-Understanding The SPIRIT’s Work At Conversion
The Book of Acts records the beginning of the Church and its history through the apostolic era. A number of miracles and signs were accomplished by the apostles through the power of the Holy Spirit. The book is rightly titled “Acts” as it speaks of the doings of the Holy Spirit. The Epistles then explain to us in more detail what the Holy Spirit has done and is doing in the believer’s life. As this is a huge topic, let’s focus on what Scripture teaches us about the work of the Holy Spirit before and during the conversion of a lost soul. Prior To Conversion On the evening before our Lord’s crucifixion, He told His disciples that the Helper, who is the Holy Spirit, would come after He departed from the world: “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. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (Jn. 16:7-11 NKJV).
As pertaining to the lost on earth, the Holy Spirit would engage in three ministries after the Lord’s departure: “He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” The Jews had rejected Christ and crucified Him; the presence of the Holy Spirit would convict them of their sin and cause them to suffer guilt. The Lord was worthy to be believed in, as His own resurrection proved that He was righteous and they were not. Their defiance against Christ could end with only one conclusion – their judgment.
Paul tells us that it is only through the illumination of the Holy Spirit that the natural man can understand the things of God (1 Cor. 2:9-14). The pre-conversion ministry of the Holy Spirit illuminates the carnal mind as to the meaning of God’s Word and then causes individuals to feel the weight of their rebellion against it. Feelings of guilt, the need to be right with God and the fear of impending judgment are what a sinner experiences before trusting Christ as Savior (Rom. 2:15; Heb. 9:14). As the gospel message spread throughout the Roman world the work of convicting sinners of their sin by the Holy Spirit moved from Jews to Gentiles also.
It is impossible for someone to come to Christ without the pre-conversion work of the Holy Spirit in his/her heart. Christians sometimes waste time arguing about the specific details of what the Holy Spirit does to effect faith in a sinner’s decision for Christ. But in reality, this does not matter for furthering the cause of Christ on earth. Believers are called to share the gospel message with the lost; that’s the Church’s mission while on earth. As only the Holy Spirit can bring a sinner to salvation, it is best to leave that work with Him and not systematize what we don’t fully understand.
At the feast of Pentecost, Christ sent the Holy Spirit to those who were waiting patiently in Jerusalem for His coming. At that moment, believers were baptized into Christ to form the Church (1 Cor. 12:12-13) and were also filled with the Holy Spirit to enable them to fulfill God’s mission for them (Acts 2:4). Besides the Holy Spirit’s pre-conversion ministry, Paul’s epistles reveal to us that the Holy Spirit also performs a variety of one-time acts upon the repentant soul at conversion. These are never repeated again.
Using Acts 2 as a basis, I have developed an acrostic to remember the specific acts by the Holy Spirit at conversion. The Jews who were at Jerusalem had the following response to the events which occurred at Pentecost: they were “confused”, “amazed”, “perplexed”, and “fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:6,12,43). In other words, there was a BIG SCARE in progress. God was proclaiming to the Jews by signs and wonders that the very Jesus they had crucified was the Messiah. The same initial works of salvation performed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost on the first souls added to the Church also occur in the life of every new believer when he/she repents and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. The acronym BIG SCARE will help you to remember the ministries of the Holy Spirit at a sinner’s conversion (see below).
The BIG SCARE Acronym
Baptism – into the body of Christ (spiritual union with Christ)
Sealing – of the soul’s security in Christ
These are one-time acts of the Holy Spirit at the conversion of a sinner to Christ. These completed works of the Holy Spirit will never be repeated again in the life of a believer.
Baptism (1 Cor. 12:13): Spiritual baptism was the act of the Holy Spirit that placed believers into the Body of Christ at Pentecost and created the Church; there is only one baptism (Eph. 4:5) and this event will not be repeated. However, the positional truth of being one with Christ becomes effectual when, over the course of time, individual believers actually trust Christ for salvation and become spiritually unified with Him (Acts 11:16-17).
Indwelling (1 Cor. 6:19): Paul taught that every believer becomes the actual dwelling place or temple of God. As such, when believers gather in the name of Christ, that local meeting is also referred to as the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16). In the Church age, no one physical building serves as “the house of God.” The Church is a spiritual building constructed of living stones, upon which Christ is the Chief Cornerstone (1 Pet. 2:4-6). Thus, Paul instructs his spiritual son Timothy: “I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). All believers are spiritually indwelt by the Holy Spirit and collectively compose the Church, the house of God.
