The Spirit's Work in Conversion (redux)

May 03, 2014Filed under theology#m. div.#sebtsMarkdown source

The following was written in partial fulfillment of the requirements of Dr. Steve McKinion's Christian Theology II class at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The Holy Spirit’s work in conversion, as in all the works of the Spirit, is the part of executing the will of the Father in the person of the Son. The Spirit brought about the Incarnation, and raised Jesus from the dead; now the Spirit makes the Son’s work efficacious in the hearts of believers. The Father originated the work of salvation; the Son (in his incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension) was and is the means of salvation; the Spirit is the one who guarantees and accomplishes salvation.

To begin, the Spirit opens unbelievers’ eyes to their need for salvation. Sinners apart from the Spirit are lost and hopeless, with either no awareness of need for God (passivity) or an active rejection of God (rebellion). The Spirit opens an unregenerate individual to see his need for salvation, providing an awareness of sinfulness and separation from God, and prompting desire for restored relationship and righteousness. This all happens in the preaching of the gospel, which the Spirit makes effective in the person’s mind—even as the Spirit was responsible for the existence of the gospel in Scripture to begin with. Thus the Spirit inspired the words of the gospel and then brings them to fruition: the Spirit is executor of God’s will.

Moreover, the Spirit enables faith in Jesus Christ as the resurrected Son of God, as savior and lord.1 In this recognition of one’s need and decisive change in the will—toward rather than away from God—the Spirit brings about the regeneration of the human heart. Regeneration unites the new believer to Jesus Christ: he comes to participate in the Son’s perfected, divinized humanity. Indeed, believers “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Where once the believer’s heart rejected God, God now appears good and delightful and worthy of worship and trust. Where once one thought nothing of engaging in sin, one now increasingly hates and rejects sin and strives to sin no more. The Spirit replaces a heart of stone with a heart of flesh, and moves believers from darkness to light.

Having accomplished the salvation of an individual soul, the Spirit brings the believer into the community of faith. No person’s salvation is singular or independent. Maturity and completion happen as one participates in the restoration of relationship not only with God but with other human beings. The people of God all participate together through the Spirit in Jesus the Son. It is the Spirit who makes the people of God the body of Christ. And the Spirit seals the people of God for redemption, keeping them steadfast in their faith as they build one another up through fellowship and the proclamation of the word and participation in the ordinances—all of which are Spirit-empowered to continue God’s gracious work in the believer’s life, leading ultimately to final salvation.

  1. Believers have differed on the particulars of this enabling throughout history, but all affirm that the Spirit does indeed enable faith as a minimum assertion. My own position is that the Spirit does not only enable faith but supplies it to hearts which would otherwise reject God. That is, the Spirit is not merely the ultimate ground but also the proximate cause of regeneration.