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Presbyterians/Saul, Samson, & Eternal Security


Hi Pastor G,

When we read in the Bible that “the Spirit of God came upon” someone, what does that mean?  Is the phrase used to mean different activities or different levels of activity by the Holy Spirit in the lives of individual people?  Specifically, does it sometimes mean something less than what He does in the process of spiritual regenerating and indwelling believers?  Sometimes when the phrase is used it seems to mean the deepest kind of spiritual inauguration signifying that His presence is lasting and internal within that person (the believers in Ephesus in Acts 19:6, or Jesus in Matt 3:16), but not always.  Sometimes it seems like it means only an external activity on the person to compel them to do His will in some particular way (like Balaam in Numbers 24:2) and that once the activity is complete, He then departs from them.          

I have a few friends who do not believe in eternal security and argue that when the Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit departed from someone because of their sin that means that they went from a state of salvation (by which they were indwelt by the Holy Spirit) to a state of being unsaved (in which the Holy Spirit “moved out” and abandoned them).  They use Saul as an example to support this argument, and if you look at Saul’s life outside of the context of the rest of the Bible, it reads to me the same way.  But I don’t think it is a solid argument because elsewhere the Bible clearly teaches that the Holy Spirit is given to believers as a guarantee and that once He is given, God will not renege on that gift.   

Can the Spirit of God come upon some people in only an external way, compelling them to do something extraordinary without affecting their spiritual condition?  And subsequently, when we read that the Spirit of God departed from someone, is it safe to assume that they never were one of the elect, and that God’s presence was only acting on them in this external way but never “moved in” as He does with believers?

Is this the key to understanding Saul’s life, (and by contrast, the surprising twist at the end of Samson’s that got him a shout-out in Hebrews 11?)  


Hi, Beth.

If you lived in VA, I'd invite you take my class on the Holy Spirit. This is a very complex question, with a lot of antecedents needed to make sense of it all.

To be brief I'll have to assume a number of things without "proving" them. Your instinct is correct. Believers are "sealed with the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption" (Eph. 4:20). Believers who are so sealed (the word was used of a guarantee) cannot "lose" their salvation. However, since election is known to God alone, no one should rest in the confidence "I am among the elect." There is no security in sin (see the book of Jude). God knows his own from his own unique perspective - we only have an ideas who belongs to God by the fruit their lives bear.

I'm glad, too, that you haven't made what has become a common mistake of thinking that the Holy Spirit was not present or active in the OT. BUT there is something very different about the Spirit come at Pentecost.

John 7:39, translated very specifically from the Greek, reads, "By this [Jesus] meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit WAS NOT YET, for Jesus had not yet been glorified."

We have to ask what it means that the Spirit was "not yet" (translations that say "not yet given," are not quiet correct; they do so to "help" us, but I fear they help us miss the point!)

The Spirit did and always had existed, but the Spirit was NOT YET the Spirit of the incarnate, crucified, resurrect, and glorified Christ. When he comes at Pentecost he is, and is in fact "the Spirit of Jesus" (Acts 16:7, Phil. 1:19).

In his resurrection Jesus is the start of the New Creation. The Spirit of Christ makes us right now a part of that New Creation as well (2 Cor. 5:17).

So let me make three biblical distinctions:

1) Baptism by/in the Holy Spirit - this is what happens when one becomes a Christian: "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." (1Cor 12:12-13). To be baptized by/in the Spirit is to be regenerated, to become a part of the body of the New Creation people of God.

2) Being filled with the Spirit. Because we are creatures of a new age who yet live in this age, and have remnants of the old age, we live in a tug of war (Rom. 7). We should and must count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus by virtue of his resurrection ("new creation") -cf. Rom 6., but we don't always do so. So we are told to put off those old things and be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). It is both interesting and significant that is in the imperative, it is a command. It's not an indicative, telling us what God has done or will do, but is an imperative telling US to do something. Many years ago I had a teacher who used this analogy. "The Holy Spirit is a deposit within the believer (Eph 1:14), and we may think of that deposit as a bottle of perfume. It's all there, but it needs to be opened for the perfume to pervade our lives." As far as I can see in the Scriptures, both being baptized by the Holy Spirit and being filled with the Holy Spirit is something that pertains only to Christians.

3) The Spirit coming upon someone. This is the prerogative of God, and he can do as he pleases. If you looks at the passages that speak of it, it is always for a very specific task. So the Spirit of God comes upon prophets (OT and NT) that they may deliver God's Word, upon the Son of God himself in his prophetic role (Lk 4:18), upon Mary in conceiving the Son of God (Lk 1:35), and even upon wicked Baalam who is not a part of Israel. God thus uses Baalam as his servant in much the same way uses pagan kings (Is 10 etc.)

I think all of this is comfirmative of the direction your thoughts were going in. The reason for the confusion on this topic is that so many people start with a theology, then try to fit the Scriptures to it. If we start with the Scriptures and connect the data point we'll have a better theology. Eg. If you start with the theology that the Holy Spirit can only come those who are saved, Baalam is going to be problematic, and you may end up concluding that he actually was saved, even though the NT constantly uses him as an example of evil and perdition. But if we see, eg. that 1) Balaam is an evil, godless man, and 2) the Spirit of God comes upon him, we can then concluded that God must be able to "put his Spirit upon" whomever he wants to.

Saul, and Samson. There are no heroes in the Bible, are there, save Jesus alone. I marvel at Samson. If you read the story, here is a man whose life you'd never want your children to emulate. Yet there he is in Hebrews 11. And what's the point for those people to whom it was written, beaten back, discouraged, ready to throw in the towel, some of them perhaps already having done things they were ashamed of? It's that the strength, vigor, purity, steadfastness of my faith is not what saves me. It's the object of my faith (Jesus) that saves me. Thanks be to God.


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Pastor G


I am glad to answer questions about the Scriptures, Systematic, Biblical and Historic Theology, New Testament Greek, Biblical Hebrew (although my Greek is stronger than my Hebrew); and I am also glad to give pastoral advise and counsel.


A minister ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church since 1993. Prior to that I served as an elder. Former Senior Police Chaplain. College and Seminary-level lecturer.

B.A. Psychology and Theology, M.Div., Westminster Theological Seminary D.Min., Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Law Enforcement Chaplaincy certification, ICPC

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