The Holy Spirit in the New Testament

God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (vv. 4–5).

- Ephesians 2:1–10

Scripture was written using three languages—Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. It is interesting that in each of these three languages, the word translated into English as “Spirit” in “Holy Spirit” means “breath” or “wind” (the term is ruach in Hebrew and Aramaic, and pneuma in Greek). In Hebrew categories, the “breath of life” is what makes a human being into a living soul (Gen. 2:7), so these linguistic connections between “breath” and “Spirit” allude to the role of the Holy Spirit in granting physical life to human beings (as well as to the rest of creation). Dr. R.C. Sproul notes that in the biological sense, all people depend on the Holy Spirit for their lives, although the Holy Spirit does not give every person on the planet spiritual life as well.

The Bible is clear that the Holy Spirit also grants spiritual life, but only to God’s people. In the outworking of redemption, Scripture emphasizes that the Father sends the Son; the Son accomplishes our salvation by His life, death, and resurrection; and the Spirit applies Christ’s work to God’s elect (John 3:16–17; 16:7–10). The activities of our holy Creator are unified—“all the works of the Trinity are inseparable” (Augustine, Letter to Evodius, 6.17)—but “they are distinguished by order and terms” (Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 3.27.20). God’s salvation is one work with three distinguishable aspects, and the Holy Spirit’s task is to draw the elect irresistibly to Christ. He does this in our regeneration, making us alive to the things of God and granting us faith in Christ Jesus. Today’s passage says that the Lord comes to we who were dead in sin and trespasses and makes us alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:1–10).

In His meeting with Nicodemus, Jesus explained that the Spirit is the agent of this spiritual resurrection (John 3:1–8). He was amazed that Nicodemus, a teacher of Israel who knew the Old Testament backward and forward, seemed unaware that spiritual rebirth is necessary for salvation (v. 10). This indicates that like new covenant believers, old covenant believers were brought to faith through the work of the Spirit. It also confirms the spiritual deadness of human beings in every age apart from the Lord’s sovereign work. Fallen people are not, by nature, children of God. Whether we do not remember a time when we did not know Christ or can recount our conversions in detail, we love Him only because His Spirit changed our hearts. Regeneration precedes faith.

Coram Deo

Dr. Sproul notes that the phrase born-again Christian is a redundancy. There is no such thing as a “non-born-again Christian” or a “born-again non-Christian,” because to be a Christian means to be born of the Spirit of God. We are not believers because we took the initiative to seek God; instead, the Lord sought us even when we hated Him, and by His Spirit granted us faith in His Son. Let us thank the Lord that He chose to grant us spiritual rebirth.

Passages for Further Study

Ezekiel 11:14–25
John 6:44

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