Lesson Seven, Part 4 – The Holy Spirit’s Work in Sanctification

The Holy Spirit

Part 4: The Holy Spirit’s Work in Sanctification


We have seen how the Holy Spirit worked with Jesus Christ, our king, to order His kingdom in the first century.  At that point in history the physical nation of Israel was no longer any more important to God’s purposes than any other nation (Rom. 11:1, 23).  As the first century A.D. came to a close, congregations of God’s people were functioning all over the world with both Jew and Gentile members (James 1:1; Eph. 2:13-18).  Some of the apostles were already dead, and if the others were still alive, they were very old (Acts 12:2; II Tim. 4:6).  We must assume they and the Holy Spirit had served our king’s purposes for that time.

Jesus still has the same purposes for His church today, but a different staff for, and way of, expediting His plans.  The administrational staff no longer includes the apostles, but it does include the Holy Spirit.  While the apostles and other divinely inspired men were alive, the Holy Spirit used some of them to write down our Lord’s instructions.  These scriptures are the guide for Jesus’ subjects, especially after the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the spiritual gifts were no longer available to members of the church (II Tim. 3:16, 17; II Pet. 1:20, 21; 1 Cor. 12:28-31).

We can argue all day long about when and how those days of miracles came to an end, but let us remember the Holy Spirit is a person, not a system.  We do not want to be guilty of trying to limit Him to some systematic control.  If God decided today that the powers manifested by the Holy Spirit in the first century were needed, we are sure the Holy Spirit has not forgotten how to cooperate with Jesus.  All we would need to see is the power of the Spirit in progress to be convinced; however, we cannot accept certain peoples’ claim that they have been divinely inspired without a manifestation.  The following is the work performed by spirit gifted men and women in the first century.  We would expect to see the same today from a person who claims to have spiritual gifts.

And these signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it shall not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.  Mark 16:17, 18

Some Christians believe Paul spoke of the end of the these powers when he said, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.”  (I Cor. 13:9, 10).  Perhaps he did, for in the first century each teacher and preacher who received their message by the direct power of the Holy Spirit gave a partial message at each performance.  In these last days of the man dimension of God’s kingdom on earth, we have the complete message about God’s final plan to accomplish His purposes.  This message, which is the Christian’s faith, was once and for all delivered before the end of the first century (Jude 3).  They had the partial, but we have the perfect because it is complete (Eph. 1:10).  If the message we have in the Bible is not complete then Christians have been living by an incomplete message for 1900 years.

We must reject any prophet who says he has a message from God which contradicts what we already have written in the Bible (Gal. 1:6-12).  The churches today have all of the information the churches of the first century received through men who were guided by the Holy Spirit.  We know how to function and what to preach and teach on all subjects that pertain to the Lord’s purposes for eternal life.  The providential care and wisdom of God is still available to those of us who ask through faith and according to His will (Jas. 1:5, 6).

God is still interested in us and the Holy Spirit has not yet finished His work with Jesus’ reign.  We know God responds to our prayers for the sick and other situations which require His help.  But there is a difference between the way God intervenes today and the way He worked through those with spiritual gifts (Jas. 5:13-16).  Today, the power belongs to God to heal in answer to our prayers.  The spiritual gifts in the first century gave certain Christians the power to heal in the name of Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit still has a role in sanctification in our time and that is our subject in the final part in this lesson on His work.


The goal of our Lord Jesus Christ is to conform each one of His citizens to His own image and present us all to God the Father as His children (Col. 1:27; Gal. 4:19).  Our Lord’s strategy to accomplish His goal is to have the Holy Spirit work with each of us in our sanctification.  Peter declares sanctification to be the Holy Spirit’s work in the following scripture.

According to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood:  May grace and peace be yours in fullest measure.  I Peter 1:2

The Holy Spirit’s fellowship was one of the blessings promised to Abraham for the Gentiles (Gal. 3:14).  In fact, the promise of the Holy Spirit is for every obedient believer in Jesus Christ (Acts 2:39; 5:32).  Faithful Christians need only to ask the Father for the Spirit’s fellowship (Luke 11:13; I Thess 4:8; II Cor. 13:14).  The purpose of the Holy Spirit’s work in sanctification is to help Christians gain spiritual strength (Eph. 3:16).  Jesus said, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to me to drink.”  And then He said:

He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, “From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.  John 7:38, 39

The last days, or the Christian Age, is known as the period of the ministry of the Spirit.  He is now serving Christians in a more personal way than He served God’s people in any other age (II Cor. 3:8).  It is His presence which assure Christians that the Father and Son have made their abode with us (John 14:23; I John 3:24).  This all began after Jesus was glorified on His throne.

