What Part Does the Holy Spirit Play in Salvation?


As a kid, I was ecstatic when my dad’s electronics broke because I got to take them apart, piece by piece. My goal was simple: to see how they worked from the inside. Formerly functioning computers turned into a jumbled mess of RAM cards, CD drives, cooling fans, etc. Before I dismantled them, every one of those parts was necessary to form the computer’s “whole.” Each part worked in tandem for the computer to function. If one part is broken, the entire machine fails; mere parts are not enough. And not only that, but every part also has a shared need for power. Without an electric current, none of the parts would work. Every part was required, and they all needed power for the whole to work.

So, why are we talking about computers when this post is apparently about the Holy Spirit? It is because salvation—Christ’s work in rescuing sinful man by grace through faith for the purpose of eternal life in him—is applied to us by the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit empowers the many parts (or aspects) of our salvation and applies them in their entirety to us.

While the good news of our salvation is accomplished by Christ’s work, it is the Holy Spirit who acts mightily in each aspect of salvation to apply them to our lives. Similar to how parts of a computer need “power” in order to create a whole that actually works, the Holy Spirit provides “power” to effectually bring about salvation in our lives through these aspects. Each “part” is required, and the Holy Spirit empowers their application to our lives in Christ.

So, the simple answer to “What part does the Holy Spirit play in salvation?” is easy: He is in every part! A better question to ask may be this: How does the Holy Spirit play His part?

Union with Christ

Continuing my computer analogy, the “motherboard” of the Holy Spirit’s work in every believer’s life is called one’s “Union with Christ.” Union with Christ is the believer’s identification with Christ in His mighty works, including Jesus’ obedient life, death, resurrection, ascension, session (sitting at God’s right hand), and second coming. Romans 6:1-11 illustrates this well. Believers have been buried with Christ by baptism into death (Romans 6:3), and as those united with Him in death, so too shall they be united with Him in a resurrection like His (Romans 6:5). Furthermore, believers are raised with Christ and seated with Him in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). One’s union with Christ ushers them from death to life—even into eternal life with Christ Himself (Colossians 3:4). So, union with Christ is of the greatest importance.

The Holy Spirit, then, is the personal bond that brings this union about in our lives. Consider Romans 8:9-10. We “…are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God lives in you.” Every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). But Paul’s very next line says, “Now if Christ is in you…” Paul equates the Spirit living in us to Christ living in us. Gregg Allison says it this way, “Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ himself dwells in believers” (Allison, 68). Therefore, what is true of Christ is true of believers and brings about the many “spiritual blessings in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). It is through the believer’s union with Christ that God applies His great blessings in salvation. Then, what are those blessings?

Blessings of Salvation through Union with Christ

Union with Christ is a sort of umbrella term that covers several downstream, but no less important, blessings or aspects of our salvation. The Holy Spirit applies each one of these aspects of salvation to the believer, and they all have fundamental importance to one’s union with Christ. They include, but are not necessarily limited to: regeneration, conversion, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification. For our purposes, only the first four will be covered here.


Regeneration is the believer’s new birth or being “born again” by the Holy Spirit. In regeneration, the believer, once formerly dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1-3), is made alive and now able and willing to trust in Christ. Jesus ascribes this action to the Holy Spirit in John 3:3-8 when He tells Nicodemus that he must be born again. Paul adds that the Holy Spirit conducts the “washing of regeneration” on believers at a time in their lives where they had no righteous works to show for their worthiness for it (Titus 3:5). Therefore, as the first major elements in one’s union with Christ, the Holy Spirit regenerates believers to be “made alive together with Christ” and makes them “new creations,” no longer dead but raised to new life (Ephesians 2:5, 2 Corinthians 5:17).


Though regeneration is totally the work of God, it is met by a corresponding human response: conversion. Conversion includes two major elements: repentance and faith.

Repentance occurs when the Holy Spirit convicts people of sin and leads them to acknowledge their lives as displeasing to God so that they turn from it (John 16:8). Faith occurs when sorrow for sin leads to a deep need for forgiveness, and subsequently one’s embrace of salvation through a personal trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Even faith comes from God (Ephesians 2:8-9), and one can only authentically speak the words “Jesus is Lord” by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:2-3). The Holy Spirit empowers conversion through faith and repentance in the lives of all believers.


Justification is a legal pronouncement by God in which sinners are declared both innocent of sin and credited with the righteousness of Christ in God’s sight. This is far more than just a “not guilty” verdict. Through the Holy Spirit’s act of justification (1 Corinthians 6:11), believers are counted “righteous” based on their union with Christ and identity with Him in His righteous life (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Once dead and guilty in our sin, Christ becomes our righteousness before God (1 Corinthians 1:30). Our sin and disobedience to God’s law are imputed, or “credited” to Christ, while His perfect life, death, and resurrection are imputed to us by the Holy Spirit. Justification is by faith alone and applied in the name of Christ, as empowered by the work of the Holy Spirit.


Salvation is often thought of by what it saves Christians from. However, it also includes what Christians are saved into. Adoption is the work of the Holy Spirit in which God incorporates sinful people into His family forever. Forgiveness, as wonderful a gift as it is, is not all God gives us. He gives us the right to become “children of God” (John 1:12) and, therefore, receive the benefits of eternal life in God’s own family.

The Holy Spirit is called the “spirit of adoption” (Romans 8:15), and He calls those formerly far from God His “sons” (Galatians 3:26-29) to share in the rich inheritance that He bestows upon His children (Ephesians 1:11-14, 1 Peter 1:4). (Though the word “son” is used, it does not mean that this text is limited to men. The passage in Galatians goes on to demonstrate that God’s adoption of mankind is for both men and women.)

We are adopted members of God’s family by the work of the Holy Spirit and know that He seals us to never lose our status as children—as heirs—of God.


The Holy Spirit gives us the knowledge of these truths in our lives and applies these truths to us in salvation. He makes us alive through our union with Christ, seats us with Christ in the heavenly places, and guarantees that we will be with Him always (even until the end of the age!). By the Spirit’s power, we are made new creations and therefore demonstrate this newness of life through our empowered faith and repentance. By the Spirit’s power, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us in God’s sight, and we are adopted into His family as co-heirs with Christ.

We are God’s chosen people by the foreknowledge of the Father and for obedience and purification in Jesus Christ—yet we are such only through the Spirit’s work to make us holy (1 Peter 1:2). Therefore, let us see Christ’s saving work on full display as those who take part in it by the Holy Spirit, who is our seal and guarantee of these beautiful truths.