The Work of the Holy Spirit

The Light of God's WordThe dynamic of the believer’s spiritual walk is predicated to a certain degree on how much Bible knowledge resides in his soul. He cannot live what he does not know, and knowing God’s word necessarily precedes living His will. Knowing God’s word does not guarantee a spiritual walk, as the believer may follow the world rather than the Holy Spirit (Jas. 4:17; 1 Jo. 2:15). However, he cannot be spiritual without some knowledge of Scripture, and the more he knows, the more he’s able to surrender his life to God.

       Understanding the work of Holy Spirit in the dispensation of Grace enables the believer to live the spiritual life. The Mosaic Law system is not the rule of life for the church age believer, and sadly, too many Christians seek to live by it. How the Holy Spirit worked in the life of saints under the Mosaic Law is vastly different than how He works in the life of the believer today. For example, under the dispensation of the Mosaic Law the Holy Spirit indwelt and empowered only a few believers such as Artisans (Ex. 31:1-5), Judges (Num. 11:25-29; Jud. 3:9-10), Prophets (Ezek. 2:2), and Kings (1 Sam. 10:6; 16:13); however, in the dispensation of Grace, every believer in the church is indwelt by Him (John 14:16-17; Romans 5:5; 8:9; 1 Cor. 6:19). Also, under the dispensation of the Mosaic Law, the Holy Spirit could be taken from a believer as an act of discipline (1 Sam. 16:14-16), but this cannot happen to the believer under the dispensation of Grace, as the Christian is permanently sealed with the Holy Spirit Himself (Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30). Under the previous dispensation David could petition the Lord and ask Him not to “take Thy Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11); but no church age believer should pray such a prayer, since the Holy Spirit does not leave when sin is produced. The sinning Christian may “grieve” and/or “quench” the Holy Spirit when sin is accomplished, and this he is commanded not to do (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19); but the disobedient Christian does not live under threat of losing the Holy Spirit if he fails to yield to the will of God. Certainly the Lord can and does discipline the erring child (Heb. 12:6), but not with the removal of the Holy Spirit, as was true under the previous dispensation.

       Jesus communicated these differences regarding the work of the Holy Spirit and prophesied that after His resurrection the Holy Spirit would be given to all believers to indwell them (Jo. 7:37-39; 14:16-17, 26; 16:13; Acts 1:5; 2:1-4). An important note to observe is the fact that Jesus referred to the coming ministry of the Holy Spirit as future from His resurrection (Acts 1:5; 2:1-4). This shows that what the Holy Spirit is doing in the Church age is distinct from what He did in the lives of some of the saints in the previous dispensation.  The Holy Spirit is working in the lives of two groups of people: unbelievers and believers. Regarding unbelievers and the world it is stated that He is:

  1. Convicting unbelievers of “sin, righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8-11).
  2. Restraining sin in the world (2 Thess. 2:7).

       The Christian operating on the authority of Scripture knows the Holy Spirit is working in the heart of the unbeliever to convince him of “sin, righteousness, and judgment.” This convincing work of the Spirit regarding Christ, His work, and future judgment may be suppressed by the unbeliever—like other forms of God’s revelation—but it cannot be stopped. It is not the Christian’s place to convince the unsaved person about Christ’s Person and work, but simply to present the facts of Scripture and trust the Holy Spirit to illumine and persuade. Failure to understand what the Holy Spirit is doing in the lives of unbelievers may lead an ignorant believer to assume the Holy Spirit’s convicting work, and this results in frustration since the Christian is in no way equipped or commanded to tackle this momentous task.

       It is reported in Scripture that the Holy Spirit is now restraining sin in the world until the Church is taken to heaven at the Rapture (2 Thess. 2:7; cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18). The terrible darkness that will consume the world when the restraining work of the Holy Spirit ends is manifest in the lives of those living during the time of the seven year Tribulation (Rev. 6-19; cf. 2 Thess. 2:3-12). It is obvious that there is much sin in the world now, and it staggers the imagination to try to comprehend how bad it will be after the Holy Spirit’s restraining ministry ends.

