At the outset of this series I made the assertion that there is a Dispensational view of of the spiritual life. In fact, I determined that the Dispensational view of the spiritual life is the truly biblical view. I attempted to lay out my rationale for such a bold statement by detailing two of the sine qua non of Dispensationalism, the consistent usage of a normal hermeneutic, and the resultant distinction between Israel and the Church, in particular with reference to the Spirit’s new work within each individual believer. I will endeavor to begin to build upon the second particular here.
As we begin our study we must first look at God’s work in the life of the believer. He is the source of life for all creation in general (Gen. 1-2) and the source of eternal, spiritual life for those who are newly born by grace through faith in Christ (John 3:16; Eph. 2:8-10). Since the Christian life begins with Him we should begin by examining His provision for the Christian life.
God’s Provision for the Christian Life
The state of every man prior to the moment of salvation is said to be that of spiritual death. Paul explains that “just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Every man ever born is the seed of “the first man, Adam,” (1 Cor. 15:45) and “in Adam all die” (v.22). Physical death is a product of and therefore follows spiritual death. Yet God was not satisfied to leave man in this state, so He provided for man’s rebirth. Jesus explained to Nicodemus that, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Likewise through Paul we learn that before exercising faith in Christ we were dead, but God made us alive: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked…But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:1-2a, 4-5). In this one passage two different experiences of life are identified. The first is merely natural, human life void of the spiritual whereas the second is an act of God’s mercy displayed in love toward those spiritually dead by making them alive with, or in, Christ. Here we have a description of that which Jesus spoke of in John 3:3 when He explained to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again (born from above) he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Christ further clarifies in His follow-up statement, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6). Thus, Christ makes the distinction between the natural man of the flesh and the spiritual man who is born of the Holy Spirit.
What is also seen in the aforementioned verses is the fact that all three persons of the Godhead are active in making provision for spiritual life for everyone who believes in Christ. Of the many works of God that take place at the moment one believes, those that we will examine here are: regeneration, justification, sanctification, baptism of the Holy Spirit, as well as the indwelling of the Spirit.
Regeneration means to be born again. Although the word regeneration only appears twice in Scripture (Matt. 19:28; Titus 3:4-5), the doctrine is unquestionably presented throughout the New Testament. We most often think of death as the cessation of life. While this is true, a more proper view is that death is separation. Physical death occurs when the human body is separated from human life. Spiritual death occurred when Adam rebelled against God at which point Adam and his descendants were separated from God, the giver and sustainer of man’s spiritual life. Sin created a barrier that separates man and God. Therefore, natural man is in a perpetual state of separation from the source of spiritual life. However, as stated earlier, God was not satisfied leaving man in a state of spiritual death. When one conducts a thorough study of the whole of Scripture he finds that in eternity past God designed a plan to remove the barrier. When the predetermined time in history came, “the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, [and] He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5). We conclude by returning to Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:4-5, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ.”
God’s plan included the payment for sin, which Christ the Son supplied through sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:26). Christ is also said to give new life to those dead in sin. The Lord Himself describes this fact when He said, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes” (John 5:21). In fact, Jesus Himself is “the way and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). It may be said that Christ, by His death, removed the barrier of sin and made regeneration possible for those who believe.
The Spirit’s work in the new birth is that of actually applying it to the believing one. Jesus explained to Nicodemus in John 3:3, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again (born from above) he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Christ further clarifies in His follow-up statement, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6). Thus, Christ makes the distinction between two different men. The natural man is that one born of the flesh. The spiritual man is the believer who has been born of or by the Holy Spirit. The new birth is the product of the Spirit’s work in us. The believer does not experience this work of the Spirit. That is it is not something that registers with the emotions or the senses. Yet it is a definite work nonetheless.
