Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 26, 1956
NUMBER 50, PAGE 2-3a

Holy Spirit Conversion

Ernest A. Finley, Carlsbad, New Mexico

In those circles where a direct operation of the Holy Spirit is taught, much is heard of the need of being "born again." This is another work which is associated in their thinking with the baptism of the Holy Spirit or a direct operation of the Holy Spirit from heaven. A reading of John 3:1-5 leaves no room for doubt that one must be born anew; nor is there any room for doubt that the Spirit has a vital part in one's spiritual birth. But here many people are inclined to begin a series of assumptions which leave them in darkness and without the birth which they suggest, correctly so, is essential to entering the kingdom of heaven.

There should be no question in our minds that the expressions "born again" and "begotten again" both point to the same process. If we will open our ears and our hearts to the Truth, the apostle Peter will help us to understand what the Lord meant when he spoke of the necessity of being "born again." "Having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which liveth and abideth" (I Pet. 1:23). If you believe that the new birth is accomplished by a direct operation of the Holy Spirit, the baptismal measure of the Holy Spirit, then it stands out that you have never given serious attention to the words given us by the apostle Peter. Peter tells us that we are "begotten again . . . through the word of God." This proves beyond any question that it is not by a direct work from heaven but through God's appointed medium, the Word of God, that we are born anew. James lends support to Peter's words with the following suggestion, "Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures" (Jas. 1:18.) James tells us clearly how we are "brought ... forth." He says that it is "by the word of truth." Now, friend, you may still hold to the position that one is born again when he receives the Holy Spirit in baptismal measure. But if you do so, you do so in the face of Divine Truth and without a shred of Biblical evidence to support your position. Not only do Peter and James show that it is through the Word of God, apart from a direct influence from heaven, that we are begotten into God's family, but the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul of Tarsus, likewise asserts the same truth. Hear Paul, "For though ye have ten thousand tutors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I begat you through the gospel" (I Cor. 4:15). Was Paul mistaken? Was he not inspired as he uttered these words? Or is it not true as Paul stated that he "begat" the Corinthians "through the gospel." With the testimony of these inspired men showing that God leads, moves and influences men today through the inspired Word, there should be no question in one's mind that he can by reception of and submission to God's Truth be born into God's family.

Men sometime teach that a direct operation of the Holy Spirit is essential unto the salvation of the soul. But divine testimony shows that the Gospel is God's means for man's salvation. How does God save men? Through the Truth, the Gospel. Listen to James' words again, "Wherefore putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls" (James1:21). Notice the last part of that verse especially, "receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls." Do you believe it, friend? Do you believe that God's Word is able to save the soul? This verse does not say "the implanted word-plus something else." It does not say "the word — plus direct operation of the Holy Spirit — or the baptismal measure of the Holy Spirit." God's Word says that "the implanted word ... is able to save your souls." I am not going to limit God's power. I believe that he is able to do that which He purposes to do: and that is to save man by the Word. There is power in inspired Words. The angel told Cornelius to send for Peter. He said that Peter would "speak unto thee words, whereby thou shalt be saved, thou and all thy house" (Act 11:14). What was Cornelius to be saved by? "Words." "You don't mean to tell me that you think 'words' can save a man!" That Is exactly what I do mean to tell you. Why? Because that is exactly what God's Word tells me. Now, it is true that not just any "words" will save a man. But God makes it clear that there are "words" that will lead a man to salvation. The "words" that compose the gospel will save a man. Paul wrote to the Romans, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Rom. 1:16). God's "power unto salvation" is "the gospel," says Paul. Again notice that this does not teach that "the gospel" plus something else, a direct operation of the Holy Spirit, or some mysterious influence from heaven, saves. It says that the gospel accomplishes man's salvation. We know, however, that the gospel will not accomplish it until it is believed and obeyed.

That men without God are without hope is an irrefutable truth. That men whose hearts and lives are corrupted by sin cannot enter heaven is abundantly supported by the Truth. But does it take a direct operation from heaven to cleanse man's heart, to make him pure? Let us turn to God for the answer. As Peter wrote to his brethren long ago, who were scattered abroad, he penned these words, "Seeing ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren, love one another from the heart fervently." (1 Pet. 1:22.) Without doubt, Peter was convinced that there was sufficient cleansing efficacy in the Word of Christ to cleanse the vile heart of the sinner, for he said that it was by their "obedience to the truth" that they had "purified" their "souls." Surely, you will not deny these clear, simple statements of Truth. There is no place in God's order of things for a direct operation of the Holy Spirit in man's conversion.

Just how is one made free from sin? As Paul wrote to his Roman brethren, he acknowledged that at one time they had been servants of sin, but he suggested to them that they were at that time servants of righteousness. Just how did this change come about? Let Paul supply the answer. "But thanks be to God, that, whereas ye were servants of sin, ye became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered; and being made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness" (Rom. 6:17,18). I am aware that Paul's teaching here does not harmonize with much of the teaching that I hear today, but that does not make me doubt its truthfulness. Man says that you came into the world possessed with a wicked nature, original sin, adamic sin, or hereditary total depravity, as it is sometime called. Man says that the human creature is so utterly inclined toward evil that it is impossible for him to have a good thought, to purpose a good deed or will to do righteousness, until God sends down the Spirit to take away his evil nature. Now, I am sure that this teaching did not come from God. And I am convinced that Paul did not believe such a doctrine as this. For when he discussed man's sinfulness and how to come out of that state of sin, he suggested that man could, by obedience from the heart to the form of teaching that was made known to him from God, come out of the state of sin and become a servant of righteousness. God shows that sin is the transgression of the law (I Jno. 3:4). But until an individual knows good from evil, right from wrong, or has developed sufficient moral judgment to reason and think, God does not hold him guilty of transgression. But when man reaches maturity or develops sufficient reasoning power to determine good from evil, he is held accountable for his transgressions, and when he sins, he becomes a servant of sin. To become a servant of righteousness, he must render obedience to God's Will.

Not only must one receive and obey the truth, but he must continue faithfully to submit to God's Will. True, the gospel saves us, but we must continue in that gospel. "Now I make known unto you, brethren, the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye received, wherein also ye stand, by which also ye are saved, if ye hold fast the word which I preached unto you, except ye believed in vain" (I Cor. 15:1,2). As we speak of the gospel of Christ, bear in mind that the word "gospel" means "glad tidings." Glad tidings are brought to the world through the Will of Christ, the gospel. This gospel tells us of the sacrifice of God's Son for man's salvation. It tells us of His atoning blood which is freely extended to all who will believe in Christ and yield to His will. It tells us that we must live "soberly, righteously and godly" (Titus 2:11,12). Paul tells us that it is through instruction that the grace of God is made known unto us. All men who will receive it can know His salvation. This is the way that God proposes to save the souls of lost men. Do not wait in vain for a work of grace that will not come. God does not save mar by a direct operation from heaven.