The Holy Spirit and the Gospel
Ken Rudge, St. Austell, England
We now look at the operations of the Holy Spirit of God as He sovereignly directs the purposes of God through the gospel for this age. We shall do so in five sections as follows:
1. The Age of the Spirit - the Lord's preparation of His own
2. The Spirit's Sovereignty in the Work
3. The Spirit and Preparation for Salvation
4. The Spirit and Conviction of Sin
5. The Spirit and New Birth
The Age of the Spirit - the Lord's Preparation of His own
We are indebted to the Gospel of John for the fullest records of the Lord's ministry in the upper room before He went to Calvary. He was carefully preparing the apostles, not only for immediate events, but for the whole period that would follow His death, resurrection and ascension, John 14. 12.
They are alarmed at the prospect of His not being there physically, but He tenderly assures them that His going is essential to their fuller blessing and to the fulfilment of God's purposes for the age that was about to dawn, 16. 4-7.
He reveals how the Comforter, whom He would send, would dwell in them and be with them. He would minister to all their needs in His absence. He would be another Comforter, drawing alongside them to personally strengthen, direct, encourage and instruct, 16. 7, 13.
He would also communicate to them His will for them by bringing to mind what He had already told them, 14. 26, providing direction for the immediate present, and revelations of that which was to come in the future, 16. 13, 14.
It is no wonder, then, that the Lord Jesus said it was 'expedient' for Him to go. The sending of the Holy Spirit would be an event that would bring in a new age. It would be a unique dispensation of God's dealings, and one in which the Holy Spirit would play the key role as it unfolded and ran its course.
The Spirit's Sovereignty in the Work
In His upper-room ministry the Lord Jesus made it clear that the work of the Spirit of God was essential to enable them to fulfil His purposes, 16. 13-15. Clearly, the Spirit's work would be to direct and control everything that was to happen.
Their experience, as recorded in Acts, bears out the reality of these anticipations. From cowering, fearful men, they are transformed into witnesses with authority and boldness. The transformation was only possible on account of their being filled with the Holy Spirit. They moved forward only as He took control, Acts 4. 8, 31. His sovereign presence was so recognizable that the sin of Ananias and Sapphira was a matter of 'lying to' and 'tempting' the Spirit, Acts 5. 4, 9.
The further you venture into the records of the Acts the more remarkable are the references of the absolute direction given by the Holy Spirit in the events. Philip receives specific personal guidance regarding the eunuch, Acts 8. 29; as does Peter on the housetop regarding Cornelius' messengers, Acts 10. 19, 11. 12! After these earlier incidents the attention focuses upon Paul, and God's work amongst the Gentiles, but the emphasis upon the direct control of the Holy Spirit does not lessen. He 'separates', 'calls' and 'sends' Barnabas and Saul, Acts 13. 2-4, He 'forbids', 'suffers them not' and enables them to 'assuredly gather' the Lord's intentions and so redirects and controls their efforts, Acts 16. 6-10.
The doctrinal passage which brings this practical experience into focus is 1 Corinthians 12. 1-13. The Holy Spirit is seen to be the unifying element in the functioning of the spiritual body and its members. He discerningly distributes the spiritual gifts and co-ordinates their activities to maximum effect, vv. 7-13. He is both the 'Spirit of the Lord' and 'the Lord the Spirit' and His presence and recognition begets liberty and the lifting of veils that deny vision and true insight, 2 Cor. 3. 17.
The truth holds for our own day and the present experience of assemblies. Where the Spirit of the Lord is freely allowed to work out His sovereignty, in directing and controlling our endeavours in gospel testimony, there will be true liberty and accompanying blessing.
The Spirit and Preparations for Salvation
From the beginning of the work of God in Genesis 1, the Spirit is revealed to us as the divine Person who precedes and initiates the divine work to bring light where there is darkness, Gen. 1. 2-3.
It is the same God who 'commanded the light to shine out of darkness' who has 'shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God', 2 Cor. 4. 6.
As with the fig tree whose master came for the third time to seek fruit and found none, work was required of the gardener to 'dig it and dung it' in order to provide fruitfulness, Luke 13. 6-9, so the Spirit of God goes about His work of preparation in human hearts towards salvation.
Our natural condition is one of such appalling darkness and degradation, Eph. 4. 18-19, death, Eph. 2. 1-2, and enslavement, Col. 1. 13, that it necessitates a divine work to awaken us into a sense of need.
