condition of the Old Testament believers as compared or contrasted to the spiritual condition of New Testament Christians?
There has been a long-standing difference of opinion among theologians on this issue. The differing opinions have been largely due to the presuppositions with which different theologians and interpreters commence to interpret the Scriptures.
The Dispensationalist theologian begins with presuppositions about varying time periods called "dispensations," during which periods God is said to have operated in different manners for different purposes. Based on this presuppositional grid of differing "dispensations" or "economies" (the Greek word is oikonomia, from which we get the English word "economy"), the Dispensational theologian usually concludes that the Old Testament believers did not have any of the "benefits" of regeneration, indwelling of the Holy Spirit, etc. that are the exclusive privilege of New Testament Christians. So in traditional Dispensational thought there is a complete discontinuity, a total disconnection, of those in previous dispensations from those in the so-called "dispensation of grace" or the "church age."
The Reformed or Covenant theologian begins with presuppositions about a singular covenantal basis of relationship between God and man. Based on this presuppositional grid of common covenant, the Covenant theologian concludes that the Old Testament believers shared in the same covenant relationship with God as do New Testament Christians; they belonged to the same "church" and enjoyed the same saving "benefits." In covenant theology there is a continuity of old and new that often becomes total identification of the two, based on the singular covenant idea. The more fair-minded covenant theologians will often admit that though there is a "continuity" of benefit from old to new, there is some sense in which Christians in the new covenant have a superior participation in these "benefits."
Let me declare here at the outset that I reject the man-made presuppositional grids of both the Dispensationalist theologian and the Covenant theologian. Rather than starting with arbitrary dispensations of time or an idea of covenant relationship, I believe that the Bible, from beginning to end, should be interpreted specifically from the perspective of the person and work of Jesus Christ, comprising a Christocentric theology.
Christian theology must commence with Jesus Christ! The presupposition of Christian theology is that Jesus Christ is God. When one interprets the Scriptures from the center-point of Jesus Christ and His historic redemptive mission and His "finished work" in His death, burial, resurrection, ascension and Pentecostal out-pouring, then it is logically plausible to see the historic connection between the relationship of God with the Old Testament believers and what God has made available to Christians in Jesus Christ, as well as the radical difference between the prospective belief of the Old Testament believers and the vital ontic dynamic of the life of Jesus Christ in Christians. Thus one's theology maintains both a sense of continuity as well as discontinuity between Old Testament believers and New Testament Christians.
In describing the Dispensationalist and Covenant theological positions I have referred to how they apply the "benefits" of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ back to Old Testament personages. It is not Scripturally proper to speak of detached "benefits" of Christ, but only of the very activity of the Being of Jesus Christ. There is no grace, no salvation, no righteousness, no life, no presence and work of the Holy Spirit, apart from the activity of the person and Being of Jesus Christ. Only as Jesus Christ functions as Savior, as Righteousness, as Life, as the Spirit of Christ do these realities exist and apply in our Christian lives. They are inherent in the personal ontological activity of the risen Lord Jesus. There are no Christian "benefits" except as they are related to and expressed by the active Being of Jesus Christ.
So when the Reformed professor of theology, Robert J. Dunzweiler, writes of "the potential application of all of the benefits (italics added) of Christ's redemption to the believer under the older dispensation,"1 and asserts that "the benefits (italics added) of Christ's redemption can be applied before that redemption is accomplished,"2 he is working with religious categories and "commodities" which the Bible knows nothing about, as well as an extra-Biblical accounting of history and time. Dunzweiler's attempted explanation of the retroactive application of Christian "benefits" is based on the understanding that "Christ's redemptive work was certain in God's eternal purpose, and thus atonement benefits (italics added) could be applied before the atonement was actually accomplished in time."3 First of all, this reasoning is based on his Calvinistic theological starting-point, which commences with the purposes, plan, decrees, and will of God, rather than with the intent of God in accord with His nature and character. Secondly, Professor Dunzweiler's common covenantal presuppositions force him to stretch so-called Christian "benefits" of redemption and atonement back retroactively into a time period prior to their historic enactment.
Alongside of this Calvinist Reformed explanation of retroactive application of Christian "benefits," is another explanation which employs Gnostic and mystic conceptions in order to apply Christian "benefits" to Old Testament peoples. This teaching presupposes an abstract, sometimes cyclical, understanding of time and history, rather than the chronologically sequential and linear perspective of time and history that are foundational to the Biblical record.4
Positing as their starting-point the statement of "the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8), some have argued that the redemptive work of Jesus Christ has been accomplished in the "eternality" of the pre-creation past. The "benefits" of Christ's redemptive work are therefore alleged to be applicable to the believers of the Old Testament. The grace of God is said to have been receivable by faith so as to effect regeneration, salvation, righteousness and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. All of the Christian "benefits" become "virtual reality" for the Hebrew peoples of the Old Testament.
Apart from challenging their Gnostic conception of time and history, the first question should be a textual and exegetical challenge to their initial premise in utilization of the text in Revelation 13:8. The King James Version translates the phrase, "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," but newer English translations such as the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and the New American Standard Bible (NASB) recognize that the prepositional phrase "from the foundation of the world" is more correctly applied as qualifying the verb action of "those who names are written in the book of life." Thus the NASB translates Rev. 13:8, "everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain." This is consistent with John's subsequent inspired usage of the same phrase in Revelation 17:8 when he mentions those "whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world." Hermeneutic consistency all but eliminates the phrase referring to "the lamb slain before the foundation of the world" which has so often been theologically misapplied.