     Once a person believes in Jesus for salvation, he is then delivered “from the domain of darkness, and transferred…to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). This transference is instantaneous and permanent, and is understood as the work of the Holy Spirit at salvation. Once saved, the Holy Spirit permanently indwells the Christian (1 Cor. 6:19; Eph. 1:13-14), makes him a “new creature” in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17), and gives him the spiritual capacity to live righteously (Rom. 6:11-14). The Holy Spirit then works to form the character of Christ in him, which is understood as the work of the Holy Spirit after salvation. Some of the works of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer are as follows:

At salvation:

  1. Regeneration (John 3:6; 2 Cor. 5:17; Col. 2:13).
  2. Indwelling each believer (John 14:16-17; Rom. 5:5; 8:9; 1 Cor. 6:19).
  3. Baptizing into union with Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27).
  4. Sealing each believer with Himself (Eph. 4:30).
  5. Providing eternal life (John 3:16).
  6. Imputing Christ’s righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).
  7. Blessing with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3).
  8. Providing a spiritual gift for the edification of the church (1 Cor. 12:4-7).

After salvation:

  1. Glorifying Jesus in the believer’s life (John 16:14).
  2. Teaching directly through the Word and gifted speakers (John 16:13-15; Eph. 4:11-16).
  3. Recalling Scripture to mind (John 14:26; 16:13).
  4. Filling (empowering and guiding) (Eph. 5:18).
  5. Sustaining spiritual walk (Gal. 5:16, 25).
  6. Illuminating the mind and making Scripture understandable (1 Cor. 2:11-13).
  7. Promoting the use of the believer’s spiritual gift (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-10, 28-30; Eph. 4:11).

       The works of the Holy Spirit at salvation are once for all, and occur immediately when faith is placed in Jesus as Savior. In contrast, the works of the Holy Spirit after salvation are regularly repeated in the believer’s life, and require a volitional response to the Spirit’s leading. The Holy Spirit seeks to guide the believer into God’s will, but does not force compliance.  The above lists of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer are not exhaustive, but are representative of the major aspects of His work.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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Thoughts about Spiritual Growth

       Truth is reality as God sets it forth in His Word. A plain reading of Scripture reveals that God exists, and that He is not silent. His Word reveals the origin of all things, and helps the reader to understand and orient to the world as it is. More so, the Bible reveals God’s righteous demands toward sin, the substitutionary work of His Son on the cross, and the provision of salvation to those who trust in Christ as their Savior.

       The Truth is honest, and provides a straightforward account of man as he is, with all his faults and failures. At times, Scripture pulls back the curtain on spiritual realities and gives glimpses into the angelic realm, and even the throne room of heaven. How magnificent a work is God’s revelation to man! It is complete and sufficient to help men know God. Without Scripture, it’s the blind leading the blind.

       Faith is the appropriate response to God and His word. For the unsaved person who is in danger of the Lake of Fire, he must believe in Christ for salvation. For the saved person, he must believe the promises of God found in Scripture, and strive to be obedient to God’s Word in every area of his life. The Bible speaks to every area of the believer’s life, and he should surrender himself to all God’s directives in the church age. The believer who compartmentalizes his life—only giving some of it to God—brings harm upon himself because of his lack of faith and obedience.

       Spiritual growth is a process that takes time. At the moment of salvation, the new believer knows little about God and His plan, apart from a basic knowledge of the gospel, and that too may be meager. The baby believer must begin the process of learning the Word of God and making application to his life as he grows. A lifetime of worldly viewpoint must be driven from the mind as the believer learns to renovate his thinking in conformity to Holy Scripture. As he learns the Word, he must bring his thoughts into captivity, choosing obedience to God’s revelation. Any room left for worldliness—to that degree—will produce failure and frustration in his Christian walk.

       He will face pressures as he learns to walk with God. The Lord is preparing every child for eternity, and that means removing that which is offensive, and producing that which conforms to the character of Christ. God is more concerned with Christian character than creaturely comforts in His child. God loves him, and will never leave him alone in his worldliness. He loves him enough to grow him, and that means pressure-testing over time, as he learns to walk daily in His Word. The growing believer does not turn away from pressure, but believes that God will sustain him as he strives to be obedient to His Word. Of course, sometimes the believer has no choice regarding his suffering, because God sovereignly places it there and does not remove it. The only reasonable option left to the believer is to trust in the Lord, looking to His Word, believing that the pressures of life serve a divine purpose in producing that which is Christ-like, and removing that which is not.

