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.
We must understand the relationship between regeneration and the Holy Spirit’s abiding within believers. Without a new spirit, the Holy Spirit has no place to abide. The holy dove had no dwelling place in the judged world. It could not abide until the new creation emerged (see Gen. 8). Regeneration is absolutely necessary because without it the Holy Spirit cannot possibly abide within believers. At regeneration, a believer receives a new spirit and, at the same time, receives the Holy Spirit to abide in him forever. Since the new spirit and God, who begot it, are eternally inseparable, the abiding of the Holy Spirit is also forever unchangeable.
It is rare for believers to realize that they have been regenerated and possess a new life. It is even rarer for them to realize that as soon as they believe in the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit indwells them to be their guidance, power of life, and the Lord of everything. The reason many newborn believers are slow in progress and growth may be due to either the foolishness of their leaders or their own unbelief and unfaithfulness. Unless the Lord’s servants abandon their preconceived opinion that "the truth of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is for spiritual believers," it is difficult for them to guide others to a spiritual position.
The work of the Holy Spirit in regenerating us is to reprove us of our sins and lead us to repentance that we may believe and know the Savior; thus, He gives us a new nature. This is the fulfillment of God’s promise that He will put a new spirit in us. But this promise does not end here. The second half of the promise is as good as the first half. The promise of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit comes right after the promise of receiving a new spirit. The Holy Spirit’s work, which causes believers to know sin, believe in the Lord, and receive life, is only His initial preparatory work in order for Him to dwell within them. The Holy Spirit’s indwelling of the believers to manifest the Father and the Son is a special glory in the dispensation of grace. God has already given His Spirit to His children. Now is the time for them to confess by faith and obey with faithfulness. The day of resurrection and the day of Pentecost are both over; the descension of the Holy Spirit has been accomplished. If a believer only knows the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit and does not know the reality of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, he is just like a person in the Old Testament. Truly, many believers are living on the other side of the day of resurrection and Pentecost!
Even if a believer is so foolish that his experience never goes one step beyond the first half of God’s promise, and he is not aware that the Holy Spirit of God is a person dwelling in him, it is an unchangeable fact that God has given him the Holy Spirit. He is regenerated and is a holy temple qualified to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit. If he would draw upon the second half of God’s promise with faith, then the second half of God’s promise will be fulfilled just as gloriously as the first half of God’s promise. If a believer only pays attention to regeneration and is content with receiving a new spirit, he will not have the strong and joyful life that he is entitled to. If a believer does not know or understand the mystery and work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, it is difficult for him to receive all the blessings God has prepared for him in the Lord Jesus. If he is willing to receive God’s promise with faith, considering that God has not only given him a new life in regeneration but also the Holy Spirit, as a person, dwelling in his spirit to be his Lord, then his life will make great strides in the path of God.
If a child of God is willing to believe and be faithful, he will have the experience of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling on the same day his spirit is renewed. After a believer’s regeneration, the Holy Spirit dwells in him to lead him into a spiritual state, to manifest Christ in his life, teach him, and sanctify him. But very often a believer does not even know the position of the Holy Spirit, despises His indwelling, and walks according to his own will. A believer should humble himself in this light, respect His holy presence, allow Him to work, tremble with fear before Him because of love and respect, not daring to act on his own, and consider what an exaltation it is that God indwells him. If we want to abide in Christ and have a holy life as Christ’s, we should use our faith to receive God’s provision. The Holy Spirit is already in our spirit. The problem is whether we will let Him work out of our spirit.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 13: The Spiritual Man (2), Chapter 1, by Watchman Nee)