The Holy Spirit ministers to us the words of life He has written down for us in the divinely inspired scriptures (II Cor. 3:1-3).  A part of God’s new covenant is that He will write His laws on our hearts and mind (Heb. 10:16, 17).  The Holy Spirit gives us life by leading us in a plan to implant this perfect law, the law of liberty, on the characteristics of our inner man.  This creates the new self as we are transformed into the image of Christ.  Consider the following scriptures.

Who also made us adequate as servants of the new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.  II Cor. 3:6

Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.  Jas. 1:21

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.  II Cor. 4:16

And put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.  Eph. 4:24

The fruit of His work in Christians’ lives will be manifested by the qualities listed in the following scripture.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  Gal. 5:22, 23

The Christians’ part in the ministry of the Spirit is to accept the new covenant, let Jesus cleanse us in His blood, and walk with the Spirit by letting Him lead us in the spiritual life (Rom. 8:5-8).  It is the only direction in which He will lead us, according to Paul in his letter to the Galatians.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.  Gal. 5:16, 17

This walk takes the exact steps John had in mind when he said, “The one who says he abides in Him (Jesus) ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”  (I John 2:6).  The tool the Holy Spirit uses to lead Christians is the word of God.  He sanctifies us in the truth which He revealed to us by inspired Christians in the first century (John 17:17).  However, the Holy Spirit has another device He uses in His work of our sanctification in these last days.  He personally dwells with each Christian in our own body in order to strengthen our inner man, so that we, not He, can put to death the deeds of our flesh.  Consider the following:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?  I Cor. 6:19

That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man;  Eph. 3:16

So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.  Rom. 8:12, 13

It is believed by some that the Holy Spirit does all of His sanctifying work through the word; however, Paul said in the foregoing scripture that the Holy Spirit was with the Corinthian Christians in their bodies.  The following scripture reveals a function of the Holy Spirit today which would be impossible for Him to accomplish through the word.  Today, He intercedes in our prayers to God.  The Holy Spirit can help Christians’ weak prayer lives through His teachings about prayer in the Bible, but He cannot intercede for us through the word.  Granted, He does not need to indwell to intercede, but we know He does indwell.

And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  Rom. 8:26, 27

The Holy Spirit strengthens our inner man through the word, but He also indwells us in order to strengthens us.  Our inner man’s personality and character can be strengthened as a result of the Holy Spirit helping us in the following ways: in our communication with our Father; in our identification as sons of our Father; in order to have a healthy view of our resurrection and our inheritance; and by having a personal fellowship with Him.

Let us first consider how the Holy Spirit helps us in our communication.   Our communication with God may be taken for granted, and it can be; however, we may be able to communicate in some cases only because the Holy Spirit intercedes for us.  The apostle Paul said the Spirit helps our weaknesses (Rom. 8:22-27).  How does He help us?  The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words and God knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  The Spirit knows God’s thoughts and His will (I Cor. 2:11).  The Holy Spirit dwells in Christians and He is able to relate to those whose minds are controlled by the Spirit (Rom. 8:6).

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.  But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.  Rom. 8:9

The Holy Spirit is in the very best position of all persons to make sure that our Father understands the content and intent of our prayers.  We may not be able to state our case properly or even fully understand His will.  If, in fact, the Holy Spirit is able to bear witness with our spirits that we are sons of God, then He can also understand us well enough to know the intent of our prayers (Rom. 8:16).

Unless we have been in a country where we could not communicate in their language, we may not fully appreciate how communication strengthens our inner man.  Suppose we were in a foreign country and needed some medicine, but we were afraid that our request would be misunderstood by the pharmacist.  This could make us hesitant to attempt to communicate.  A loss of communication weakens our position in life.  We know the importance of children communicating with their parents so that they can express their desires and appreciation.  Their lives interact because of their ability to communicate.  Many people have a serious problem with communicating their thoughts and desires to others, and this inhibits their socialization into their society.  Peoples’ happiness and well being are strongly related to their socialization into their society.

Similarly, it is important for Christians to communicate with our Father in heaven.  We are being socialized, or sanctified, into His heavenly society.  Our Father speaks to us through His word and it is very important that we understand His will.  The Holy Spirit combined spiritual thoughts with spiritual words and gave them to us in the Bible (I Cor. 2:13).  We speak to our Father in prayer and the Holy Spirit is nearby to intercede when we need Him.  It would be terrible to be afraid to speak to our heavenly Father for fear He would misunderstand us.  We are strengthened in our inner man by a clear channel of communication through prayer and by knowing that there will be no misunderstandings (I John 5:14).

