If you would take the time to listen to non-charismatic evangelicals on the matter of the Holy Spirit, you would likely find both a willful ignorance of the present mission of the Holy Spirit portrayed in the Bible and a tendency to avoid discussion about him and his work altogether. For many who have stood against the doctrines of charismatics, the Holy Spirit is a subject to be avoided and even one, to some, to be loathed. Therefore, to these, the Holy Spirit is nothing more to the Christian than a glorified conscience that “dwells in” a person (whatever that means) whenever he accepts Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. He aids the Christian in choosing between right and wrong, and he helps the Christian understand the Scriptures.
However, this present view of the Holy Spirit stands in opposition to the teachings of Scripture on him and his works, and they rob him of his glory that is rightly due him.
Who is the Holy Spirit? Simply, he is the third person of the Triune God–the one who proceeds from the Father and the Son to testify about the work of the Son. He is to the elect the one by whom the work of Christ is applied to them. This application by the Holy Spirit is called “regeneration”–the bringing to life that which was dead. Figuratively, this work is called causing one to be born again (cf. Jn. 3:1-8; 1Pet. 1:3), the circumcision of the heart (cf. Rm. 2:29), the removal of a heart of stone and the giving of a heart of flesh (Ez. 11:19), and the writing of the law upon one’s heart (cf. Jer. 31:33). All these things the Spirit does from salvation’s beginning, and the Spirit continues to work in the saved soul till the end, for as the apostle testifies, “[The Spirit] who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).
It is also by the Spirit and his will alone that we are saved (cf. Jn. 3:1-8), and it is by the Spirit alone that we are kept till our deaths or Christ’s return. Therefore, we who comprise the elect, do not merely owe the Spirit a tip of the hat, but we own him worship and honor and praise for his being God and for the great work of mercy he has wrought in us.
But how have we moved doctrinally from God the Spirit being the efficient Cause of our salvation to him being a glorified Jiminy Cricket?
It is quite simple, for we in our distortion of our faith and our salvation, have claimed for ourselves credit for that which is the work of the Spirit alone. For the two great works of the Spirit, viz. our regeneration and our sanctification, are in our present theologies no longer his works by our works. Therefore, we say things like, “You must be born again,” as though that were a command given by Christ and not a matter-of-fact declaration. Nicodemus, like us, took it as a command and asked how it might be done, and Christ answered him not with method but with actuality: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:8).
It is no mere coincidence that John 3:16 follows John 3:1-8, for no one will believe in the Son who has not been born again. We, however, in out distortion of the Gospel by making faith a work, have reversed the process making us the cause of our salvation. We say, “Accept Jesus as your Savior, and ask him to come into your heart, and then you will be born again,” making ourselves lords over the will of the Spirit.
However, we know from Scripture that we in our dead state do not have the ability to make ourselves alive to Christ, and that apart from the regenerative work of the Spirit, we are blind to the glory of Christ and his Gospel is foolishness to us. Therefore we by necessity need for God to say as his said at the creation, “Let light shine out of darkness,” into the darkness of our hearts and “give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Cor. 4:6), for we are otherwise blinded by the god of this world to the Gospel of the glory of Christ (cf. v. 4:4).
Therefore, we need to rethink our thoughts upon our regeneration and rightly attribute praise to the Spirit not to ourselves. For as long as we continue to hold to our present “justification by acceptance” rather than “justification by faith” we shall never properly understand the work of the Holy Spirit nor worship God as we ought.
Next: Justification by Faith is Dead, V. Frequently Asked Questions