The Gracious Work of the Holy Spirit
Many people come to faith in Jesus Christ long before they are able to articulate the theology of regeneration and conversion. Slowly, we realize that what seemed a “simple” act—trusting in Christ—was in fact a complex experience of divine activity. The Holy Spirit needed to be secretly active, since “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3).
Woven into this work of grace, then, is the unnoticed activity of the Spirit as He persuades us that the Scriptures—our ultimate source for knowing Christ—are the Word of God. Coming to this conviction also seems simple and straightforward. But when examined closely, it reveals a similar complex of marvelous divine activity.
In the case of faith in Christ, the pattern is:
(1) the incarnation of the Son;
(2) His revelation of His identity;
(3) His multifaceted corroboration in words and works;
(4) illumination in the hearts of believers.
All this results in our seeing who Jesus really is and trusting Him.
Thus, the Spirit persuades us about Jesus entirely on the basis of Jesus Himself. Yet this persuasion arises because the Father has sent Him, because Jesus gives evidence of who He is, and because the Spirit opens our blind eyes to recognize Him. As with Peter, our conviction is not a flesh-and-blood matter (Matt. 16:16–17); like Mary in the garden, we may not at first recognize who Jesus really is (John 20:14); like the disciples on the Emmaus Road, our eyes need to be opened (Luke 24:31).
However, our only access now to the knowledge of the Living Word (Jesus) is through the written Word. Faith in Christ depends upon Scripture’s divine character and testimony. We come to Christ through the Apostles’ words (John 17:20).
Unsurprisingly, therefore, the process by which we are convinced that Scripture is God’s Word has an underlying structure similar to faith’s conviction about Christ:
(1) The inspiration of Scripture—it is God-breathed.
(2) The revelation of Scripture’s identity in its internal claims to be the Word of God.
(3) The corroboration of Scripture’s authority in the evidences that it is God’s Word through its message about God’s character, His saving works, fulfilled prophecy, and its effects in the lives of God’s people.
(4) The illumination of Scripture’s message through the Spirit’s softening of hard hearts, bowing stubborn wills, and opening blind eyes as we read and hear its message.
Question: Why, then, do conversion to Christ and conviction about Scripture as God’s Word seem to us so simple: “I believe in Jesus Christ” and “I believe Scripture is the Word of God”?
Answer: Because in both instances, the object we trust is the final reason for our trust. Thus, the Spirit does not add new information about Jesus. He simply opens our eyes to see who He really is: “You are the Christ.”
Nor does the Spirit whisper directly and personally to us, “The Bible is the Word of God.” No, His testimony comes through the Scriptures themselves. He enables us to see Scripture as it really is when we read or hear it. He causes our hearts to burn when we experience that, in Scripture, God “addresses you” (present tense; Heb. 12:5).
Thus, the Spirit convinces us about Scripture ultimately from Scripture itself.
This was Timothy’s experience. God “breathed out” the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16). They claimed to be the Word of God (v. 15). Timothy was confronted with the evidence (including the changed lives of his mother, grandmother, and spiritual father; vv. 10, 14). Timothy was convinced (v. 14).
This was the Thessalonians’ experience. Paul carried the Word to Thessalonica; it was spoken as the Word of God; it gave evidence of its identity; the Thessalonians “accepted it, not as the word of men, but as it really is, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13). This persuasion was the Spirit’s work (1:5). This is the doctrine of the internal testimony of the Spirit expressed in its simplest form.
This is our experience, too. The same testimony of the Spirit is experienced whenever anyone comes to faith in Christ and trusts Scripture as God’s Word. Someone will experience it today. Pause, and thank God for it.
This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.