The Holy Spirit and the Believer

The Holy Spirit and the Believer

“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14). 

During the years of Israel’s history recorded in the Old Testament, the Spirit of God came upon leaders, judges, craftsmen, artisans, kings and prophets to empower and inspire them for the work God gave them to do. The Spirit did not indwell these servants of God but anointed them for a particular work for a limited season of service. However, the Lord promised that someday He would not merely come upon His people but would dwell in them continually.

In order for the Spirit of God to dwell in human vessels, a work of cleansing was needed. Through the atoning death of Jesus that cleansing was made available and the Spirit of the living God, the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, has come to dwell in each regenerated, forgiven, cleansed follower of Christ. In this lesson we want to examine the relationship of the Holy Spirit and the believer. Following are 12 characteristics of this relationship.

1. The Holy Spirit brings sinners to repentance and faith.

In our natural state of separation from God, we are not capable of seeking God, as the Apostle Paul reminds us, “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God” (Romans 3:10,11).

We are not capable of seeking God because in our natural state we are spiritually dead and blind to truth: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).

“In whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).

If we are not capable of seeking God, then there will be no redemptive activity in our lives unless God seeks us. Beginning with the first sinners in the Garden of Eden, God comes to us, calls to us, seeks to awaken us, to remove the veil of spiritual blindness from our eyes. In the fulness of time, God was born in human form for this purpose. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

Jesus is not physically present in the world today so it is the Holy Spirit who comes to us and opens our blind eyes and quickens our dead souls to the presence of God. Long before we were aware of His presence, He was acting upon us to awaken us to His grace and prepare us for His grace. The Holy Spirit awakened us to His presence through the ordinary events of our lives but especially through the preaching of Biblical truth. As the word of God pierced into our being, He awakened us to the reality of our sin, the reality of God’s judgment and convinced us of our need for salvation. Jesus said, in reference to the Holy Spirit, “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).

As we were grieved over our sin and its cost, as we realized that our sin had separated us from God and from His goodness, as we realized that our sin had brought us under the judgment of God, the Spirit then took the words of true gospel preaching and generated repentance in us. Peter reminds us that we “have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (I Peter 1:23). But it is the Holy Spirit who takes that word and presses it into our consciousness.

A good example of this is on the day when the Holy Spirit was given to the church and Peter preached to the crowd. The people “were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37). 

That is the work of the Holy Spirit — He takes the word of God and applies it to our hearts, convincing us of our sin and our need for a Savior. No doubt the Spirit of the Lord had long been at work in each of those persons preparing them, even guiding them to that place and moment when they would hear Peter’s preaching. Then, as the word was preached, the Spirit pierced prepared hearts with words of grace and truth.

When He has brought us to an awareness of our sin and created in us a desire to turn from sin — this is repentance — the Holy Spirit then takes the words of true gospel preaching and focuses us on Jesus and His saving work on our behalf. He gifts us with faith to believe that the sacrifice of Jesus is a true historical event and gifts us with faith to believe that this event applies to my life, that forgiveness is available to me through Christ. The Holy Spirit generates faith that because Jesus bore in Himself on the cross our sin and God’s judgment against our sin, we can be forgiven through faith in Christ: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) … For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:4,5,8).

Only the Holy Spirit can bring us into the dimension of God’s saving grace. He does this by awakening us to the truth of our sin, the truth of God’s judgment against our sin and the truth of God’s saving grace through Christ. He does not save us apart from our will but He awakens our will, enlightens our will, moves our will toward salvation, removes the veil from our eyes so we can see our sin, brings us to an awareness of the cost of our sin, enables us to understand God’s solution — a sin-bearing Lamb — brings us to repentance and gifts us with faith to believe God’s solution. But none of this is done against our will. Rather, our will is turned by the gracious action of the Holy Spirit.

2. Having enabled us to repent of sin and turn to the living Christ in faith, the holy Spirit regenerates us — causes us to be reborn as new creations in Christ. How can sinful, mortal, time-

bound creatures enter into relationship with a holy, infinite and eternal God? Because we are not who we were. We are new creations, children of God: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12,13).

