Backing It Up: The Old Testament Hope of Indwelling

Before we press further into the New Testament passages that explore the truth of indwelling we need to back up and consider the Old Testament background to this magnificent promise. There are a number of places we could turn to look at this. I have chosen one key text from Ezekiel 36:26-27.

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

The Old Testament narrative is a lengthy illustration of the human need for divine intervention and transformation. Obedience to the law of God is found to be impossible apart from the grace of God at work in our hearts.

This situation can only be remedied by the peculiar work of the Spirit of God. This text touches on the promise of his coming and the powerful change that follows his activity.

In the context Ezekiel is describing what is elsewhere called the new covenant (Jer. 31). The new covenant is God’s decisive plan to penetrate human recalcitrance and create joyful obedience.

The heart of the new covenant is the coming Spirit. In this text, it is the Spirit coming to indwell human beings. Twice the language of “within” is used to denote the intrinsic activity of God’s Spirit. The Spirit’s coming is closely related to the heart surgery mentioned in the text. The old stony heart is removed with a soft responsive one.

Most impressive is the language of the Spirit “causing” individuals to gladly obey the commands of God. Indwelling grace is transformative grace. People are never the same when God takes up residence within them.

The possibility of obedience is created when the Spirit comes down. This is the new covenant promise and this is what the New Testament picks up and explores.