THE HOLY SPIRIT'S PART IN GRACE AND CONVICTION
There are two types of grace that we want to think about. We will look
at common grace first and then efficacious grace.
Common grace is that grace which God extends to all of mankind throughout
all ages and conditions. This is the grace which brings the seasons, the
rains, the sunshine and the revelation of God within nature. This is seen
in Ps. 145:9, "The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over
all his works" There are other verses as well, Matt. 5:45, Luke 6:35, Acts
14:17, and Rom. 1:19-20.
Common grace is extended in different areas.
1. Common grace is the general provision of items of nature for our
use and benefit. These are for the lost's benefit as well. Think of that
- they are on their way to hell - they thumb their nose at God - yet He
extends this to them! He could withdraw His grace from them at any moment,
yet He is longsuffering and desires them to turn to Him.
2. Common grace is also seen in the restraining of sin by the Holy Spirit.
It isn't that He is in the business of stopping sin as we can plainly see
around us, but that He is slowing down the process of sin and sin as a
whole. If He wasn't on the job the state of the world would be much worse
(II Thess. 2:6,7). This restraint is at times lifted to allow some to go
off into the areas that they desire to go into (Rom. 1:24-28).
There is a point that we might cover here. The Holy Spirit does some
of His restraining through the Church and its walk before the world. There
is a real sense in which the Church is failing their God in this present
day. We as a Church have not kept the purity and testimony before the world
that we should have. We have accepted the world's standard, and life styles.
In years past the Church has been a real conscience for the world.
The church once stood against divorce, yet today many churches accept
it as common everyday living. The world cannot see a difference between
the Christian and themselves, so why should they seek to be Christians
or their God?
It has been of interest in recent days that the tone of language and
stories told in the presence of Christians is becoming more and more perverse.
In days past when people knew they were around believers they would curb
their perverseness. Today they seem to feel no restraint. Is this because
the church as a whole has failed to present the proper image to the world?
It may well be.
3. The work of reproving for sin, righteousness and judgment in Jo.
16:7-11 seems to be for the world, however it was a promise to the believer
also. The believer should not get discouraged when they see the sin of
the world. They can know that the Holy Spirit is on the job confronting
the lost with their sin. There is also a promise, in that they can know
that the Devil has been cared for and we need not worry about his gaining
the upper hand. "Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for
you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto
you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he
will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of
sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to
my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this
world is judged."
4. There is also one final area of common grace. God is postponing the
judgment of the lost, desiring that they might come to Him for salvation.
I would like to cover some information from Mr. Thiessen before we move
on to efficacious grace.
Mr. Thiessen mentions a "prevenient grace" which we need to inspect
for a few moments. (Thiessen, Henry C.; "LECTURES IN SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY";
Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1949, p 155-156)
"The upshot of the matter is that God must take the initiative if man
is to be saved. God cannot relax His law simply because man is no longer
able to obey it. Now all Calvinists believe in common grace. They teach
that, since the race fell in Adam and lost all claims to consideration
before God, along with the ability in its own strength to return to God,
we have in the blessings of life, health, friends, fruitful seasons, prosperity,
the delay of punishment, the manifestations of the common grace of God.
Common grace is not sufficient for salvation but it yet reveals the goodness
of God to all sinful creatures. This is true, but why stop there? We believe
that the common grace of God also restores to the sinner the ability to
make a favorable response to God. In other words, we hold that God, in
His grace, makes it possible for all men to be saved."
He continues on to say, "It does not mean that prevenient grace enables
a man to change the permanent bent of his will in the direction of God;
nor that he can quit all sin and make himself acceptable to God. It does
mean that he can make an initial response to God, as a result of which
God can give him repentance and faith."
As I read and understand Thiessen, he would extend common grace to include
just a bit more and call it pervenient grace. To the sun, rain, and health,
of the common grace advocate, he would include a bit of a zap, or the ability
to desire more knowledge of God even though he is still totally depraved.
In a sense, if Romans one is true, in that God revealed Himself to man
in the creation and man is held accountable for that revelation, then there
must be some possibility of the man responding to that creation, else wise
God is holding him responsible for something which he cannot act upon.
Thiessen goes on to say that through foreknowledge, God was able to
know which of mankind would respond favorably and which would not respond
favorably. He views efficacious grace as the desire being acted upon by
the Holy Spirit and the work of the Holy Spirit in drawing the lost person
I see no difference between what Mr. Thiessen suggests and the thought
that if a lost person responds to the revelation mentioned in Romans one.
In both cases God responds by drawing the person to Himself through the
It seems that Thiessen has coined a term, and rightly so, to draw a
distinction between common grace and what he teaches.
Efficacious grace is that product that we fail to realize many times
in our witnessing. It is the grace that extends from God to allow the person
to believe and accept the Lord.
Efficacious grace might also show up in some books as effective grace.
