©The Holy Spirit
Puritan Paperbacks by John Owen
Abridged and made easy to read by R.J.K. LAW

By permission
Banner of Truth Trust
Edinburgh, Scotland
Carlisle, PA
Banner of Truth

Chapter 18. The Work of the Spirit in Purging Believers from Sin


Publisher's Preface
1. The Work of the Holy Spirit
2. The Spirit of God
3. How the Holy Spirit Comes to Us and Does His Work
4. The Special Preparatory Works of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament
5. The Work of the Holy Spirit in the New Creation
6. The Holy Spirit and the Human Nature of Christ
7. The Work of the Holy Spirit on the Mystical Body of Christ, His Church
8. The Holy Spirit's Work of Regeneration
9. How the Holy Spirit Prepares a Soul for His Work of Regeneration
10. How the Mind is Corrupted and Depraved by Sin
11. Natural and Spiritual Death Compared 12. Regeneration Itself
13. The Work of Conversion
14. The Nature of Sanctification and Gospel Holiness
15. Sanctification a Lifelong Work
16. Believers Only are Sanctified
17. The Work of Sanctification itself
18. The Work of the Spirit in Purging Believers from Sin
19. The Work of the Spirit in Renewing the Spiritual Life of Believers
20. The Activities and Duties of Holiness
21. Dealing with Sin 22. The Necessity of Holiness
23. Election a Motive to Holiness
24. Commanded to be Holy
25. Holiness and the Work of Christ
26. Holiness in an Unholy World

18. The Work of the Spirit in Purging Believers from Sin

The Holy Spirit is the chief worker of holiness in us on the basis of the blood shed by Christ on the cross by which the right for the Holy Spirit to work holiness in us was purchased.

This holiness, or sanctification, is produced in us by two means: faith and troubles or afflictions.

We are purged from sin by the Spirit of God. It is from our depraved natures that sin comes with all its pollution. So it is by the renewal of our natures back into the image of God that we are made holy (Ephesians 4:23, 24; Titus 3:5). The Holy Spirit cleanses us by strengthening our souls by his grace to fulfil our duties and to resist actual sins. But if we sin, it is the blood of Christ that cleanses us ( 1 John 1 :7-9).

It is the blood of Christ applied to our souls by the Holy Spirit that actually purges our souls from sins (1 John 1:7; Rev. 1:5; Hebrews 9:14; Ephesians 5: 25, 26; Titus 2:14), as Zechariah anticipated ( Zechariah. 13:1).

The blood of Christ here is the blood of his sacrifice, along with its power, virtue and effectiveness.

Blood in the Old Testament

The blood of a sacrifice was considered as an offering to God to make atonement and reconciliation. It was sprinkled on things for their purging and sanctification (Leviticus 1:11; 16: 14; Hebrews 9:19, 20, 22). So the blood of Christ is considered as the offering up of himself by the eternal Spirit to God to make atonement for sin and to procure eternal redemption. It is sprinkled by the same Spirit on the consciences of believers to purge them from dead works (Hey 9:12-14; 12:24; 1 Peter 1:2). But the blood of Christ in his sacrifice is still always in the same condition as it was in that hour in which it was shed. It is the same in strength and effectiveness.

Cold or congealed blood was of no use for sprinkling. Blood was appointed for atonement, because the life of the animal was in the blood (Lev.17:11). But the blood of an animal soon went cold and then it clotted. But the blood of Christ is always hot and never congeals, because it has the same Spirit of life and sanctification still moving in it. So we have a new and living way to God (Hebrews 10:20). It is always living, yet always as if newly slain.

There were different sorts of propitiatory offerings where the blood was sprinkled. There was the continual burnt offering. By this and the sprinkling of its blood, the congregation was purified to be holy to the Lord. This is how cleansing from secret and unknown sins was symbolized.

On the Sabbath day, the sacrifice was doubled both in the morning and the evening. This showed a special and more abundant pouring out of mercy and purging grace.

