When it comes to the place of the Holy Spirit within the doctrines of grace, or, as it is commonly called, the five points of Calvinism, He is usually relegated solely to irresistible grace. That is, His primary work is usually thought of only as drawing the unsaved sinner to Christ in such a way that they cannot, and do not want to, resist this working in their lives. While the role of the Holy Spirit in irresistible grace is clear, it needs to be equally clear that the working of the Holy Spirit extends throughout all of the doctrines of grace and not merely one of them. The Spirit is at work, whether actively at the forefront or in the background, at every stage of the salvation process for the believer from their conviction of sin to their perseverance in salvation until the day they leave this mortal life.
The Role of the Holy Spirit in Total Depravity
At the outset, it may not be readily clear as to the role of the Holy Spirit in regards to total depravity. It is man who is depraved and lost, not the Holy Spirit. It is man who is in need of salvation, not the Holy Spirit. What does the Holy Spirit have to do with this first point?
The Holy Spirit convicts man in his state of corruption. In John 16:4-15, John discusses the various roles of Spirit will play when He comes once Jesus ascends to Heaven after His resurrection. Beginning in verse eight he says the following about the future role of the Spirit:
And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
That mankind is lost and dead in sin before he is saved is clear according to the biblical record. Ephesians 2:1 says, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.” Man was born a sinner and cannot save himself. It further seems clear from Romans 2 that man knows he is a sinner. He knows that there is something wrong with him, especially when he cannot even keep his own standard of self-proclaimed righteousness. We are all born sinners as we all know ourselves to be so.
So, how is it that man knows he is a sinner? According to John 16, one of the ways in which man discerns he is a sinner is through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. Yes, our God-given consciences can convict us of this truth as well but so does the Spirit of God. Our conscience convicts us enough to condemn us, but this does not lead to salvation. When the Holy Spirit gets involved in convicting man of his sin, then begins the steps of leading the sinner to salvation in Christ. While man got himself into the sinful situation he finds himself in, it is the work of the Holy Spirit who will get him out, and it begins with convicting him of that sin. It is the conviction of sin by the Spirit that begins the salvation of a sinner.
The Role of the Holy Spirit in Unconditional Election
Within the doctrine of unconditional election God the Father is the primary acting agent in the Godhead. Ephesians 1:3-6 teaches that it is the Father who has chosen “us in him before the foundation of the world,” that He has done so “in love” and “to the praise of his glorious grace.” The Father accomplishes this through the work of the Son, Jesus Christ, in whom “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.”
This passage in Ephesians is one of the classic passages on the Trinity and salvation. The Father plans and the Son accomplishes that plan. But what about the Spirit? In regards to unconditional election, the Holy Spirit is the agent within the Godhead who applies the work of the Son to the life of the Elect and adopts them as sons or daughters of God. Ephesians 1:13-14 states:
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
If the Spirit of God did not seal us with Himself then the work of the Son would not stick in our lives and the plan of the Father would have failed. This is how the persons of the Godhead work together in bringing about our salvation. Without all of them, it would not happen. The Son accomplishes the plan of the Father, and the Holy Spirit applies that work to the life of the believer. Without the application of the Holy Spirit, the accomplishment of the Son would have stopped at the resurrection and so would have the plan of the Father.
It is because of the application, by the Holy Spirit, of the work on the Son in the life of the believer that the Son’s work goes beyond the resurrection, and that of the plan of the Father as well. Ephesians 1 makes it clear that the Godhead planned redemption “before the foundation of the world.” The Holy Spirit willingly pledged His cooperation with the plan of the Father to apply the work of the Son on the cross and in the resurrection to the lives of those whom the Father elected to salvation.
The Work of the Holy Spirit in Limited Atonement
Perhaps the hardest place to see the work of the Spirit in the doctrines of grace is in the atonement. The atonement was carried out by the Son according to the plan of the Father (Eph. 1). One might wonder how there is room for the Holy Spirit on the cross. Or is it at the cross that the Holy Spirit is fulfilling His role in relation to the atonement? In a similar way to how the Holy Spirit works in relation to the electing plan of the Father, so does the Spirit in relation to the atonement work of the Son. Just as the Spirit applies the electing plan of the Father in the life of the believer, so He does with the atonement work of the Son. As mentioned before, the Son accomplishes our salvation and the Holy Spirit applies it to the life of the believer. The relationship within the Godhead between the Son and Holy Spirit is clearly at work when it comes to the atonement.
