The Holy Spirit in Conversion (Part 4)

Jason Hilburn

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).

Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would “…convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8 ASV), and Acts 2 is a perfect demonstration of this. The Spirit gave the apostles the words to preach (2:4), and through preaching those Jews in Jerusalem were convicted by the Spirit of sin (2:36), righteousness (2:38), and judgment (2:40; cf. 24:25). The Holy Spirit converts through the Word by convincing men that they have committed sin and need conversion to Christ through compliance to His commandments (cf. Matt. 28:18-20; I Pet. 1:22-23).

It was the preaching of the cross that pricked their hearts on the day of Pentecost, not a direct operation of the Spirit: Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? (Acts 2:36-37, emphasis JPH; cf. 7:54).

Peter preached the crucifixion of Christ, and notice what Paul wrote about this: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (I Cor. 1:18, emphasis JPH; cf. 1:21). The preaching of the Gospel is God’s power to convert the souls of men, and even though the events of Pentecost involved miracles, those miracles were done so those lost souls could be saved by hearing the Gospel! (Acts 2:4-38). The Holy Spirit not only revealed the Word—He also confirmed it so that men might believe the Word and be saved by obeying it (cf. Mark 16:20; John 20:30-31; Heb. 2:3-4; 5:9).

One wonders, if the Holy Spirit converts sinners to saints through a direct operation, why did the Spirit tell Philip the evangelist, “Go near, and join thyself to this chariot”? (Acts 8:29). Why did not the Spirit just go convert the Ethiopian with a direct operation? Philip had been doing miracles by the power of the Spirit (8:6), but the Spirit Himself knew that the power for salvation was in the Word! (8:29, 35).

One also wonders why Jesus sent a man instead of the Holy Spirit to convert Saul (Acts 9:6-17). Instead of Jesus telling Saul what to do to be converted, or sending the Holy Spirit to directly operate on Saul’s heart, notice what Jesus said: “…Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do” (Acts 9:6). A man named Ananias came and “told” Saul what he “must do” to be saved (cf. Acts 22:16). Notice also these actions of the Holy Spirit and the angel regarding Cornelius’ conversion: And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man’s house: And he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter; Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved (Acts 11:12-14, emphasis JPH).

Apparently, Jesus, the Spirit, and the angel understood something that many do not understand today—people are saved by “words,” not by a direct operation of the Holy Spirit on their hearts!

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

Read Part 3 of this article here.
Read Part 5 of this article here.