By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
As we have seen repeatedly in this book so far, salvation full and complete has already been prepared and provided for us in Christ Jesus. This is the objective gospel. The Holy Spirit’s work is to communicate this completed salvation to the fallen human race. His role, then, in our experience of salvation is vital.
At the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus told His disciples that after He returned to heaven the Father would send the Holy Spirit to be with them. The Spirit would guide them into all truth and make real in their experience the salvation Christ had prepared for them (see John 16:13-15; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18). We need to understand the work of the Spirit in our salvation so that we will know how to cooperate with Him. The Holy Spirit’s work is threefold. It has to do with the life of: (1) the unbeliever, (2) the believer, and (3) the church. In this chapter and the next, we will look at each in turn.
The Spirit’s Work in the Life of the Unbeliever
No matter how educated or intelligent a person may be, the truth of the gospel is beyond the reach of his or her natural mind. The natural intellect cannot discover the gospel [see Matthew 16:16-17; 1 Corinthians 2:10-14; 12:3]. Further, the gospel is actually foolishness to our human way of thinking [see 1 Corinthians 1:18]. Thus, without the Holy Spirit, no one could discern the truth as it is in Christ or be convicted of it, no matter how familiar he or she might be with the Scriptures. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned [see 1 Corinthians 2:10-14]. Human beings simply cannot experience the power of the gospel without the enabling of the Holy Spirit. (Incidentally, this is why no Christian can claim that he as “won” a soul to Christ; this privilege belongs solely to the Holy Spirit. At our best, we can be only instruments in the hands of God through which the gospel is witnessed.)
Jesus clearly indicates what the work of the Holy Spirit is to be in regard to the world. “When he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will prove the world [unbelievers] to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment” [John 16:8]. This is the first step in salvation. Sinful, fallen human beings must be convicted of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to do this through the preaching of the gospel.
When Jesus said that the Spirit would convict the world “of sin,” He did not mean sin in the sense of an act of transgression against the law. He was referring to sin as “unbelief.” Verse 9 makes this plain: “...About sin, because people do not believe in me” [see also Romans 14:23]. Sinful man is not lost because he has committed sins, but because he is without Christ — that is to say, because he is born of Adam and, therefore, already stands condemned in him even before he commits sins of his own. In an earlier chapter we saw how our eternal destiny does not rest on what we do (or behavior) but on which humanity we belong to. Those who are “in Adam” come under the condemnation of the law, since they are regarded as sinners, while those who are “in Christ” are considered to be righteous and have passed from death into life [see John 5:24]. Therefore, the first work of the Holy Spirit in the life of an unbeliever is to convict him that he is a lost sinner because he is not “in Christ” by faith.
Second, the Holy Spirit convicts the unbeliever that righteousness can be found only in Christ. All the righteousness we can produce in and of ourselves is nothing more than filthy rags in God’s sight [see Isaiah 64:6]. In His explanation of the Spirit’s work for the unbeliever, Jesus says the Spirit convicts “about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer” [John 16:10]. By this, He means that the work of redemption, which the Father sent Him to accomplish [see Galatians 4:4-5] is a finished work. Jesus returned to heaven and the Father because He had completed His redemptive work.
But when this priest [Christ] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins [a finished work], he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool [Hebrews 10:12-13].
The work of the Holy Spirit could not begin in the fullest sense until Christ’s sacrifice of atonement was complete. Now that Christ is in heaven, having prepared salvation full and complete by a perfect sacrifice, it is the work of the Holy Spirit to finish the work of atonement in sinful men and women who are willing to believe [see Romans 5:11].
Finally, the Holy Spirit convicts of judgment, “because the prince of this world now stands condemned” [John 16:11]. Everyone who hears the gospel must be made aware that this world, which is under Satan’s control, has already been judged and sentenced to destruction.
The only hope for those who belong to the world is to respond by faith to the free gift of salvation in Christ [see John 3:16]. And there is good news in this judgment. Jesus explains that the judgment of the prince of this world consists in his being “driven out” [John 12:31]. The sinner can rejoice to believe that Satan is “driven out” of his life when he exercises faith in the Savior.
