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Chapter 2 The Spirit at Work in Spiritual Renewal

Article contributed by www.walvoord.com

A tremendous upheaval has occurred in the twentieth century in regard to morality. In previous generations it was taken almost for granted that man could solve his problems. The advance of science and health, the development of educational programs, the spread of democracy, and the proclamation of the Christian gospel were considered sufficient to bring in ultimately a Utopia for man. It was thought that it would take only time and application of these principles to solve the basic problems of man.

In the period following World War II, however, it has become increasingly evident that moral deterioration instead of improvement seems to mark our generation. The rapid advance of crime, youth delinquency, increase in divorce, exploitation of sex, and extensive use of dope has spread like a cancer through modern society. Today there is widespread skepticism as to whether the situation can be improved. Youth is in revolt against the civilization which was inherited from its parents, and parents despair in attempting to solve the problems of their children. Increased international tensions caused by the struggle between Communism and the noncommunistic world, race tensions all over the world, and increasing rebellion against poverty and malnutrition seem to mark our present generation. It is becoming evident that man is not able to solve his own problems, and that only a divine or theological solution provides the answers. Society is desperately sick because the individuals who compose it are becoming more and more depraved.

Few facts of contemporary experience are more evident than the fact of man’s sinfulness and depravity. Even in non-Christian points of view, the prevailing opinion now recognizes that man is far from what he ought to be and needs renewal if he is going to find the utmost in human experience and realization of his role in life. In Christian thought, especially in orthodox circles, the sinfulness of man is taken as evident in life as well as in Scriptures. One of the main purposes of Christianity is to bring renewal to man who is enslaved by sin and separated from God by both his nature and his acts.

Christianity in large measure can be defined as the application of a divine remedy for man in his depravity. The process of salvation originates in God, is proclaimed by man, and is mediated by the Holy Spirit. Although there is little question within orthodox Christianity of the basic tenets of man’s fall into sin and God’s provision of salvation, the precise details of God’s program still are often blurred in modern religious literature, and it is necessary to gain perspective in the understanding of God’s program of salvation and renewal for man.

The broad program of God for renewal of man in salvation may be divided into three areas: (1) new life in the Spirit; (2) a new divine program—the new society in Christ; and (3) a new divine power—the presence of the Spirit, which provides enablement for life and service.

New Life in the Spirit

The Scriptures clearly testify to the fact that man is spiritually dead and lacks any spiritual life apart from salvation in Christ. The state of spiritual death is spelled out in detail in Romans 5:12-21, and the dictum is given: “Death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Ro 5:12). According to 1 Corinthians 15:22, “in Adam all die.” The Ephesian Christians are declared to have been “dead in trespasses and sins” prior to their experience of salvation (Eph 2:1). It is because of this universal lack of eternal life that Nicodemus, the religious Jew, was informed by Christ, “Ye must be born again” (Jn 3:7).

The state of spiritual death did not completely erase the divine image, however, and man can manifest religious yearning for God, prompted by the Spirit of God, even before he is converted. It is nevertheless true that apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in bestowing grace, there seems to be no natural stirring in the human heart toward God. Man is spiritually dead and does not originate in himself a movement toward God and spiritual life.

Spiritual renewal begins when man is prompted by the Spirit of God, brought under conviction of need, and made aware of the provision of salvation in Christ (Jn 16:7-11). While the work of grace in the heart of one spiritually dead is inscrutable, it is nevertheless effective in somehow supernaturally bringing one who is spiritually dead to the point of active faith in Jesus Christ, resulting in his salvation.

The new life in Christ which is the basis for spiritual renewal is described in Scripture under three figures. In the gospel of John, it is approached from the standpoint of bestowal of eternal life. Early in the gospel the revelation is given that as many as receive Christ by faith become the children of God with the result that they are born spiritually, not of natural blood nor of natural will but born of God (Jn 1:12-13).

