The Bible clearly teaches that God sanctifies. Moreover, it clearly teaches that He does so indirectly, mediately through the word of God (John 17:17). He does so indirectly through the influence of the word of God. However, some believe that the Bible also teaches that He does so directly and immediately. That is, it is thought that He directly influences the human heart without means of the word, or separate from the word.
Let’s consider two commonly cited passages…
Love Poured Out
Romans 5:5, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
First issue: What love is in view? Does this refer to our love for God? Does it refer to our love for others, as God loves others? Or, does this refer to God’s love for us? The context suggests that the reference is to God’s love for us (cf. Romans 5:8). We can have confidence that God will not let us down, because He has revealed His love for us.
Second issue: How did God pour out this love into our hearts? Roy Deaver commented, “The knowledge we have of God’s love is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit by revelation, by miracles, and by spiritual gifts, made known God’s love” (Deaver, Romans: God’s Plan for Man’s Righteousness, pp. 137-138). The pouring out of the Spirit takes one back to the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17-18, 33, 36-38). It refers to revelation and confirmation which came by the Holy Spirit.
This does not teach what some think. It does not teach that the Holy Spirit directly (miraculously) transforms the hearts of men into loving hearts, or at least provides direct influence on the heart towards such.
Natural Man v. Spiritual Man
1 Corinthians 2:14-16, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For ‘who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.”
Some have misunderstood this passage. It is thought that the natural man is the non-Christian, or the unsanctified. Furthermore, it is thought that the spiritual man is the Christian, or sanctified man. Then, it is inferred that this is teaching that the natural man, who is without aid of the Holy Spirit, cannot properly interpret scripture The spiritual man, aided by the Holy Spirit, can accurately interpret scripture.
However, the context is not interpretation, but revelation. Let’s notice the context: (1) Verses 7-9. God, before time, ordained a plan for our glory (1 Corinthians 2:7 cf. Philippians 3:20-21; Colossians 3:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:14). Man, apart from revelation, did not understand God’s plan. It was hidden wisdom. This hidden wisdom was now being revealed by inspired men (1 Corinthians 2:7 cf. Ephesians 3:1-5; Romans 16:25-26). (2) Verses 10-13. This declares how God chose to reveal His plan. No man can know the thoughts of another man unless such is revealed by that man, in some way. Even so, no one can know the mind of God, and His plans, unless He chooses to reveal such (1 Corinthians 2:11). Revelation, not interpretation, is in view. God chose to reveal His plan through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10; Ephesians 3:1-5). God’s plan was revealed to His apostles and prophets by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:1-5; 1 Corinthians 2:10, “us” cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23; 2:6; 2:10; 2:13; 2:16; 3:5-9; 4:8-13). (3) Verse 14-16. The spiritual man refers to the inspired prophet of God (1 Corinthians 14:37 cf. Hosea 9:7, where used in sarcasm of the false prophet). The natural man is man in his wisdom apart from revelation from God. Franklin Camp commented, “There could be no greater perversion of the truth than to take a passage that is contrasting inspired revelation though chosen men, with uninspired false teachers (natural men) whose teaching was of human origin, and make the passage refer to a sinner that has a completed open Bible before him and insist that he cannot understand what he reads unless the Holy Spirit dwelling in him interprets it for him… The consequences of making the natural man the sinner and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit the interpreter of the Scriptures would be infallibility. Does anyone think that the Holy Spirit in one, and interpreting the Scriptures, would ever be guilty of misinterpreting His own revelation?” (Camp, The Work of the Holy Spirit in Redemption, pp. 209-210).
Man can understand the Bible without a direct operation of the Holy Spirit. He did at Jerusalem (Acts 2:36-38). He did at Samaria (Acts 8:5, 12, 14-16). He did at Ephesus (Acts 19:1-6).