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.

The Power of the Personal Pronoun

My daughter is 2 1/2 years old. She pretty much makes my day every time I walk through the door after a long day of work. Every day when I come home she runs up to me, grabs my leg and screams with delight, “daddy, daddy, daddy, my daddy.” She repeatedly says “my daddy is home.”

My daughter has caused me to think about the precious nature of the personal pronoun. “Daddy” is great, but “my Daddy” is even better. It communicates ownership, possession, and the uniqueness of the relationship. She is expressing that of all the dad’s out there I am the one that belongs to her. All of this in the little pronoun “my.”

It is believed that Martin Luther once said, “The Christian faith is a matter of personal pronouns.” The richest personal pronouns in Scripture denote a dual ownership between God and his people. We belong to God and God belongs to us. We are his people and he is our God. God’s people are his inheritance and God is the inheritance of his people. Luther said,

“Read with great emphasis these words, ‘me,’ ‘for me,’ and accustom yourself to accept and apply to yourself this  ‘me’ with certain faith. The words OUR, US, FOR US, ought to be written in golden letters — the man who does not believe them is not a Christian.”

Luther also identified how important it is that the personal pronoun be connected to the cross-work of Jesus. He states,

“Note especially the pronoun ‘our’ and its significance. You will readily grant that Christ gave Himself for the sins of Peter, Paul, and others who were worthy of such grace. But feeling low, you find it hard to believe that Christ gave Himself for your sins. Our feelings shy at a personal application of the pronoun ‘our,’ and we refuse to have anything to do with God until we have made ourselves worthy by good deeds.”

Every day I come through the door my daughter is teaching me an invaluable lesson about God. He is “my Father.” Through the work of of his Son he is delighted to hear that designation from my mouth—that’s amazing. The joy I feel every day is a small fragment of God’s joy over the people he calls his own. This is a mutual delight, a reciprocal joy. God is delighted to call us his people and we are overjoyed to call him our God. All this because Jesus made our sins his own.

Daring Confidence in Unshakable Promises

God’s speech is characterized by truth. His word is void of deceit. According to Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”  Titus 1:2 states that God “cannot lie.” Hebrews 6:18 says it is “impossible for God to lie.”

This means that every biblical promise is solid and trustworthy. A God who keeps covenant is a God who is worthy of our trust. As Luther put it, “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times.” Daring confidence is always rooted in solid promises.

In this post, I want to introduce you to a rich concept in the Greek language that serves to highlight a specific angle on the promises of God. The concept has been called “emphatic negation.” In the New Testament there are many occasions where an author throws together two different words for “no” to emphasize impossibility.

Daniel Wallace defines this grammatical concept in his book, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics, An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. 

“Emphatic negation is indicated by  οὐ μὴ [both words are translated as ‘no’] plus the aorist subjunctive or less frequently οὐ μὴ plus the future indicative. This is the strongest way to negate something in Greek. One might think that the negative with the subjunctive could not be as strong as the negative with the indicative. However, while  οὐ + the indicative denies the certainty,  οὐ μὴ + subjective denies a potentiality. The negative is not weaker; rather, the affirmation that is being negatived is less firm with the subjunctive. Oὐ μὴ rules out the idea of even being a possibility.”

The following are a few examples of emphatic negation. Consider the richness of what God promises he will never do. The translation of Oὐ μὴ is highlighted in bold.

  • All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).
  • “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will grab them out of my hand” (John 10:28).
  • “Blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin” (Romans 4:8).
  • “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you'” (Hebrews 13:5).
  • “For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame'” (1 Pet 2:6).

These are mighty promises, each one worthy of meditation and application. There are five things here that God has vowed he will never ever do. It is words like these that invite daring confidence and faith. What happens to a man who believes that God has forever refused to hold his sin against him? What about someone who trusts that God will never allow him to perish or be taken out of his hand? How would you be impacted if you rested in the reality of a God who will not shame you at the last judgment and will never forsake you?

My guess is that you would follow Luther and stake your life on this truth telling God a thousand times over. Here is another article that goes into further depth on this topic and touches on some other key texts: Emphatic Negation: Drawing Out the Riches of God’s Promises. Any thoughts on this topic?