It is grace that is effective in bringing the lost to God. Efficacious
means: ".....having the power to produce a desired effect....." (By permission.
From Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary copyright 1991 by Merriam-Webster
Inc., publisher of the Merriam-Webster (registered) Dictionaries.) While
teaching, the students found out that I enjoyed M & M's. One of them
tried to bribe me with a bag of M & M's. The bribe did not work. The
bribe had no efficacy.
Efficacious grace then, is grace that is able to produce the desired
effect, that effect being, the drawing of the lost soul to God.
We will dive into the ramifications of this doctrine when we get to
the doctrine of election in the salvation section of our study. The grace
is not something that acts against the will of man, but it is a grace that
effects the will of man, and since it comes into play because the person
is responsive to God, works in conjunction to man's will.
This is contrary to the staunch Calvinist that would state that Efficacious
grace is something which overcomes the person and his will to bring the
person to God. The person cannot resist this grace - it is final and sure.
God can and does drag the lost kicking and screaming person into the kingdom.
This to me is an overstatement of what we can see in the Word of God.
Man still chooses to believe in God by his own will, however efficacious
grace will bring things into his life that will bring his will to the point
that he will believe.
Efficacious grace will not come into play in a persons life unless they
have first responded to common grace, thus efficacious grace is something
that the person will welcome - no reason to resist. Whether efficacious
grace is resistable or irresistable is a mute question. The person is desiring
to respond to God, so the next step is a welcome step. When I say common
grace I retain the term "common" while holding to Thiessen's prevenient
If the person responds to common grace, then efficacious grace will
take precedent over all things. The person's will responds in accord to
that grace that has been extended.
The efficacious grace is a process, in that it brings many occurrences
into the life of the person preceding belief. Some suggest that it is an
act. On God's part, yes, from man's view a process. God views all things
in one moment and as such the whole process of salvation is an act of His
will. He willed in eternity past that some would be saved. He sees this
as a completed item on His agenda.
Man however is in time, and salvation is a process which takes place
in time. Man isn't one moment lost and then the next moment saved. He must
go through mental processes before he can be brought into a place of belief
Common grace can be ignored or rejected (by the person giving credit
for these things to laws of nature and fate.) while efficacious grace is
not rejected or ignored.
Efficacious grace is based on the idea of calling in the Scripture.
Some feel that the two are actually one. If a person is called, then they
have received efficacious grace.
I am not sure that the two are the same. It seems better to see the
calling as separate from efficacious grace. The reason for this is Matt.
22:14. It states, "For many are called, but few are chosen." The context
of this verse is the call to the marriage feast. There seems to be a calling
that can be rejected. Efficacious grace cannot be rejected, indeed, if
the person desires to respond to God would not reject it.
This may indicate that there are two calls, one call to all of mankind
to come unto the God of creation and a second call to the elect that brings
them to God. You might say there is a common call and an efficacious call,
to help in your understanding.
If we are to believe in the total depravity of man and the total inability
of man to reach God on his own then the doctrine of efficacious grace is
a requirement. There must be a drawing of the lost to the Lord by some
means and that means is the Holy Spirit.
Part of the confusion in this area may come from the fact that some
believers have a totally different salvation experience than others. Some
are saved out of a life of total debasement and sin, while others are saved
as a growing process through their relatively righteous life.
The person that is saved out of a totally sinful life would quite possibly
see God as reaching down in His Calvinistic grace and snatching His elected
one out of the debased world in which he lived. The person that has been
raised in a Christian home and was saved through the learning process in
church, might well see the response to what is revealed, and the following
drawing of the Lord to salvation as simple choice of the individual to
respond to what he knows.
Whatever your experience, the Word seems to indicate that the common
grace is that grace which is extended to all. This may include the call
to salvation as well as the ability to respond to that call. At the point
where the person has responded positively to common grace and natural revelation,
God extends His efficacious grace to finally draw the person into the Kingdom.
Buswell mentions, "Jesus promised, 'When He [the Spirit of Truth] is
come, He will convict the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment'
(John 16:8). This was Jesus' promise as He told of the ministry of the
Holy Spirit. The world of our day is strangely unconvicted, unconvinced,
and unconcerned; yet where Spirit-filled men faithfully present the Spirit-inspired
Word of God, conviction of sin comes. The great need of the world today
is for consecrated channels for the convicting work of the Holy Spirit.
Only so can there be a genuine turning to the Lord and acceptance of the
Gospel." (Buswell, James Oliver; "A SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY OF THE CHRISTIAN
RELIGION"; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1962, p 262)
The fact that the Spirit is to convict the world of sin is mentioned
in Jo. 16: 8,9. Some receive the ministry and believe while others reject
that ministry of the Spirit.
Buswell submits that the Romans one revelation of God is that which
is accepted or rejected. The revelation being the common grace and the
acceptance of it the first step in what he calls "effectual calling". His
effectual calling would be what we have established as efficacious grace.
