Salvation and the Holy Spirit
Dr. Domenic Marbaniang
One’s lifetime is insufficient to capture in words the extent of the Spirit’s work towards the salvation of any individual. The Spirit was involved not only in the creation of the world (Gen.1:1, 2; Psa.104:30) but also is involved in the creation of every human being that comes into the world (Psa.139:7,13-16). But, more importantly, it is through the Spirit that the believer is regenerated (born again) and becomes a new creation in Christ.
“According to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Tit.3:5)
Jesus said to Nicodemus, a Jewish teacher: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” As Nicodemus began wondering what “born again” meant, Jesus explained, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5, 6).
Jesus declared Himself to Nicodemus as “He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven” (John 3:13). The significance of this revelation in relation to our salvation is great. “The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly… flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither does corruption inherit incorruption” (1Cor.15:47-51). The final salvation will be realized when God who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to our mortal bodies through His Spirit that dwells in us (Rom.8:16). Then, the body sown in corruption will be raised in incorruption and that which is sown a natural body will be raised a spiritual body (1Cor.15:42-44). The whole creation waits for this unveiling of the sons of God, this glorious liberty of the children of God, this redemption of our bodies (Rom.8:19,21,23). It is impossible to think of Christian salvation without the effectual working of the Holy Spirit. In fact, “no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit” (1Cor.12:3).
Among the various roles of the Spirit (that include witness, calling, conviction, conversion, regeneration, intercession, confirmation, sending, outworking, gifting, direction, supervision, guidance, teaching, and perfection), the role of the Spirit as witness is one. In this article, we will mainly concentrate on the work of the Spirit as the divine witness in the world. This we do while inarguably affirming that the Spirit’s other roles are all equally important in the salvation work of God.
1. Witness of Christ
2. Witness of Sonship
Witness of Christ
The Holy Spirit is the primary witness of Christ in the world. “It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth” (1John 5:6).
Witness of Christ in the Old Testament Period
The Spirit’s testimony of Christ overflowed since the beginning of the world in words of prophecy, symbols, patterns of tabernacle, and the living experience of the people of God in the Old Testament period.
“The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Rev.19:10)
“Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.” (1Pet.1:10,11)
“But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, ….The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning.” (Heb.9:7,8)
But, sadly, there were many who ignored and hardened their hearts against the voice of the Spirit (Heb.3:7,8)
This testimony of Christ was inscribed in words through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as Christ Himself declared: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). The primary role of the Spirit as the witness of Christ who moved the prophets to speak and to record the testimony of Christ is clear from the following scriptures:
All Scripture is God-breathed [given by divine inspiration] (2Tim.3:16)
For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Pet.1:21)
The Spirit-inspired written word of God is ‘living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” because it is the Spirit who bears witness through His word and “there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb.4:12,13), even as David confessed: “Where can I go from Your Spirit?” (Psa.139:12).
Jesus made it very clear about the people of the Old Testament that they were without excuse because “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.” (Luke 16:31).
Sadly enough, many Jews resisted the witness of the Spirit and identified themselves with the crucifiers of Christ rather than with the Crucified One. “You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers” (Acts 7:51,52). Resisting the Holy Spirit tantamounts to a rejection of Christ, in fact the murder of Christ, and nothing is more sinful than the rejection of the Holy Spirit. There is no forgiveness for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit: “whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matt.13:32).
Witness of Christ Today
Prior to His death and resurrection, Jesus promised that when He ascended to the Father, He will send the Holy Spirit who would testify of Him.
“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” (John 15:26)
After His resurrection, Jesus commanded His disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they had received power from above. When the Holy Spirit comes on them, He said, they would receive power and be His witnesses from Jerusalem to the ends of the world (Acts 1:8). In other words, the disciples could not be Christ’s witnesses without the infilling and empowerment of the Spirit. A crucial element of the Spirit’s witness in both the ministry of Jesus and the ministry of the disciples was the Spirit’s confirming of the Gospel message by signs and wonders (Mark 16:20).
But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matt.12:28)
“God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” (Acts 10:38)
“How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit... (Heb.2:3,4)
The disciples preached the gospel “by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven” (1Pet.1:12).
Though the message of salvation is presented in verbal form through the ministry of preaching, it is the Spirit who strives with each individual in an intimate yet inexcusable manner. The word through the Spirit is near to each individual, in his mouth, in his heart (Rom.10:8). It is the Spirit who proves the world “to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). This intimate witness of the Spirit is stronger than any other source of knowledge (reason, experience, or human testimony - books, media, tradition, school, etc), because the testimony of the Spirit is clearer, surer, and irrefutable.
“It is the Spirit who testifies…. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.” (1John 5:6,9)
When an individual turns to the Lord, he is set free from the darkness and blindness of sin and enters into the liberty of the children of God.
“Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2Cor.3: 16,17)
When someone receives Jesus as Lord and savior, he is baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ and is made to drink into the Spirit of God (1Cor.12:13). Such a believer who is Spirit-filled and Spirit-led can be used by the Spirit as a witness of Christ in the world.
Witness of Sonship
One crucial thing to note about salvation-knowledge is that this faith is not sustained by any rational philosophy or empirical proof whatsoever. Any faith founded on human philosophy or empirical evidence is bound to falter. Instead, true salvation-faith is based in the true power of the Spirit of God.
“My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1Cor.2:4,5)
This is a solemn truth of Scriptures that the assurance of faith is only possible because of the internal witness of the Spirit of God. The communion of the Spirit (2Cor.13:14) in the spirit of the believer is the highest evidence of the salvation of God in him. Apart from the Spirit, there is no other way for a person to be sure of his salvation.
“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” (Eph.1:13,14)
No mortal human nor corruptible thing can function as the guarantee of eternal inheritance in the same way that no grain of dust can function as a pledge for a palace of gold. The eternal Spirit of God, God Himself in us, is present as the promise of our eternal inheritance.
The word “inheritance” is very important. It signifies our position as heirs of God through Christ. The Spirit of Christ, the Son, sent into our hearts, therefore is the only and greatest guarantee of our eternal inheritance. The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.
“For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” (Rom.8:15-17)
This internal witness and communion is a crucial doctrine of the New Testament. It assures us that we belong to God and that God is the one who makes us stand firm in Christ:
“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (2Cor.1:21,22)
It also assures us that we live in Him and He in us: “This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit” (1John 4:13).
It also assures us that when we depart from this mortal frame, there is another glorious body that God has prepared for us. This realization is the reason by which the true disciple regards as rubbish every glittering object of this world and sets his eyes on the redemption of the body, the resurrection from the dead after the manner of Jesus Christ (Phil.3:7-11). This realization is what makes the true disciple groan and long for God, for that true immortality for which God has fashioned each one of us.
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling,... we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2Cor.5:1-5)
We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies… the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans… (Rom.8:23, 26,27).