What does the Holy Spirit do?

Like many people I know, I’ve committed the unpardonable, technological sin. I’m confident that my phone didn’t die from being dropped in a puddle; I think it was when I hit the “power” button to check to see if it was still working. All the rice in Panda Express couldn’t reverse the damage. My phone was fried.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t come into our lives for the purpose of improvement, but for the purpose of transformation. Like a damaged phone, there is brokenness inside us that can’t simply be repaired. We need renewal; we need a fresh work of God.


For unbelievers, the Spirit works to convict men and women of the gravity of sin. Jesus told His disciples:

8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:  9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.(John 16:8-11)

Paul echoes something of this when he writes that faith is produced not through natural knowledge, but through supernatural intervention:

12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. (1 Corinthians 2:12-13)

The point is that conviction and faith aren’t the outworking of a great sermon or through natural persuasion; they are the products of a living, active Spirit.


The gospel tells us that through the cross, Jesus pays the debt of sin and grants us access to the Father. What is the Spirit’s role in this? Paul tells us that the Spirit unites people of diverse backgrounds together and to God:

15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace.. 8 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2:15, 18)

This connection isn’t merely a one-time, past event; we also look forward to the day when we are granted eternal life in God’s future kingdom. Paul writes:

13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

Paul is saying that the Holy Spirit is something of a “down payment,” almost like today’s engagement rings. The Spirit’s presence in our lives serves as a reminder and a promise of future restoration in God’s new heaven and new earth.


This also means that we can allow the Spirit to work in our lives in such a way that He transforms us from inside out.

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, there were many who didn’t understand this inward transformation, instead favoring external religious performance. But after generating some attention among the religious leaders, a man named Nicodemus comes to ask Jesus who He really is. Jesus tells this religious leader that to truly know God, He must be born again:

5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)

To be “born again” implies total renewal, a complete renovation of everything inside of us. This is why Paul would later say to Titus:

5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3:5)

“Regeneration.” It means “renewal,” a new start.

Admittedly, many of us don’t feel all that “new” from these promises. Even Paul acknowledged that even after coming to know Jesus his life was in a state of inner turmoil (Romans 7). But learning to live in line with the gospel means allowing the Spirit to take control. In Romans Paul writes:

5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:5-6)

Similarly, he writes to the Church in Galatia:

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16)

To live by the Spirit means allowing the Spirit to transform us, and to live out that transformation as we grow into the image of Jesus.

2 thoughts on “What does the Holy Spirit do?

  1. Hey Chris, I’ve always been under the impression that we received the Holy Spirit when we choose to believe in Jesus; however, you state that the Holy Spirit works to convict unbelieving men and women of the gravity of sin. How exactly does this work? Thanks.

    • This is a great question and worth clarification. In all honesty, it’s not clear to me exactly how this works, but we can say a few things for sure. First, the Spirit unites believers to God (Ephesians 2:18), and Jesus promises that the Spirit dwells within His followers (John 14:17). This affirms that ONLY believers have the Spirit “inside” them–meaning only believers have a permanent relationship with God through His Spirit.

      However Jesus does affirm that the Spirit will convict “the world of sin” (John 16:8). In John’s biography of Jesus, “the world” is often used to refer to the world that is hostile to Jesus. So the Spirit doesn’t have a relationship with non-believers, but can be a supernatural way for God to sensitize men and women to right and wrong. Now, the Bible elsewhere affirms the reality of natural human conscience (Romans 2:15), but what Jesus is talking about here seems to be altogether different. Obviously, God isn’t interested simply in making unbelievers “good;” the convicting work of the Spirit is best seen as part of God’s calling of non-believers, emphasizing their need for salvation and drawing them toward Christ.

      Thanks for chiming in. Hope you guys are doing well. Say hi to Sandy and the fam!

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