Not only is the sealing work of the Spirit in Ephesians 1:13 speaking of the saving plan of the Father, it is also speaking to what the Son accomplished on the cross. The Holy Spirit takes residence in the life of the believer because of what the Son has done for him/her on the cross. Just like if the Holy Spirit does not seal, then the plan of the Father has failed, so it is with the work of the Son. If the Holy Spirit does not seal us, then the work of the Son on the cross was in vain. The precious blood of Jesus Christ would have been spilled for naught.
On the cross the Son accomplished our redemption and, as He takes up residence in our lives, so the Holy Spirit applies the saving work of the Son’s work on the cross to our lives. There is a chain of work between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is the work of the Spirit that brings the work of the Father and Son to reality in the life of the believer.
The Work of the Holy Spirit in Irresistible Grace
It is at this point that the irresistible work of the Holy Spirit within the doctrines of grace is most obvious. Irresistible grace is also referred to as the effectual calling of the Holy Spirit. Effectual calling teaches that the Holy Spirit supernaturally draws to salvation those whom the Father has chosen to salvation in the Son, in such a way that they do so willingly because they cannot resist it. Any initial resistance a person might have to the call of the Holy Spirit, through the gospel, is eventually overcome by the grace of God and the person makes a profession of faith in Christ as Lord and Savior.
In John 6:44, Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him,” and previously in verse 39 Jesus says, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” If the Father has planned before creation who His elect sons and daughters will be then it stands to reason that He will put into place the necessary conditions for those people to become His children. Part of those conditions is the drawing power and work of the Holy Spirit.
It is through the Spirit that the Father draws those whom He has elected for salvation to Himself. The grace of God in salvation is so compelling that when the Spirit begins His drawing work on a person to salvation, that person will eventually give themselves over to it willingly. This does not mean that a person will never resist the drawing work of the Holy Spirit, but that they will eventually cease resisting.
The Work of the Holy Spirit in the Perseverance of the Saints
Perhaps the second most obvious place in the doctrines of grace that the Holy Spirit is at work is in the perseverance of the saints. This doctrine teaches that no matter the doubts or sin in a believer’s life, they will persevere in their faith in Christ for salvation until their death and will enjoy God forever in Heaven. They cannot lose the salvation to which they have been elected to by the Father, which has been accomplished for them by the Son, because of the work of the Holy Spirit.
Once again we return to Ephesians 1 for guidance on how the Spirit ensures the completion of our salvation. We are told that we are “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.” It could not be any clearer than that. It is because of the sealing work of the Spirit that our salvation is guaranteed.
Notice that there are two aspects to our salvation mentioned in those verses: our present salvation and our future salvation. We are saved now in that we are saved from the power of sin in our lives as we live for Christ, and we will be saved in the future in that we will be saved from the presence of sin in our lives (both inside of us and around us). Though we are saved now we have yet to experience the fullness of our salvation until sin is removed from the world in the new creation.
It is the sealing work of the Spirit in the life of the believer which ensures that believers will not just experience the saving power of Christ in regards to the power of sin in our lives now, but that we will endure to the end so that we can experience the final phase of our salvation. This is the Day in which we will live in the new creation with the Father, Son, and Spirit without the presence of sin to hinder our relationship with God. The Spirit enables us to persevere through this life so that we can enjoy the presence of God for all of eternity in the new Heaven and Earth. The Holy Spirit gives the power to persevere through our salvation in this life so we can enjoy the fullness of salvation in the next.
By now it ought to be clear that the Holy Spirit is not just at work in a part of our salvation, but in all of our salvation. He is not at work in just a part of the doctrines of grace but in all of them. Though He is the One whom the Father draws us to Himself through (irresistible grace), and the One who ensures we finish the race to the end (perseverance of the saints), He is also at work in much more than that.
The Holy Spirit works in every aspect of the doctrines of grace. From beginning to end, the Spirit is working in concert with the Father and Son to bring about the plan and work of redemption in the life of those whom the Father has chosen to be the beneficiaries of the saving work of the Son. Whether He is center stage or working in the background, the Holy Spirit has His fingerprints all over our salvation to the praise of God!