By Johnny Stringer
In order to understand this subject, one must remember that the words of the scripture are the words of the Spirit. The Spirit was responsible for revealing God’s word to man (John 14:26; 16:13; 1 Cor. 2:12, 13; Eph. 3:3-5; 1 Tim. 4:1), and it is through His words that the Spirit acts to persuade and motivate us to serve God. He moves our hearts and influences our lives in the same way that men so often move the hearts and influence the lives of other men – by words.
Many believe that the Spirit operates directly upon our hearts to influence our behavior, rather than indirectly, through the word. They charge that a denial of a miraculous, direct operation is really a denial that the Spirit works. However, the fact that the Spirit uses His words to influence men does not mean that the Spirit is not responsible for the effect produced in our lives. The Spirit is necessarily responsible for whatever effect is produced by His words. We know that eloquent speakers, by their words, can move an audience to tears; vociferous speakers, by their words, can move a mob to riot, burn, and kill. The fact that these speakers use words to produce the effects does not mean that the speakers are not responsible for producing the effects. Furthermore, it is a fact that the Spirit’s direct influence has never changed the character of any man. Balsam prophesied under the direct influence of the Spirit (Num. 24:2 ),yet remained evil in character (2 Pet. 2:15; Num. 31:6; Rev. 2:14); Saul, prophesied under the Spirit’s direct influence (1 Sam. 19:18-24), yet continued his evil efforts to murder David. God’s method of changing the character of a man has always been moral persuasion, not a miraculous direct operation of the Spirit.
The Alien Sinner
In all the word of God, we do not read of one instance in which the Spirit came directly upon the heart of a sinner so as to miraculously cause him to turn to Christ. The New Testament, however, is replete with the teaching that the gospel message which the Spirit revealed to men is the force that leads men to Christ. Note the following scriptures which plainly affirm that men are converted by the word of God:
(1) Romans 10:17 is quite clear in stating that faith comes, not by a direct operation of the Spirit, but by hearing God’s word. The Spirit is responsible for the faith that exists in a man’s heart, because the Spirit revealed the message which produced his faith. The truth stated in Rom. 10:17 is corroborated by other passages. For example, according to the Parable of the Sower, the word of God is necessary for faith to exist (Lk. 8:11-12). Also, John affirmed that the things which he wrote were designed to produce faith (John 20:30-31). Finally, John 17:20 shows that people would believe through the word preached by the apostles.
(2) John 6:44-45 shows that men are drawn to God by hearing and learning; hence, the Spirit draws through the word He revealed.
(3) 2 Thess. 2:14 teaches that men are called by the gospel. The gospel which He revealed, therefore, is the means by which the Spirit calls us. He calls through words.
(4) John 17.17 says that men are sanctified by the truth – the truth which the Spirit revealed. In 1 Cor. 6:11, Paul said the Corinthians had been sanctified by the Spirit. Putting these two Scriptures together, we conclude that the Spirit sanctifies by means of His revelation. When you hear that a gun killed a man, then you hear that Joe killed the man, you conclude that Joe killed the man by means of a gun.
(5) Romans 1:16 declares that the gospel is God’s power unto salvation. The Spirit’s role in our salvation is vital, for He made the gospel available to us.
(6) 1 Pet. 1:23 speaks of the word of truth as the incorruptible seed of the new birth. 1 Cor. 4:15 and James 1:18 corroborate this point. This fact helps us to understand Jesus’ statement in John 3:3-5 regarding the necessity of being born of water and the Spirit. He did not in that place explain precisely what part the Spirit would play in the new birth; and those who have concluded that Jesus had reference to a miraculous, direct operation of the Spirit on the individual’s heart have jumped to a conclusion which is not even hinted at in the passage. 1 Pet. 1:23 explains the Spirit’s role in the new birth. In order for a birth to occur, the seed must be planted. In revealing the word of God to man, the Spirit was providing the seed of the new birth. One is born again when he receives the seed which the Spirit provided into his heart, so that the seed produces an obedient faith in his heart. The Spirit’s part in the new birth was in providing the seed (the word of truth).
