Among God’s creatures, man is unique. Like the animals of the field, he possesses a physical body; and like the angels of heaven, he has an eternal spirit. Man’s spirit was created for love and fellowship with his Creator, but unforgiven sin erects a spiritual barrier between man’s spirit and God’s Holy Spirit.
Paul described this condition as being “dead in . . .trespasses and sins.” To be dead in sin is to be a slave to “the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1, 2; Romans 6:17).
The invisible barrier of sin separating man’s spirit from God’s Holy Spirit may be removed only through the blood of Jesus. Sin is such a serious offense to our holy God that “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). Man’s only hope for salvation must come through “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
THE PREPARATION OF THE HEART
The soul is prepared for cleansing by the blood of Jesus when the Holy Spirit begins to work upon the sinner’s heart through the Word of God. As God’s Word is received “in humility” (James 1:21), the results are powerful: The sinner undergoes a great change of disposition, heart, and spirit! Through His message of truth, the Holy Spirit awakens the sinner to a new faith that Jesus is the Son of God (Romans 10:17).
His heart is convicted of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8) as he is moved to godly sorrow and sincere repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). This powerful working of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God leads to the decision to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38).
The Holy Spirit will not come crashing into the sinner’s heart in a miraculous, “better-felt-than-told,” direct operation. He will not create “an irresistible force” to save the sinner against the sinner’s own will. God does not work upon sinful hearts in such forceful and mysterious ways; the devil will have his way with those souls who are waiting for such experiences.
The only contact the unforgiven sinner has with his Creator is through the teachings of God’s Word of Truth. Christianity is a taught religion, and souls must be willing to learn from Jesus (Matthew 11:29). Those who eagerly receive His Word of Truth will allow the Holy Spirit to begin God’s work in their lives, and the morning star of faith will arise in their hearts (2 Peter 1:19).
THE EDUCATION OF THE MIND
The Word of God is “the sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17). Just as one cannot separate the work of a sword fighter from the effects of his sword, so one cannot separate the Holy Spirit from His Word of Truth. We are warned that, through his lies, he can blind “the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). God knows the influence that Satan and his hosts of evil can have upon our hearts.
He warns, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). For us to rely solely on the feelings and inner impressions of our hearts is to commit spiritual suicide! The only way we can know if the thoughts of our hearts are true is to test them with God’s Word. God’s Word is the only standard we can trust “to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
Let us use it to test the teachings of men and the inner feelings and impressions of our hearts as well (1 John 4:1). How vital it is to our spiritual health that we be sincere and dedicated students of God’s Word!
Before we go deeper into the subject of the Holy Spirit, we need to look at the question of how the Holy Spirit dwells in us. Three popular views are given in answer to that question:
View #1 is that the Holy Spirit works directly, that His work is separate from the Word of God. The danger of this view is obvious. Those who hold it depend heavily upon personal feelings, impulses, impressions, and experiences as the primary basis of guidance and direction from the Holy Spirit. We have already addressed the danger of this misdirected trust.
View #2 is that the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian only through the Word of God. This view is based upon the assumption that the Word of INTELLECT, EMOTIONS, WILL, SOUL, SPIRIT
GOD’S WORD: “the Sword of the Spirit”
(Ephesians 6:17; 2 Timothy 3:16–17; Acts 20:20; James 1:21)
Whatever the Holy Spirit accomplishes, He does so through His revealed Word of Truth. The Scriptures listed on the chart at the bottom of this page powerfully illustrate this.
It should be obvious to the sincere Bible student that the Holy Spirit always works in harmony and in conjunction with His Word of Truth.
Just as a sword and the sword fighter function as one during the battle, so the Holy Spirit and the Word of Truth function as one in spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:17). This does not mean that the Holy Spirit and the Word of God are the same, but it does mean that the Spirit will not accomplish any work in our lives until we are willing to yield our hearts in faith and obedience to God’s message of truth. It also means that faith in Jesus as the Son of God is impossible where the truth of God’s Word has never been proclaimed.
Many people today are trusting God to lead them by their own impulses and feelings. They claim that they are saved because they “can feel it deep within.” Great danger exists in this practice, because Satan—as an evil spirit—also has worked in the minds of those.
ACTIVITY ACCOMPLISHED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT BY THE WORD OF GOD
- Convicts of sin John 16:7, 8 Acts 2:37
- The new birth John 3:8 1 Peter 1:23–25
- Imparts life 2 Corinthians 3:6 James 1:18
- Washes 1 Corinthians 6:11 Ephesians 5:26
- Sanctifies 2 Thessalonians 2:13 John 17:17
- Indwells Christians Romans 8:11 Colossians 3:16
- Imparts truth 1 John 5:7 John 17:17
- Source of power Romans 15:13 Hebrews 1:3
- Salvation Titus 3:5 James 1:21
God dwells in us as a representative of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Those who hold this view believe that the Word of God, not the personal Holy Spirit, dwells in them. At one time I agreed with this idea. Supporters of this view often quote the words of Jesus in John 6:63: “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”
Did Jesus mean that His words are literally the Holy Spirit, or was He declaring that His words are the spiritual words of life? Could it be that Jesus was simply teaching that separate from His Word of Truth there is no spiritual life?
View #3 is that the Holy Spirit personally abides in the Christian in conjunction with and alongside the Word of God. The words of Jesus from John 14:23 illustrate this view: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him.” Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would take up His personal dwelling only within those who love and obey His words. If the Spirit is active in Christians’ lives, we can be assured that the Word of God has been taught and obeyed and that it is respected as the only authority. A careful examination of the Scriptures will lead us to this conclusion.
In the first half of John 6:63 Jesus declared this truth: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; . . .” In other words, where the Spirit of God is personally present, spiritual, eternal life exists. Where He is not present, there is spiritual death. One can memorize the Word of God; but if faith and obedience do not exist in his heart, the Holy Spirit will not be present, and there will be no life.