Even if the KJV phrase were retained, it is theologically inadmissible to posit an actual crucifixion of Christ before time. Such becomes an abstract idea, a tenuous tenet, epistemological belief in which becomes entirely subjective and mystical. It is completely detached and divorced from historical objectivity and the ontological reality of the presence and activity of the risen Lord Jesus. When Christians begin to "play loose" with history and set up ethereal ideas outside of chronological time, then their belief-system is but an ideological abstraction that can be subjectively twisted to any existential end. When the "Lamb slain" is regarded as a pre-historical accomplishment, then the historical crucifixion of Jesus on a cross outside of Jerusalem becomes an unnecessary redundant enactment, a charade, a meaningless "acting out" or "play-acting." God forbid that the death of Jesus Christ should be cast as such an abstraction in the eternal "absence of time," rather than as an historical actuality within the linear time of human history.
If the phrase referring to "the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world" is retained, it can mean nothing more than that in the foreknowledge of God it was predetermined that the Word should become flesh (John 1:14) and there would be an historic space/time crucifixion of the incarnate Son of God whereby He would vicariously take the death consequences of humanity's sin upon Himself, and that in order to give His life (John 10:10) to men who would receive Him by faith. The historic space/time context is foundational to Christianity, else all becomes but a mythical, mystical abstraction. Christ-ianity must always be documented to be rooted in verifiable human history.
The historical record of Scripture is based on a sequential chronology from past to future, from Genesis to Revelation. There are those who might not engage in Gnostic etherealizing and spiritualizing, but still trample on Biblical history by transferring Christian ideas of the new covenant back into the Old Testament. Such a retroactive importation allows them to interpolate New Testament ideas into their interpretation of the Old Testament. Thus they implement the interpretive technique of eisegesis (reading or leading into the text) rather than the acceptable hermeneutic technique of exegesis (deriving out of the text the reading or leading intended).
Justification for this reverse projection
of Christian realities is sometimes sought by appealing to the
fact that God is "the same yesterday, today and forever"
(Heb. 13:8). Indeed God is immutable in nature and character,
but this is not to deny that God can make different choices and
do something new and novel. Though God's character never changes,
He can change His modus operandi. God's hands are not
tied to precedent actions, nor are subsequent actions to be made
equivalent or identical with all precedent actions. God is free,
independent and spontaneous. So the "historical revisionism"
that projects Christian realities back into the Old Testament
era, and attributes to Hebrew believers all that has been made
available to Christians in Christ, is invalid and dishonest.
Those who thus reconstruct and taint the Biblical historical
record are usually attempting to revise, rewrite and reinterpret
Old Testament history so that it corresponds with their particular
presuppositions of theology to support their particular ethical
or eschatological agenda.
A more detailed consideration of some of these Christian realities that are often projected back into the Old Testament is now in order.
The Hebrew language did not have a term for what we know as the new covenant concept of "grace." The Hebrew word hen referred to "favor, pity, good-will, compassion, mercy, kindness, a favorable inclination toward another." Noah, for example, is said to have "found favor in the eyes of the Lord" (Gen. 6:8), and other Old Testament personalities obviously experienced God's graciousness as well.
To recognize God's graciousness in the Old Testament is not the same as participating in the activity of God in Jesus Christ as "grace" is used in the New Testament. The Greek word charis is employed by Paul and the other New Testament writers to refer to a reality that was altogether new and unique: the "new and living way" (Heb. 10:20) of the "new covenant" (Heb. 8:8), wherein Christians receive "newness of life" (Rom. 6:4) in Christ Jesus. L.S. Smedes notes that
"The deep meaning Paul conveys with the word 'grace' is hardly suggested by the Hebrew word hen, which the LXX translated as charis... It is not surprising that Paul never quotes from the Old Testament in order to establish his use of the word 'grace.'"5
James Moffatt amplifies this point, noting that
John W. Nevin concurs when he writes that
The Hebrew word hen in the Old Testament referred primarily to an attribute of God, whereas the Greek word charis in the New Testament is used to refer to the new and unique activity of God in Jesus Christ.
Numerous Scriptural affirmation in the New Testament link "grace" to the historically revealed Jesus: "The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). Paul explains to the Jerusalem Council, "we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 15:11). To the Corinthians Paul writes, "I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus" (I Cor. 1:4). Paul begins his epistle to the Ephesians "to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved" (Eph. 1:6). In the second letter to Timothy, Paul writes of God's "own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus" (II Tim. 1:9), as well as "the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (II Tim. 2:1). The last verse in the Bible commends that "the grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all" (Rev. 22:21). This sequence of Scriptures documents that "grace" is specifically identified with the historical person and work of Jesus Christ. There is a specific Christocentric meaning of "grace" in the New Testament.