Another way the Holy Spirit strengthens our inner man, so that we can put to death the deeds of the flesh, is by helping us to identify as sons of God.  If we are not enlightened on the importance of identification in relation to strong character, a little research on this subject would help at this point.  It would help us to better appreciate the importance of the Holy Spirit as He bears witness with our spirit to help us identify as children of God (Rom. 8:16).  Consider the steps an adolescent takes to finally arrive at some form of stable identification.  So to speak, they try on a certain role and then present themselves to their public to see if they will accept them in the role.  If they are not accepted in that role they may find a new character as their role-model and try on another— and another.  Their audience’s reaction has a lot to do with the adolescent’s ability to identify themselves in a meaningful way.  Of course, all of us go through identification crisis at all ages, but this is a very active process in the adolescent years.  Some people never attain a stable identity; consequently, they suffer from weak character.

Jesus knows the importance of having His citizens identify with their purpose in creation.  He knows that if we can identify as sons of God, this new identification alone will be a tremendous help in our putting to death the deeds of our flesh and our putting on the Lord Jesus Christ.  People are prone to behave on the life level, or death plateau, if the case be so, with which we identify; that is, liars lie and thieves steal.  Some women sell themselves, but most would never entertain the thought.  The difference is found in how they identify themselves.  The apostle Paul was dealing with the identification benefit of the Holy Spirit’s role in the Christian’s sanctification when he said.  “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying ‘Abba!  Father!’  (Gal. 4:6).

Although our new birth gave us our status as God’s children, Jesus knows we will need a lot of help to make this new status our own personal identification.  This is just one of the reasons He sent the Holy Spirit to help us accept God as our Father.  Some might ask, “How do we know the Holy Spirit is with us?”  To answer this question we need only to ask, “How long after we became a Christian did we start crying, Abba, Father?”

If we feel comfortable when we call God our Father, then let us attribute that feeling to the presence of the Holy Spirit, just as the Bible teaches.  We correctly attribute our cleansing of our sins to the blood of Jesus, and we feel free of guilt.  Then let us, just as properly, attribute our identification with God as our Father to the Holy Spirit’s work through the word, and also by His bearing witness with our spirits that we are indeed sons of God.  If our cleansing from sin is accomplished we know the blood of Jesus is present; likewise, if we address God as Father we know the Holy Spirit is with us.  The Bible is our source for both points of faith.

The concept of Christian identification with the help of the Holy Spirit can be seen in action in Romans 8:16 where Paul said, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”  Please consider the following as a possible illustration of the function this scripture describes:  An alien sinner hears God’s word and learns he was created to be a son of God, but at that time he is a slave of sin (Gal. 4:7).  He continues to study and learn that if he is freed from sin he is a son of God; therefore, he is baptized for the remission of sin.  He knows from the scriptures that he is now a son of God.  His spirit bears witness to this fact.  When his spirit bears witness to this fact, the Holy Spirit, who came to dwell with him when he obeyed the gospel, bears witness with his spirit (Acts 2:38).  This helps to solidify his identification as a son of God.  The Holy Spirit re-enforces his witness.

Does the Holy Spirit do His witnessing through the word, or does He do it in person?  Remember, the Holy Spirit does indwell Christians.  He does work outside the word.  He is a person, not a tool.  Why does it seem incredible that He would personally bear witness with our spirits?  Two witnesses are better than one to establish a fact, and it also works well in the process of identification.

For instance, consider the process a child enters to acquire the identity of a bike rider.  He mounts his new bike.  He is now in the seat all by himself for the first time.  He is moving, hooray!  He is now a bike rider.  Immediately, he will look to his parents or a friend to see if they acknowledge his new identity.  They nod their head in approval and he is on his way.  He has identification as a biker in his neighborhood.  The child bore witness with himself and the others added their witness to his.  The second witness helped to re-enforce the identify of his self as a bike rider.

In the same way the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are sons of God, but we must bear witness first.  Identification is a vital aspect of the Holy Spirit’s work in sanctification.  God knows His children because He has given us the Holy Spirit as His seal (II Cor. 1:22; Eph 1:13).  We know we belong to Him when we identify as His son.  He has given us the Holy Spirit to help us identify in this glorious role.

The Holy Spirit is given to all who believe and obey, but some quench His presence and do not have the benefit of His fellowship (Acts 5:32, I Thess. 5:19).  If we were driving cross-country and someone was sitting in the back seat of our automobile without our knowledge, they would be there, but we would not have the benefit of their fellowship.  So it can be with Christians.  If we are faithful Christians the Holy Spirit is with us, but we may not be enjoying His fellowship.  There is nothing that grieves the Holy Spirit more than having us ignore Him, unless it is immoral behavior while He is in our body (Eph. 4:30; I Cor. 6:15-20).

