The convicting and revealing ministry of the Spirit
The problem of Christian convictions without the revelation of Christ
Scottish theologian James Haldane gives the following warning. Many believe in an historical Jesus but are ignorant of the character of God. The power of the Gospel is to give the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6). Many today “trust” in Christ precisely as the Jews did in Moses – this is another gospel. Acceptance of the truth of an historical Jesus is not the glory of God in the face of Christ. To have an “acquaintance” with God without having the heart affected is to be a stranger to the knowledge of God in Christ. A saving knowledge of God (Jn 17:3) born by the Holy Spirit, produces the radical change; the entire change of the sinner’s heart (Haldane, Revelation of God).
Welsh preacher Howell Harris gives a similar warning about the possibility of a person accepting the historical facts of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection without being converted. Says Harris, there is a natural form of love, faith, and humility in persons deceived into thinking that they are born again. Their natures are only changed outwardly. Their enlightenment is only outward. It is possible to know Christ outwardly, after the flesh – to have a kind of love and confidence toward Him that is from natural and historical views of the Gospel (a perception such as Balaam had).
These persons looked on something they had done or felt and drew the conclusion that they were saved. This is the religion of most who profess faith in Christ; they formed faith in themselves without going to Christ as a perishing sinner. They settled into a false confidence. They are not experiencing spiritual life, daily combat, victory of faith, feeding on the blood and righteousness ofChrist, and the wonder of Christ’s sufferings and incarnation.
Many speak of Christ who never came to Him as a lost sinner; they never fled to Him from God as Judge, the wrathful Avenger. Therefore their enmity has not been cast out; they are still “outer court” worshippers with an old covenant spirituality. They are carnal professors who are content with a false peace. They have overlooked their sins. Thus they have not been brought to the cross and the blood by a crushing sense of their sin. That is the reason they have a superficial, non-saving knowledge of Christ. As a result, they can’t see their sins laid on the Savior, nor can they feed and get comfort there (Morgan, The Life and Times of Howell Harris, pp. 179-182).
II. The Revealing Work of the Holy Spirit
The great need of blinded sinners is the revelation of Christ
Scripture affirms the spiritual deadness and blindness of man (Eph 2:1-3); and the necessity of the Spirit’s work in order for a man to believe the Gospel (Jn 1:12-13). Harris notes that the religiousnatural man has superficial knowledge and illumination. He may be active in his church, but he does not love the cross. He has not the faith to suffer with Christ, to trace Him through the streets of Jerusalem to Golgotha as He bends dumb before His shearers – thus the natural man cannotfeed upon Christ’s suffering and humiliation in his own spirit (Morgan, p. 239).
Because of satanic blindness to the Gospel of grace (2 Cor 4:3, 4), unregenerate man cannot comprehend the true basis of salvation, and is therefore ever prone to do the best he knows how. This is to attempt to work out his own standing before God by his own efforts. It is the natural tendency to do something of merit; whether standing in an evangelistic meeting, or raising a hand, or walking an aisle. He may be persuaded to do all of the above when he has no conception of standing by faith on the Rock of Jesus Christ. He may come forward in a church and abandon his natural timidity when he knows nothing of abandoning his satanic tendency to self-help, and resting by faith on that which Christ has done for him (Iain Murray, The Invitation System, Banner of Truth, pp. 22-23).
Only the Spirit’s convicting power can slay self-help. The leprous doctrine of free will is destroyed in the heart of one who has had any spiritual dealing with Christ; for Christ is the One who in the exercise of His sovereignty applies His merits to the sinner (He reveals the Father, Matt 11:27 -- He dispenses the benefits of His death; He is ‘the Mediatior of a better covenant’ – Heb 8:6).
Christ is so infinitely holy that man’s fallen nature dare not look upon Him in absolute reliance and believing surrender (EX. NCCF prisoners feeling too wicked for Christ so they constantly appeal to their personal improvements). The divine nature must be put into the soul in order to look upon Christ so as to lay hold of Him. No man apprehends Christ savingly but the one whom the Father draws -- Jn 6:44 (Wilcox, p. 26).
The new creature is always brought forth by the Word of Truth
It is by means of the Word of God that the Holy Spirit brings forth spiritual life, or the new birth in the sinner (1 Pet 1:23; James 1:18). Faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the Word ofChrist (Rom 10:17).
The means appointed by God for producing faith is by hearing the word of God’s grace. The word is made effectual by the Holy Spirit. Regarding the absolute necessity of the Spirit’s quickening, George Whitfield remarks, the Gospel is dead apart from the Holy Spirit. In other words, man in his blindness and deadness cannot meet the conditions called for in the Gospel; he is dependent upon the Spirit’s work.
The Apostles Peter and Paul are Scriptural examples of salvation through the Spirit’s revelation of Christ.