The Old Testament believers experienced God's graciousness and kindness and favor, but not the specific "grace" of God in Jesus Christ wherein His activity is expressed by the dynamic of the life of the risen Lord Jesus. Such "grace" of the new covenant was a promise that the Israelite peoples did not receive (Heb. 11:13) nor participate in. God's activity of "grace" in Jesus Christ must not be read back into the Old Testament narrative, for such was "realized", came to pass, happened historically "in Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).
The response to God's grace in Jesus Christ is intended to be the human response of "faith." The Hebrew language did not have a word that corresponds with the New Testament idea of "faith" either. An English Bible concordance reveals that the translators of the KJV used the English word "faith" only twice in the entirety of their translation of the Old Testament (Deut. 32:20; Hab. 2:4). James S. Stewart notes that "in neither place is it a strictly accurate translation of the original."9 In both verses the better translation would be "faithfulness" or "fidelity." The NASB translates four different Hebrew words with the English word "faith" (Deut. 32:51; Job 39:12; Ps. 146:6; Hab. 2:4), and they too would best be translated as "trust," "truth" or "faithfulness." J.F.H. Gunkel has explained that "if it is a doctrine of faith we are seeking, we shall search the Old Testament Scriptures in vain."10
God created man to respond to Him and His activity in freedom of choice. There has always been this "condition" of human response which can be generally referred to as "faith." Thus there is cause to question whether in God's dealings with man He would ever institute an "unconditional covenant" with Abraham (Dispensationalism) or "unconditional election" (Calvinism).
The Old Testament believers responded to God's gracious activity. They believed that God was true, reliable and faithful, and therefore they were convinced of, assented to, and confessed God's Old Testament revelation of Himself. They put their confidence in God and trusted Him. The New Testament Scriptures refer to this response as "faith," and mention specifically the faith of Abraham (Rom. 4:9,12,16; Gal. 3:7,9,11; Heb. 11:8,17; James 2:22,23), Abel (Heb. 11:4), Enoch (Heb. 11:5), Sarah (Heb. 11:11), Isaac (Heb. 11:20), Jacob (Heb. 11:21), Joseph (Heb. 11:22), Moses (Heb. 11:23,24) and Rahab (Heb. 11:31), as well as "Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets" (Heb. 11:32).
The faith-response of the Old Testament believers was not necessarily equivalent to the New Testament response to the "grace" of God in Jesus Christ. The Jewish persons believed and trusted in God based on the revelation given to them, but this was a preliminary form of response based on a preliminary and incomplete revelation and covenant, which was but a pictorial pre-figuring of the completeness of the new covenant in Jesus Christ and the full content of a faith response which receives the divine life of Jesus Christ. James Stewart explains that
Faith in the New Testament was invested with a fullness of meaning that was not possible in the Old Testament. Stewart again notes that
There is no doubt that the object of the faith of the Old Testament believers was God and His promised Messiah. "Moses...considered the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt" (Heb. 11:26), but he still "did not receive what was promised" (Heb. 11:39). The faith of the Old Testament believers was a prospective faith, believing in the promise of the prospect of the Messiah (for the person and work of Christ was not a "virtual reality" or "prior reality"). Christian faith is a receptive faith that receives the Being and activity of the risen Lord Jesus, the fulfillment of the promise and the provision of divine activity in humanity.
William Barclay has noted that "the first element in faith is what we can only call receptivity."13 New Covenant faith is our receptivity of the presence and activity of God in the Lord Jesus Christ. We "receive Him" (John 1:12); we "receive the Spirit" (Gal. 3:2), the Spirit of Christ who is to live out His life in our behavior to the glory of God. Christian faith is the receptivity whereby spiritual union and communion is effected between Christ and the Christian (I Cor. 6:17), and the Divine Being is allowed to function within the human being, which was God's intent for mankind.
It is impossible to legitimately attribute Christian faith to Old Testament believers. The reality of the indwelling spiritual union and communion was not made available until the historic death of Christ for the consequences of sin and the historic resurrection of Christ for the renewal of God's life in man. Christian teachers should be very cautious about utilizing Old Testament believers as allegorical or typological examples of Christian faith, lest they be encouraging what is less than new covenant response to Jesus Christ. The Old Testament believers did indeed have a form of faith that believed and trusted in God, but it was not a spiritually receptive faith, for they "died in faith, without receiving the promises" (Heb. 11:13, 39). The entire thrust of the argument of the "faith chapter" in Hebrews 11 is that in the new covenant we participate in a "better faith" than that exercised in the Old Testament era.
The grace of God in Christ received by faith allows the life of God in Christ to indwell and become functional in the receptive Christian. The commencement of that indwelling and living function is referred to as "regeneration," since the life of God is "brought into being again" within the spirit of man.
The Old Testament never employs the terminology of "regeneration" or being "born" with the spiritual life of God in reference to Old Testament believers. Neither does the New Testament ever apply such terminology to Old Testament personages in the past. "Regeneration" and spiritual life are exclusively related to the unique spiritual union between Jesus Christ and the Christian.
The "Word of God" (Jesus Christ) became incarnate (John 1:14). "In Him was life" (John 1:4). He proclaimed that He was "the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6), and that He "had come that we might have His life" (John 10:10). "Whoever believes in the Son has the eternal life" of Jesus Christ (John 3:16, 36). "He who has the Son has the life" (I John 5:12), and has "passed out of death into life" (I John 3:14). "The Spirit (of Christ) gives life" (II Cor. 3:6), whereby the Christian can "walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4), "reign in life through Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:17), and be "saved by His life" (Rom. 5:10).
