Know Your Bible

VOL. 9                           August 15, 2010                           NO. 33

The Work Of The Holy Spirit
In Conviction and Conversion

                                                     

            Conviction and conversion are so interrelated that an individual will never be converted until he is convicted. One is convicted when he realizes he is guilty of sin [whether as an alien sinner or an erring Christian], and one is converted when he turns from sin to God. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would reprove, or convict, the world of sin (John 16:8). John tells us that one is convicted by his own conscience. (John 8:9). Actually, the Holy Spirit operates upon the conscience in order to bring about conviction. But how does the Holy Spirit operate on the conscience? Does He operate directly or indirectly?

 

            Some believe and teach not only that He does, but also that He must operate directly (without means) upon those whom He wishes to convict, and that apart from a direct operation no alien sinner would ever be convicted. However, in the book of Acts (which has been called the "Book of Conversions") it can be seen that in the first century the Holy Spirit convicted people indirectly through the instrumentality (means) of the revealed word. In the Old Testament "the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas" when He inspired David to write, "Let his habitation be desolate and let no man dwell therein: and, His bishopric let another take" (Acts 1:16,20; Ps. 69:25; 109:8). Just so, the Holy Spirit later spoke indirectly to the masses through the preaching of the apostles and other inspired men. Let us notice a few examples from the book of Acts.

 

            In chapter two, the apostles "were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (4). When the crowd had gathered, "every man heard them speak in his own language" (6), and Peter began to preach, saying, "Ye men of Israel, hear these words" (v 22-36). He concluded his sermon by asserting, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made, that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" (36). "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart" (37). This shows that they understood what the Holy Spirit by the mouth of Peter spoke concerning Jesus, and were convicted of their sins. Thus, the Holy Spirit had operated upon their conscience indirectly through the preaching of the word. Having been convicted, they asked, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (37) They knew they were guilty of sin, but did not know how to turn from it to God. Peter, still guided by the Spirit, told them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (38). Instead of communicating to each one directly what he had to do to be converted, the Holy Spirit communicated indirectly through the preaching of Peter what they were to do "for the remission of sins," or conversion.

 

            The direct operation theory begins with the premise that sinners are so totally depraved that they are unable to save themselves, even when told what to do to be saved. But these people were exhorted "with many other words" to save themselves (40). "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized" (41). Therefore, they were able to save themselves apart from a direct operation of the Holy Spirit upon them, by meeting the conditions given them indirectly through Peter's preaching.

 

            In chapter eight, "Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them" (5). These people had believed for a long time that a man called Simon was "the great power of God," for "he had bewitched them with sorceries" (9-11). "But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ," they must have been convicted of their error, because "they were baptized, both men and women" (12). Even "Simon himself believed also" (13), indicating that he had been convicted of his error. Simon was later convicted as an erring Christian (18-24). And all this convicting was accomplished via the instrumentality of God's word.

 

            In the same chapter, Philip (being instructed by an angel and by the Spirit) came into contact with an Ethiopian eunuch, "and preached unto him Jesus. And they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?" (26-36) While the Holy Spirit spoke directly to Philip, He spoke indirectly to the eunuch through the writing of Isaiah and the preaching of Philip. The eunuch understood Philip, was convicted of his sins, and desired baptism, which is "for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38).

 

            In chapter nine, Jesus told Saul of Tarsus, "Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do" (6). And Saul "was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink" after arriving in Damascus (v 8-9). Jesus sent Ananias, telling him that Saul was praying (v 10-12). According to Paul's account, when Ananias arrived he told Saul, "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). Through the preaching of God's word, Saul learned that he was still in his sins (conviction) and that they would be washed away (conversion) in baptism. The direct operation theory would demand that Saul "pray through" (that is, pray until the Holy Spirit operated upon him directly), but he had been praying already and was still in his sins. It is baptism, not prayer, that is to follow repentance "for the remission of sins," for alien sinners. (Acts 2:38).

 

            In chapter ten, where we do have a case of direct operation of the Holy Spirit upon alien sinners, it was neither to convict nor to convert them. Rather, it was to convince Peter and the others that uncircumcised Gentiles had a right to be baptized, "for they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord" (v 46,48). They had been told, "Peter shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved" (11:14).

 

            Whenever the Holy Spirit operated on alien sinners in conviction and conversion, it was through means of the revealed word. In every case the number of conversions was directly proportionate to the number of people reached by the preaching. Why should it be any different today? We no longer have inspired men, but we do have the inspired word that convicted men and women in the first century. And it will convict, even when preached by uninspired men. The power is not in the men, but in the word (Heb. 4:12; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).

 

                                                                                                                                                                            ---Bob Myhan

 

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***Sentence Sermons***

 

"One of the weaknesses of our age is our apparent inability

to distinguish need from greed."

***

"When you flee from temptation,

don't leave a forwarding address."

***

"Religion is no different from other things. The less you

invest in it, the poorer the quality of it."

***

"When children get on the wrong track,

it's time to use the switch."

 
 
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