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Biblical, battle-tested, real-life help for "living by faith in the Son of God" (Galatians 2:20). — Steve Fuller

Should We Promise an Experience of the Spirit at Conversion?

Water Pouring into a Cup from Everystockphoto by tijmen

My Background

In my early years when I led someone to Christ, I would have them pray the sinner’s prayer, in which they confessed their sins and trusted Christ’s death on the Cross to pay for all of their sins.

Then I would assure them that because they had trusted Christ they were saved and forgiven and had received the Holy Spirit.

And I said they could be sure this had happened, whether they felt anything or not, because we are saved by faith, not feelings.

So in my early years I did not think we should promise an experience of the Spirit at conversion.  But over the years my thinking changed.  Here’s why —

What Jesus Promised the Woman at the Well

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water …  Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:10,13-14)

Jesus knew this woman had heart-thirsts, as we all do.  So he promised that if she asked, he would give her living water — a water so satisfying that she would never thirst again.

We know from the rest of Scripture that this living water is the Spirit’s work of showing us Jesus’ glory so powerfully that our hearts are fully satisfied in him (John 7:37-39; John 15:26; John 16:14; 2 Corinthians 3:18).  It’s not speaking in tongues, or falling down.  But it is an experience — of heart-satisfaction in beholding the glory of Christ.

So Jesus did promise this woman an experience of the Spirit at conversion.

What Jesus Promised the Crowds

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”  Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.  (John 7:37-39)

Jesus preaches to a crowd and invites everyone who has heart-thirsts to come to him and drink.  And he promises that everyone who comes to him and believes in him will receive rivers of living water.

A heart-thirst is something people experience.  Which means that having that heart-thirst quenched by a river of living water is also something people experience.

So Jesus is promising an experience of the Spirit at conversion.

Paul’s Description of Conversion

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God...For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:3-6)

Before God saved us, we were blind to the light of Jesus’ glory.  But when God saves us, he shines the light of Jesus’ glory into our hearts.  Surely this change from being blind to Jesus’ glory, to suddenly seeing Jesus’ glory, is something we experience.

And this experience comes to us by the gift of the Spirit, as he removes the veil of unbelief so we see the light of Christ’s glory —

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

And when does this happen?  Paul says it happens when someone turns to the Lord at conversion —

But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. (2 Corinthians 3:16)

So both Paul and Jesus promise an experience of the Spirit at conversion — the experience of being set free from the blindness of unbelief, so we behold the glory of Jesus Christ, by which all our heart-thirsts are satisfied.

So How Do We Lead Someone to Faith?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  But here is what I do.  After being sure they understand seven basic gospel truths, I urge them to call upon Jesus for salvation.

I encourage them to turn from whatever else they have been trusting to satisfy them, and trust Jesus Christ to forgive them through the cross, change them by his resurrection power, and satisfy them in himself by the gift of the Spirit.

Then I explain that as they look to him by faith, he will pour out the gift of the Spirit who will give them such joy in Christ that their hearts will be completely satisfied.  And that when he does this they will be fully assured that they are forgiven for all their sins, and secured in him forever.

What if Nothing Happens?

What if they pray, and experience nothing?  I have felt this concern.

What helps me is to go back to Jesus’ promise.  Jesus promises that everyone who believes in him will receive rivers of living water and be completely satisfied in him (John 4:13-14; John 6:35; John 7:37-38).

Since he made this promise, he will fulfill this promise.  Our job is to point people to Christ, pray with them, answer their questions, and encourage them with his promises.

He will fulfill his promise.  Trust him.

Questions?  Comments?

I’d love to hear them.  Leave a reply below — thanks.

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(Picture from everystockphoto.com by tijmen.)

Category: Help with Evangelism, The Work of the Spirit

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6 Responses

  1. Wendy Mendoza says:

    This is so timely. As I walk with my daughters and direct them to Christ, I’ve had to think on these things because though they “believe” the gospel and sought forgiveness of their sins honestly didn’t feel anything. I know our feelings can be fickle and bad guides much of the time, but there is a satisfaction that comes when you’ve been redeemed and reconciled with your maker. I’m praying and longing for each of my daughters to be satisfied in Him and have the assurance of salvation not given by their parents but by the Holt Spirit.

  2. Rachel says:

    I felt the holy spirit when I was being baptized, and I haven’t felt any thing like that since. Your blog made me remember that feeling which lets me feel confident that the spirit resides inside me.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Rachel. It’s beautiful that when we come to Jesus Christ by faith, he will pour into our souls the living water of his Spirit so we see and feel his glory.

      It’s also encouraging that even when we feel nothing, still, if we are looking to Christ by faith, we can be assured that we are saved and that he will, in time, pour his Spirit upon us once again.

      May God show you more and more of the glory of Christ in and through his Word, by the power of the Spirit.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

  3. Shawn Cox says:

    Being born again is not just about a feeling. It is about you making a decision to serve God. Every one has different experiences. You may not know or “feel” that there is a change but God is changing you one step at a time. God is working even when we do not think or feel like he is working.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, Shawn.

      I agree that being born-again is not just about a feeling. But when I read Paul’s description in 2 Corinthians 4:6, it seems clear that being born-again must involve some change of feeling, since it means that for the first time we see the glory of God in the face of Christ.

      And it’s true that not everyone will feel this to the same degree, or in exactly the same way.

      But what’s crucial is that we do see and feel Jesus Christ as our all-satisfying Treasure. And even when we’re not feeling that, we can still look to Christ by faith, pray over his promises, and be assured that he is working in us, and that in time we will once again drink the living water.

      May the Lord richly bless you!

      Steve Fuller

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