       The new believer needs a lot of grace to grow. Grace from God, and from other believers. Grace is needed because the new believer will invariably learn and do things that are wrong, and will need to be corrected. In fact, he will spend his entire life learning, and being challenged and corrected about many things. He will need grace, because he will fail God’s will, perhaps even denying the Lord by word or action. Sometimes the believer thinks he’s strong, such as when Peter told the Lord he’d never deny him; however, Peter’s words were untested. After the test, Peter realized—as we all do in such situations—that he was weak. Thank God for the grace that was shown to Peter by our Lord, who reached out to all the scattered disciples, and especially Peter. I wish we all would behave graciously like Christ to those whose weaknesses get exposed, and who feel ashamed after such events.

       The new believer needs to understand that he will never reach a perfect knowledge of all of God’s Word, or attain sinless perfection in his lifetime. There’s never a time when he can say “I’ve arrived; there’s nothing more to learn about God and His Word. I do not sin anymore.” Perfection, both in knowledge and choice, is not attained in this world. Only in the final phase of salvation will the believer be free from his sin nature, and the personal production of sin. Only in the eternal state will he be completely free from sin and its effects.

       Until he goes to be with the Lord in heaven, the growing believer must make good choices that help his spiritual development. Here are a few attitudes and actions the growing believer should follow:

  1. He must make a place for learning God’s Word on a regular basis. He cannot live what he does not know, and knowledge of God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will.
  2. He must be teachable and correctable. The implacable believer has ceased to grow when he is no longer open to correction in his theology, even by one who has less knowledge than himself. Hopefully the growing believer will learn from a teachable teacher, who models humility when shown to be in error about Scripture or Christian doctrine.
  3. He must be patient, knowing that God will spend a lifetime to develop the character of Christ in him. God is eternal, and He has all the time He needs to develop the Christian’s character.
  4. He must be humble, ready to do God’s will when commanded, no matter the cost. This is often challenging for the new believer who thinks in worldly ways, who is still focused on self and seeking autonomy from God and others. The sacrificial mind of Christ comes over time as the believer makes good choices to surrender his will to God on a regular basis.
  5. He must watch out for the arrogant believer who has stopped growing, and who has become friendly with the world. If the arrogant believer rejects challenges to cease his worldliness, then disassociation is in order, and purity must be maintained by the growing believer; but always with an attitude of humility, and willingness to accept the errant believer back into fellowship if he repents. Sometimes letting go of a bad relationship is a sign of growing up in the Lord.
  6. He must think in terms of grace, both for himself and others. He does well to realize that his salvation—as well as his entire Christian life—is the product of God’s grace toward him. At no time does he ever earn or deserve God’s favor. Thinking in terms of grace keeps the growing believer from becoming arrogant by looking down on other believers, or thinking more of himself than he ought to.

       Certainly there are more ingredients one might include in the above list, but these are the ones that readily come to my mind.

       As the believer grows, he will eventually encounter religious arrogance in the church. He should not be shocked when he sees it, nor suckered in to religious foolishness. I’ve seen spiritual elitism both in the church and seminary: cliques of high-minded theologians who spend their days belittling other believers who don’t agree with them, who emphasize denominational differences, or are dogmatic about doctrines not defendable from Scripture. Rather, they ought to be studying the Scriptures daily, praying, discussing the Word openly, humbly owning up to the fact that they don’t know it all, and admitting that there is room for doctrinal and behavior correction in their lives. I’ve seen little grace and love among those puffed up with biblical knowledge. It’s not from the Holy Spirit that they think or behave in such a way.

       The Lord has reprimanded me for sins of academic pride. As a result, I’m a little more gracious toward those with whom I disagree, giving them room, in the hope that I may win them to the truth by making an appeal to Scripture. And if I’m wrong in my teaching, I pray they will see it, reject it, and show me grace. Yes, show me grace, for I too am wrong on some things, even though I don’t see it now. I too need to grow in the grace and knowledge of God and His Word. I need to know the truth accurately, and have the courage to present it when given the opportunity. But I also need to show patience and kindness to those who may disagree with me, especially those who belong to the house of faith, and are growing in their relationship with God.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.