At the moment one believes in Jesus Christ unto salvation he not only partakes in the new birth he is also justified and sanctified. Justification is a one-time act of God whereby He declares the believer to be righteous. It is a legal judgment. Like salvation itself, justification is non-meritorious and unearned. It is a gift (Rom. 3:24). As Robert Lightner describes it:
Because of our position in Christ (Eph. 2:13), whereby Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21), God declares us righteous because we are clothed with his righteousness (Rom. 5:1). . . . Justification is more than simply God viewing the sinner as though he had never sinned. Instead, it is God looking upon the sinner to whom the righteousness of Christ earned at the cross has been added.[i]
Thus we can conclude that justification is God declaring the believing one to be righteous.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans the doctrine of justification is presented in great detail. Romans 3:21-26 outlines the role of the Son in justification. God’s righteousness demands the judgment and punishment of sin as attested to by the Law and the Prophets (v.21). Righteousness is provided to the Christian at the moment he places his faith in Jesus Christ (v.22). The problem is that all men sin and fall short of God’s glory, but based on the redemption provided by the death of Christ God justifies the believer as a gift once again, received through faith (vv.23-25). Because sin was judged and paid for by Christ in His death on the cross God is able to maintain His perfect righteousness and yet proclaim the believing sinner justified (v.26). Because of this work of God in Christ, Paul tells the church in Corinth, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:20).
God pronounces man justified, Christ provided the sacrifice needed for man’s justification, and the Holy Spirit applies the righteousness of Christ to the believer so that he may be proclaim just by God. It is the Holy Spirit who brings new life to the believer by placing Him into Christ and His righteousness. Thus, Paul writes, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Rom. 8:1-2).
Baptism and Sanctification
We’ll begin with sanctification first. The word sanctification comes from the Greek word hagiazo meaning to set aside, consecrate, or dedicate. In our specific setting it refers to being set aside by God and for His purpose. While justification and sanctification are simultaneous works accomplished by the Spirit, they are not synonymous. They are intimately tied together and inseparable. Lightner correctly sums up this connectedness: “To be justified is to be declared righteous before God, and to be sanctified is to be set apart; the one presupposes the other.”[ii]
Sanctification differs from both regeneration and justification in that it is a work accomplished in the believer and is meant to be experienced in the Christian life. Regeneration is a one-time work of God never to be repeated. Looking again to the inseparable relationship between sanctification and justification it should be noted that on the one hand justification is a single act of God declaring man righteous and places him in a right relationship with God. On the other hand sanctification is an “initial”[iii] work of God that sets the believer apart for God’s purpose, but it also has ongoing, or progressive and final, or ultimate aspects. Sanctification sets the believer apart as a holy being for God’s purpose and use, and his holy position is to be reflected in the believer’s daily walk. In its experiential (progressive) sense it is in fact the crux of the Christian life.
Scripture gives ample description of the work that each member of the Godhead accomplishes in producing the believer’s sanctification. For example, Paul desired that God the Father would sanctify the believers in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 5:23) and Christ Himself prayed that the Father would sanctify His disciples through His word (John 17:17). Likewise we find that Christ sanctifies those who believe in Him (John 17:19; Heb. 2:11). Christ’s sacrifice sanctifies those who have faith in Him (Heb. 9:13; 10:10). It is said of the Church that Christ loves her “so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Eph. 5:26). Paul exclaims that Christ is the source of life in him that allows him to live in obedience to God.
However, to be true to the teaching of Scripture the work of the Spirit is featured foremost in the sanctification of the believer. As Ryrie explains, “…to be faithful to the emphasis of Scripture we must observe that the work of the Holy Spirit is given prominence in the process of sanctification….it is the Spirit who changes us “into the same image from glory to glory (II Cor. 3:18).”[iv] He is correct in his appraisal. Elsewhere, Paul identifies the Spirit’s power in the believer enabling the believer to “[put] to death the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13). In other words, the Spirit that indwells the believer also empowers the believer to choose obedience to God over enslavement to the flesh. The Spirit floods the heart of the believer with assurance and stability (Rom. 5:5). The Scriptural presentation demonstrates that sanctification in its initial phase is the work of God the Father and the Son, in its progressive sense it is a work shared by God the Son and God the Spirit, but in both the progressive and ultimate senses the bulk of the work belongs to the ministry of the indwelling Spirit.