This is brought out further in the conversation of Christ with Nicodemus in John 3 where Nicodemus, the religious ruler of the Jews, is flatly told, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3). Christ further explained, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5). He defines this new birth as being “born of the Spirit” (Jn 3:6). As the chapter proceeds, emphasis is given to faith in Jesus Christ as the means of eternal life. As embodied in the familiar text of John 3:15-16, there can be no valid spiritual renewal until there is bestowal of eternal life on one who formerly was spiritually dead. This begins the moment an individual trusts in Jesus Christ as his Saviour.

The resulting new life is described under a second figure in John 5:25 where Christ said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.” The new life in Christ received at conversion is compared here to resurrection from the dead. The one who was spiritually dead now becomes spiritually alive. The same figure is expounded in Romans 6:13 where Christians are described as “those that are alive from the dead” and who, therefore, are called to live as those spiritually resurrected. The Ephesian Christians are also reminded of their spiritual resurrection in the statement that although they “were dead in sins,” yet they are now “quickened” [made alive] and “raised up” to be with Christ in the heavenlies (Eph 2:5-6). The nature of resurrection is supernatural, and it is a work of divine power. Spiritual renewal accordingly is a divine miracle in which that which was dead is now alive.

A third figure used to describe spiritual renewal is embraced in the idea of creation. According to Ephesians 2:10, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” The central passage on this approach is found in 2 Corinthians 5:17 where the statement is made, “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” The contrast is between the old creation—what man is in his fallen state in Adam—and what he now is with eternal life in Christ. Just as the inanimate dust of the earth was formed by God and became alive when God breathed into it the breath of life, so man dead in trespasses and sins becomes alive by an act of divine creation which establishes the renewed man in a new order of being. As a part of the work of God in creating man anew, man is now appointed unto good works which man in his fallen estate would not be able to accomplish.

The work of God by the Spirit in spiritual renewal fulfills all three of these descriptive concepts: man is indeed born as from above, receiving life from God as his Father; man is spiritually resurrected and no longer dead in sin; man is a new creation instead of a member of a fallen creation.

The dramatic moral depravity of contemporary civilization illustrates graphically the need for just such a spiritual renewal as is provided by the Spirit in regeneration. Man, sinful by nature, needs to have the reviving and transforming new life in Christ. The moral crises of our day confirm what the Scripture has long taught—that man cannot be good apart from a supernatural work of God in his heart.

The results of the new life in Christ stem from the basic concept of spiritual renewal by bestowal of life. As is true of man who is born naturally and receives a human nature from his parents, so man born anew receives a new nature, a new capacity for service and devotion to God. The new life in Christ provides new experiences such as spiritual sight instead of spiritual blindness, spiritual gifts which are added to the natural gifts, and the capacity for spiritual enjoyment of fellowship with God. Because the new life which is bestowed is eternal, it also provides a new security, for the new life is by nature eternal. Paul writes the Philippians of “being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6). Man is not simply restored to what he was before the human race fell into sin, but is now exalted to a new plane of eternal life and security in Christ Jesus. All the spiritual renewal which is possible for man is founded upon these concepts of a new life, a new creation, and a new security in Christ.

A New Divine Program: The New Society in Christ

Spiritual renewal for man is not limited to inner transformation and bestowal of life as an individual possession. The work of salvation in man also gives man a new relationship to God and to all those who in like manner have received eternal life from God. This new relationship in the present dispensation which forms a new society in Christ is embodied in the concept of the baptism of the Spirit.

In dispensations prior to the present age of grace, it is clear that man could be born again and could enter into new relationships with fellow believers. It may be assumed that some Gentiles in the Old Testament were rightly related to God by faith, and that many godly Jews realized the peculiar blessings of being related to the nation of Israel racially and yet also related to God’s purposes spiritually through new life from God.

In the present age, however, a peculiar work is revealed which did not exist in the Old Testament and apparently will not be realized after the present age. This is the work of God by the Holy Spirit which places a believer in Christ and relates him to all fellow believers in the figure of a human body.

