THE HOLY SPIRIT AND REGENERATION
At the time of man’s regeneration, his spirit receives God’s life and becomes enlivened. It is the Holy Spirit who actively accomplishes this work. It is the Holy Spirit who reproves man of sin, righteousness, and judgment. He prepares man’s heart, causing him to willingly believe in the Lord Jesus as his Savior. The work of the cross is accomplished by the Lord Jesus. However, it is the Holy Spirit who applies this upon the sinner and within his heart. We must understand the relationship between the cross of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. While the cross has already accomplished everything, the Holy Spirit accomplishes within man what has been accomplished before. While the cross causes man to have the position, the Holy Spirit causes man to have the experience. While the cross achieves the "fact" for God, the Holy Spirit gives man the experience. While the work of the cross creates a position and achieves a salvation so that the sinner may have the possibility of being saved, the work of the Holy Spirit reveals to the sinner what the cross has created and accomplished so that he may receive and obtain it. The Holy Spirit does not work alone; rather, He works through the cross. Without the cross, the Holy Spirit has no ground to work. Without the Holy Spirit, the work of the cross is dead. Although it has already had been effective toward God, it has no effectiveness toward man.
Although salvation is entirely accomplished by the cross, it is the Holy Spirit who works directly to cause people to receive. Therefore, the Bible says that our regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit. "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). In verse 8, the Lord Jesus said again that regeneration is being "born of the Spirit." It is the Holy Spirit who applies the work of the cross to the believer and imparts God’s life into the believer’s spirit; thus, the believer is regenerated. The Holy Spirit is the executor of God’s life. We "live by the Spirit" (Gal. 5:25). If man merely understands in his mentality and there is no Holy Spirit to regenerate him within his spirit, his understanding cannot help him. If what man believes in is of man’s wisdom, not of God’s power, he is merely stimulated in the soul and cannot last long, because he is not regenerated. Only those who believe with the heart (Rom. 10:10) can be saved and receive regeneration.
In addition to enabling believers to receive life at the time of regeneration, the Holy Spirit has another step of work. From the point of regeneration, He dwells within the believers. How poor that man keeps forgetting about this and does not care for it! Ezekiel 36 puts together the matter of a believer’s receiving the new spirit and receiving the Holy Spirit.
"A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you...And I will put my Spirit within you" (vv. 26-27).
"And a new spirit will I put within you." This means that a believer will receive a new spirit, have his own spirit renewed, and receive life. After speaking about receiving, it continues, saying, "And I will put my Spirit within you." This means that the Holy Spirit wants to dwell within our renewed spirit. A believer receives at the time of regeneration, not only a new spirit, but also the Holy Spirit (a person) dwelling within him. Unfortunately, just as a believer does not understand that the spirit which he has received is new, he also does not understand that when he receives a new spirit, he also receives the Holy Spirit who dwells within him. The Holy Spirit is not sought out and received by the believer due to revival a few years after his regeneration; rather, at the time of regeneration, the entire person of the Spirit begins to dwell in the believer, not just visit him. The apostle said, "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed unto the day of redemption" (Eph. 4:30). "Grieve," not "anger," is used since this concerns the love of the Holy Spirit. "Grieve," not "leave," is used since "He abides with you and shall be in you" (John 14:17) "unto the day of redemption." Every regenerated believer has the Holy Spirit dwelling in him permanently. However, the condition of the Holy Spirit within every believer varies; He may be either grieving or rejoicing.
(Spiritual Man, The (3 volume set), Chapter 15, by Watchman Nee)