As is so often the case, the OT sheds light on the NT.
As we covered in a series of posts last year called “The Salvation of the Jews,” we concluded that the Jews, just like the Christians, are saved by the terms of God’s covenant with Abraham. They were saved by faith just as we’re saved by faith. (I’m not going to repeat the argument here in the comments.)
But in the OT, the Spirit was only given to prophets, judges, kings, and a few artisans. Most people did not receive the Spirit. Was the Spirit essential to the Jews’ salvation? Well … what’s the story?
Ten tribes were taken into Assyrian captivity, disappearing from history. They didn’t do so well without the Spirit. They had the letter, which Paul says kills. And they died.
The Southern Kingdom, Judah and Benjamin, became so idolatrous that God had Nebuchadnezzar tear Jerusalem down to bedrock, destroying the Temple Solomon built and that God dwelled in. God’s own house was destroyed. Countless Jews died horribly. The Jews went into Babylonian captivity, and most never returned.
About 500 years later, the Temple was again destroyed by Rome, this time not to be rebuilt. Shortly afterwards, the Romans banned the Jews from Jerusalem — and this was all a result of their lack of faith.
So how was life for the Jews without the personal indwelling? Some made it to heaven. Most did not. And most of the nation rejected their Messiah and were damned for their error.
So how has the church done with the Spirit? Well, we’ve made just all kinds of mistakes. It’s not always been pretty. But a community that began with 120 disciples is now 2.4 billion strong — and includes 1/3 of the world’s population. Not ideal, not at all. But a whole lot better.
So is the Spirit essential if you already have the word? Well, some Jews made it to heaven with faith and no personal indwelling. But most did not. (I can argue the NT theology either way, and really just don’t care if the Spirit is essential. We have the Spirit, and so the question is moot.)
Is the Spirit’s personal indwelling helpful? Has the Spirit served God well as a Paraclete? God’s faith community, rather than shrinking from an entire nation down to 3,120 at Pentecost or 7,000 in Elijah’s day, turned into 1/3 of the entire world — and is the fastest growing religion on the planet today. The evidence is in.
Yes, we do better when we have both the word and the Spirit. The letter (the word without the Spirit) kills. It’s not either-or. It’s both-and.