It is God’s will for men to teach others how to be saved until Christ returns, and this is often called “The Great Commission” (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). Notice that this task of spreading the Word to convert sinners has been given to men—not Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or angels. God the Father gave His Son, His Son gave His blood, and the Spirit gave His Seed. Now Christians must do their part to save lost souls—they must spread the Spirit’s Seed, which has the power to convert the lost.
If men are converted by a direct operation instead of the Word, why have there never been conversions where the Word has not been spread? Why preach the Gospel to every creature? Why do men need the Bible at all if the Holy Spirit is going to save whom He will by direct operation? If one says that the Spirit works directly on the hearts of men “in conjunction with the Word” in conversion, then he has gone beyond what the Bible teaches. He has also contradicted the Bible by implying that the Scriptures are not “able to save” (James 1:21; cf. Rom. 1:16; I Cor. 1:18; I Pet. 1:23, etc.). If the Holy Spirit directly operated on the hearts of some who heard the Word, causing them to be converted, but did not operate on others who heard the Word, leaving them lost, this would make God a respecter of persons. However, the God of the Bible is no respecter of persons! (cf. Acts 10:34-35; Rom. 2:10-11; Gal. 2:6; Eph. 6:9; Col. 3:25; 1 Pet. 1:17). The God of the Bible wants all men to be saved (Matt. 11:28-30; Acts 2:21; I Tim. 2:3-4; II Pet. 3:9; Rev. 22:17).
Paul wrote about God’s “righteous judgment” in Romans 2, but the doctrine of a direct operation in conversion impugns God’s judgment. Such a doctrine implies that God will condemn people He chose not to save by a direct operation, while allowing some, who were fortunate enough to receive a direct operation, to enter Heaven. The true God is not the God of such a false, Calvinistic doctrine, as Paul clearly conveyed:
But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God (Rom. 2:5-11).
How could men be judged by the Word of God if ultimately it would be the Spirit’s fault for not “directly operating” on their hearts to convert them? (John 12:48; cf. 12:50). May men never doubt the righteousness and impartiality of the true living God of Heaven. The Bible is the Word of God that men must decide, of their own volition, whether they will obey:
Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof…For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD: They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them. But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil (Prov. 1:23-25, 29-33, emphasis JPH; cf. Deut. 30:19; Jos. 24:15; Neh. 9:30; Psa. 119:30; Ezek. 18:20-32; Isa. 56:4-5; Matt. 13:15; Acts 7:51-52; Rev. 22:17).
Those who are waiting for a direct operation of the Spirit to “move” them to obedience will be waiting until it is too late to obey the Gospel!
The Spirit is the Source of the Scriptures, and the Scriptures are sufficient to save souls. The Spirit does not save separately from the Scriptures, but solely through His Seed and Sword. Instead of searching for some type of sensationalism regarding what the Spirit does, may men be satisfied with the simple Truth supplied by the Spirit.
Jason Hilburn is a minister at the Nesbit church of Christ in Nesbit, MS.