Summary: This is a basic study of the means by which the Holy Spirit effects the conversion of sinners to Christ.
We are taught by Christ Jesus in John 3:3, 5, that "Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.... unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."
In this passage, we learn that conversion - being born again - involves water and the Spirit of God. We learn from the parallel passage, Titus 3:5, that the "water" is a "washing of regeneration" and the "Spirit" is the "renewing of the Holy Spirit." Thus, we can say that unless one receives the "washing of regeneration" and the "renewing of the Holy Spirit" one cannot see nor enter the kingdom of God.
It is obvious that the water, the washing of regeneration, is a reference to baptism. That has been the historical or orthodox interpretation since the First Century. As to the renewing of the Spirit, it has been historically interpreted as being the Spirit’s operation upon the inner man which causes him to surrender to God and His Will in faith and repentance.
How exactly the Spirit operates upon the inner man to bring about conversion, the new birth, the renewal has been a topic of much discussion and controversy.
The predominate belief of most religionists in the late 18th and through much of the 19th Centuries was that the Holy Spirit was required to operate DIRECTLY upon the mind and soul of the sinner to bring about a spiritual awakening, a spiritual quickening, to bring about the conversion of the sinner. It took the PERSONAL PRESENCE, PERSONAL OPERATION, the PERSONAL RECEIVING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT to open the sinner’s eyes and heart to the things of God, to bring about faith and repentance. It was believed and taught by the majority that the Word of God was useless to the sinner until the Spirit had done His work upon and in the sinner’s mind and heart. This viewpoint is still held by many today.
I believe that this is not Scriptural in the least. I do not believe it because the Bible no where teaches it.
Jesus taught, in John 14:17, that those in the world "cannot receive" "the Sprit of truth". The Apostle Paul teaches, in Galatians 4:6, that God "sends forth the Spirit" not into the "hearts" of sinners to make them his children but He sends it forth into the hearts those who are already His children.
How or by what means the Holy Spirit brings about renewal or conversion can be found in Ephesians 5:25-26: "Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word."
Here, we see the "Spirit" of John 3:5 and the "renewing of the Holy Spirit" of Titus 3:5 is identified with "the word". Indeed, this is consistent with 1 Peter 1:23 which informs us "you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God."
I DO believe that the Holy Spirit’s role in conversion IS to operate upon the sinner to reveal his condition, convict him of his sin, reveal to him the salvation available in Christ Jesus, to produce faith in that message, and to bring about repentance which leads to his obeying the Gospel. These things the HOLY SPIRIT does, NOT by DIRECT OPERATION nor by PERSONAL INDWELLING but through His WORD.
The Word is referred to, in Ephesians 6:17, as "the Sword of the Spirit." This is so because the Word is the product of and has been delivered to us by the Spirit and it is the primary instrument that He uses to perform His spiritual work in the sinner and saint.
To show that the Word is the product of the Holy Spirit and is delivered by Him, I wish for us to examine a few Scriptures:
2 Peter 1:21 tells us that "no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." In other words, Divine Revelation is not the product of man but of God delivered to man by the Holy Spirit.
This applies to the Old Testament and the New Testament revelations we learn from 1 Peter 1:10-12, "As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven--things into which angels long to look."