In all of the four gospels, John the Baptist is quoted as predicting the future baptism of the Holy Spirit (Mt 3:11; Mk 1:8; Lk 3:16; Jn 1:33). This prophecy was never realized prior to the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, but in keeping with the prediction of Christ in Acts 1, it was fulfilled for the first time on the day of Pentecost. Christ had told His disciples prior to His ascension, “John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” (Ac 1:5). Ten days later the promise of the power of the Spirit was fulfilled and with it the baptism of the Spirit.

A careful study of the events of Pentecost will reveal that a number of important ministries of the Spirit were fulfilled in the experience of the apostles on that important day. No doubt they were indwelt by the Spirit as well as filled by the Spirit, but neither of these ministries of the Spirit should be confused with the baptism of the Spirit.

Although the account in Acts 2 does not expressly state that the baptism of the Spirit was inaugurated on that date, it becomes clear from Acts 1:5 and from later passages such as Acts 11:15-17 that the baptism of the Spirit occurred for the first time on the day of Pentecost and subsequently was realized when individuals received Christ as Saviour. Although there has been considerable confusion in evangelical literature between the baptism of the Spirit and other works of the Spirit which occur at the moment of salvation, according to 1 Corinthians 12:13, the baptism of the Spirit should be properly defined as establishing a new position and relationship for all new believers. According to 1 Corinthians 12:13, all believers are baptized into one body by the Spirit of God; hence, the baptism of the Spirit is that which establishes both the place and the relationship of the believer in Christ and in the body of Christ which is composed of all true believers. Baptism is, therefore, positional in that all believers have this position of being in Christ and in the body of Christ, and relational in that, being in this situation, a new relationship is established both to Christ and to all others who are in Christ. It carries with it many important spiritual truths vital to a true comprehension of spiritual renewal in the Holy Spirit.

Among the new relationships and concepts which belong to the doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is that which was announced by Christ in John 14:20 where Christ said, “At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” The relationship of a believer in Jesus Christ is likened to the relationship of Christ to God the Father and is the ground for the further work of God indwelling the believer embraced in the expression, “I in you.”

In the exposition of the doctrine of the baptism of the Spirit in the New Testament, important passages can be cited. The baptism of Romans 6:1-4 is related to the baptism of the Spirit; and even if the interpretation be followed that this relates to water baptism, it is obvious that the reality that is figured here is that of the baptism of the Spirit. Accordingly, the conclusion may be drawn that because a believer is baptized into Christ and seen by God in this relationship, he is related to what Christ did on the cross, and he is therefore baptized into His death and burial, and he is raised with Christ from the dead. Paul alludes to being “baptized into Christ” in Galatians 3:27, leading to the conclusion that all Christians are “one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28) and through Christ inherit the spiritual promises given to Abraham’s spiritual seed—that is, the blessing promised all nations through Abraham (Gal 3:8).

Christians are said to have “one baptism,” just as they have “one Lord, one faith” (Eph 4:5). According to Colossians 2:12, the believer is in Christ, is buried with Christ, and is risen with Him. In summary, it may be concluded that the baptism of the Spirit results in a new union with God and with fellow believers, a new position of being in Christ and in the body of Christ, and a new association which is the result of this relationship. The baptism of the Spirit with all of its important results is accordingly an important aspect of the work of the Holy Spirit in spiritual renewal.

A New Divine Power: The Presence of the Spirit

Simultaneous with the bestowal of new life in the believer and the new relationships established by the baptism of the Spirit is the supreme fact that the believer becomes the temple of God. God the Holy Spirit, as well as God the Father and God the Son, makes the body of the believer His temple on earth.

