1Jn 1:6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 1Jn 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 1Jn 1:8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1Jn 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
In preaching on the subject of how the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to both convert us and sanctify us, I have used the illustration of a washing machine. Our dirty minds and hearts are the dirty clothes that need cleansing, the soap is the truth of the blood of Christ that not only washes away our guilt but casts light on our sin so that we will believe what the Bible says and not what sin says and so this helps us clean up our lives so we live for the Lord. The water is the Word, water that conveys the truth to us so it can do its work. So the Holy Spirit is the agitator that gives power to the Word so it can transform our minds.
This might be a little convoluted but I think it stresses the need for both the Holy Spirit and the Word in both conversion and sanctification. This is important since many fall into error because they want to emphasize or even ignore one over the other. Let me press the illustration a bit further to show what I mean.
What would happen if you put your dirty clothes into the washer added soap but no water? Not much. You can agitate the clothes with the dry soap and expect no change. This is what happens with many churches that emphasize the Holy Spirit with little to no biblical study; such as many charismatic churches. They have a lot of agitation, emotionalism, but there isn’t much truth to direct the emotion and so it is misdirected and won’t help much when their emotions are under attack during trials. They know much of experience but know little of God and his will. They know a little about the Spirit and a little about the blood but how it all works together under duress is sometimes lost.
The Spirit’s job is not to excite us but to help us understand and apply truth. When we understand the Truth our own emotions will excite us. The gospel is the good news of how our guilt can be alleviated. We are saved by grace, through faith. But what causes us to quit believing in this world and ourselves and start believing the gospel? The Holy Spirit awakens us so that we believe the Truth! He gets us to trust in Christ by shining the truth into our darkened minds and enabling us to flee to the cross and thus our sins are forgiven. So he doesn’t “clean” us without us believing Truth and acting on it. His work isn’t mystical in that he just does it all for us, but he brings us to the point that we actually believe the Word and live according to its truth.
What does the Word of God have that can convert and sanctify us? In both cases it is truth. Why did you go to church last Sunday? It was knowing where the world is headed and that you have been saved by Christ and wanting to hear from your Savior, etc. In other words, it was knowing truth. Why does the drunk or drug addict or businessman or pleasure seeker stay home or go to work or play? Because they believe sin’s lie that they are more important than God, and not the Word. The Spirit has given us ears to hear and hearts to obey.
Let’s press the illustration the other way. What happens if you dump dirty clothes into the machine, turn it on but don’t add water? Not much. To me this is the error that the Hyper-Calvinists fall into because they put all the emphasis on the Spirit’s work and power but don’t feel it is necessary for us to do anything. But this ignores the need for the cleansing work of Truth. The Spirit converts us by teaching us of the deceitfulness of sin and the sufficiency of the Cross and enables us to believe Truth and act upon it. He doesn’t work apart from the Word. I have met Hyper-Calvinists who have told me the Holy Spirit doesn’t need the gospel to save people; he doesn’t need us to respond by faith; he can do it all without means. But that is just not biblical. Another form of this is that the Holy Spirit believes for us or that he gives us Jesus’s faith. One form of this is also the Deeper Life Movement where we are told to “Let go and let God”. But the Bible doesn’t say that Jesus’s faith saves us but our faith is the means by which we are justified. Notice in the above passage that we are to use truth to live for the Lord. “Walk in the light” is another way of saying this.
We need both the Holy Spirit and Truth in order to be saved and to grow in our faith. One alone would just produce emotionalism and mysticism; the other alone produces dead orthodoxy.
Jesus teaches us that both of these will work in unity in Joh 16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. Joh 16:14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
The Spirit doesn’t magically make us holy, he uses the Word, 1Pe 2:2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation. He gives us hearts that want to love Christ and so hear what he says that we might do his will, Eph 4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.