In Matthew 16:17 the Lord told Peter that his response, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” did not find its source in flesh and blood but was the result of the Father’s revelation.
Peter had not arrived at his belief by mere reason: flesh and blood had not worked out the problem; there had been a revelation to him from the Father who is in heaven. In order to know the Lord in mere doctrinal statement, no such divine teaching is required; but Peter’s full assurance of his Lord’s nature and mission was no theory in the head: the truth had been written on his heart by the heavenly Spirit. This is the only knowledge worth having as to the Person of our Lord (Charles H. Spurgeon, The Gospel of Matthew, Revell, p. 224).
The Apostle Paul’s own testimony of personal salvation also includes the revelation of Christ. “But when it pleased Him, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, in order that I might preach His Gospel among the Gentiles. . .” (Gal 1:15-16a).
The outward and the physical would have never sufficed to convert Paul. The Apostle’s testimony was in “His good pleasure He revealed His Son in me.” It changed a man who was breathingmurderous threats against Christ’s church into one who breathed doxologies whenever he reflected on God’s marvelous redeeming love to one so undeserving as himself.
The immediate purpose of Paul’s separation and calling is here said to have been “to reveal His Son in me.” To reveal is to remove the scales from the eyes of the heart. Paul had been persecuting God’s only begotten Son. God wanted Paul to see that the Jesus, whom in His disciples Paul had been persecuting, was indeed partaker of God’s very essence, Himself God (William Hendrickson, NTC, pp. 52-53).
The Holy Spirit illuminates the faculties of the soul
The Holy Spirit quickens the faculties so that eyes of the soul are enlightened to understand the full and complete satisfaction made by the Son of God of divine justice for all who believe. By the Spirit’s illumining power, they are enabled to apply Christ’s finished work to their own heart and situation (Morgan, p. 78).
Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, He will bear witness of Me (Jn 15:26). Thomas Boston notes that it is the Holy Spirit’s power that grants spiritual sight (Jn 6:40) – that is the ability to behold the Son as He is in His transcendent glory and excellence. The illumined sinnerbeholds Christ as He is exhibited in the free promise of the Gospel and is infallibly brought to believe (Boston, p. 572).
The Spirit’s illumination enables the sinner to have a clear view of three realities; each which is necessary in order to savingly believe: 1.) a full conviction of sin, 2.) the infinite merits of Christ’s blood and righteousness, 3.) Christ’s willingness to save the individual merely as a sinner (Wilcox, p. 18).
The gift of spiritual sight saves the soul
God’s grace gift to the sinner is the gift of faith to believe what is promised in the Gospel (Phil 1:29). The gift of spiritual sight is the means by which the Lord communicates His distinguishing grace and particular love. By causing the sinner to behold Christ as personal Substitute in His death, humiliation, and passion, the Lord has made an infinite difference between us and our fellow creatures – 1 Cor 4:7 (Morgan, p. 228).
Saving faith is not only a willingness to consent to be saved by Christ alone; it is also a sincere and honest desire to be delivered from divine wrath. Saving faith sees what the soul must be delivered from – thus it desires to be justified and sanctified; set free from the dominion and guilt of sin. Saving faith is the response or “echo” of the quickened soul to the Word as it brings salvation (Boston, p. 609).
When the Holy Spirit grants spiritual sight, it is accompanied by a willingness to become indebtedto Another. The newly given eye of faith beholds the unsearchable riches of Christ and peace flows into the soul (Wilcox, p. 11). (EX. Three kids lost at Running Springs – instructions in the dark about the way out of the box canyon.)
Spiritual sight beholds the revelation of God in Christ -- 2 Corinthians 4:4-6
This passage teaches that mankind is blinded to the glory of Christ in the Gospel. The god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they cannot see the light of the Gospel.
The glory of Christ is the very essence and substance of the Gospel. For Christ is the sum of all divine and human excellence – these perfections of the Godhead are centered in and made visible in the Person of Christ. He is the radiant center point of the entire universe. He is the clearest manifestation of the Godhead to the creature. He is the brightness of the Father’s glory in our human nature (Heb 1:1-3).
Christ is God’s light to man; He is the Creator of light and the One who illumines the heart of man (Jn 1:4, 5, 9). As the image of God, Christ manifests the glory of God (Col 1:15). But the sinner cannot behold Him as such apart from the revealing work of God’s Spirit.
Paul’s testimony in this text gives the reason why he preached to the Corinthians. It was because God had dispelled the darkness in Paul’s heart by the illuminating power of Christ. Spiritual sight and illumination come only through the intervening grace of God. Apart from the exercise of God’s sovereignty giving the knowledge of His glory in the face of Christ, the sinner is left to stumble in darkness (Philip E. Hughes, p. 132).