The commencement of the presence and activity of Christ's life in the Christian is often referred to with the analogy of "birth" in the New Testament. The Christian is said to be "born again through the living and abiding word of God," i.e. Jesus Christ (I Peter 1:23); "born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (I Peter 1:3). It is important to note in the above quotation from Peter that this initiation of the presence and function of divine life in the Christian is based upon the historic prerequisite of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead unto life, the Christian can "pass out of death into life" (I John 3:14), that by being "born of God" (I John 4:7; John 1:13), "born of the Spirit" of Christ (John 3:6,8), "born from above" (John 3:3,7). "He saved us...by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5).
Nowhere in Scripture are the Old Testament believers said to have "passed from death to life," to have been "regenerated," to have been "born again," or to have participated in the dynamic of the indwelling life of the risen Lord Jesus. Professor Dunzweiler, in his attempt to document "regeneration and indwelling in the Old Testament period," defines regeneration as "that ministry of the Holy Spirit by which He imparts (italics added) spiritual life to one who is spiritually dead."14 He proposes in his conclusion that
Once again, Professor Dunzweiler fails to connect life with Jesus Christ. Spiritual life becomes a detached commodity that can allegedly be "imparted" or dispensed by the Holy Spirit who is also not linked with and identified as the "Spirit of Christ." When regeneration is reduced simply to an action of spiritual impartation, and spiritual life to a commodity or "created condition," then such "benefits" can conceivably be attributed to Old Testament believers, even though there is not one shred of Biblical evidence for such attribution, and the terms are being used in ways that are not consistent with Biblical usage or consistent Christian theology.
L.S. Chafer, writing from a Dispensationalist theological perspective, arrives at the opposite conclusion, though his rationale for so doing must be taken into account. He also seems to have a "separated concept" which speaks of "impartation" rather than ontic union.
The Old Testament believers looked forward to the promise of life in Christ Jesus, but they did not "receive the promises" (Heb. 11:13). They responded to the graciousness of the Living God in trusting faith, and "lived" physically, socially, religiously in that old covenant relationship with God, but they did not "pass from death to life" (I John 3:14) spiritually in regeneration whereby the very presence and activity of the life of Jesus Christ became their life (Col. 3:4) during the Old Testament era. It is the unique privilege of Christians within the new covenant to participate in a spiritual union with the life of Jesus Christ, and to be "saved by His life" (Rom. 5:10) as His life is lived out through them.
"Salvation" is another term that some tend to use interchangeably between Old Testament and New Testament. Careful word studies of the numerous Hebrew words translated "save" and "salvation," in comparison with the Greek words sozo and soteria in the New Testament, will reveal that differing concepts are being referred to.
In the Old Testament "salvation" is usually a physical deliverance or rescue. "Save me!" is a common cry for God's help (Ps. 3:7; 6:4; 7:1; 22:21; 54:1; 65:1). The Old Testament believers were often "saved out of their troubles" (Ps. 34:6), "saved out of their distresses" (Ps. 107:13), "saved from their enemies" (Ps. 18:13) and their "adversaries" (Ps. 44:7). The Exodus is a prominent example of God's rescuing and "saving His people out of the land of Egypt" (Jude 5). Noah and his kin were also "saved," delivered, "brought safely through the water" (I Peter 3:20; II Peter 2:5). These are the New Testament references that apply "saved" and "salvation" to Old Testament personages.
Such physical deliverance is certainly not to be equated with the salvation that is effected by the Savior, Jesus Christ, in the new covenant. Jesus "came into the world to save sinners" (I Tim. 1:5), to "save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21), for His very name "Jesus" meant "Jehovah saves." Such a salvation was unknown in the old covenant for the Law could not save from sin. The prophet Jeremiah explained that such a salvation would come when the "Righteous Branch," the "Lord who is our righteousness" would come, and Judah and Israel would be "saved" (Jere. 23:6; 33:16). Jesus Christ the Righteous (I John 2:1) is indeed that promised "righteous Branch of David," the Savior of all mankind. Peter explains that the prophet Joel was also referring that new covenant realization when "everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord (Jesus Christ) shall be saved" (Acts 2:21; Joel 2:32; Rom. 10:13).
Salvation is only "through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thess. 5:9). "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name...by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). The Philippian jailor asked "What must I do to be saved?" and Paul replied, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved" (Acts 16:30). "By grace you have been saved through faith" (Eph. 2:5,8). "He saved us...by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior" (Titus 3:5,6).
Christian salvation is not just a deliverance or escape from the consequences of sin. Neither is it a static commodity which "Jesus dispenses" as Dispensationalist Darrell Bock indicated when he referred to Jesus as "the divine dispenser of salvation."17 Salvation is the dynamic process whereby we are "made safe" from the satanic misuse and abuse of humanity, and invested with the very presence and life of the risen Lord Jesus so as to allow the divine character to be lived out to the glory of God. Christian salvation must never be disconnected from the vital and dynamic activity of Jesus Christ the living Savior. We continue to be "saved by his life" (Rom. 5:10) and to "grow in respect to salvation" (I Peter 2:2).