There was a great annual sacrifice at the feast of expiation when by the sacrifice of the sin offering and the scapegoat the whole congregation was purged from all known and great sins and brought into a state of legal holiness.

There were occasional sacrifices for everyone according to each person's sense of need. There was a way continually ready for any man's purification by his bringing an offering.

Now the blood of Christ must continually and on all occasions accomplish spiritually what these sacrifices accomplished legally (Hebrews 9:9-14). And so it does.

The red heifer

In the book of Numbers we read of another way by which God's people under the Old Testament were purified (Numbers 19). A red heifer was sacrificed. The blood was taken and sprinkled on the tabernacle, but the heifer was burned. The ashes of the heifer were then kept and when anyone wished to be purified from legal pollutions, some of the ashes were mixed with water and sprinkled on the unclean person. Now, as the ashes of the red heifer were always available for purification, so is the blood of Christ to us now. Any unclean person who did not purify himself with the ashes of the heifer was to be cut off from the people (Numbers 19:20). And so it is also with those who refuse to be purified by the blood of Christ as the 'fountain opened for sin and uncleanness' (Zechariah 13:1).

The cleansing blood of Christ

Now the blood of Christ cleanses us from all our sins. The blood of Christ takes away from the sinner all the loathsomeness of sin in the sight of God. Now the sinner is seen as one who is washed and purified and fit to stand in his holy presence (Isaiah 1:16-18; Psalms 51:7; Ephesians 5:25-27). The blood of Christ takes shame out of the conscience, and gives the soul boldness in God's presence (Hebrews 10:1922). When these things are done, then sin is purged and our souls are cleansed.

But how do we become partakers of that cleansing blood? It is the Holy Spirit who shows us and spiritually convinces us of the defilement caused by sin (John 16:8). Only when we see how sin has defiled us will we be driven to the blood of Christ for cleansing.

The Holy Spirit proposes, declares and presents to us the only true remedy for our cleansing. Left to ourselves, we turn to the wrong means (Hosea 5:13). It is the Holy Spirit who shows us the things of Christ (John 16:14).

Faith and cleansing

The Holy Spirit also works faith in us by which we are made partakers of the purifying virtue of the blood of Christ. By faith we receive Christ and by faith we receive all that Christ has to give us (Psalms 51:7; Leviticus 14: 2-7; Numbers 19:4-6; Acts 13:39; Hebrews 9:13,14; 10:1-3).

The actual application by faith of Christ's blood for cleansing lies in four things. Firstly, we must look by faith to Christ's blood as shed on the cross for our sins, as the Israelites of old looked at the brass serpent on the pole to be healed from the poison of the snakes that bit them (Isaiah 45:22; Num. 21:8; cf. John 3:14). Secondly, faith actually trusts in and relies on Christ's blood for cleansing from all sin (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 9:13, 14; 10:22). Thirdly, faith fervently prays for that cleansing blood to be applied (Hebrews 4:15, 16). And fourthly, faith accepts the truth and faithfulness of God to cleanse by the blood of Christ.

The Holy Spirit actually applies the cleansing, purifying virtue of the blood of Christ to our souls and consciences so that we are freed from shame and have boldness towards God.

It is by faith that our souls are purified (Acts 15:9). Faith is the hand of the soul that takes hold of the blood of Christ for cleansing.

There are two unfailing evidences of a sincere faith. Inwardly, it purifies the heart and outwardly, it works by love (1 Peter 1:22; Titus 1:15).

We are purified by faith because faith is the chief grace by which our nature is restored to the image of God and so freed from original defilement (Colossians 3:10; l John 3:3). It is also by faith on our part that we receive the purifying virtue and influences of the blood of Christ (Deuteronomy 4:4; Joshua 23:8; Acts 11:22). Furthermore, it is chiefly by faith that our lusts and corruptions which defile us are killed, subdued and gradually driven out of our minds (Hebrews 12:15;James 1:14; John 15:3-5).