This rebirth or regeneration is not a work of the flesh, not through the agency of human birth or through emotional manipulation or religious ritual. True spiritual rebirth in Christ is entirely the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again (or from above) he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). He went on to say, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). 

When we repent of sin and place our faith in Christ, we are spiritually reborn, regenerated as new creations by the power of the Holy Spirit: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17).

“For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). Salvation is the event whereby we are brought out of darkness into light, out of death into life, out of separation from God into union with Him as new creations and this is entirely a work of the Spirit of God. 

3. The Holy Spirit enables us to encounter Jesus as a real historical Person who not only lived and walked and spoke long ago but by virtue of His resurrection, is alive today. “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). How do we see “the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ”? How do we see anyone’s face? By standing close to them. The Spirit brings us into an intimate, living relationship with a living Savior.

Paul said, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:27). The Holy Spirit has immersed us into living union with a living Savior. This union is so complete that Paul says we have clothed ourselves with Christ.

4. The Holy Spirit takes up residence in the believer.

This was Jesus’ promise to the disciples, that the Holy Spirit who was with them would someday dwell in them: And I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (John 14:16,17). He is with you now but will be in you.

After Peter preached and the people cried out, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37), Peter replied, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself” (Acts 2:38,39).

The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to all who turn to the Lord in repentance and faith. We receive Him by faith when we are regenerated, as the Apostle Paul reminds us in Galatians 3:2,  “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” Obviously, when they heard the Gospel and responded in faith, they received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

God does not dwell in houses made with hands, as Stephen reminds us in Acts 7:48. God dwells in people who have been cleansed and regenerated. Paul exhorts the believers at Corinth by reminding them, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God” (I Cor. 6:19.)

Paul even goes so far as to say, “But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Romans 8:9). The Spirit of God literally comes to live in the inner being of all who have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ.

5. The indwelling Holy Spirit is a seal of our salvation and a pledge of future inheritance.

Paul reminds us that the Lord “sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge” (2 Cor. 1:22). And in his letter to the Ephesian church, “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation — having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:13,14).

Being sealed with and by the Holy Spirit is a universal experience for all believers. In the ancient world, kings would seal a document with a royal imprint of wax or a stamp which proved the authenticity of the document. In the same way, we are God’s document, a declaration of His life and purpose and we are sealed with His own Spirit. I believe this seal is visible in the spirit realm. I have no doubt that holy angels and fallen angels can see those who have been sealed, marked, in Jesus (see Rev. 7:3 and Ezekiel 9:4).

The presence of the Holy Spirit in us proves the reality of our salvation. This seal is the declaration of our security in Christ. This proof is made real to us in ways which we will discuss later — by witnessing to us that we are God’s children, by empowering, gifting and teaching us, by reproducing in us the life of Christ, progressively transforming us in the likeness of Jesus, separating us from sin and unto God.

The Spirit is also a pledge of the future inheritance which will be ours in the kingdom of God: “Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge” (2 Cor 5:5).

The word pledge might be better understood as down payment or earnest. The presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit is a down payment on the inheritance that God has planned for us in eternity. We have been raised up out of spiritual death into the life of God “so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). The Holy Spirit is the pledge of those riches of grace.

The reality of this sealing and pledge is an expression of our security in Christ and the future fulfillment of our salvation in glory. When Paul says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30), he is not saying, “Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit lest you lose your salvation.” No, rather, he is saying, “Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit because you are saved, because as a result of this salvation you have been baptized into a living relationship with a living Savior and the Holy Spirit indwells you as a pledge, a promise, a guarantee of the future fulfillment of your salvation.”

6. The indwelling Holy Spirit witnesses to us from within that we are children of God.

“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:15,16).

We carry within us a confidence that our salvation is real, that we really are children of God, that God really has set His love upon us, that death opens into resurrection and eternity with Christ. Our confidence is the result of the testimony, the witness of the Holy Spirit within us.

The Holy Spirit builds in us a sense of belonging, of intimacy in relationship with God.  He enables us to grasp and experience the depth of the love of God for us and He communicates the love of God to us. “See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God” (I John 3:1). That’s the testimony of the Holy Spirit.