The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel prophesied regarding the New Covenant of our Lord: “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:26, 27). This prophecy involved a twofold promise: (1) God first would give His New Covenant people a new spirit. (2) God would put His own Spirit into His children.
Before a sinner can receive the Spirit of God, he must first undergo a change of heart and spirit. This change is brought about through God’s Word as it convicts the sinner of sin and leads him to repentance. During His ministry Jesus told His disciples, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). The Holy Spirit through the living Word of God had changed and renewed the hearts and the spirits of Jesus’ disciples. Their sinful spirits had been melted into penitent attitudes so that they were His willing and submissive disciples. Ezekiel promised a second blessing, the gift of the Holy Spirit Himself. This promise could be given only after Jesus had been glorified (John 7:39).
No divine promise is greater than the promise of Ezekiel 36:26, 27. The living and powerful Word of God creates a penitent and submissive attitude toward Him, thus preparing the disciple’s heart and spirit for the reception of the Holy Spirit Himself. Repentance and baptism into Christ (Galatians 3:27) result in forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
The new creature experiences the new birth of water and the Spirit of which Jesus spoke in John 3:5: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
On the Day of Pentecost “those who had received his [Peter’s] word were baptized” (Acts 2:41). These converts first received the Word, which produced faith in Jesus and a penitent attitude toward sin. Then they were baptized. If the Holy Spirit dwells only through the Word of God, then we are forced to the conclusion that He began to dwell in the people on Pentecost when they received the Word, before they were ever baptized. This is impossible, because “the gift of the Holy Spirit” is promised only to those who repent and are baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Peter affirmed that God gives the Holy Spirit “to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:32). We must conclude that while “receiving the Word” is vital, it is not the same thing as “receiving the Spirit.” The Spirit is the second blessing God promised through Ezekiel.
If we claim to have the Spirit while ignoring the Word, we take an extreme position which rejects the authority of the Word and results in a subjective religion focused upon one’s own feel (Ephesians 1:3). Water baptism is the only means through which the sinner may come “into Christ” (Galatians 3:27) and enjoy the spiritual blessings in Him.
New Testament baptism must be by immersion. Paul declared that we “have been buried with Him [Jesus] through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). To be “buried . . . through baptism” and “raised . . . [to] walk in newness of life,” one must be immersed.
Any other definition of baptism, such as sprinkling or pouring, does not fit the symbol Paul taught, but is a tradition of men. In Romans 6:17, 18, Paul expressed his thanks to God that these brethren had been “obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which [they] were committed, and having been freed from sin, [they] became slaves of righteousness.”
The “teaching” Paul was referring to in verse 17 was his gospel message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The Romans obeyed a “form” (or pattern) of this teaching by being buried by baptism into His death to be raised to walk in newness of life. At that point they were “freed from sin” and became “slaves of righteousness.”
Deliverance from sin involves two major problems: Our sins need to be forgiven, and the old nature of sin must be conquered. Through baptism into the death of Jesus (Romans 6:3), the sinner shows his trust in the power of Jesus to take care of both problems. He trusts Jesus’ blood to wash away his sins (Acts 22:16), and he trusts God’s power to break Satan’s stronghold over his life and free him from sin (Romans 6:7).
Paul wrote that through Jesus’ death, “our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with” (Romans 6:6). The message of the gospel is that when Jesus died, He nailed our old sinful selves to the cross so that Satan’s rule in our lives could be broken: “For sin shall not be master over you” (Romans 6:14).
God has dealt with the twofold dilemma of our sin through Jesus’ death. His blood frees us from our sins, and His death frees us from our bondage to self and sin. In baptism we enter the death of Jesus to be raised to a new life of faith, “dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).
On the other hand, if we claim to have the Word only and not the personal Spirit Himself, we contradict many passages which teach that the Holy Spirit dwells in the child of God. Unity in the brotherhood is possible even though we may not understand how the Spirit dwells in us. We must all agree that the Holy Spirit does work powerfully in the lives of those who have been saved! With that basic faith, let us “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3), as we continue to study God’s Word, trusting it to lead us to sound doctrinal conclusions on this important subject.
THE SALVATION OF THE SOUL
The teachings of God’s Word, received into a humble heart, create a spiritual awakening within the sinner. As the sinner opens his heart to God’s Word, he comes to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. He is convicted of the sin in his life, and he makes a decision to repent and to be baptized, trusting only the blood of Jesus to wash away his sins. At this point, though the sinner has faith in Jesus and is penitent of his sins, the barrier of sin which separates him from God has yet to be dissolved. That spiritual barrier may be removed only as he is baptized in water for the forgiveness of his sins. The Holy Spirit clearly ties the initial forgiveness of our sins to water baptism. Jesus shed His blood “for forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). Baptism is also “for the forgiveness of . . . sins” (Acts 2:38). How can this be true? Paul answered that question for us.
In Romans 1:16 he wrote, “The gospel, . . . is the power of God for salvation.” In 1 Corinthians 15:1–4, he defined the gospel as the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. He further taught that God’s wrath will one day be poured out upon “those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:8). This raises a puzzling question. If the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, how does one obey such a message? Paul answered that question in Romans 6 as he discussed water baptism. In verse 3 he asked, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” Paul declared that water baptism is “into Christ Jesus.”
All spiritual blessings, including salvation from sin (2 Timothy 3:15), are found in Christ Jesus
If you have never been buried with your Lord by baptism into His death, it is vitally important that you do so immediately! Through repentance and baptism, God will forgive your sins and give you the gift of His Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; 5:32). Many false teachers advocate that baptism is not necessary for forgiveness of sins, but the New Testament teaches the opposite.