It is clear that saints prior to the present dispensation had an effective ministry of the Spirit to them. This is described in John 14:17 as the fact that the Spirit “dwelleth with you.” A new relationship, however, is announced, and this new relationship of the Spirit is defined by the words, “shall be in you.” Although the Holy Spirit clearly indwelt some saints in the Old Testament, this does not seem to have been universally realized and, in fact, was only bestowed sovereignly by God to accomplish His purpose in certain individuals. The Spirit, being omnipresent, was with all those who put their trust in God even if not in them, and undoubtedly contributed to their spiritual life and experience. The new relationship is obviously intended to be more intimate and more effective than that which was true before the present dispensation.

Beginning on the day of Pentecost, the promise of Christ that the Holy Spirit “shall be in you” was realized, and the various statements of Christ in John 14 that He would be “in you” (Jn 14:20) were fulfilled. The added revelation, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (Jn 14:23), indicates that all three Persons of the Trinity indwell the believer in the present age. This indwelling presence of God was anticipated as early as John 7:37-39, where Christ predicted that there would be rivers of living water flowing from within the believer. The explanation attached is that this refers to the Spirit “which they that believe on him should receive.”

On the day of Pentecost itself, Peter appealed to those who were present to repent, with the promise, “Ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Ac 2:38). Subsequently this was realized by other believers and is used as a basis for concluding that Cornelius was saved (Ac 11:17), and that the believers in John the Baptist referred to in Acts 19:1-3 were unsaved because they had not yet received the Spirit of God.

The Holy Spirit is mentioned as being given to the believers in Romans 5:5, in 1 Corinthians 2:12, and in 2 Corinthians 5:5, as well as being assumed in many other passages. Unsaved are referred to as those “having not the Spirit” (Jude 19), and even unspiritual Christians such as the Corinthians are assured, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God” (1 Co 6:19). Although in the early church there were some delays in the bestowal of the Spirit for appropriate reasons, there can be little doubt that a comprehensive study of the doctrine in the New Testament reveals that every true believer is now indwelt by the Spirit of God.

The presence of the Holy Spirit, as well as the attending presence of God the Father and the Spirit of Christ, is related in Scripture to the important work of spiritual renewal which is subsequent to salvation. According to the Scriptures, the Spirit is the teacher of all truth (Jn 16:13). The Spirit is intended to guide and lead the child of God (Ro 8:14). The presence of the Spirit gives assurance of salvation (Ro 8:16), and His very presence constitutes the evidence that we are sealed unto the day of redemption (Eph 4:30). The sealing of the Spirit is not a work of the Spirit in the ordinary sense and is not something that occurs subsequent to salvation. It is rather that the Holy Spirit Himself is the seal, and His presence is the evidence that is needed to assure the child of God that he really belongs to God and is secure in that relationship until he is completely renewed in body and spirit in the presence of the Lord.

The presence of the Holy Spirit is related to our prayer life, and the Spirit is said to intercede for the believer (Ro 8:26-27). The presence of the Spirit is the secret of the subsequent works of the Spirit, such as the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, and is the source of power for the use of spiritual gifts. The presence of the Spirit makes possible the command to be filled with the Spirit—which is related to the Spirit in His work in sanctifying—and empowering the believer. The indwelling of the Spirit is in many respects the extension and continuity of the work of God begun in bestowal of life and a new position through baptism of the Spirit. It is the key to the whole subsequent work of sanctification and empowerment of the life of the believer and makes possible a supernatural life that is to the glory of God.

The work of spiritual renewal is accordingly along three major lines. The bestowal of eternal life is the divine remedy for spiritual death. The new position and relationship of the believer as a result of the baptism of the Spirit is the divine step in renewal which remedies the former position of the believer as fallen in Adam. The indwelling divine presence is the provision of God for empowering and enabling the believer to achieve that for which he has been made a new creation. It will have its fulfillment both in time and eternity in which the believer is designed to bring glory to God. The subsequent development of the spiritual life, the achievement of holiness, the use of gifts, and the divine power which is provided for the believer are the extension of the ministries of the Spirit in beginning the spiritual renewal at salvation. The understanding of this and its realization constitute a major aspect of Christian experience and life.