Holy Spirit: In Conversion (Part 1)

Much of Christendom are Calvinistic in doctrine. They hold to the following five points, known as the T.U.L.I.P.: (1) Total Depravity. Man is born in sin. He is incapable of doing good. He is even incapable of understanding God’s will as revealed in the Scriptures. (2) Unconditional Election. Since man is incapable of doing anything to respond to God, God arbitrarily picks certain ones for salvation without their meeting any conditions. (3) Limited Atonement. Jesus did not die for all. He died only for those for whom God unconditionally elected. (4) Irresistible Grace. When God calls His elect to salvation, they cannot resist. The Holy Spirit directly operates on the human heart with irresistible force. This draws them irresistibly to salvation. This illuminates them so that they can understand the scriptures. Man is passive in receiving this irresistible grace. Thus, it is not uncommon for people to speak of their “getting saved.” (5) Perseverance of the Saints. The elect are irresistibly drawn, and thus cannot lose their salvation. Once they are saved, they are always saved.

All five points are wrong. However, at this time we are concerned only with how the Holy Spirit works in conversion.

Illumination

Acts 16:13-14, “And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the woman who met there. Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshipped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.”

She does not sound totally depraved. She is described as one who worshipped God. She was doing such even before the Lord opened her heart.

How did God open her heart? Many assume that He did such by a direct operation of the Holy Spirit on the human heart. However, the text does not say such. Moreover, other passages seem to indicate that one can hear and obey without having received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:36-38; 8:4-5, 12, 14-17; 19: 1-6).

Some brethren have held that her heart was opened through signs and wonders done by Paul. Alexander Campbell wrote, “the Lord not only promised to confirm or prove the testimony of the Apostles, but did actually go forth with them, confirming the word with all power, and signs, and wonders and thus opened the hearts of the hearers to receive the gospel. Had the gospel not been confirmed by demonstrations of the power of God inimitable, no one’s heart or ears would have been opened to attend to it” (Franklin Camp, The Work of the Holy Spirit in Redemption, p. 192). It is true that the gospel did not go forth in word only (1 Thessalonians 1:5; Hebrews 2:3-4; Romans 15:18-19; 1 Corinthians 2:4-5). Such is possible, but not necessarily, the meaning.

We should consider the immediate context. J.W. McGarvey well said, “When an effect can be explained and accounted for by causes which are known to be present, it is illogical to assume a cause which is not known to be present” (McGarvey, Original Commentary on Acts, p. 203). The context tells us that the message was spoken (Acts 16:13). Lydia listened (Acts 16:14). Her heart was opened. The proclamation of the truth, and the showing of how Jesus fulfilled scripture can affect the heart (cf. Luke 24:25-27, 32). One should draw only those conclusions which are warranted by the evidence. It is illogical to assume a direct operation of the Holy Spirit.

Why credit God and not Paul for opening her heart? Alan Adams illustrated this crediting of God by the game Mousetrap. What (or who) caught the mouse? One might say it was the basket which caught the mouse. Another might say it was the gizmo which tripped the latch which held the basket. Another might say that it was the ball which rolled to trip the gizmo. Another might say it was the player who set the whole process in motion, who did it. Another might point out that this would not have happened without the moves of the other players. Another might say that ultimate credit goes to the designer of the game itself. All would be correct. Paul was directed by God to Macedonia (Acts 16:6-10). He found certain women by the riverside in Philippi and preached to them (Acts 16:12-14). The message was a message inspired of God. Miraculous evidence may have been set forth. Such would also be from God. Who opened Lydia’s heart? Paul? Yes. God? Yes. Credit ultimately goes to Him (Article: Fishing For Unknown Causes).

Faith

Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

Many believe that the word “that” refers to faith. They think that God through a direct operation of the Holy Spirit infuses a depraved man with faith.

Let’s assume for a moment that the word “that” does refer to faith. Does anything in the text demand a direct operation of the Holy Spirit? No. What we read elsewhere in the New Testament is that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). Other passages teach the same (Luke 8:11-15; John 5:45-47; 17:20; 20:30-31; Acts 17:11-12; 18:8; Ephesians 1:13-14; 2 Thessalonians 1:10). Faith follows hearing of God’s word. It never is seen as infused before hearing. Nothing suggests a direct operation of the Holy Spirit. Various passages indicate that one can hear and obey before receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:4-5, 12, 14-17; 19:1-6).

However, “that” does not refer to faith. “That” is neuter gender. “Faith” and “grace” are both feminine gender. A.T. Robertson commented that the reference is “not to pistis (faith – B.H.) or charis (grace – B.H.) … but to the act of being saved by grace conditioned on faith on our part” (Word Pictures in the New Testament). Marvin Vincent commented, “that” refers to “not faith, but the salvation” (Word Studies). Roy Deaver commented, “The neuter ‘this’ (Greek tauto) can (and here does) refer to the total subject, rather than to a single word. The subject under consideration here is: Salvation…” (Spiritual Sword Lectures, God’s Amazing Grace, p. 428).

Salvation does not have its source in man (It is not – literally “out of” man). It is a gift from God (note: Gifts can be given on conditions – Joshua 1:2; 6:2 cf. 6:3-5; 6:6-20).

Conviction

John 16:8-11, “And when He (the Holy Spirit, the Helper – B.H.) 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.”

Many assume that the Holy Spirit convicts the world by a direct operation of the Holy Spirit. However, one should draw only such conclusions as are warranted by the evidence.

The immediate context concerns the Holy Spirit coming to inspire the apostles (John 14:26; 5:26-27; 16:12-14). Could the world be convicted of sin by the inspired message proclaimed by the apostles? Absolutely! (See Acts 2:4, 14, 36-37).

The Holy Spirit: (1) Convicted the world of sin. The specific sin in view is the rejection of Jesus (cf. John 16:9). This was accomplished through preaching (Acts 2:4, 14, 36-37). (2) Convicted the world of righteousness. The specific righteousness in view is the righteousness of Jesus (cf. John 16:10). This too was accomplished through preaching (Acts 2:4, 22-37). (3) Convicted the world of judgment. The specific judgment in view is the judgment of Satan (John 16:11). The evidence set forth in Peter’s sermon convinced many that they had been following the wrong prince. All of these things were accomplished through preaching.

Drawn

John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up in the last day.”

Many assume that the Father draws men by an irresistible force, a direct operation of the Holy Spirit upon the hearts of men. Please note the text does not implicitly teach such.

How does God draw men? The answer is found in the very next verse. “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me” (John 6:45). He draws us by the message (2 Thessalonians 2:14; John 5:36-37, 39; 7:16-17; 12:49-50; 14:24).

The Holy Spirit revealed the word. This word opens our heart, produces faith, convicts man of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and draws man to God.

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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