Contrary to the wildly-popular opinion of many today, God has always been concerned with the behavior and obedience of those who call themselves believers. And this goes all the way back to the Garden, from where Adam and Eve were expelled because of their disobedience. It also applied to Abraham, who was blessed “because” he obeyed. And the promises made to him were contingent upon the obedience of his offspring. Let’s take a look:
He says to Abraham:
Genesis 22:18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
And again to Isaac:
Genesis 26:4b And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”
There is no blessing to be had without obedience. Indeed, God had said of Abraham’s descendants:
Genesis 18:19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”
If there is no obedience, there is no way to bring the promise. And that’s a big deal, because it is famously known that the Israelites were terrible at keeping God’s commands. How, then, could the promises to Abraham be kept if his descendants would not comply with God’s commands?
This was the big point of giving the indwelling Spirit—that these people who had disobeyed again and again would finally fulfill the necessary obedience. Note verse 27 below:
Ezekiel 36:22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 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. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29 And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. 30 I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. 31 Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. 32 It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.
To this people, who had famously disobeyed and been careless, he says:
27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
That’s what was going to be different. They had failed to make it happen on their own will—even though Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had done so. So God was going to make it possible by putting his own Spirit in them to give them a boost. But the culture to which he made this promise was an old one, having spanned multiple generations, with many of them dead and only a few of them living. How, then, would he fulfill this?
We know that he gave the indwelling Holy Spirit to the living believers beginning in Acts 2, but was not this promise made also to many who had since died? Yes, it was. He had promised to bring those people back into the land, and to bless not only them, but all the nations of the earth. This would happen at the mass resurrection in Matthew 27:
Matthew 27:50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. 51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
For this prophecy (repeated again and again in the Old Testament) to be fulfilled, these people had to be brought back into the land, given the indwelling Holy Spirit, and to live out their lives righteously—unlike their first go at it. Without their obedience, how could the nations be blessed through them?
This time, they would obey:
Jeremiah 32:37Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. 38 And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. 39I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. 40 I will make with them an everlasting (to the age) covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. 41 I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.
Again, this time, unlike before, they would be careful to obey:
Ezekiel 37:12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” ……21 then say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. 22 And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. …….24 “My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes.
Read that last line again—very slowly. Let that sink in.
These people, now with the indwelling Spirit, were expected to obey—and not only that, but were supernaturally empowered to do so! How is it that now so many millions of Christians, claiming to have this very indwelling are so adamant that their obedience to the rules and statues is not mandatory?