The Baptist Faith and Message first confesses of the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, fully divine. He inspired holy men of old to write the Scriptures. Through illumination He enables men to understand truth. He exalts Christ. He convicts men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He calls men to the Saviour, and effects regeneration. At the moment of regeneration He baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ.” This paragraph of Friendship’s statement of faith focuses on the Holy Spirit’s relationship to Scripture. The Holy Spirit inspired the writing of Scripture in the past. He presently illuminates the meaning of Scripture to Christians and applies it to non-Christians in conversion to regenerate them and make them Christians.
The Holy Spirit’s Inspiration and Illumination of Scripture
The first article of The Baptist Faith and Message described the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of Scripture. That topic is also the subject of the first blog post in this series.
The Holy Spirit illuminates the meaning of Scripture so that people can understand it in the present. As Paul told the Corinthians, “we have received … the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Cor 2:12). The Spirit makes it so that Scripture takes root in a Christian’s heart (1 Cor 2:13). Non-Christians cannot comprehend Scripture or its message of salvation on their own, apart from the illumination of Scripture (1 Cor 2:14-15). We Christians can understand and apply Scripture to our lives only by God’s grace through the power of his Holy Spirit at work in us (1 Cor 2:16).
The Holy Spirit especially illuminates us Christians to understand how Scripture exalts Christ, and he teaches us through Scripture how we are to exalt Christ in our everyday lives, by our thoughts, words, and actions. Such was one of the key themes of Jesus’ Upper Room Discourse following the Last Supper. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would bear witness about him to the disciples (John 15:26). Twice Jesus later told his disciples that the Holy Spirit “will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14, 15). The apostle Peter also taught that the Holy Spirit exalts Christ through the Old Testament prophets: “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” (1 Pet 1:10-11).
The Holy Spirit’s Application of Scripture in Conversion
In addition to illuminating Christians’ minds to understand the Bible, the Holy Spirit also uses God’s word to convert people. The Holy Spirit takes people who are dead in their trespasses and sin and makes them alive in Christ (Eph 2:1-10). The Baptist Faith and Message summarizes Jesus’ teaching about the Holy Spirit in John 16:8-11 by saying, “He convicts men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.” James Hamilton explains these verses: “The world stands condemned by the righteousness manifested in God’s judgment of sin at the cross because it has not believed in Jesus” (God’s Indwelling Presence, p. 90). Jesus had previously taught his disciples, “‘Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die” (John 12:31-33). Jesus taught that after his death and resurrection, he would send the Holy Spirit to convict people of the judgment that God rendered at the cross. Jesus defeated Satan at the cross. At the cross, Jesus paid the sin debt of anyone and everyone who would ever trust in him for salvation. The Holy Spirit applies the redemption that Jesus accomplished at the cross. He is the one who convicts sinners to feel the weight of their sin and the just condemnation it has earned them.
Connected to his work of conviction, the Holy Spirit “calls men to the Saviour.” The Holy Spirit does the work both of the gospel call and the effectual call. The Holy Spirit calls all people everywhere to repent as they encounter God’s word, the Bible, either by reading it for themselves or by hearing it read or preached. People are responsible to respond to the call of the Holy Spirit in the gospel, but on their own they resist him (Acts 7:51). In sin, a person’s natural response to the gospel is to reject it. Those who reject the gospel are not rejecting the preacher of the gospel but the God of the gospel (1 Thess 4:8). However, the Holy Spirit also effectually calls people to Christ, as Paul writes: “those whom he called, he also justified” (Rom 8:30). The Holy Spirit by his grace and power makes people to feel the weight of their sin, he calls them to the Savior, and by his power they respond in faith.
Those who are effectually called by the Holy Spirit in this way respond in faith because the Holy Spirit regenerates them. As The Baptist Faith and Message says, the Holy Spirit “effects regeneration.” Jesus told Nicodemus clearly, for a person to be saved, he or she must be born again, born from above, born of the Spirit (John 3:1-8). Jesus chides Nicodemus for his inability to understand Jesus’ teaching about regeneration, since God had promised to regenerate his people in the Old Testament (Ezek 36:25-27). One of the blessings of the new covenant would be that God would give people new hearts and put his Spirit within them so that they would be able to obey him from the heart (Jer 31:31-34).
The New Testament closely relates regeneration and baptism. Paul writes that God “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). In the earliest church, people were baptized the same day that they were reborn by the Holy Spirit. Baptism is an outward sign of the inward reality of regeneration. The Baptist Faith and Message explains why that is the case: “At the moment of regeneration He baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ.” There is no biblical evidence for a second baptism of the Holy Spirit that is normative for Christians throughout time and across diverse cultures. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is just another way of talking about regeneration (1 Cor 12:13). The baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was a special event to fulfill John the Baptist’s prophecy that Jesus would baptize people “in the Holy Spirit and in fire” (Luke 3:16; Acts 2:3-4). Later in Acts, we get the normative experience of Christian conversion described by how the first Gentile converts received the Holy Spirit and were regenerated and promptly baptized (Acts 10:44-48). (Those Gentiles spoke in tongues as a special sign confirming to the Jewish Christians there that the Gentiles had in fact received the Holy Spirit just as they had.)
The Holy Spirit inspired the Bible and continues to illuminate its contents to people today. Apart from the Holy Spirit, none of us can truly understand God’s word and apply it to our lives properly. The Holy Spirit applies Scripture in conversion to non-Christians. The Holy Spirit convicts people of their sin, calls them to repent and believe in the gospel, and regenerates their hearts. A person goes from being dead in sin to alive in Christ by the Spirit. When the Spirit regenerates someone, the person is simultaneously baptized into the body of Christ.