This intimate union with the life of Jesus Christ wherein we are "made safe" from sinful misuse of our being, and the Being of the Savior becomes the functionality of our lives in salvation was an experiential unknown to the Jewish peoples of the Old Testament. It was known only as a prophetic promise yet unrealized, until "the grace of God appeared, bringing salvation to all men" by our "God and Savior, Christ Jesus" (Titus 2:11-13). It is illegitimate to transpose "salvation" to all the Jewish believers of the Old Testament based on an alleged "unconditional promise and covenant" to Abraham, prior to and apart from the historic revelation and redemptive activity of Jesus Christ the Savior. L.S. Chafer concludes that "the Old Testament will be searched in vain for record of Jews passing from an unsaved state to a saved state, or any declaration about the terms upon which such a change would be secured."18 He arrives at that conclusion from Dispensational presuppositions, and still regards salvation as a static "state" rather than the dynamic action of Christ the Savior.
The foregoing truths of the divine life operative in salvation by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, are all connected to the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God and His activity is referred to throughout the Old Testament, but "in the Old Covenant, His work was...altogether different from what it is now."19 In the Old Testament the Spirit of God was understood as a "divine influence exerted upon the soul of a person."20 The Spirit of God is reported to have come upon the seventy elders (Numb. 11:17,25), Balaam (Numbers 24:2), Othniel (Judges 3:10), Gideon (Judges 6:34), Jephthah (Judges 11:29), Samson (Judges 14:6,19), Saul (I Sam. 10:2,10; 19:20-23) and David (I Sam. 16:13; to have filled Bezalel (Exod. 31:3; 35:31) and Micah (Micah 3:8); and to have been present and operative in Joseph (Gen. 41:38), Joshua (Numb. 27:18), Daniel (Dan. 4:8,9,18; 6:3) and the prophets (Neh. 9:30; I Peter 1:11). In these latter references the preposition "in" is best understood as referring to "in" the behavior mechanism of their soul, rather than spiritual indwelling. It is doubtful that the prepositions in the foregoing citations should be precisely differentiated, for they all refer to a temporary action of the Spirit for an assignment of service. The temporality of the Spirit's activity in the Old Testament is evident in that "the Spirit of God departed from Saul" (I Sam. 16:14), and David pleads that God "not take Thy Holy Spirit from me" (Ps. 51:11).
The activity of the Spirit of God to inspire and energize a particular activity in the Old Testament believers is not equivalent to the indwelling activity of the Spirit of Christ in Christians in the new covenant. Such relation to the Holy Spirit was only promised by the prophets to the Old Testament peoples. Through Isaiah, God says, "I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring" (Isa. 44:3). Through Ezekiel, He says, "I will put My Spirit within you" (Ezek. 36:27; 37:14) and "pour out My Spirit on the house of Israel (Ezek. 39:29). Through Joel, God says, "I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind...in those days (Joel 2:28,29), which Peter declares that God fulfilled on Pentecost (Acts 2:17,18). French author, René Pache comments,
The apostle John comments on Jesus' promise of "living water flowing from one's innermost being" (John 7:38), noting that Jesus was speaking "of the Spirit whom those who believed in His name were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet (given), because Jesus was not yet glorified" (John 7:39). Later to the disciples, Jesus speaks of "the Spirit of Truth who...will be in you" (John 14:12) and will come (John 16:13), obviously indicating a future expectation of the presence of the Spirit realized only on Pentecost and thereafter. Thus Peter in his Pentecostal sermon explains that the risen Lord Jesus "having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, has poured forth this (activity of the Holy Spirit) which you both see and hear" (Acts 2:33). "In Christ Jesus...we receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Gal. 3:14). "Having believed, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Eph. 1:13).
The Holy Spirit must not be detached from Jesus Christ and regarded as a mechanical instrument which/who "implements the purposes of God in every age,"22 and in the Christian context "applies (italics added) redemption by uniting us to Christ and to the benefits (italics added) of His atoning work."23 It is a deficient Trinitarian theology that separates the Holy Spirit from the "Spirit of Christ." The natural tendency of Christian "religion" is to posit some theory of the Spirit's "supernatural influence" to assist in the Christian's ethical obedience in the context of a morality-based relationship with God. Such is not the Christian gospel! In the new covenant the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him (Christ)" (Rom. 8:9). By the indwelling presence of the Spirit of Christ we are "joined to the Lord in one spirit" (I Cor. 6:17) in a real spiritual union of the divine life dwelling in the Christian, whereby the life of the risen Lord Jesus can be manifested in character that is the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22,23).
The promised new covenant relation to the Holy Spirit is realized and experienced only by Christians. John W. Nevin explained:
The active spiritual presence and manifestation of the Spirit of Christ, the living dynamic of the risen Lord Jesus, can only be indicated of Christian peoples.
Always aware of his dispensationalist reasonings, the words of L.S. Chafer are nonetheless pertinent.