Yes, there are seasons of stress or guilt or trial which cause us to have doubts about our relationship with the Lord. But the Holy Spirit always eventually breaks through and renews His testimony that we are children of God. Especially when we look back over our life and see how our steps were ordered by a higher wisdom and grace than we could ever provide, we realize this is the testimony of the indwelling Spirit of God.

7. The Holy Spirit empowers us for service.

After He rose from the dead, Jesus said to His disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

In the language of the New Testament, the word  power is dunamis, from which we derive the English words dynamic, dynamo and dynamite. One true manifestation of the infilling of the Holy Spirit is power to live this life and serve the Lord as witnesses of His kingdom. Through our lives the Lord Jesus extends and expresses His ministry of grace, His call to repentance, His word of truth, His healing touch. Paul said to the church in Rome that he brought the Gospel to them “in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit” (Rom. 15:19).

As we encounter new crises and challenges, the Holy Spirit provides us with fresh infillings of His power and presence. We see this in the lives of the New Testament disciples. In Acts 4:8 and in 4:23-31 God filled the disciples, who were already filled with the Spirit, to meet new and demanding circumstances. Indeed, in Acts 13:52 we read that the disciples “were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”

8. The Holy Spirit teaches us.

Jesus promised that after He returned to the Father, He would send the Holy Spirit who would teach, lead and guide the disciples in the truth. Jesus said, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come” (John 16:12,13).

The Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures: “For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21).

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). It is the Spirit who inspired the writers.

The Holy Spirit enables us to hear and understand the truth He inspired. At the end of each letter to the seven churches in Revelation, we read these words, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:7).

The same Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures also interprets them to us. As we read the word and listen to the word being taught, the Spirit of truth — the Holy Spirit — enables us to understand. He opens to us the mind and heart of God revealed in Scripture. In our unsaved state, separated from God, we were blind to spiritual truth, as Paul explained, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (I Cor. 2:14).

But now as redeemed men and women, the indwelling Spirit of God enables us to grasp as much truth as we are willing and able to comprehend: “But just as it is written, ‘Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.’ For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God … For who has known the mind of the Lord, that He will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:9-12,16).

The same Holy Spirit who authored the Word of God through people interprets that Word to people. He interprets the mind of God to us from within our spirit, providing the wisdom we need to navigate this life. Remember, wisdom is more than mere information. The Biblical definition of wisdom is the skill necessary to live this life. In Proverbs we are reminded, “The mouth of the righteous flows with wisdom” (Prov. 10:31). If you have confessed Christ as Lord and Savior and submitted to His Lordship, you been made righteous in Christ and there is a flow of wisdom from the Holy Spirit through your spirit. Wisdom is a ministry of the indwelling Holy Spirit. 

9. More than merely teaching us, the Spirit guides our steps, enabling us to live the truth He has taught us. For instance, in Acts 8 we read about a man from Ethiopia who had traveled to Jerusalem to worship (probably a convert to Judaism). He was on his way home when, “The Spirit said unto Phillip, ‘Go up and join this chariot’” (Acts 8:29). The man in the chariot was searching the Scriptures because he wanted to know Jesus. In fact, he was reading from Isaiah 53 which describes the sacrifice of Jesus. Phillip had been in Samaria, far north of here but the Holy Spirit brought him to the exact place where this chariot was passing while He was creating in the man in the chariot a hunger to know Jesus. The outcome was that Phillip led a man to Christ who then carried the gospel back to Ethiopia.  

The Spirit said to Peter, “Behold, three men are looking for you” (Acts 10:19.) Peter then testified, “And the Spirit told me to go with them” (Acts 11:12). The result was that a Roman officer and his friends came to know Jesus.

In Acts 16 we read that Paul was “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia” (16:6). Paul then desired to go to Bithynia to minister, “And the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them” (Acts 16:7). Why? Because God has a divine appointment for Paul in Macedonia. Again we are reminded, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14).