It is vitally important for Christians to come face to face with ourselves about the presence of the Holy Spirit’s work and presence in our lives.  If we can believe He has been with us once, then we can believe He will be with us all of the time.  We need His companionship.  Bad company corrupts good morals; just so, good companions strengthen our ability to maintain high morals (I Cor 15:33).  We are more apt to behave properly in the company of people we revere.  Children generally behave in a proper manner when their parents are present.  An awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit gives us good companionship all the time.  His very presence helps us to live above sin.

Another way the Holy Spirit strengthens our inner man is by serving as the pledge, or earnest, of our inheritance.  This is what Paul told the Christians at Ephesus in the following scripture.

In him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation – having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.  Eph. 1:13, 14

Jesus has promised that He will come again for us.  We will come forth from the grave, or if we are still alive, we will be changed into our glorious bodies.  Then He will take us to His and our Father’s house (John 14:1-3; I Cor. 15:42-44, 51, 52).  Even more wonderful, He has promised us an inheritance of God’s kingdom and eternal life (Matt. 19:29; 25:34).  We literally live on hope – a hope which is vital to spiritual growth (Rom. 8:24, 25).  The pledge by God of this hope is the Holy Spirit’s presence with us.  This gives Christians a view of ourselves after we have been redeemed from all that is corruptible.  This view has a great effect on our daily lives while we live in our physical bodies in this corrupt world.  We can enjoy the storms that may come in life because we know we have safety, perhaps not now, but on the other shore.

To illustrate the value of the Holy Spirit in His work as God’s pledge to Christians let us consider this story.  There was once a ship adrift in the Adriatic Sea.  It was being lashed by a violent storm, which is commonly known as Euraquilo.  The crew had abandoned all hope and had even given up eating, but one person among them had control of himself.  He encouraged the others in this time of trouble.  You see, the apostle Paul had been shown a vision of a scene after the storm was over.  The vision assured him of safety (Acts 27:9-25).  The view Paul had of safety after the storm strengthened his character while in the storm and let him be useful to others.

We are now in the storms of life.  Many people panic and become self-destructive to themselves and others.  Jesus knows that a view of our redemption and our inheritance will help us make it through the present storm, and even let us be useful to others at the same time.  Who knows, we might even be able to enjoy tribulations if we let the Holy Spirit serve us “with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession.”

Physical death becomes an enjoyable subject when we know the Holy Spirit will be working to give us a better container in the resurrection.  This is another purpose for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  We learn this from the following passage.

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you.   Rom. 8:11

The work of the Holy Spirit is just as vital today as it was in the first century.  The spiritual gifts helped Christians maintain a healthy church until they received the full message in writing.  But the presence of the Holy Spirit was vital to their personal growth.  Today, we have the word of God which came to us by the Holy Spirit, but we also need His fellowship to help strengthen our inner man.  The spiritual healthiness of the body of Christ is dependent upon our spiritual maturity.  The love of God has truly been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us for the purpose of sanctification (Rom. 5:5).  He leads us through the word, but He personally keeps a clear line of communication open to our Father by interceding in our prayer life.  He re-enforces our identification as a son of God.  He offers us good fellowship and serves as the earnest of our inheritance.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Rom. 15:13

Questions for Discussion 

  1. What do we have today as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work in the first century?
  2. What is one way we can determine if people still receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit?
  3. What do we have which is more perfect than that which the churches had as a result of spiritual gifts?
  4. What is different about God answering our prayer for the sick and the spiritual gift of healing?
  5. If people are still receiving messages in addition to the Bible today in what position does that put the church throughout the last 1900 years?
  6. Does the Holy Spirit still have a role in the Lord’s church today?  If so, what is it?
  7. How far back in history has the promise of the Holy Spirit been on record for the Gentiles?
  8. What had to take place before the Holy Spirit could be received by Christians?
  9. Why is the Christian age known as the ministry of the Spirit?
  10. What will be the attributes in Christians’ lives when we have the fruit of the Spirit?
  11. What is a device which the Spirit uses in our sanctification?
  12. Give one way the Spirit works with Christians which could not be accomplished through the word.
  13. List the different areas in which the Holy Spirit works as He indwells Christians.
  14. Why is the Holy Spirit the right person to help us in our communication with God?
  15. How would a loss of communication weaken our position in life?
  16. What is the process of a Christian’s identification as a son of God?
  17. What is the connection between our purpose in life and our proper identification?
  18. How could identification as a son of God help keep a Christian from lying?
  19. How can we know the Holy Spirit indwells us?
  20. What is the difference in becoming a son of God and identifying as a son of God?

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