Paul identified the means by which the gospel prospered in Thessalonica as being that their gospel came not 'in word only but also in power and in the Holy Ghost', 1 Thess. 1. 5. The result was a work of conviction that allowed the Thessalonians to receive the word preached as the word of God and not as the word of men, 1 Thess. 2. 13. The instrument forconviction the Spirit of God used was the word of God, and this Paul says 'effectually worketh also in you that believe', 1 Thess. 2. 13.
Peter confirms this truth when he assures us that being born again is 'through the word of God,'which liveth and abideth for ever', 1 Pet. 1. 23 25.
The use of the word of God by the Spirit in preparing men for new birth should guard us against ever thinking that other means might be just as effective to reach men with the gospel. It must still be 'the foolishness of preaching', 1 Cor. 1. 21. Note, it is not foolish preaching. Set out the truth of God for men to hear and this the Spirit will use.
The Spirit and Conviction of Sin
The Lord Jesus made a clear reference to this in His upper-room ministry. As far as the world was concerned the operation of the Spirit was to convict 'of (concerning) sin and of (concerning) righteousness and of (concerning) judgement', John 16. 8.
He then went on to expound each of these aspects of the convicting work of the Spirit.
First as to sin, it was the sin of unbelief. We need to remember this when loudly condemning all the wickedness of men in the hope of bringing about conviction. It is unbelief that ultimately condemns to an eternity apart from God, and it is unbelief the Spirit is here to convict about in order to bring men to faith.
That is why Paul, 'pressed in the Spirit, testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ', Acts 18. 5, and shedding all other messages would declare only 'Christ and him crucified', 1 Cor. 1. 22-24. Such preaching allows the Spirit of God His opportunity to convict men that they have not believed on God's Son. Present Christ as an object of faith and men will be convicted of their unbelief.
Secondly He was to convict of righteousness. This righteousness was 'because I go to my Father and you see me no more', John 16. 10. So, it does not refer to the fact that God is a righteous God, neither is it Christ's personal righteousness. It amounts to the Lord's vindication in resurrection by the 'just' Judge. That He has gone to the Father and we don't see Him proclaims the fact of God's acceptance of all that the Lord Jesus came to accomplish in coming into this world.
So we must preach a finished work, and an accepted sacrifice which has provided an eternal righteousness for men before God. There could be no more welcome message for sinners to hear.
Thirdly it was of judgement. This is clearly past and not future: 'the prince of this world is judged', John 16. 11. This is in accord with the often stated condition of men still in their sins, and of Satan and his hosts. According to John 3. 18, 'he that believeth not is condemned already', and John 3. 36, 'he that believeth not the Son ... the wrath of God abideth on him'. Satan and his hosts already know their condemnation and anticipate the awful day of its execution. Matt. 8. 29.
So we need to preach not only a coming of judgement, though it's execution will be swift and sure, but also a state of condemnation that men are already in before God. Convicted of their present state by the Spirit it has been known for men to shake and to fall on their knees pleading for the mercy of God. It can still happen.
So the Spirit is the great Convictor of men. Let us so preach that it will allow Him to do His own work.
The Spirit and New Birth
The Lord made clear to Nicodemus the central role of the Spirit in new birth, John 3. 3-8. This new birth is the result of a response to the message of the gospel and can only be accomplished by the Spirit of God. It is the communication of the life of God to the individual and marks their translation from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of His love, Col. 1. 13.
It is also said to be a 'regeneration', Titus 3. 5, and this indicates the inception of a new state of things with every potential for a life of a different order.
Having experienced the new life and the new status that comes with new birth, all through the operation of the now indwelling Spirit, we become entirely dependent upon Him to develop and sustain that life. This is the 'renewing of the Holy Ghost which he shed on us abundantly', Titus 3. 6.
So the Spirit of God is the agent in and the sustainer of the new birth. It is by His energies alone that it is accomplished.
The coming and residence of the Holy Spirit is the one outstanding characteristic of this our age of grace. He is to be sovereignly in control of the work directing and equipping servants. He too uses the word of God to prepare men to experience new birth, moving in conviction and ultimately accomplishing their salvation in the dynamic of new birth. May we humbly learn afresh just how to live for God, filled by the Holy Spirit and borne along by Him in fulfilment of the work God has left us here to do until He comes.