The particular reality wherein the Holy Spirit is the spiritual expression of the risen Lord Jesus poured out on Pentecost to indwell all Christians and to be the vital and functional expression of God's character in Christians, can only be predicated of Christians. Such a spiritual restoration of humanity was promised to the Old Testament believers by the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel and Joel, but they "did not receive what was promised" (Heb. 11:39). From Pentecost onwards the Spirit of Christ could indwell the spirits of receptive mankind, and become their life, and Christians could have the inner assurance that "the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Rom. 8:16).
In both the Old and New Testaments the term "righteous" is applied to Old Testament personages. In what sense were they regarded to be "righteous," and is there a distinction in their "righteousness" and the "righteousness" that New Testament Christians enjoy by union with Christ?
Reference is made within the New Testament Scriptures to Abel's deeds being "righteous" (I John 3:12) and the consequent testimony of God to his "righteousness" (Heb. 11:4; Matt. 23:35). Noah's preparation of the ark merited for him the designation of being a "preacher of righteousness" (II Peter 2:5) and an "heir of righteousness" (Heb. 11:7). Abraham's unstable belief that God would provide descendants as promised (Gen. 15:1-6) is oft quoted in the New Testament as an example of one who was "reckoned as righteous" because of his faith (Rom. 4:3,9,22; Gal. 3:6; James 2:23). Along with Abraham, Rahab is used as an example of an Old Testament person who was "justified" or regarded as "righteous" by the active out-working of faith.
The righteousness which is ascribed to these Old Testament believers must be considered within the context in which righteousness was evaluated and applied at that time in the history of God's dealings with mankind. These persons obviously made right choices to listen to God, to respond to God in the right way, and to thus have a right relationship with God by trusting God. Robert A. Kelly notes that
The relationship of God and man in the Old Testament was one wherein trusting God in right external conduct could gain God's approval (Heb. 11:2,4,5,39), and a person could thereby be "reckoned," accounted as, declared "righteous." Old Testament believers were "approved" as "righteous" or well-pleasing to God by a faithful response to whatever revelation of God had been given to them. Being "reckoned as righteous" was usually set in a legal or judicial context, wherein God the Judge declared the "status," "condition" or "position" of righteousness/right standing to be "on the books" of His heavenly accounting. Such commendation and calculation of righteousness was certainly less than the spiritual communion with the Righteousness of Christ that Christians participate in.
Even the prophets recognized that the righteousness of the old covenant was insufficient. "All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment," declares Isaiah (64:6). They uttered prophetic promises of the righteousness that was to come in the Messiah, Jesus Christ, allowing God to declare through them, "I bring My righteousness, it is not far off; and My salvation will not delay" (Isa. 46:13; 51:5); "I shall raise up a Righteous Branch..., He will be called 'the Lord of righteousness'" (Jere. 23:5,6; 33:15,16). These prophecies were recognized as having been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the "Righteous One" (Acts 22:14), the "righteousness of God" (Rom. 3:21).
The righteousness of the old covenant eventually came to be regarded as "righteousness in the Law" (Phil. 3:6) or "derived from the Law" (Phil. 3:9), even though the Law could not impart righteousness (Gal. 3:21). Such a context and understanding of righteousness cannot be equated with the justification or righteousness made available in Jesus Christ. L.S. Chafer remarked that the "standing" of the Old Testament believer "cannot rightfully be compared with the estate of the believer today who is justified and perfect forever, having received the pleroma (fullness) of the Godhead through vital union with Christ." 29 James S. Stewart concurs, noting that
The righteousness that Christians enjoy "in Christ" is the very indwelling righteousness of the nature of God. The "divine nature" (II Peter 1:4) of the Righteous God "is transferred to man, and realized in him by the action of divine grace."32 Christians are "made righteous;" we "become the righteousness of God in Him" (II Cor. 5:21). The indwelling of Jesus Christ, the "Righteous One" (Acts 22:14; I John 2:1), establishes a spiritual condition of union with the righteousness of God, divine righteousness; far more than just pardon or forgiveness from sin, and the reckoning or commendation of righteousness. "Christ Jesus becomes to us... righteousness and sanctification" (I Cor. 1:30), "the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith" (Phil. 3:9).
The indwelling righteousness of God in Christ is the vital and functional dynamic for the behavioral expression of God's righteous character in Christian behavior. Righteous Christian behavior is not the result of a Christian's ethical consistency with either the Law's demand or God's character. We are not adequate (II Cor. 3:5) to produce righteousness, despite Professor Dunzweiler's assertion that the "Holy Spirit enables me to produce godliness and holiness and...righteousness."33 "The fruit of righteousness comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God" (Phil. 1:11). The righteousness of Christian behavior is only and always the out-living of the indwelling life of the Righteous One, Jesus Christ. "Everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him" (I John 2:29). Nicodemus, who would have been regarded as a "just" and "righteous" man within Judaism, was still told by Jesus that he "must be born from above" (John 3:3,7), "born of the Spirit" (John 3:5,6,8), for righteousness only comes from the indwelling life of the Righteous One. Jesus said, "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:20).
The righteousness that Christians receive by the indwelling presence and activity of Jesus Christ far surpasses the Old Testament Judaic concepts of righteousness in commendation, reckoning or declaration. Our righteousness is "in Christ." Christian righteousness cannot be read back into the Old Testament and attributed to the peoples recorded therein.
