The Holy Spirit & Christian Conversion

It goes without saying that the Holy Spirit plays a role in the Christian’s conversion—but that must not be left unsaid. The logic of orthodox Trinitarian faith necessarily implies it, because of perichoresis and the three members’ mutual involvement in all the works of the Godhead. And sure enough, we see the Spirit at work in effecting our conversion by effecting our new birth, adoption, and sanctification.

The Spirit of Regeneration

Jesus told his disciples, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit” and of “how people are born of the Spirit” (John 3:5, 8). That is because “The Spirit alone gives eternal life” (John 6:63). So the odd Pentecostal who objects that if you don’t speak in tongues you don’t have the Spirit misses an essential aspect of what it means to be born again, to be “saved.[Some Pentecostals infer from this that you need to speak in tongues to be born again; thankfully, most Pentecostals recognize a twofold work of the Spirit: regeneration and special anointing or gifting.]”

The Spirit of Adoption

Paul ties together death of the sinful nature, new life in the Spirit, and adoption in one extended passage:

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father” …. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. (Rom 8:12–15, 23)

Notice the contrast: It’s between “sinful nature” and putting that to death “through the power of the Spirit” when we receive “God’s Spirit” in heavenly adoption proceedings. Of course, “even though we have the Holy Spirit within us” we live in this groaning creation where God’s best plans for us and for all his creation are frustrated by sin and the futility that introduces and feeds like a malignancy.

So we recognize the very real work of the Holy Spirit in conversion and sanctification, even as we acknowledge the validity of the Pentecostal experience see in the ongoing pattern of the book of Acts and in the special gifts lists, which include such gifts as tongues, prophecy, interpretation of tongues, word of knowledge, and word of wisdom.

Sanctifying Spirit

Paul reminds the Corinthians of the transforming work that the Trinity has worked in their lives. He refers to their old pagan ways then says, “Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11).

Likewise, Peter describes salvation as a work that involves the full Godhead: He greets his readers in Asia Minor as “God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” Then he reminds them, “God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:1–2).

Author: Dale A. Brueggemann

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