The preaching of the everlasting gospel is to be realized anew in the last days [see Matthew 24:14; Revelation 14:6]. It includes the fact that “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great [symbol of Satan’s world, including worldly Christianity]! She has become a dwelling for demons” [Revelation 18:2]. The fires of everlasting destruction have been prepared only for “the devil and his angels” [Matthew 25:41], but if individuals willfully reject the free gift of salvation provided for them in Christ from the foundation of the world [see verse 34], then God has no alternative but to include them in the destruction of this doomed world [see Mark 16:15-16; John 3:18; Hebrews 10:26-29]. Mankind’s only hope is to respond to God’s plea to “come out of her [Babylon], my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues” [Revelation 18:4].
The Experience of Conversion
Before we look at the second aspect of the Spirit’s work — His work in the life of the believer — we need to be sure we understand the mechanics of the conversion experience.
When a person responds positively to the Spirit’s threefold conviction, when he repents, believes, and is baptized [see Mark 1:14-15; 16:15-16], a radical change takes place in his life. The Holy Spirit actually comes and dwells in him [see Acts 2:37-41]. The Bible calls this experience “born again,” or “rebirth” [see John 3:3-5; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:23]. This indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the same as receiving the life of Christ [see Romans 8:2, 10]; it is this that subjectively changes a person’s status from being “in Adam” to being “in Christ” and qualifies him for heaven [see Romans 8:9].
Thus we may say that the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the unbeliever is from without, while the Spirit’s work in the life of the believer is from within. Both the unbeliever and the believer experience the Holy Spirit’s convictions regarding truth in their consciences. But the unbeliever is not “indwelt” by the Holy Spirit, so that these convictions are coming to him from outside. The believer, however, has the Holy Spirit dwelling in him [see 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19], so that the Spirit’s convictions are coming to him from within.
This is an important distinction. Jesus made it clear to Nicodemus that “no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” [John 3:3]. As long as a person is not “indwelt” by the Holy Spirit, he is in a lost state even though he may receive conviction from the Holy Spirit or may even be a member of the church [see Romans 8:9]. But to be born again of the Holy Spirit means to be made alive from the death of sin. This new birth was first realized objectively in Christ at His incarnation when His divinity was united to our corporate humanity [see Ephesians 2:5], and it is made effective to us by the new-birth experience through faith [see Acts 2:38]. This is genuine conversion, the beginning of the Christian life.
To be converted is the same thing as being born of the Holy Spirit, which is the same thing as the new birth. It is this experience that changes our status from an unbeliever to a believer. It is this experience that also subjectively justifies us [see James 5:20] and places us in a position in which sanctification is possible because now we possess the very life of Christ through the indwelling Spirit of Christ [see Romans 8:2, 11-13].
The Spirit’s Work in the Life of the Believer
The work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is to reproduce in him or her the character of Jesus Christ, which is the character of God [see John 14:9].
Human beings were originally created with the Holy Spirit dwelling in them so that they might reflect God’s character. But because of Adam’s fall, we are born into this world without God, spiritually bankrupt. The purpose of the gospel — besides saving us — is to undo the damage caused by Adam’s sin and to restore the divine image in us. The starting point of this process — the gospel as a subjective experience — is the new birth. In other words, the prerequisite for holy living is being born of the Spirit. In the humanity of Christ and through His redeeming work, full provision has already been made for restoring God’s image in mankind. But it is the work of the Holy Spirit to make this provision real in the life of every believer who has become one with Christ and who is living by faith.
The first task of the Spirit is to deliver us from our position “in Adam” and establish us “in Christ” and His church. Having done that, the Holy Spirit then dwells in us in order to bring about the deeper work of Christ’s cross in which the old life is put to death in reality — more and more so daily — that Christ’s life may be increasingly manifested in us [see 2 Corinthians 4:10-11; 3:17-18; Ephesians 3:16-19; 4:4-13].
Holy living is not left up to us to produce; it is solely the work of the Holy Spirit living in us. If we truly realized this, self-effort would cease, and we would make room for the Holy Spirit to produce in us the life of Jesus. This does not mean that we have nothing to do. Denying self so that the Holy Spirit may manifest Jesus’ life in us requires a constant, unrelenting battle. This is what the Bible calls “the good fight of the faith” [1 Timothy 6:12].
