The Power of the Spirit in Conversion

By | November 8, 2014

We have a guest speaker this Sunday at my church. He’ll be preaching from 1 Thessalonians 1, and this is a blurb I’ve pulled from my dissertation and added to our bulletin to complement his sermon.

Paul reminded to the Thessalonians that “our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess 1:5). Four phrases in 1 Thess 1:5 describe the manner of how Paul and his companions preached (“in word,” “in power,” “in the Holy Spirit,” and “with full conviction”).1 Paul’s “not only . . . but also” construction emphasizes that what is described in the latter three phrases bolstered his confidence in God’s choice of the Thessalonians more than what is described in the first phrase, that the gospel came to them “in word.”2 The parallelism of the latter three phrases indicates that one is not subordinate to the other.3 This being the case, that the “gospel came . . . in the Holy Spirit” likely means something in addition to how the gospel came “in power”4 or “with full conviction.” In context, Paul is describing how his company preached; “in the Holy Spirit” thus describes the empowering source of their preaching.5

The Spirit also works in the listener in the work of conversion as well. Paul did not rely on “plausible words of wisdom” to convince his listeners that the content of his preaching was true (1 Cor 2:4).6 The “demonstration”7 of truthfulness to his listeners was by the Spirit whose demonstrative work was an exertion of the power of God (1 Cor 2:4).8 The Spirit worked through Paul as the Spirit worked through those who heard the Word. And once the Spirit enabled them to see the spiritual truth of the gospel, the listener accepted them and was gloriously converted (1 Cor 2:14; cf. 2:12–13).

In short, as the gospel is given, the Spirit works through both preacher and listener, and a sinner may come to Christ. What an amazing work of God!

  1. D. Michael Martin, 1, 2 Thessalonians (NAC 33; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002), 58. []
  2. Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 79. []
  3. Cf. Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians (PNTC; Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 2002), 96. []
  4. Ibid. []
  5. Gordon D. Fee, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 35. []
  6. Timothy H. Lim, “‘Not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Spirit and power’ (I Cor. 2:4),” NovT 9 (1987): 146. []
  7. Lim, “‘Not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Spirit and power’ (I Cor. 2:4),” 147, defines “demonstration” (ἀπόδειξις) as “. . . a technical term in rhetoric which means a demonstration or cogent proof of argument from commonly agreed premises.” []
  8. Paul’s emphasis on his own weakness in 1 Cor 2:3 likely rules out the Spirit’s means of convincing the Corinthians through miracles as in Rom 15:18–19 (cf. 2 Cor 12:12). See Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 95. For a survey of suggestions as to what Paul’s trembling and weakness may have been, see David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians (BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 85–86. []