Not wanting to inordinately belabor the point of the discontinuity between Old Testament believers and New Testament Christians, the foregoing categories should suffice to document that there is a radical difference in the spiritual condition of Christians "in Christ" as compared to the spiritual condition of personages of the Old Testament. Inasmuch as this study is but a synopsis and statement of thesis, further study should be made to explore the Biblical evidence concerning the above categories as well as such subjects as creation, adoption, atonement, ordinances, eschatological expectations, etc.
The question might still be asked, "Why should we be concerned about the spiritual condition of Old Testament believers?" Some might say, "Their spiritual condition is God's business. He will take care of them." "Perhaps God did not intend for us to speculate about their spiritual condition, and thus did not give us adequate information to make definitive evaluations." "Is this just dry historical concern of theological inquiry?" The theological implications of such a study as this are important in order for Christians to better understand all the implications of the abiding spiritual life of Jesus Christ by comparison and contrast with the spiritual condition of Old Testament believers. There is certainly sufficient Scriptural data to make the comparisons, as is evidenced by the abundance of Biblical citations we have quoted.
The Old Testament era was a promissory period, a physical pictorial pre-figuring of the spiritual "People of God" (I Peter 2:10) that God intended to create in Jesus Christ. The Old Testament believers experienced the graciousness of God, "finding favor in His sight," but they longed for the grace of God in Jesus Christ. They believed and trusted God, but theirs was a prospective faith and they "died in faith, without receiving the promises" (Heb. 11:13); "having gained approval through their faith, they did not receive what was promised" (Heb. 11:39). But as the "mediator of a new covenant," Jesus made it possible for Christians to "receive the promises of the eternal inheritance" (Heb. 9:15). "Christ...confirms the promises given to the fathers" (Rom. 15:8). "As many as may be the promises of God, in Him (Jesus) they are 'Yes,'" (II Cor. 1:20), affirmed and fulfilled. "The promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only those who are of the Law (Jews), but also those who are of the faith of Abraham" (Rom. 4:16). By receptive faith Christians "receive the promises" of God in Jesus Christ. Christians receive the very life of God, the resurrection-life of Jesus Christ, so as to be regenerated, saved, indwelt by the Spirit of Christ. Identified by intimate spiritual union with Jesus Christ, Christians are "Christ-ones," vessels through whom the Christ-life is lived out to the glory of God. Prior to the historical redemptive manifestation of Jesus Christ there were no "Christians." The Old Testament believers cannot be called "Christians," nor can they be theoretically vested with the spiritual realities experienced only by new covenant Christians "in Christ." Christians, on the other hand, participating in the fulfillment of the pictorial "type," can and are called "spiritual Jews." "He is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit" (Rom. 2:29). The Old Testament period was a preliminary period culminating in the "finished work" of Jesus Christ, the declaration of which Jesus made from the cross, exclaiming "It is finished" (John 19:30). The divine foreknowledge and predetermination of this "finished work" had been made "from the foundation of the world" (Heb. 4:3); the completion came in the life, death, resurrection, ascension and Pentecostal outpouring of Jesus Christ.
The focus of all the inspired Scriptures is the fulfillment of all God's promises and intent in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, including the living out of His life in Christians. This is why the "historical revisionism" of the Old Testament employed by some Christians is so damaging to the gospel presentation. It diminishes the Christocentric emphasis of the Biblical record. When Old Testament believers are reputed to have experienced grace before "grace was realized in Jesus Christ" (John 1:17); to have been "saved" before the redemptive and saving work of the Savior; to have "passed from death to life" before the resurrection-life of Jesus was made available; to have been completed and perfect in their relationship with God prior to the "finished work" of Jesus Christ; and to have been "Christians" before Jesus ever came to be the Christ; then the historic redemptive action of the cross and the subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ is made to be unnecessary and redundant. Such assertions can only be advocated when the interpreters fail to connect the so-called "benefits" with the Being of the risen and living Lord Jesus; when they fail to recognize the necessity of dynamic and ontic oneness with the person and life of the resurrected Jesus in order for deity to indwell humanity and express divine character in human behavior.
Even more tragic consequences occur when such misinterpretation and such inadequate and deficient spiritual understanding becomes the basis of new covenant explanation. Having sacrificed the dynamic and ontic distinctions of New Testament spiritual realities by transporting them back into Old Testament interpretation, some would then bring the same anemic definitions of these realities forward into New Testament theology and set them up as Christian doctrine, as the full content of Christian "truth," continuing to regard them as Christian "benefits," separated and detached and disconnected and divorced from the resurrected Jesus.
Tainted old covenant concepts are taught
as new covenant gospel. Grace is defined simply as "undeserved
favor." Faith is regarded as assent, belief, trust and confidence
in God. Salvation is explained as deliverance and rescue, the
avoidance of hell-fire. Regeneration becomes but an experience
of rejuvenation after which one possesses the commodity of "eternal
life." Justification is a legal declaration of the status
of righteousness reckoned and accounted in the divine bookkeeping.
The Holy Spirit is a nebulous depository promise of future inheritance.
