The Holy Spirit brings faith to hearers through His Word and the proclamation of His gospel (Rom 10:14-17). Many believed in the Old Testament even though they were not sealed and empowered with the Holy Spirit (see Heb 11). God was with them, but not in them (Exod 13:21-22; 40:34-38). Even Jesus’ disciples were only in the presence of Jesus as they followed Him, but they were not yet indwelled by the Spirit until after Jesus’ resurrection (Jn 16:4-15; 20:21-23). Those who believed in the Old and New Testaments prior to the Holy Spirit’s work among all believers at Pentecost (Acts 1:5; 2), did so because of God’s or Jesus’ works/miracles (Jn 14:10-11). In neither, were they to love God only because of His miracles (Jn 6:26; Deut 6:4-7; 7:6-11; 10:12-22). Rather, they were to love Him for who He was and is (Jn 15:9-17). In the New Testament God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). Jesus laying down His life for us so that we may have eternal life is the greatest love there is (Jn 10:11). God has no reason based on our part to save us from condemnation, but because of His great love, He chose to do so in a way that was quite severe – the brutal death of His Son (Isaiah 52:14-53:12). Without death, there would not have been any resurrection to show us of what is to come for us and to prove that Jesus triumphed over death and sin (Rom 8:1-11; 1 Cor 15:20-28). But even more than that, we would still be condemned in our sins (1 Cor 15:12-19)! Yet, not only did He lay down His life for all who will believe, but He had each who He receives as His children in His mind when He went to the cross (Rom 8:29). God loves all of His children, but He has a special love, a personal love, for each who turn to Him (Rom 8:28-39; Jn 10:3,14-18). I find that most amazing! Anything He does for us beyond our salvation is to meet our needs as He sees fit. Our needs might be contrary to what we think. He is interested in shaping our character as we do His will (2 Cor 3:18). We are usually interested in getting this or that and doing our will. A good father gives us what is best for us from his wise position (Matt 7:9-12; James 1; Rom 12:2).
The sealing/indwelling of the Holy Spirit is guaranteed to those who believe, repent, and follow Jesus (Eph 1:13-14; Acts 2:37-38; Jn 14:15-17). While the Holy Spirit works through His Word and others to bring us to faith, as we obey, in His good timing, we are indwelled (See Acts 8:14-17; 19:2-6 for examples of belief prior to receiving the Spirit!). Remember that the Israelites were told to step into the Jordan River before entering the promise land and then God would dry up the water so they could cross (Joshua 3). They had to believe God or they would have never been willing to step in to the deep and rapidly flowing river. They believed, and then God acted. That is not to say we can believe without God acting first! God led the Israelites to the Jordan river. The Spirit leads us to faith before we could ever consider walking in obedience. But His leading is not the same as His indwelling. Regardless of when we actually receive the Spirit, if we will put our lives in Jesus’ hands and trust Him, the Holy Spirit will work on us and develop our faith and our love for God and others. The indwelling can be an instant noticeable event, or it can be subtle over a longer period of time such that we can’t say exactly when it happened (Jn 3:8). The point is that if you have a deep love for God, knowing that He first loved us, and are producing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-24), then you have the Holy Spirit and have been born again (1 Jn 4:7). With that love comes a hatred of sin (even though we may be tempted at times and fail the test), such that in the long run we desire to be more holy as we are molded into the likeness of Christ (1 Jn 3; 1 Pe 1:13-16).
So, all that said. Have you been curious about “once saved always saved?” The reason some say that is not true is because there are people who it seems have turned from the faith. Yet, that flies in the face of Scripture and God’s sovereignty! But wait, that one cannot turn from the faith seems to fly in the face of Scripture as well! Interpretative gymnastics have to be performed to get around it. So, which is it? Can it be both? Freewill and God’s sovereignty are both true and do not conflict. What conflicts is men’s understanding and the rigid doctrinal teachers they adhere to over simply believing the Scriptures in their plain teaching throughout all of Scripture and not just select verses!
Here is what we know from Scripture:
- Whosoever confesses Jesus as Lord and believes God raised Him from the dead WILL be saved! (Rom 10:9) (confess means to agree that Jesus is master of the person’s life, not that they made a confession in front of a church, priest, or pastor).
- No one can snatch a believer out of Jesus’ hands (Jn 6:37-40; 10:28; Rom 8:34-39) (No one means no one! Even a true believer cannot unbelieve any more than they can believe they themselves do not exist. There can be doubts – maybe we are in a dream – but in the end, the belief that we exist, and that God has saved them persists and can’t be shaken.)
- Jesus encouraged people to believe in Him well before they received the Holy Spirit (the Spirit was working through Him to bring others to faith) (Jn 14:10-11) And some walked away (Jn 6:66)
- Those who persist, WILL be saved (Heb 10:36) (At least eleven of the original disciples for sure were saved.)
- Those who believe receive the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13) (note, though, this is not necessarily immediate – since we see in Acts cases where people believed but didn’t have the Holy Spirit immediately)
- Some who follow Jesus as Lord DO fall away (Heb 2:1; 3:12; Jn 6:66)
- Some who call Jesus Lord do not know Jesus (Mt 7:21-23)
- The disciples followed Jesus prior to receiving the Holy Spirit.
What can we conclude from this? Here is the way I see it: Just as in the Old Testament, a person can come to conviction of sin and the need to follow Jesus. This conviction is a work of God by the Holy Spirit working through His Word and through His prophets (those who speak on behalf of God, i.e. preachers and other disciples of Jesus). A person can see this need for salvation in the flesh, but by the prompting of the Spirit. If they turn to Jesus for selfish motivations (which most probably do initially), they are not being motivated by the Spirit, but by the flesh. Those who followed Jesus for His miracles were motivated by the flesh. Yet, that may cause a person to become immeresed in God’s word, in prayer, with other believers, and so forth such that their knowledge increases to the point of the Holy Spirit taking up residence in the heart (it can happen at first belief as well – it varies from person to person). We cannot know when that will happen. Once it happens, though, that person is sealed and has a faith that is certain – one that motivates them to produce fruit of the Spirit, to tell others about Christ, and even to die for their faith. Yet, the one still following Jesus by the flesh, can turn away. They haven’t had that certain faith. Yet, if that person persists in following Jesus, they will eventually see that their repentance is not what it is supposed to be and will truly repent and at that time, will likely make room for the Spirit to take up residence. Yet, it is that person operating in the flesh that could lose their salvation. This explanation can cause some to doubt their salvation. Yet, there is a promise – if a person will seek God, if they will follow Christ, if they will make Him Lord, they WILL be saved, thus they will receive the Spirit. It is not something to be concerned about. What one should concern themself with is whether they are following Jesus or not. The more concerned someone might be about their salvation, the more likely they probably are sealed in their salvation. A person following in the flesh is not going to be as concerned as a person following in the Spirit. But on the other hand, this is a warning to the person that says they are saved because they walked an aisle and prayed a prayer. If they have not repented and turned to having Christ as their LORD, they are likely following in the flesh. And, for many in this situation, they are not studying God’s Word, they are not taking time to pray. They are only going on the assurance of an evangelist to say that they are guaranteed saved if they prayed a prayer. In other words, they think they are having their cake and eating it too. It doesn’t work that way! They must die to the old life and live a life new in Christ. They can’t do that on their own power. They can only do that by turning to Christ and letting Him live through them.