The Holy Spirit in Conversion (1)
Becoming a Christian involves change: a change in our thinking, a change in our conduct, and a change in our relationship to God. It is no surprise, therefore, that the Bible uses the word conversion to describe it. To convert a thing is to change or transform it into something else.
Several persons have a role in conversion. The sinner, who becomes a Christian; the teacher, who instructs him; Jesus, who died for him; the Father, who forgives him. What about the Holy Spirit—what is His role, and how does He accomplish it?
Titus 3:5 says we are renewed or renovated by the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ terminology, we are born again of the Spirit (John 3:5). How does the Spirit bring about this renewal or rebirth? Does He act on the sinner directly, or does He act indirectly, through some means or agency?
Many believe that God sends the Spirit directly. This view grew out of the doctrine of hereditary depravity, which says that we are born sinners who are incapable of doing good. If we are that bad, we will not/cannot take the gospel to heart and obey it; therefore, God must first change our hearts to make them receptive to Jesus. The New Hampshire Confession of Faith, an old Baptist creed, expresses it this way: “We believe that the Holy Scriptures teach that in order to be saved, we must be regenerated, or born again; that regeneration consists in giving a holy disposition to the mind, and is effected in a manner above our comprehension, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in connection with divine truth, so as to secure our voluntary obedience to the gospel. . .” (Article 7).
Since the Bible does not teach the doctrine of hereditary depravity (Ecclesiastes 7:29), there is no necessity for the Spirit to act directly. He could act through some means. The Bible affirms that He does.
The Spirit inspired the Bible writers (1 Corinthians 2:10-13; Ephesians 3:3-5); therefore, whatever the Scriptures accomplish can be attributed to the Spirit. Ephesians 6:17 rightly calls the word “the sword of the Spirit.”
Interestingly, the things that the New Testament attributes to the Spirit in converting a sinner are also attributed to the word. For example. . .
• Jesus promised that the Spirit would testify about Him (John 15:26). He also said the Scriptures do that (John 5:39).
• Romans 15:18-19 speaks of the Gentiles’ obedience as accomplished “in the power of the Spirit,” yet earlier Paul affirmed that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation” (1:16).
• Jesus said the Spirit would convict the world (John 16:8). Preaching God’s word does exactly that (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 4:2).
• We are “born again” of both the Spirit (John 3:3, 5) and the word (1 Peter 1:23; cf. James 1:18).
• The Spirit washes, sanctifies, and justifies us (1 Corinthians 6:11), and so does the word (Ephesians 5:26; John 17:17; Romans 3:28; 10:17).
• The Spirit calls or invites us (Revelation 22:17), an invitation extended through the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14).
• The result is that we are saved by the Spirit (Titus 3:5) and by the word (James 1:21).
Do not misunderstand. The Spirit is not the word. The point is that He works through the word in conversion. No one is saved apart from it, nor is there any indication the Spirit ever bypasses it.
If this view is correct, the examples of conversion in the book of Acts will confirm it. We will take a look at them next week.