The Bible teaches that without Christ a person is dead in their transgressions and sins – Ephesians 2.1 (likewise Colossians 2.13), that is to say we are dead spiritually, dead to God.
A dead person can do nothing by themselves. So it is spiritually, by ourselves we can do nothing good, our good works or spiritual devotions can do nothing to make us alive. What has to happen first is that God acts to give us new life and unless God acts we remain dead.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 'But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions' (Ephesians 2.4-5)
But how does this happen?
As we have seen first God acts out of His own goodness and love, what we call grace – ‘by grace you have been saved’.
Secondly, it happens because of Christ. When Jesus died upon the cross He took on Himself our sins and their penalty, therefore He broke the power of sin and death. Therefore, the thing that keeps us spiritually dead, that is our sins, have been dealt with – they are blotted out (Acts 3.19) and taken away (Jn 1.29).
But not only did Jesus die, he also rose from the dead and if we belong to Christ then we rise with Him, we rise to a new life (Ephesians 2.6).
But there is a third aspect of being made alive spiritually.
A human corpse is a shell, a body without the spark of life. What makes a person a person is the soul, the spirit which God breathes into a living being.
In the same way what now makes a person alive spiritually is the presence of the Holy Spirit – that a person is given the breath of God. Therefore it is through the Holy Spirit that God brings us to new life and makes us alive in Christ.
Therefore the Lord Jesus told the Jewish teacher Nicodemus:
“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3.5-8)
A person cannot enter the kingdom of God unless they are born again of the Holy Spirit – there is no other means of salvation, no other way to be made alive spiritually. And it is clear that this is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Now, if we ask what is the first evidence of this work of God in a person, it becomes clear that the first clearest evidence is that through the work of the Holy Spirit in them they become convicted of sin (Jn 16.8), they therefore repent of their sins and turn to Christ as the means of their forgiveness. So immediately after teaching about the Holy Spirit Jesus went on to say:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
There are further evidences of the work of the Holy Spirit, but these will be dealt with later.
The Apostle Paul expresses it like this:
But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is God’s choice from the beginning, we are sanctified by the Spirit and belief in the truth, and it is by the gospel being made known that God does this.
It would be easy faced with this teaching of Scripture to despair and for a person to believe that God has not chosen them. But God does not tell us through the Bible to speculate about whether He has chosen us or not, rather He commands us to repent and believe. To dwell on what God has or has not decided will do you no good, to obey the command of Christ is His call, and if you truly do this you will have every confidence in accepting that this was what you were called for.
For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
The Order of Salvation