The Holy Spirit in Conversion (Part 3)

Jason Hilburn


The Holy Spirit is active in the conversions of sinners, but it is important to understand both how He converts and how He does not convert. Calvinists teach that man is “totally depraved” and cannot be converted without God exerting some kind of direct influence on his mind (an influence separate from the Word of God). However, the Bible does not teach such a doctrine. Man can learn God’s will and choose to do it, and the Spirit converts solely through the Word He has revealed.

In Bible times, when men rejected the Word of God, they rejected the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit was affecting human hearts through the proclamation of His Word: Yet many years didst thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them by thy spirit in thy prophets: yet would they not give ear: therefore gavest thou them into the hand of the people of the lands (Neh. 9:30, emphasis JPH).

Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers (Acts 7:51-52, emphasis JPH).

In the days of Noah, God’s Spirit strove with men by the preaching of His Word (Gen. 6:3; I Pet. 3:18-19; II Pet. 2:5). God’s Spirit still “strives” with men today through the preaching of the written Word.

Paul wrote that faith comes from hearing the Word of God, not from a direct operation of the Spirit on the human mind (Rom. 10:17). He also taught that the Word of God is what effectively works in the hearts of men: For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe (I Thess. 2:13, emphasis JPH).

Passages such as John 6:44 have been used by some to teach that God does something to men in conversion beyond what His Seed does: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” However, the very next verse explains how the Father draws men to Him—simply by men hearing and learning: “It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me” (John 6:45, emphasis JPH; cf. Isa. 2:3). Men are “taught of God” by His Word that they have “heard.” By God’s Word they have “learned” how to be reconciled to Him through Christ (John 6:45; cf. II Cor. 5:19). God “draws” or “calls” men to Him by the Gospel: “Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Thess. 2:14). John 6 also records Jesus going on to say that the power to quicken, or make alive, is in His words: “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63; cf. 6:68; 12:50).

One may wonder what Paul meant when he wrote that the Holy Spirit sanctifies men, such as in Romans 15:16. Does this mean that the Holy Spirit does something “magical” or “supernatural” to men in this sanctification? There is no doubt that the Holy Spirit sanctifies, but one must ask, “How?” The Bible teaches that Christians are sanctified (set apart for a holy purpose) through the Word the Spirit has revealed (John 17:17, 19; Acts 20:32; cf. John 15:3; Eph. 5:26). It is no coincidence that Paul mentions “the gospel of God” in Romans 15:16 when he referred to sanctification by the Holy Ghost. Through the Gospel, the Gentiles could be “acceptable” and “sanctified”: That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 15:16, emphasis JPH).

The analogy has been used of a man cutting down a tree with an axe. Did the man cut the tree, or did the axe cut the tree? It is understandable stated either way; but whether one states that the man cut the tree or the axe cut the tree, it is understood that it was the axe that made direct contact with the tree for it to be cut. The Holy Spirit “pricks” or “cuts” the hearts of men (Acts 2:37; 7:54), not with an axe, but with the sharpest, most powerful Sword that has ever existed: For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12).

The Word of God is the Spirit’s Sword, His Tool for affecting the hearts of men, defending the Truth, and defeating error: “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17; cf. II Tim. 3:16-17; 4:2).

Jason Hilburn is a minister at the Nesbit church of Christ in Nesbit, Mississippi.

Read Part 2 of this article here.
Read Part 4 of this article here.