This week, as we continue our 6-week study on the person of the Holy Spirit, we will be looking at the Holy Spirit’s role in our becoming Christians.
It is always the Holy Spirit who saves, but He usually does it through people and, specifically, through the message of the gospel by which He opens our eyes to our sin and our need of Jesus to save us.
PAUL SUMMARISES HOW ONE BECOMES A CHRISTIAN
In Romans 10, Paul summarises the process by which one becomes a Christian,
‘If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’ (Romans 10:9)
He goes on to add something that vital and is often overlooked,
‘How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?’ (Romans 10:14-15)
The Holy Spirit can and does save through dreams and visions, but His usual operation is to work through His church as they tell the gospel. This had been the experience of the Christians in Thessalonica,
‘But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as first fruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14)
This text speaks of a number of things:
Firstly, the Trinity is involved in our salvation – The Father loved and chose them; The Spirit ‘sanctified’ - transformed them; and the Son gave His life, which is implicit in the phrase ‘our gospel’.
Secondly, this text speaks of theri salvation as being by God’s choice: ‘God chose you as firstfruits to be saved’. Their salvation is through God’s choice because they were 'loved by the Lord'.
Thirdly, this text contains a great promise; by calling them ‘first fruits’ God is promising that He wants to bring many others to Himself.
Fourthly, The Spirit's work in the Thessalonians, and in anyone, is evidenced by ‘belief in the truth’; any talk of God’s working in people without sanctification and belief in the truth of the gospel is suspect or even demonic (1 John 4:1-3).
Finally, they are reminded that 'He called you to this through our gospel'. The Spirit works - calls people - through the gospel. We have a vital role to play. The Holy Spirit co-works with us.
God works salvation through the gospel. Without the gospel, there can be no salvation. Without faith in the gospel, the Spirit has not been at work! We must be clear and courageous to hold on to this truth. Too often people give testimony of becoming a Christian that contains everything other than believing the gospel!
GENERAL AND EFFECTUAL CALLING
Two terms that are important to understand in regard to the Holy Spirit working through the gospel to save are 'General Call' and 'Effectual Call'.
The church is called to preach the gospel to all, but this does not mean that everyone will become a Christian; this is what is termed the ‘General Call’ or the ‘Outward Call’; this call, to all people, may be resisted.
However, when this Outward Call is accompanied by the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, it becomes, in the elect, an ‘Inner Call’, an ‘Effective call’ that cannot be resisted!
Here are two quotes that help to summarise this,
'We may define effective calling as follows: Effective calling is an act of God the Father, speaking through the human proclamation of the gospel, in which he summons people to himself in such a way that they respond in saving faith.' (Wayne Grudem)
‘The effectual call of God is an inward call. It is the secret work of quickening or regeneration accomplished in the souls of the elect by the immediate supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit.’ (R. C. Sproul)