Do these sound familiar? They are typical, traditional doctrinal
definitions proffered by the Christian "religion" of
our day, none of which are necessarily connected to the living
Consider these words of John W. Nevin, a German Reformed author, written in 1846:
"...if the order of grace is supposed to continue the same...if Christ manifested himself previously to the patriarchs and prophets as he now manifests himself to his church...if the Spirit of Christ indwelt the people of the Old Testament the same as Christians.... ...if so, let the church know that she is no nearer to God now ...than she was under the Old Testament; that the indwelling of Christ in believers, is only parallel with the divine presence as enjoyed by the Jewish saints, who all 'died in faith, not having received the promises;' that the mystical union in the case of Paul or John was nothing more intimate and vital and real than the relation sustained to God by Abraham, or David, or Isaiah.
Under the Old Testament..(the presence of the Spirit) was always an afflatus or influence simply, exerted on the soul of the person to whom it was extended. Is this all that we are to understand by it, in the Christian church? So the theory would appear to mean. The theory of "supernatural influence" -- merely moral union, rather than the actual LIFE of Christ conveyed into us.
The religion of the Old Testament ...foreshadowed the great fact of the incarnation. In the religion of the Old Testament, God descends toward man, and holds out to his view...the promise of a real union of the Divine Nature with the human, as the end of the gracious economy thus introduced.
To such a real union it is true, the dispensation itself never came. ...God drew nearer to men in an outward way. But to the last it continued to be only in an outward way. The wall of partition that separated the divine from the human, was never fully broken down.. ..It was a revelation of God to man, and not a revelation of God in man-the only form in which it was possible for Him to become truly known.
The meaning of the entire (Old Testament) system lay in its reference to Christianity. We may say of the Old Testament as a whole, what is said of its last and greatest representative in particular. It was the voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God!
...The mystery of the incarnation (God in man). Here was a fact, which even the religion of the Old Testament itself had no sufficiency to generate, and to which all its theophanies and miracles could furnish no proper parallel. For the revelation of the supernatural under the Old Testament, as already remarked, was always in an outward and comparatively unreal way. It never came to a true inward union between the human and the divine.
But in the person of Christ, all is different. It is by no mere figure of speech that Christ is represented to be the author of a new creation. ...The Word itself...became permanently joined with humanity in the person of Jesus Christ.
The religion of the Old Testament...(its) covenants, law, promises...(were) only a shadow to the substance it represents. Its truth was not in itself, but in a different system altogether to which it pointed. Its reality was..relative only. It made nothing perfect. It was the picture merely of good things to come. ...We have no right to say that the New Testament is a mere extension or enlargement of the Old, under the same form.
The relation of God to the patriarchs and saints generally of the Old Testament, was something that came short wholly of the relation in which He now stands to His people, as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Their spiritual life, their union with God, their covenant privileges -- all had an unreal, unsubstantial character, as compared with the parallel grace of the gospel, and constituted at best but an approximation to this grace, rather than the actual presence of it in any sense itself.
That which forms the full reality of religion, the union of the Divine Nature with the human, the revelation of God in man and not simply to him, was wanting to the Old Testament altogether. ...all its doctrines and institutions, ...had a shadowy, simply prophetic nature... Its sacraments were representations only... Its salvation was in the form of promise, more than present fact. It became real ultimately, only in Christ; for before His appearance, we are told the patriarchs of the law could not be made perfect (Hebrews 11:13, 39,40). The dispensation of the Spirit has its origin wholly in the person of Christ (Lk 1:35; 3:22; Jn 3:34) and could not reveal itself in the world until He was glorified (Jn 7:39)
The religion of the Old Testament went not beyond the character of a "report," to be received only by "the hearing of the ear." The revelation was always relative only, never absolute. It came not in any case to a full manifestation of the truth in its own form. But in the church of the New Testament, all is different. A new order of revelation entirely bursts upon the world, in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the absolute truth itself, personally present among men, and incorporating itself with their life. He is the substance, where all previous prophecy, even in its highest forms, had been only as sound or shadow.
Many see in Christianity an advance only on the grace of the Jewish dispensation, under the same form, and not a new order of grace entirely. Greater light, enlarged opportunities, more constraining motives, a new supply of supernatural aids and provisions; these are taken to be the peculiar distinction of the New Covenant, and constitute its supposed superiority over the Old. But is not this to resolve the Christian salvation as before, into a merely moral institute or discipline?...an outward apparatus....(which) turns the work of redemption into a mere doctrine or example. We should have at most, in this view, an exaltation only of the religion of the Jew. Christ would be to us of the same order with Moses; immeasurably greater of course; but still a prophet only in the same sense.
In opposition to all this, we say of Christianity that it is a LIFE. Not a rule or mode of life simply; not something that in its own nature requires to be reduced to practice; for that is the character of all morality. But life in its very nature and constitution...the actual substance of truth itself. John 1:17 - "The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."
We read of the Spirit of God, as present and active in the world, under a certain form, before the incarnation of Christ. But we must not confound this agency with the relation, in which He has come to stand to the church since, in consequence of the union thus established between the Divine nature and our own. 34
Robert J., Regeneration and Indwelling in the Old Testament
Period. Research Report No. 25. Hatfield, PA: Interdisciplinary
Biblical Research Institute. 1985. pg. 3.