New Life: The Holy Spirit's Role in Conversion
We don’t think about the Holy Spirit’s role in our salvation enough. Whenever we think of the work of God saving us, we tend to think about Jesus' work on the cross, which is understandable. So much of the New Testament focuses on Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice for our sins. But we need to also see how vital a role the Holy Spirit plays in our salvation.
We already began to see this in our last lesson. The Holy Spirit has inspired and confirmed both the Old and New Testaments so we don't have to be in the dark when it comes to knowing God's will and what it is we must do to be pleasing to Him. But this is usually where our focus on the role of the Holy Spirit in conversion ends. We at times may fall into the trap of seeing Him as not doing much more than giving us the word of God so we can come to salvation and know how to live as Christians then stepping away from the scene. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Holy Spirit does give us the word, as we saw last week, but He has done more than we give Him credit for at times. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, salvation would not be possible! This lesson and the following two on the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit are meant to show us why.
CONVICTION THROUGH HIS PIERCING SWORD
First of all, we know from the New Testament that the Holy Spirit plays a vital role in bringing the sinner to conviction over his/her sin. Jesus says:
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. 8 And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” -
Jesus makes it clear that it would be the work of the Holy Spirit to convict the world of their sin, which is necessary if anyone is to be saved. But how does He do this? He does it through the Gospel. Peter says in that the Apostles “have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven” The Gospel is a powerful message. It is the message that God the Spirit uses to bring men to salvation. Also take note of :
“Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever”
The Spirit, through His word, has given us the ability to be born again by the power of God. We obeyed the truth and were born again through the work of the Holy Spirit. He uses His word to convict.
Some may at this point say, “The Holy Spirit only gave us the word so we can know what we must do to be saved. Other than this, He is not that active in the process." Whenever we stop at the Holy Spirit only giving the word then backing away from the scene), we miss what Jesus said earlier about the Holy Spirit. When the Gospel is being preached, the HOLY SPIRIT is the one who is convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. We at times separate the sword of the Spirit from the one who is wielding it! (see , )
Consider the following illustration:
Whenever a plumber comes over to your house to fix something, do you give the tools all of the credit for doing the job? Or after your mechanic fixes the car, do you say, “Well, I gotta hand it to your wrenches and other tools. They did a mighty fine job fixing my car?” No. The mechanic gets the credit for the work he did.
The same should be the case with the Spirit of God. He is the One working. Jesus didn't say that when the word of God comes, it will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. He said, “And when He [the Holy Spirit] has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” We must give credit where it is due! We were born again through the word of God. We obeyed the truth. But this happened because the working of the Holy Spirit. This, in my opinion, is what makes the Bible different from every other book. This is what makes it living and active: the One who is wielding it! We must give credit to the One using the tool and not give all of the credit to the tools. The tools play a part in the work being done, but they cannot do anything unless they are used by the worker.
As the word of the Spirit is being taught, the Spirit is working to pierce the hearts of sinners (unbelievers and believers alike). We must be careful not to put limits on God's Spirit that He did not give Himself. Just because He is no longer giving direct revelation does not mean that He is not working in the preaching and teaching of His word! But we tend to do this in response to false teaching we take a view that overreacts to false teaching.
We see in this text that if someone resists or rejects the word of God being preached, they are rejecting the Holy Spirit of God! And I would say the opposite also. If you accept and obey the word of God, you are accepting and obeying the Holy Spirit.
TWO REACTIONS TO THE WORD OF THE SPIRIT
There are two main responses that the Spirit receives to His work:
1. Conviction leading to a negative reaction. Remember when Stephen was preaching to the crowds in Acts chapter 7. He made this interesting comment about the response of their ancestors to the prophets and also the crowds response to himself:
“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, 53 who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.”
They, as their fathers, were resisting the Spirit of God when they were resisting and suppressing what was being taught to them. Their response:
– “ When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth.” They end up putting Stephen to death.
2. Conviction leading to a positive reaction: godly sorrow and repentance. When Peter had preached the Gospel to the crowd on Pentecost, He showed them clearly what their sin was. They murdered the Son of God. Their response:
– “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’”
This crowd heard the preaching of the word and were pierced in their hearts by it, but this piercing brought a different response. They asked what it is they must do to be saved. They responded favorably to the word and would become Christians.
This also happened in in the conversion of the household of Lydia:
"And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. 14 A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household had been baptized…"
Paul, Silas, and Timothy came to this place of prayer and started to speak to the women assembled. WE are told here that Lydia was listening to what was being preached, and through it, the Lord opened her heart to respond to the Gospel and be baptized.
REGENERATION IN THE OT
After convicting a sinner to believe the Gospel and to repent, it is the Spirit who gives new life (regenerates) to the sinner. This work of the Holy Spirit was prophesied about in the Old Testament in a few places:
- "Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people. “I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life”
This prophecy tells us that God will put His Spirit into those who are dead (in their sins), and by doing so, will breath new life into them. God performs the miracle of resurrecting the soul that is dead. Following this passage in verses 24-28, Ezekiel makes it clear that this work of the Holy Spirit will happen when “David My Servant shall be king over them” and be their “one Shepherd,” reigning over them “forevermore” under an “everlasting covenant,” and YHWH will forever dwell with His people.
Another verse that shows this idea of the Holy Spirit giving life to that which is dead is in , where Isaiah pictures the giving of the Spirit as a wilderness being given life giving water:
“Until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is counted as a forest.”
There will be a drastic change when the Spirit is given to those who obey the gospel. That which is dead and cannot come back to life on its own is given life and becomes a fruitful field.
REGENERATION IN THE NT
We see this teaching continue in the New Testament:
“Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38 "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.' " 39 But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” ().
It seems that Jesus is taking what Isaiah was prophesying, and He tells them exactly when this would happen. After Jesus will be glorified, the Spirit will be given to those who would come to faith in Christ, and when this happened, they would have the waters of life. This is a reference to the life the Spirit would give to the barren/dead wilderness.
Some other passages that show this as the work of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament:
“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life." –
God by His mercy washes us and regenerates us through the Holy Spirit who is poured out on us abundantly by His mercy and grace.
- "Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."
This regeneration/rebirth is necessary if we want to enter the kingdom of God. It is the Spirit's presence that makes us alive:
“However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” ().
Also, at this point of washing, the Spirit sanctifies us:
- "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood" 
We are told that we have been sanctified by the work of the Holy Spirit. This is what God says would happen when the Spirit is given in . He would dwell amongst His people and sanctify them by the Spirit being given.
This point is also made in . After recounting the many sins in which the Corinthian Christians were wrapped up in before they became Christians, He says:
- “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God."
The Holy Spirit justified us. He made us right with God and acquitted us of our crimes against God. He also sanctified us. He made us Holy; set apart for God's purposes and glory.
WHEN DOES THIS HAPPEN?
The big question we must ask is, “When does the Lord do this?” When is it that He pours out His Spirit on people to give them new life. I believe this question is answered in many of the verses we have already looked at:
· Paul said in that the Corinthians were justified in the name of Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God when they were "washed." I believe this is a reference to baptism, as we see in .
· - "Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 for the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” There is a washing (baptism). The Spirit is given (gift of the Holy Spirit), and it was in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Also see )
· said we were saved and had the Spirit poured out abundantly on us when we had the washing of regeneration.
· John in said we are born of WATER and Spirit.
· “by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” ()
All of these passages show that the Spirit is given to us and we are washed when the believing, repentant person is baptized into Christ.
The big question that you need to answer for yourself is this: "Have you been regenerated by the Holy Spirit yet? Have you believed the gospel and with a repentant heart been baptized into Christ?"