Sanctification and the Holy Spirit

One afternoon a group of bored boys decided to bother an old man working in his yard.  After causing the man a little trouble they moved on.  However, the town wherein they lived was a small one and so having recognized one of the boys the old man called on the father of that particular boy. When the youngster arrived home he discovered that the news had beaten him to his front door.  When he tried to explain to his father that he had been an innocent tag along while the real culprits were his friends his father simply said, “Well, I guess you’ll learn to pick better friends!” The boy’s father was simply echoing the Scripture, “Bad company corrupts good character” (I Corinthians 15:33).

I was thinking about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit when this story came to mind. Now, it is true that that the Spirit’s presence in our lives cannot be reduced to mere influence. In fact, the New Testament does not explain the exact character of the Spirit’s relationship to those in whom He takes up residence.  Nevertheless, the Spirit’s indwelling of the believer has some parallel to what theologians call the circumincession or perichoresis in the inner-trinitarian relationships.  In other words, there is a mutual indwelling of the three persons of the godhead. And so, though the Spirit’s presence in the life of the believer cannot be reduced to mere influence it is at the very least an influential relationship!

Now, I want to think about this transforming relationship in two ways. First, let’s consider the nature of the relationship. Geerhardus Vos reminds us that the relationship is fundamentally eschatological. We often think that this means that the believer is heading in an upward and forward direction.  In other words, though the outer man is wasting away the inner man is being renewed.  This is gloriously true!  However, thinking eschatologically about our relationship with the Spirit can also be thought of in the reverse.  For example, Geerhardus Vos writes, “The Spirit’s proper sphere is the future aeon; from thence He projects Himself into the present, and becomes a prophecy of Himself in his eschatological operations.”[1] Thus, those who are in Christ are experiencing in the present the benefits of the age to come. Thus, our lives are being transformed by the Spirit’s eschatological operations in us.

Second, let’s consider the Spirit’s influence.  Benjamin B Warfield once preached a sermon on Romans 8:14 called, “The Leading of the Spirit” wherein he drew appropriate attention to the Spirit’s influence in the life of the believer.  Warfield begins with a basic point, saying, “It is only when an influence distinct from ourselves determines our movements that we can properly be said to be led.”[2]  To put it another way, Warfield makes the basic distinction between the leading Spirit and the led child of God. 

What is more, the Spirit’s leading should not be construed as simply giving directions to a person lost.  It is not even akin to a commanding officer leading his troops.  No, this leading is of a determining sort wherein the “strength of the led one is insufficient to withstand.”[3]  The same word is used in the Scriptures to describe the leading of animals.[4]

However, Warfield is quick to point up the fact that controlling influence of the Spirit is not a substitute for the activities of the led. Warfield puts it very pointedly, “If one is not led, in the sense of our text, when he is merely guided, it is equally true that one is not led when he is carried.”[5] In other words, the animal that is led proceeds along the pathway by “virtue of his own powers of locomotion.”[6] This point is vital and ought to be meditated upon by every believer.

The final thing to note regarding this influence is that progress is made in the life of the child of God. I don’t know about you but when I think about how the Spirit brings future benefits to bear upon me in the present and when I think about  how He leads me into the fullness of those future benefits I can’t help but being assured of God’s love and care over me. Let me put it another way.  I can’t help but think that the Holy Spirit is the best of company.

Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA.  He has recently been appointed Professor of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Jeff is also an online instructor for Westminster Theological Seminary. Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Senior Editor of Place for Truth an online magazine for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. 



[1] Vos, Geerhardus, The Pauline Eschatology (P&R: Phillipsburg, NJ, 1994), 165.

[2] Benjamin B. Warfield, The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit (Calvary Press: Amityville, NY, 1997), 36.

[3] Ibid, 37.

[4] Matthew 21:2; Acts 8:32; Luke 10:34.

[5] Warfield, 39.

[6] Ibid.