Gifts (1 Cor. 12:4-11): The Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts to believers “as He wills” (12:11) The number of gifts per believer will vary (12:4), but every believer receives at least one spiritual gift (12:7). Also, the manner in which these gifts will be used will differ (12:5) and the beneficiaries of the gifts (those who receive the spiritual ministries) will vary (12:6).
Sealing (Eph. 1:13): God seals the believer to secure him or her in Christ and to declare His ownership of what has been redeemed by Him. Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit is this seal. This eternal and divine seal is likened to the wax seal placed on a letter or scroll. Such a seal protects and secures the letter from being opened, and it indicates the originator of the letter. In some cases, seals were used to indicate approval of a contract or an agreement. At conversion, an individual is sealed by the Holy Spirit forever. The believer is God’s purchased possession, redeemed by His own Son’s blood.
Cleansing (Ti. 3:5): This cleansing does not mean that new Christians have all their sinful ways, addictions, and bad character qualities removed at their conversion. But the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit at that time will affect their thinking and acting towards such things. They will not desire nor be able to enjoy sin as they once did. In some cases, addictions will be overcome instantly, but in other situations the believer will struggle to overcome what he or she now detests (Rom. 7:15-25). The cleansing away of old and implanting of new attitudes will prompt believers to learn to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome the conduct they now know displeased God.
David Gooding, in his book In the School of Christ (Gospel Folio Press, Grand Rapids, MI, p. 30), summarizes this work of the Holy Spirit at conversion: “The washing of regeneration is an initial experience of salvation which holds two ideas. First, it is a washing, a cleansing away of evil and polluted things. In the second place it is regeneration, the positive implanting of a new life and order of living. The Holy Spirit washes us by bringing us to see the wrong and evil in our sinful attitudes and desires. He makes us feel their uncleanness, and leads us to repent of them and repudiate them … He brings us to the point where we are prepared for all the changes of lifestyle that we must be willing to accept, if we receive Christ from now on as Savior and Lord of our lives.”
Anointing (1 Jn. 2:18-27): Prophets, priests and kings were often anointed with oil when they were consecrated to serve the Lord. Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38) at the beginning of His ministry. Likewise, each believer is anointed and called to serve the body of Christ according to God’s will (Eph. 2:10). Not only does this anointing separate the believer for God’s purpose, but the anointing actually provides divine discernment of the truth, which enables the believer to follow after God’s will in his or her ministry. Spiritual anointing occurs once at conversion; it is never repeated, and is always referred to in the past tense (2 Cor. 1:21; 1 Jn. 2:20). This anointing provides discernment between truth and deception (1 Jn. 2:27), and need not be prayed for, as is often the case, as believers already have the only anointing they will ever receive.
Regeneration (Ti. 3:5; Jn. 3:3): The believer was spiritually dead, but he or she has now been made spiritually alive! Regeneration is the implanting of a new life and a new order of living. The Holy Spirit washes us by bringing us to see the wrong in our sinful attitudes and desires. He makes us feel their uncleanness, and leads us to repent of and repudiate them. Picture a peach seed being placed in the ground with a dead body. There is no life in the corpse, but there is life in the seed and as it grows it converts what was lifeless into that which is fruitful. Regeneration implants the life of Christ within the believer, which makes what was dead (in trespasses and sins) alive. Christlikeness and fruitfulness occur with spiritual growth of that life; this process is called “practical sanctification.”
Earnest (Eph. 1:14): When a buyer and a seller sign an agreement pertaining to the purchase of property, the buyer generally is required to signify his/her sincerity by pledging “earnest” money. The buyer pays a portion of the principal amount to affirm willingness to complete the transaction. Likewise, God has given us His Spirit as earnest to indicate that He will absolutely complete the work that He has started within us (Phil. 1:6). As the espoused bride of Christ, the believer has a pledge from the Lord that He will return for him/her in the day of Christ. This is the blessed hope of the believer (Ti. 2:13). In a coming day the Lord will return to the clouds (1 Th. 4:13-18) and in one final act, God will complete the salvation of all true believers by glorifying them.
Remember His Work
The BIG SCARE acrostic is a good means of remembering these important one-time acts of the Holy Spirit at conversion. The Holy Spirit worked to bring us to Christ and to secure us in Christ, and He continues to co-labor with us to honor Christ! Let us appreciate the Holy Spirit and His continuing ministry in our lives.
By Warren Henderson
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org
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