3) When Jesus said that the greatest command was to love God and their neighbors with ALL of their heart, did he believe that they could do that back then (without yet “having” the HS), as much as we can today?
The scriptures answer this question directly. I’ve covered the critical passages many times. We begin in —
(Deut. 6:4-6 ESV) 4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
(Deut. 10:12-16 ESV) 12 “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good? 14 Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.”
These parallel teachings require Israel to love and serve God with all their heart and soul. it’s a heart command. It’s not fulfilled by mere externals. It requires a certain state of heart: “circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart.”
But they failed. Jeremiah, for example, promised utter destruction for their failure to obey exactly this command:
(Jer. 4:4-8 ESV) 4 Circumcise yourselves to the LORD; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.” 5 Declare in Judah, and proclaim in Jerusalem, and say, “Blow the trumpet through the land; cry aloud and say, ‘Assemble, and let us go into the fortified cities!’ 6 Raise a standard toward Zion, flee for safety, stay not, for I bring disaster from the north, and great destruction. 7 A lion has gone up from his thicket, a destroyer of nations has set out; he has gone out from his place to make your land a waste; your cities will be ruins without inhabitant. 8 For this put on sackcloth, lament and wail, for the fierce anger of the LORD has not turned back from us.”
Some Jews were faithful, but only a small minority. So many were unfaithful that God allowed the Babylonians to destroy the Temple, tear down the walls of Jerusalem, and relocate the people to Babylon.
So was it possible to love God sufficiently without the Spirit? Yes. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were among those take captive by the Babylonians.
Did the vast majority of the Jews fail to do so? Yes.
But God promised a new age, after the Exile, when he would solve this problem.
(Deut. 30:1-6 ESV) “And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, 2 and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3 then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. … 6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
After the Exile, God himself will change the hearts of his people love him with all their hearts and all their soul.
Prophets such as Ezekiel (quoted earlier) interpreted this to be a reference to the indwelling Spirit — and Paul is very plain —
(Rom. 2:28-29 ESV) 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
The saved are those who’ve received circumcision of the heart “by the Spirit, not by the letter.” The Law by itself was not enough. It largely failed to create a people who sufficiently honored Torah to please God. That was true at the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel (the time of Babylonian Captivity), and it was true in the parallel time of Jesus and his apostles (which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans, in a remarkable repeat of history).
In both cases, only a remnant of the Jews were faithful, but after Pentecost, the remnant received the outpoured Spirit — and the Kingdom has been dramatically different as a result.
To borrow from Daniel,
(Dan. 2:34-35 ESV) 34 As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image [the kingdom of heaven] became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
(Dan. 2:44-45 ESV) 44 “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed [the kingdom of heaven], nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, 45 just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure.”
The kingdom of heaven, empowered by the indwelling presence of the Spirit, has accomplished things that Israel never did. I believe God will accomplish far greater things in the future.
4) Basically, what exactly, do you believe that we can do today, that Mary and Joseph couldn’t do back then?
Fly in airplanes. Use computers …
It seems clear to me that God gave his Spirit to Mary, as she spoke words that became scripture (Luk 1:46-55 the Magnificat) and sound inspired to my ear. This may have been a temporary gift. After all, Mary seems to have struggled to accept Jesus in his role as Messiah — at least as the sort of Messiah he insisted on being —
(Mk. 3:20-21 NIV) 20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
So let’s assume that God selected Mary and Joseph and that they had no indwelling of the Holy Spirit — except Mary had the Spirit temporarily at the Annunciation.
Well, if I were a Calvinist, this would be very problematic as the Calvinists believe that humans suffer from original sin to such an extent that they cannot be obedient without the Spirit.
But I’m not a Calvinist — and I find the whole Calvinism controversy a distraction because I find that the Bible was written to pose and respond to very different questions.
Only a very few of the Jews received the Spirit — Saul, David, and Solomon. Perhaps later kings in the line of David, but this is not clearly stated anywhere that I can find. The prophets. Certain of the judges — maybe all. The artisans who worked on the tabernacle. Some composers of psalms for the Temple service. And that’s about it insofar as we are told.
But Heb 11 gives us a list of saved OT characters, which includes Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob — and I know of no basis to conclude that any of these people received the Spirit.
God told Elijah that he’d preserved a remnant of 7,000 souls (1 Kings 19:18; Rom 11:4). I doubt that all had received the Spirit.
Therefore, it’s possible to have faith sufficient to save without the Spirit — contrary to Calvin. That will sound Pelagian to many, but it’s a moot point as to Christians because all Christians have the Spirit and only Christians are saved. The issue only comes up, even in theory, pre-Pentecost. (If you aren’t familiar with the Pelagian controversy, well, I wouldn’t lose any sleep … . But the Calvinist community is obsessed with the issue. They’ll make you learn words like “synergism” and “monergism.” And if you join the club, “supralapsarianism” and “infralapsarianism.” Stay far, far away!)