Not only do we have these plain affirmations that-men are converted through the influence of the word within their hearts, but we also have many examples of conversion in the book of Acts, all of which demonstrate this fact. In all the examples of conversion which we find in the book of Acts, we do not read of men getting some inexplicable “better-felt-than-told” feeling by a direct operation of the Holy Spirit; rather, we read of people hearing the words of the Spirit, believing, and obeying God. In Acts 2, Peter preached under the influence of the Spirit. Verse 37 says, “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” It was through hearing the words that they were pricked in the heart. Was the Spirit responsible for their being so moved? Surely, for it was His words that moved them. The same thing is repeated time and time again through the book of Acts. See Acts 4:4; 8:5, 12; 11:14; 14:1; 18:8. The idea of a miraculous, direct operation of the Spirit which gives a “better-felt-than-told” feeling is derived from the fertile imaginations of men, not from the word of God.
It is in this light that we understand 1 Cor. 12:13, where Paul said, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” As we have already seen, the Spirit teaches and motivates people to obey God; this obedience includes baptism. It is by the Spirit’s teaching that men are led to be baptized, for the Spirit emphasizes the need for baptism. Some examples of the Spirit’s teaching on the subject are found in Acts 2:38; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27; 1 Pet. 3:21. Being baptized by the Spirit meant “through the teaching of the Spirit,” just as offering sacrifices by the Law (Heb. 10:8) meant “through the’ teaching of the Law.”
The Spirit influences, not only the alien sinner, but also the Christian, through the word which He revealed. The word of God was the force which effectually worked within the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 2:13). The scripture is a complete guide for us (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Paul told the Ephesian elders, “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). In revealing the word of God, the Spirit was providing the teaching which we need for guidance, strength, and motivation in serving God. In writing to Christians, James said that the word of God was able to save their souls (James 1:21). The New Testament epistles are filled with guidance and with pleas, exhortations, and facts designed to motivate and persuade Christians to live faithfully. In them we see the Spirit’s persuasive powers at work, as He sought through His words to influence Christians unto righteous conduct. When one yields to the Spirit’s teaching, the fruit of the Spirit will be seen in his life (Gal. 5:22-23).
In Romans 8:9, Paul said, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” I do not believe that he here speaks of a personal, literal indwelling, for I believe that such a thought would contradict the teaching of Acts 8 regarding the Samaritans. We have seen in previous studies that the Samaritans, even after becoming Christians, did not receive the Spirit until the apostles came from Jerusalem and laid their hands on them. This proves that the Spirit does not automatically come and dwell personally, within one when he becomes a Christian. A personal, literal indwelling was not necessary in order for the Samaritans to belong to God. This must be admitted unless one is prepared to say that the Samaritans, though they were baptized believers, did not belong to God until the apostles came and laid their hands on them. Romans 8:9 must be interpreted in the light of this fact. I believe that any interpretation of this verse which says that the Spirit automatically comes to dwell personally within all Christians is contradictory to the case of the Samaritans, hence is false.
In seeking an interpretation of Rom. 8:9 which does not contradict the teaching of Acts 8, and which is in harmony with the teaching of Scripture regarding the role of truth in influencing our conduct, I have concluded that Paul had reference, not to a literal, but to a figurative indwelling of the Spirit. He dwells within us figuratively as He rules from within through His teaching. When we take into our hearts the truths which the Spirit has taught, and when we let these truths mold our thinking and our very personalities, we thereby enthrone the Spirit in our hearts. As His word works within us, the Spirit is working within us – through the word He gave us. He is dominating our lives. It should be noted that after speaking of the Spirit’s dwelling within us, Paul spoke in the same. breath of Christ’s dwelling within us (v. 10). We can say that Christ dwells within us, just as the Spirit does, for the Spirit’s teachings are Christ teachings. When the Spirit rules from within, Christ rules from within. In Gal. 2:20 Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Rather than saying that Christ lived within him, he could just as well have said that the Spirit lived within him. The idea would have been the same namely, that his heart, personality, and life was controlled and dominated by the teachings of Christ, revealed by the Spirit. The one in whom the Spirit dwells is not one who simply knows the Spirit’s teachings; he is one who is controlled by them, so that the Spirit rules him from within. Let us all permit the Spirit to exercise complete control over our minds and lives.
Guardian of Truth XXV: 24, pp. 374-375
June 11, 1981