10. The Holy Spirit performs a progressive work of sanctification in us.

Sanctification is the process whereby the Holy Spirit separates us from sin, breaks sin’s domination within us, opens new patterns and possibilities for living and progressively transforms us to righteous patterns of living.

Paul said, “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh, for if you are living according to the flesh you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:12,13). It is a cooperative work. As we daily surrender to the Lordship of Jesus, the Holy Spirit empowers us to put to death the habit patterns and thought patters of the old life which were conformed to the values of this world. Then, as the Holy Spirit enables us, we live out new patterns of behavior.

In Colossians 3:5-9 Paul talks about putting off the old nature and in 3:10-17 he talks about putting on the new nature. We put off the old as we choose not to practice the old. We put on the new as we choose to live the new life. How can we put off the old and put on the new? Through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

This work of conforming us to righteousness is the work of the Holy Spirit, as Paul reminds us: “God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13). We were chosen for salvation which includes a progressive work of sanctification by the Spirit. Though we are new creatures in Christ, this reality does not mean that the old nature no longer has any influence — we still carry memories, habit patterns that are consistent with the old nature. We are still surrounded by a fallen world with its temptations and corruption. But the Holy Spirit enables us to progressively put that nature aside while empowering us to live our new nature. We will not do this perfectly in this life but the Spirit enables us to overcome and live in a manner pleasing to God.

However, this process requires our cooperation — the Holy Spirit will not violate our will. As we choose to resist conformity to the prevailing values and philosophies of the world and as we choose to submit our lives daily to the Spirit of God through prayer, worship, reading the truth of Scripture and living it, we are being transformed into the likeness of Jesus: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:1,2). 

11. The Holy Spirit produces the character of Jesus in us, establishes the life of Christ in us, which is our destiny. God chose us for this:  “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). There are aspects of God’s design for your life which are unique to you but we are all “predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.” Paul says that we are maturing to “the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).

Paul uses the image of fruit cultivated and ripening in us by the Holy Spirit, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22,23). The fruit of the Spirit is the character of Jesus and the Holy Spirit will produce this in us as we yield our lives to Him day by day.

When the New Testament talks about liberty, it talks about transformation, a work of the Holy Spirit: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:17,18). True liberty is not the freedom to do what we want, when we want, wherever we want. True liberty is the freedom to become who God designed us to be in Christ and this is a work of the Holy Spirit in us.

Again we must emphasize that this is a cooperative work — the Holy Spirit will not violate our will. Growing into the character of Christ, cultivating the fruit of the Spirit, requires our active participation. We must make a daily commitment to surrender of our lives to the Spirit-led process of transformation.

12. The Holy Spirit gifts us for service.

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord … But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills” (I Cor. 12:4,7-11).

This is not a complete list of the gifts which the Holy Spirit shares with the redeemed but the point is that He endows the members of Christ’s church with spiritual gifts for the purpose of extending and expressing the ministry of Jesus in our world today. No redeemed member of the church is ungifted and our gifts are distributed “to each one individually just as He (the Holy Spirit) wills.”

In I Corinthians 12, Romans 12:6-8, I Peter 4:10,11 and elsewhere we see something of the variety of the Spirit’s giftings to the redeemed. It is a primary task of the church to assist each member in the discovery, training and giving of their gifts. Through these gifts, as we are empowered, taught, sanctified and guided by the Holy Spirit, bearing in our hearts the witness and seal of the Spirit, we proclaim Jesus Christ to the world.

When Peter was preaching before the governing body that had arrested him, he testified of Jesus and said, “And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:32).

The Holy Spirit is given to those who obey the Lord in repentance and faith. Obedience is the surrender of our will to the God of grace and mercy. When we obeyed God by repenting of our sin and placing our faith in Jesus, the holy Lamb of God, we were redeemed, forgiven and cleansed of sin, raised out of spiritual darkness and death and into reconciled relationship with the true and living God. The Spirit of the living God then came to indwell us, not for a limited time or limited work but for the remainder of our life on earth.

This is God’s promise and gift, pledge and seal, to us.

Study Questions:

1. What are some of the characteristics of the relationship of the Holy Spirit and the believer?

2. What is sanctification?