The Work of the Holy Spirit upon Unbelievers

written by Pastor Bob Vradenburgh, Senior Pastor

Some of the most misunderstood and misapplied verses in the Bible are Jesus’ words to His disciples recorded in John 16:7-11. This passage contains an amazing promise about the future ministry of the Holy Spirit upon unbelievers (the “world”). These words must be understood in light of what Jesus had just said in 14:17.

“Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him, for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.”

Is there a contradiction between these two passages?

How can the world be convinced or convicted by the Holy Spirit if it cannot receive Him?

The answer rests in the simple phrase in 16:7 “unto you.” Christ’s disciples were to be the recipients of the Holy Spirit. They were to “go into all the world and preach the gospel.” And when they did, the Holy Spirit went with them, bearing witness to the truth they proclaimed.

Yes, the Holy Spirit witnesses when we witness. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God.”¹ Believers who receive the Holy Spirit must mediate between the Spirit and the world. The verse quoted above goes on to say about them natural man: “neither can he know them [the things of the Spirit of God], because they are spiritually discerned.” The Holy Spirit does not operate directly upon unbelievers, but through the ones that He indwells since Pentecost.

What an encouragement to be obedient to the Great Commission! The Holy Spirit is with us to the end of the age. He is the “Spirit of truth.” He convinces of truth. He says “Amen” to the consciences of those that hear the Gospel from our lips. It’s not up to us—our charming personalities, our speaking ability, our powers of persuasion, or even our knowledge of the Bible. Fleshly dependence upon these powers may get a profession but cannot make a true convert. We are just the channels through which God dispenses His sacred cargo!

What an encouragement to pray! Our dependence must be upon the Holy Spirit. Even though we receive the Spirit in His permanent indwelling at regeneration, we are still exhorted to continually ask to “receive” Him in His divine operations and gifts.²

The Father delights to give His Spirit to His children when they ask for the right reasons.

¹ 1 Corinthians 2:14
² Luke 11:13 (continual, repeated asking is implied from the context – especially v. 9)

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About Friendship Baptist Church

Our purpose is to make much of our Lord Jesus Christ and His gospel through the preaching of His Word and the making of disciples. At Friendship Baptist Church (FBC) we teach the Bible in order to facilitate spiritual growth in all of God’s people and to provide opportunities for Christian fellowship. God has graciously used Friendship to further His work both locally and across the globe since 1965.