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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






06 October 2005

Old Testament Faith and the Holy Ghost


Q: I understand that faith is not something that we come to on our own, but it is a gift of the Holy Spirit — a gift given when we are converted, gift accompanying the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I have always thought that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a fulfillment of the “New” Covenant promise put into effect through Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.

Many places in the New Testament name Old Testament persons of faith as examples for us (e.g., Hebrews 11). How did the Old Testament persons of faith come to their faith without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? Clarify for me Hebrews 11:39-40. What did the Old Testament persons of faith not receive that we now receive, and in what sense are they now made perfect with us?


A: Hebrews 11:39-40 sums up the account of the Old Testament faithful: “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”

There are two ways of understanding “apart from us.” One is that the New Testament believers were somehow necessary for the perfection of the Old Testament saints. The other is that the writer is saying that they would not be perfected in a manner differently than we; that is, we all receive the same benefits and blessings.

This latter makes more sense, both in context of the passage and of all Scripture. They did not receive the fulfillment of the Messianic promises. The Christ was still to come. Perfection is only through Him. Now that Jesus has come, all the saints receive the same fulfillment, for all receive eternal life in Christ. This will be ultimately realized when Christ returns in judgment and brings all believers, Old and New Testament, to eternal life.

As for the creation of faith being the work of the Holy Ghost, this was as true in BC as it was in AD. God doesn’t change His methods, although he may reveal more of His divine plan. Were it not for the Spirit, no one would believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him.

By Faith Jericho Fell
Ultimately, when we observe God’s faithful people in Old or New Testament Scriptures and those living today, the Spirit calls us to see the light of Christ shining in them. That’s why Paul encouraged the Philippians (and us), “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. (3:17)” The author of Hebrews similarly commended for our observation the “cloud of witnesses (12:1)” who were displayed in the previous chapter. He then went on to remind us that in viewing and emulating them, we “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. (12:1-2)”

Illustration is a public domain Bible card from 1902. To find similar cards and other illustrations, please follow the clipart link from The Bread Site.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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