(Buswell has an extended discussion of this with much detail that is of
interest. p 157ff.)
The term "sin" in John 16:8,9 is in the singular showing that the Spirit
is working on the sin nature of man and not the individual types of sin.
This may relate to the fact that all societies have had a knowledge of
an afterlife. If the Spirit in some manner has convicted them to the point
that they feel they are guilty in some respect to a higher power then all
would fit well.
Conviction is a legal term. During my first year of teaching I was treated
to an office Toilet Papering. I was sure of the culprits, but lacked the
evidence to convict them. I waited for a couple of months and the perpetrators
could not hold back any longer. They convicted themselves with their own
Lost man not only is guilty, but the Holy Spirit will convict him of
Conviction means: ".....the act or process of convicting of a crime
esp. in a court of law 2 a: the act of convincing a person of error or
of compelling the admission of a truth....." (By permission. From Webster's
Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary copyright 1991 by Merriam-Webster Inc.,
publisher of the Merriam-Webster (registered) Dictionaries.)
These definitions are somewhat inadequate when related to the conviction
of the Holy Spirit. The convicting of the Holy Spirit is of a nature that
presents the facts and the person so convicted is free to respond to or
reject that information.
They are convicted - simple and pure. They cannot argue about it. They
have the choice - turn against the God that convicted them, or throw themselves
on the mercy of the court.
The term is used in Matt 18:15, "Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass
against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if
he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother." The term tell is the
term translated convicted in Jo. 8:9.
In the area of common grace then we have the conviction of the lost,
by the God of nature. In the case of some, the confrontation may be with
the gospel itself in evangelized areas. When that conviction brings the
person toward the Lord then we have moved into the area of efficacious
grace. In the unevangelized areas of the world this comes from the response
or lack of response to the revelation of God in creation.
You might say there are common conviction and efficacious conviction.
Common conviction would be the confrontation of a lost soul with some information
about God which they are free to respond to or ignore. Efficacious conviction
would be that information that the Spirit brings to confront the lost soul
who is going to respond.
The term "elenko" is translated convict as well as: tell, Mat. 18:15;
being reproved, Lu. 3:19; should be reproved, Jo. 3:20, convinceth, Jo.
8:46; will reprove, Jo. 16:8; convinced, I Co. 14:24, Jas. 2:9; reprove,
Eph. 5:11, II Tim. 4:2; that are reproved, Eph. 5:13; rebuke, I Tim. 5:20,
Rev. 3:19; to convince, Titus 1:9; rebuke, Titus 1:13, 2:15; art rebuked,
It seems that the thought of convict, is the showing of evidence with
the desire of changed action.
The person that rejects this conviction places himself in the position
of lessening his opportunities with God. The Scripture mentions the hardening
of the heart, the stiffening of the neck, and the parables were used so
that the hard hearted could not understand. God gives all mankind a chance,
but as the lost person continues to reject, their ability to respond weakens.
Let me illustrate:
"SIN AGAINST THE HOLY GHOST"
"Dr. John William Baily, of the Berkeley Baptist Divinity School, told
his class in New Testament of reading about a certain sea animal in a scientific
periodical. This animal lives at several levels. At fifty feet it has eyes
upon long tentacles, and these may move about and see in any direction.
At a lower depth the same animal has the same eyes, in the same tentacles,
but the tentacles are rigid, and the eyes may look only in one direction.
Far below, the same animal has the same general form, with the hardened
tentacles, and the markings of eyes, but there is no sight. Living at a
depth where there is no light, the animal has lost the use of its eyes.
Similarly, those individuals who close their eyes to the light that they
have, incapacitate themselves to receive light. The sin against the Holy
Ghost is not unforgivable because of some arbitrary decision of God. Rather,
the very nature of sin, namely, shutting one's eyes to known truth and
refusing to see, does something to the person himself, and he makes himself
incapable of receiving truth at all. Not even God can forgive that sin.
Minter Uzzell (Stuber, Stanley I. and Clark, Thomas Curtis; "TREASURY OF
THE CHRISTIAN FAITH"; New York: Association Press, 1949, p 659-660)
Here we introduce the idea of rejection of common grace leading to total
inability to respond positively to the Gospel.
The Holy Spirit brings God's grace to us through natural laws in the
case of common grace, as well as to us through the Revelation, and His
messengers in efficacious grace. Within the thought of grace there is a
point in time when the Spirit convicts us of the sin nature, and makes
us realize our condition before God.
We understand that in God's mind this is an action, while in our lives
it is a process. We move in a process from common grace, to conviction,
to efficacious grace. This movement may be in a very short period of time,
or it may take a long time.
The important thing is that we understand that we did not come to God
because of our superior understanding of things as they are, but rather,
we came to God through the specific ministry of the Holy Spirit.