The baptizing work of the Holy Spirit is that ministry in which He unites us with Christ in His death and places us into a position that opens the door to the possibility for the Christian to walk in a new way of life. It occurs once at the moment of saving faith. As Ron Merryman explains, “The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the ministry whereby He takes the believer at the moment of saving faith retroactively through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and places him/her into living union with the Lord Jesus Christ.”[v] Colossians 2:12-13 describes in with vivid language the truth that by faith we are buried with Him through this baptism, raised in new life with him (cf. Rom. 6:4) and made us “alive together with Him” having forgiven us all transgressions. In this union we are co-crucified (Rom. 6:5), co-buried and co-resurrected with Christ (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12).
Paul provides a more full treatment of the baptizing work and its intended results to the Roman believers:
How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Rom. 6:2b-7)
As Paul specifically states it is the Spirit’s work to unite us with Christ by baptizing us into His death. As Kenneth Wuest explains[vi], the word “baptized” is actually a transliteration of the Greek word baptisma meaning “dipping” or “baptism.” In determining its meaning in the current context, Wuest explains, “The usage of the word…resolves itself into the following definition of the word baptizo…‘the introduction or placing of a person or thing into a new environment or into union with something else so as to alter its condition or its relationship to its previous environment or condition.”[vii] It can be concluded from Paul’s word usage that the Spirit unites us with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. He goes on to explain that the purpose is “so that…we too might walk in newness of life” (v. 4). Therefore, we are placed into a new environment or in union with Christ in His death thereby dying to sin (v.7) resulting in the possibility of consistently living in that new, divine life imparted to us. This union with Christ is of utmost importance for the believer. It is this union produced by Spirit’s baptizing ministry that places us into a position to live the Christian life.
At the risk of being redundant allow me to further underscore the truth of the believer’s baptism into Christ for it cannot be overemphasized. Time and time again Paul references the result of the Spirit’s baptizing work upon the believer with the phrase “in Christ” (en Christo) and various parallel phrases in order to emphasize this most important relationship. The Spirit baptizes every believer into Christ, and it is this position of privilege, power and possession from which the believer receives the ability to live the Christian life.
In John 14:20 Jesus taught His disciples that after His departure, “you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me and I in You.” It is the Spirit’s obligation to bring this to pass today as He takes up residence in every believer in Christ. That this is true is expressed by Jesus earlier in the chapter when He said, “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (vv.16-17).
Paul further illustrates this marvelous work of the Spirit when he describes the believers in the church in Rome as “not in the flesh but in the Spirit” because of the Spirit’s indwelling (Rom. 8:9).[viii] In fact, Paul explains that if the Spirit is not indwelling a person that one “does not belong to Christ” (v.9). In accord with this discussion Paul equates this indwelling of the Spirit with “Christ…in you” (v.10). It is on the basis of the Spirit’s indwelling that we have the hope of the resurrection (v.11), and it is the indwelling that enables the us to “[put] to death the deeds of the body” (v.13).
To sum up we find that by regeneration the Spirit births a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). In justification the new believer is made righteous based on his new connection to Christ’s righteousness. The Spirit’s work in the believer in the ministries of sanctification, baptism, and indwelling are central to the believer’s ability to live the Christian life. Sanctification sets the believer apart by God for His purpose. In baptism the believer is placed in vital union with Christ, and through the Spirit’s indwelling the believer has access to the divine enablement provided by Him.
[i]Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1995), 203.
[iv]Charles C. Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), 63.
[v]Ron Merryman, Divine Operating Assets for the Believer in Time, vol. II of God’s Grace Provision for Man’s Success: An Analysis of All Phases of Salvation by Grace (Casa Grande, AZ: Merryman Ministries, 2012), 27.
[vi]Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies in the Greek New Testament: For the English Reader (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), Logos Bible Software.
[viii]eiper may be translated as “If as is the case” (see A.T. Robinson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933), Logos Bible Software)