The Holy Spirit gives men the ability to see the knowledge and glory of God in the face of Christ. This ability to see is beyond the powers of flesh and blood; it is not a function of mere intellectual apprehension. The ability to see is a function of spiritual discernment derived only from the Spirit of God! (Charles Hodge, 1 & 2 Corinthians, p. 467).
No man has seen the Father at any time – Christ came to explain the Father (Jn 1:18). God in Christ is the object of knowledge (Jn 1:18; 14:9). God must shine into the heart of man to give this knowledge of God’s glory. In order for a man to believe and be saved, there must be a revelationof Christ by the Spirit (Gal 1:16; Matt 16:17).
The glory of God is spiritual; therefore it is only spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:10, 14). God’s action in penetrating the darkness of man’s heart declares His character and nature. The God of creation is the same God who shines in our hearts at the new birth. Hearts of sinners are illuminated solely by a personal act of divine intervention.
In the first creation, God called light out of darkness. In the second creation (the new birth – 2 Cor 5:17), God gave Christ to be that light to penetrate the darkness. Christ shines brighter than the sun said Paul (Acts 26:13). Christ’s shining into the heart (the heart being man’s moral, spiritual, and intellectual center) guarantees that the new creature will be in possession of genuine saving knowledge of God (Jn 1:14; 17:3).
The Holy Spirit’s illumination personalizes the Gospel offer
The quickened soul ceases to view the Gospel as merely a general offer – instead there is urgency to appropriate Christ; and the conviction that the sinner has a right to Him. The illumined soul is able to believe that Christ’s righteousness was procured for him and put on his account.
No one believes this until the Spirit makes this plain and persuades through inward illumination. As this author has labored to demonstrate earlier, it is possible to be a “secure” sinner in the Gospel offer but not discern Christ’s voice in the Gospel. The false professor has not heard the Gospel as the Word of the Lord Himself. As a result the message has no authority over his conscience (Boston, p. 593-595).
When the awakened sinner first hears Christ’s voice in the Gospel offer, he disqualifies himself due to sin and concludes it is not for him. He can’t believe that such free pardon and grace is directed at him in particular.
The convicted soul disputes about his right to Christ. “How can I believe He is freely given for me?” The answer is return to the Word of God – come to the testimony of the Father (Jn 6:32; 1 Jn 4:14; 5:10). Come polluted and naked with readiness to take possession of Him. Receive heaven’s gift given to cover you; the Father will receive you. Remember, the gift of Christ is not a measure of your attractiveness; it is message about the dignity and majesty of the Giver.
But where the Holy Spirit is working, the offer is applied to the soul with power and particularity. The sinner is enabled to hear the message as the Word of the Lord Himself and not as the word of man; he applies it to himself (1 Thess 2:13).
Without this personalizing of the Gospel message, there is no receiving of Christ! For there is no receiving unless the offer is viewed as directed to the sinner in particular, otherwise there is no foundation of faith upon which the soul may build and rest all its hope (ibid.).
To be saved the sinner must be able to receive the Gospel as the very word of Christ -- which it is! (Jn 6:63). The Spirit enables the sinner to answer Christ’s call to find rest for the conscience – to be covered and hidden by His blood; and to find rest of soul and enjoyment of God through Him.
The effect of the Holy Spirit’s operation results in the exercise of God’s almighty power (Eph 1:19) – the sinner is given the ability to close with Christ by faith (ibid., 600-606).
The Holy Spirit’s illumination reveals the righteousness of God
The Gospel reveals a perfect righteousness provided by the Son of God that answers all of our corruption. The full revelation of God’s righteousness is manifested in the great exchange of our sin for Christ’s righteousness (2 Cor 5:21). The gloriousness of the Gospel is both profound and simple -- the righteousness God accepts is the righteousness He provides freely in Christ! (Rom 1:16-17).
When light shines into a man’s heart, he beholds the satisfaction of the law Christ made on behalf of poor sinners. A real persuasion of the sufficiency of the righteousness of Christ takes place. The illumined sinner places confidence in Christ to save him from sin and wrath and to represent him before a holy God and before the eye of the law.
With this influx of divine light comes trust in Christ’s righteousness to save – a perfect “match” is made by the Spirit in the mind of the sinner between the sinner’s utter need and Christ’s fitness to save him. The new believer sees that only this righteousness in Christ is at once perfectly suitable to the divine perfections and to the sinner’s own case. The righteousness God accepts; He provides (ibid., p. 611).
When the Holy Spirit reveals the glory of God in Christ, the sinner comes to know God and himself for the very first time.
The light Christ brings into the soul breaks into nature’s night and the black strongholds raised up against the knowledge of God. When the sinner believes the Gospel, he knows God’s character and his own character for the very first time. With the light that Christ brings, the image of God is no longer defaced – the man quickened by the Spirit beholds God in Christ as He really is. For the Son of God has come to give us understanding that we might know Him who is true (1 Jn 5:20).
