The Holy Spirit in Conversion (2)
The Holy Spirit plays a vital role in our conversion. Does He work directly on the sinner or indirectly through some means? Interestingly, everything the Bible attributes to the Spirit in conversion is also attributed to the word of God, which the Spirit inspired (Ephesians 3:3-5; cf. 6:17). The Spirit works through the word.
If this analysis is correct, the illustrations of conversion in Acts should verify it. Do they?
The Biblical View
The book of Acts is a history of the apostles’ work as witnesses for Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit (1:8). Jesus told them to go preach the gospel to all creation so that men might be saved (Mark 16:16). That is what they did.
Every case of conversion in Acts was based on gospel preaching. There are no exceptions. The Spirit was working through the word in every example.
Some conversions had a more direct involvement of the Spirit. Let’s review them. On the day of Pentecost the Spirit empowered the apostles to speak in tongues (Acts 2:1-11). Paul was filled with the Spirit as he began to speak to Elymas (Acts 13:9). Acts 6:10 may be a similar reference to Stephen’s preaching. It was the Spirit who empowered the apostles and others to work miracles to confirm their preaching (Hebrews 2:3-4), signs such as those Philip performed at Samaria (Acts 8:6). In Acts 10 the opposite effect occurred: the Spirit fell on the hearers—Cornelius and his household— producing a miraculous effect to convince the preachers that they, though Gentiles, were acceptable to God. Peter went and preached to Cornelius because of the Spirit’s instruction (Acts 10:19-20). The Spirit had earlier told Philip to preach to the Ethiopian (Acts 8:29), then took him elsewhere (vv. 39-40). He also directed Paul in his preaching trips (Acts 16:6-8).
What about these more direct actions? They all fall into one of three categories: revealing the word to the preacher, confirming the word by means of miracles, and bringing the preacher and the sinner in contact with each other. In other words, revelation of, confirmation of, and assistance in encountering the gospel, God’s power to save (Roman 1:16).
In no case did the Spirit bypass gospel preaching. In no case is He said to have changed the nature of the hearer to enable him to believe. In no case was anyone ever told to pray for the Spirit in order to be saved. In no case of non-conversion (Acts records several of those too) was the Spirit ever blamed for failing to act.
The Non-Biblical View
As we noted last week, the idea that the Spirit must operate directly on the sinner to change his heart grew out of the false doctrine of hereditary depravity. It has some devastating consequences.
• If all are not saved, and they are not, then God shows partiality by sending the Spirit only to some. But God does not show partiality (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11).
• If man cannot be saved unless God directly changes him and He chooses not to do that, it makes God directly responsible for the lost. Yet God’s desire is that all be saved (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4).
• If this changing by the Spirit is irresistible— proponents say that it is—it removes man’s choice or free will (Revelation 22:17). Stephen said the Jews resisted the Spirit by refusing to heed the words He inspired (Acts 7:51-53).
• All this makes error more powerful than truth: we can be influenced to obey error, but must be made to obey truth!
The Spirit is calling you through the gospel. What is your response?