The Holy Spirit’s work in the life of the believer is nothing less than sanctification. According to the apostle Paul, it involves the spirit, soul, and body [see 1 Thessalonians 5:23].
What does Paul mean by these terms? Just as a doctor needs to know how the human body is put together in order to treat us physically, so believers need to know how we are put together spiritually in order to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the work of sanctification. Physically, we are made up of various organs, each having a function within the body that is both distinct and yet closely related to the function of every other organ. Spiritually, we are made up of three components — spirit, soul, and body — each of which has a specific work in the spiritual well-being of the whole, but which is also closely related to the other components.
The great error of the Christian church following the apostolic period was to separate the body from the soul and to give the soul a separate existence independent of the body. This idea comes from the religion of the Greeks, not from Scripture. According to the Bible, each of these three spiritual components has a distinct function that contributes to the spiritual existence of the whole man, but none is able to exist independently of the others. At death, the whole person — spirit, soul, and body — dies [see Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Ecclesiastes 9:5-6; 8:8].
When we examine the spiritual structure of mankind as described in the Bible, we find a significant parallel between that structure and God’s temple or sanctuary. In fact, the apostle Paul says, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? [1 Corinthians 3:16; cf. 6:19]. This is because the Old Testament sanctuary was a symbol of the incarnate Christ [see Psalm 29:9; John 2:19-21; Revelation 21:3; also compare Psalm 77:13 with John 14:4-6]. And Christ, in turn, is the prototype of the believer [see Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:5; Hebrews 3:4-6; 1 Corinthians 6:16].
God’s promises to us under the new covenant are the reality of the symbols seen in the sanctuary of the old covenant. For example, in the old covenant, the law was written on tables of stone and placed in the ark. In the new covenant, the same law is written on our hearts and placed in our “inner being” [Romans 7:22]. In the old covenant, God dwelt in the innermost part of the sanctuary, while in the new covenant, God dwells in the innermost part of man through His Holy Spirit [see Ezekiel 36:27; John 14:17; Romans 8:9, 11]. In the old covenant, the sanctuary structure represented the heavenly temple of God, but in the new covenant, the Christian himself becomes God’s temple [see 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19].
Thus, just as God formerly dwelt in the tabernacle [see Exodus 25:8], so the Holy Spirit dwells in the believer today. The sanctuary of the old covenant was divided into three parts — the courtyard, the Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place [see Exodus 25:8-27; Hebrews 9:2-4]. Likewise, the believer who represents God’s temple on earth, is divided into three parts spiritually — spirit, soul, and body.
The body, with its various members, may be compared to the courtyard of the temple, occupying an external position with its life visible to all. This is the place of sacrifice [see Romans 12:1; Colossians 3:5].
Inside is man’s soul, the faculties of his mind — the emotions, will, intellect — through which God operates. This corresponds to the Holy Place, where the priests carried out their daily ministry.
Innermost, behind the second veil and within man’s self-consciousness, lies the human spirit, which may be compared to the Most Holy Place of the temple — the dwelling place of God. In the converted individual, the Holy Spirit dwells in his or her spirit; it represents “the shelter of the Most High” [Psalm 91:1].
Please note that the application of the earthly sanctuary to the believer does not in any way deny the real existence of a heavenly sanctuary [see Hebrews 8:1-2]. The Bible clearly teaches that God dwells in heaven as well as in the believer [see Isaiah 57:15].
The sanctuary was a representation of Christ’s humanity and also, by extension, of those who believe in Him. As we have seen, in the new covenant, believers are identified as God’s temple. In other words, the sanctuary of the Old Testament represented first the incarnate Christ and the believer who is “in Him” (the objective gospel). Second, it also represented the Christian who has Christ living in him or her (the subjective gospel).
Thus we may say that the Old Testament sanctuary was God’s model of the everlasting gospel that was first fulfilled in Christ and that must now be realized in the church, of which each believer is a part. The cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary is a work accomplished by Christ, our High Priest, but it is contingent on the cleansing of the hearts of His people on earth.
In the next chapter we will consider the place and function of each of these three spiritual components of mankind — spirit, soul, and body — and their relationship to the work of the Holy Spirit.