The Holy Spirit—the personal presence of God—is at work in this world. He carries out a ministry parallel to that of Jesus and permanently abides in the life of a believer. The most important characteristic of the Holy Spirit is not who he is but what he does. The Holy Spirit is not in our world just to be something. He is here to do something. While much has been written and discussed regarding the Holy Spirit’s role with believers, what does the Holy Spirit do for the unbeliever?
Billy Graham wrote in his book The Holy Spirit, “During one of our London Crusades, a Russian nobleman came one evening. He spoke no English. Yet when the invitation was given to receive Christ he responded. The trained Russian-speaking counselor asked him how, knowing no English, he had understood enough of the message to respond so intelligently. ‘When I entered this place,’ the nobleman replied, ‘I was overwhelmed with a longing for God. Tell me, how can I find him?’”
The Holy Spirit does not indwell the unbeliever, but the Bible shows that the Holy Spirit does make contact with to influence and to affect the life of the unbeliever.
- The Holy Spirit convicts the unbeliever of sin. The word convict is a judicial term that finds its setting in the courtroom. A person is on trial. The evidence is presented. The jury withdraws to the jury room and then returns. The foreperson of the jury hands the decision to the judge and he announces, “The jury has found the defendant guilty.” He has been convicted. Remember the Old Testament story of the unforgettable day when the prophet Nathan stood before David who had committed adultery with Bathsheba. The king was cornered when she became pregnant, so he manipulated the death of Uriah, her husband. And then he lied about it to his nation, Israel. He lived that lie for a year, until Nathan came and stood before him. And after a brief parable regarding taking someone else’s little lamb, he stared directly at David and said, “You are the man!” And David, without hesitation, responded, “I have sinned.” In other words, “Guilty as charged!” That’s the way it is when the Spirit works. That is the work of the Holy Spirit: to convict unbelievers, to expose the depravity of their lives and prove their guilt before God.
2. The Holy Spirit convinces the unbeliever of guilt. The defendant in the courtroom hears the verdict of the jury, “Guilty.” Something inside him or her responds to that conviction with positive acceptance. “They are right. I am guilty.” It’s like being caught with your hand in the cookie jar or the teacher seeing you as you look over the shoulder of your classmate for answers to the test question or when policeman’s flashing lights come on behind your car and you look down at your speedometer to see that you are going 75 in a 55mph zone. You’re caught. You’re guilty.
3. The Holy Spirit awakens a sense of guilt in the person convicted of wrongdoing, to bring the person who has been proven guilty to the point where he or she is ready to admit it. That is the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the unbeliever: to point him or her to a fact and then persuade him or her it is true.
4. The Holy Spirit points the unbeliever to Jesus. When Jesus was on Earth in the flesh, he made some incredible claims. He said he was the one and only answer for the problem of man, that he was the perfect righteousness of God that could cover man’s sins. Yet Jesus is gone now. We can no longer see him in the flesh. We can no longer hear him speaking directly to us. So the Holy Spirit points to the fact of Christ’s righteousness and convinces us it is true.
5. The Holy Spirit points to the cross showing how much a righteous God cared about our fellowship by dying for our sins making it possible for us to be counted among the righteous. The Holy Spirit not only shows us for what we really are, he shows Christ for who he really is. The Holy Spirit’s role is not just to condemn us in our sin, but also to convince us of our need for Jesus.
6. The Holy Spirit works in the hearts of unbelievers to convict and convince them of their sin and of their need for Jesus. Only two things are needed for a person to move from an unbeliever to a believer: their own sin and the righteousness that God has provided in Jesus Christ. That’s what the Holy Spirit does to the unbeliever.