When Satan’s lie and defacement of God is removed by the revelation of Christ into the hearts of men, it makes them willing subjects of God. This takes place because the image of the one true God is restored in the soul by believing in and beholding Christ (Haldane, Revelation of Righteousness).
The newly regenerated soul is building upon all new ground; the righteousness of Christ (Phil 3:3). By the Spirit’s preparation, the sinner has come as one poor and destitute, with nothing to offer; with no law confidence, no self-confidence, and no creature confidence. The Spirit’s call has shown him who God is, what sin is, and what the work of God is in his soul (Boston, p. 610).
Regeneration by the Spirit puts divine light into the heart. We come out into the open for the first time. We confess what we are; leprous by reason of sin and hell-deserving. The light of the Gospel makes us heroically honest and courageous in dealing with sin. We used to love flattery and welcomed methods of bribing our consciences; now we love the truth and abhor deception. We now willingly carry the cross of Christ who tolerates no deception. The reception of light by the Spirit’s mighty intervention has fitted us to walk in the light with our God (Pink, Experimental Union, p. 4).
The marks of true conversion are ineffably joined to the convicting and revelatory work of the Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Spirit’s role in preparing the sinner, and His role in granting faith are not subtle nuances of theology; they are an indispensable part of the grace of God. Thus the convicting work of the Spirit is vital to our understanding of God’s sovereign grace; for it is the Spirit who forms the new creature.
Without clear teaching on the role of the Spirit there is a tendency toward Arminian synergistic schemes of salvation. This approach dishonors God by making the sinner a partner in his own salvation. In addition, it opens the door to false confidence and presumptuous assurance in matters of personal salvation.
By contrast the way by which the Spirit operates produces solid conversions. The Holy Spirit works to bring conviction to its climax, He removes all confidence in self in order to prepare the soul to place all confidence in Christ. God only forgives those who know themselves to be poor, miserable, blind, and naked. No one ever believed savingly until he felt his helplessness (Rom 5:6). The Holy Spirit’s work of preparation strikes the death blow to self-reliance. No one becomes a true disciple of Christ until Christ is seen as the only possible refuge – then the quickened sinner flees to Him and follows Him as His sheep thereafter (Morgan, pp. 258, 282).
Only the Spirit’s revelation of Christ can make a true disciple of Christ.
Carnal professors have contented themselves with a false peace. They’ve not been brought to the cross and the blood by a devastating sight of their sins. Therefore they cannot see their sins done away with by Christ’s punishment and blood. Because their knowledge is superficial, they cannotsee their sins laid upon the Savior. But where the new man is formed by the Spirit, the soul will pant after Christ and will not be willing to hear of Him only but must have Him (Morgan, p. 182).
The moment the sinner is convinced of his special interest in Christ and His righteousness, he iswilling to sell all in order to have Him (Matt 13:44-46). The quickened sinner discards all other supports of the soul; the Redeemer is all upon whom he rests (Boston, p. 593).
The faith the Holy Spirit gives not only shines the light of Christ into the soul giving the knowledge of God; this faith also illuminates the work the Spirit has done in uniting the soul to Christ. There is an experimental union with Savior based upon faith’s realization of Christ’s union with us and our relation to Him. Nothing but faith makes God in Christ real to the soul (Pink, p. 5).
This is how the Spirit makes a true disciple! Often in our churches there is an attempt to persuade false professors of their obligation to subject themselves to Christ’s lordship. The appeal is that you must live as a disciple of Christ in order to be a disciple of Christ. But this is a half truth.
It is only the Spirit of Christ who can make a true disciple; and He does so by revealing Christ. Where the Spirit has brought life, the individual has the testimony of the blood and the washing of the Spirit. By revelation the convicted sinner has seen the holiness and purity of God; he has seen his own impurity; and he has seen the excellence of Christ.
As a new creature, the believer is marked by brokenness of spirit, humility, love, and watchfulness. He daily feels the scourge of indwelling sin; he repeatedly rests in the testimony of grace as his only hope. His conscience, will, and affections are captive to Christ; therefore he is a willing disciple.
Why are churches today filled with folks who have a detente with sin, who are at ease under its dominion, who won’t study the fruits of faith, or make their election and calling sure? The answer is that they have come short of knowing the glory of God in the face of Christ. Therefore they do not live as disciples of Christ.
When the Holy Spirit prepares a man to receive the grace of God, He evaporates the man’s imagined wisdom; the Spirit’s preparation causes a man to become as a little child. He brings that man to the end of himself. No man ever came to liberty without feeling himself in bondage – no man ever believed without finding through an evil heart of unbelief that believing is the hardest thing in the world. No one ever took up the cross in denial as a true disciple without perceiving hell, darkness, and wrath pursuing him until taken into Christ as the only refuge (Morgan, pp. 258, 282).