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HOW THE HOLY SPIRIT WORKS IN CONVERSION
Victor M. Eskew
As men study the New Testament, they seem to have a fascination with the Holy Spirit. Individuals want to make Him into some kind of mystical being with magical powers. They want Him to work in their lives miraculously and mysteriously. They long for him to literally enter into their bodies. Even if He does nothing to them, they rejoice in “knowing” that He is within them.
It seems that they forget the Holy Spirit is a spiritual being. He is as much a being as the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit has a mind (Rom. 8:27). He can speak (I Tim. 4:1). He can love (Rom. 15:30). He can groan (Rom. 8:26). He can be lied to (Acts 5:3) and be resisted (Acts 7:51). He is not some type of power or force or energy. He is not some kind of gas, fog, electricity, or wind. He is a person. He is like God the Father. God is a Spirit (John 4:24). The Holy Spirit is a Spirit. When Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit, He referred to Him as a “He.” “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come” (John 16:13). The Holy Spirit is not some different, weird, mystical, odd thing. He exists in the same form as our heavenly Father. He exists in the same form Jesus was in before taking upon Him a body of flesh. Seeing the Holy Spirit as a being will knock the wind out of the sails of some people. Seeing Him as a spiritual being will not excite them as much. How sad! Why is this so sad? Because, as He truly is, He is one of the members of the Godhead (Acts 5:4). He is deity and does not need to be discounted in any way.
The wrong perceptions that men have of the Holy Spirit have caused them to believe that the Spirit works in mystical ways. Man has made many, many ridiculous claims about what the Holy Spirit does. Sadly, man ties this “mysterious working” of the Holy Spirit to his emotions. Thus, if the emotions can be stimulated and excited, man is convinced that the Holy Spirit is operating. This makes it very difficult to convince individuals otherwise. “I felt it,” they say. “It was a powerful experience,” they affirm. “He warmed my heart and moved me,” they boldly proclaim. If a person denies that the Holy Spirit operated upon them, the person will argue back, saying, “I know what I experienced and no one will ever make me think differently.” The person will also accuse the other person of failing to believe in the power of the Holy Spirit.
These “operations” of the Holy Spirit begin, we are told, during the conversion process. Some say the Holy Spirit has to illuminate the mind of man in order for him to be able to understand the Word of God. Others say that the Holy Spirit is the one who gives faith to a person as a gift. Still others claim that the Holy Spirit must work miraculously upon a person’s heart in order for him to be converted. It is said that this working is manifested in some type of a religious experience.
There is absolutely no doubt that the Holy Spirit works in the conversion process. In John 16:7-8, Jesus said this to His apostles: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” The question is not: “Does the Holy Spirit work in conversion?” The question is: “How does the Holy Spirit work in conversion?”
Let’s look briefly at three conversion accounts in the book of Acts. These accounts reveal exactly how the Holy Spirit is involved in convincing men of sin and in bringing them to Christ. In Acts 2:1-4, the apostles were baptized with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. These inspired men began to preach to the multitudes. “But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lift up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judea, and all ye that dwell in Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words” (Acts 2:14). In Acts 2:37, we read of the reaction of some of the crowd to the words which they heard. “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart…” The words of the apostles were inspired words. They were words given unto them by the Holy Spirit. They were filled with divine power. These words pricked the hearts of many of the Jews. Dear readers, the Holy Spirit worked upon the hearts of those unbelieving Jews through the Word of God. There was no miraculous religious experience involved. These men and women heard the truth, were convicted by the truth, and obeyed the truth (Acts 2:38, 41). That is exactly “how” they were converted by the Holy Spirit.
A second example is found in Acts 8:26-39. This is the conversion account of the Ethiopian eunuch. As one reads the text, there is absolutely nothing said about the presence or work of the Holy Spirit. Yet, He was active in this man’s conversion. The eunuch was returning from a trip to Jerusalem. As he slowly traveled, he read from the prophet Isaiah (Acts 8:28). The text happened to be from Isaiah 53, a prophecy about the Messiah as the Suffering Servant of God. The eunuch was confused about the reading. When Philip offered to help him understand the Scriptures, the eunuch invited him to sit beside him in the chariot. “Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus” (Acts 8:35). Right here, we see the Holy Spirit at work. He used the agency of the Word of God to convert this man of Ethiopia. These words caused him to believe in the Christ (Acts 8:37) and to be baptized for the remission of his sins (Acts 8:38-39).
A third example involves the conversion of the Philippian jailor. This jailor came into contact with the apostle Paul when Paul was cast into the prison. The positive attitude of Paul and Barnabas during their suffering and an earthquake that rattled the prison doors open caused this man to be interested in his own salvation. The question that he asked of Paul was: “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Paul told him that he needed to believe in order to be saved (Acts 16:31). Paul knew this belief would not come through some miraculous operation of the Holy Spirit. It would only come by his hearing the Word of God. Thus, in Acts 16:32, we read: “And they spake unto him the word of the Lord...” Once again, the Holy Spirit used the agency of the Word of God to influence the heart of a sinner to obey God’s Word. Acts 16:33 reveals the culmination of the jailor’s faith. “And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his straightway.”
We have only examined three conversion accounts from Acts. In each of them, the Holy Spirit used the Word of God to influence the hearts of the sinners to believe and obey. This is how He works in every conversion of the lost. Conversion is not mystical and magical. The Holy Spirit simply works on the heart of the sinner through the powerful instrument known as the Word of God (See Matt. 13:18-23; Heb. 4:12).