Faith takes hold of the motives presented to us in order to stir up to holiness, and to use all the ways God has given us by which we can prevent ourselves being defiled by sin, and by which our minds and consciences may be cleansed from dead works.

Two excellent motives are presented to us. The first excellent motive comes from the wonderful promises of God given to us now (2 Corinthians 7:1). The second motive comes from the thought of being like Christ when we see him as he is in eternal glory ( l John 3:2, 3).


God sends troubles to purge us from sin (Isaiah 31:9; 48:10; 1 Corinthians 3:12, 13).

When we are under the dominion of sin and its judgment, troubles are a curse and often result in further sinful acts. But when grace reigns in us, troubles are a means of sanctifying us and the means by which graces are strengthened, resulting in holiness. Christ's cross cast into the waters of affliction makes them wholesome and a great means of grace and holiness (Exodus 15:22-25). All the pain and suffering that his people experience, he feels first (Isaiah 63:9; Acts 9:5; Colossians 1:24).

All our troubles and distresses are God's means to make us more and more like his Son (Romans 8:29). They help us to have a deeper sense of the vileness of sin as God sees it. Troubles are used by God to discipline and correct his children. As such, they are not to be despised (Hebrews 12:3-11). Troubles help us to rely less and less on created things for our comfort and to rejoice more in the things of Christ (Galatians 6:14). Troubles help us to kill our lusts or corrupt desires. We are delivered more and more from the pollutions of sin and are made more and more holy, as he is holy (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Troubles are God's ways of drawing out from us all the graces of the Spirit in order that they may be constantly and diligently exercised.


Try to understand the loathsomeness of sin with its defiling effects and the great danger of not being cleansed from sin (Rev. 3:16-18). Search the Scriptures and consider seriously what it teaches about our condition after we lost the image and likeness of God (Psalms 53:3). He who has received the testimony of Scripture about his polluted state will try and find the reason for it. He will search out his own sores and cry out, 'Unclean! Unclean!'

Pray too for light and guidance about your pollution and how to deal with it. Natural light is not enough to know the depth of your depravity (Romans 2: 14, 15).

To be purged from the pollution of sin, we must be ashamed of the filth of sin (Ezra 9:6;Jer. 3:25). There are two sorts of shame. There is legal shame which is produced by a legal conviction of sin. For example, Adam, after his fall, felt a shame which led to fear and terror. So he ran and hid from God. There is also evangelical shame which arises from a sense of the vileness of sin and the riches of God's grace in pardoning and purifying us from it (Ezekiel 16:60-63; Romans 6:21).

Sadly, however, many are completely insensitive to their true condition. They are more ashamed about how they stand in the eyes of men than how their hearts appear in the sight of God. Some are pure in their own eyes (Proverbs 30:12), e.g., the Pharisees (Isaiah 65:4,5). Others even openly boast of their shame and sin. They proclaim their sins like Sodom (Isaiah 3:9; Jeremiah 6:15; 8:12) and not only boast of their own sins, but approve of and delight in those who also sin like them (Romans 1:32).

Our duty to understand God 's way of cleansing

The importance of this duty is taught us by God himself. The legal institutions of the Old Testament show us the importance of this duty, for every sacrifice had something in it for purifying from uncleanness. The greatest promises in the Old Testament focus on cleansing from sin (e.g., Ezekiel 36:25, 29). In the gospel, the greatest of our needs is shown to be the need of being cleansed from sin.

The cleansing power of the blood of Christ and the Spirit's application of that blood to our hearts is presented to us in the covenant promises (2 Peter 1:4). The only way to enjoy personally the good things presented in the promises is by faith (Hebrews 4:2; 11:17; Romans 4:19-21; 10:6-9).

Two things make such faith effectual. The first is the excellence of the grace or duty itself. Faith discards all other ways of cleansing. It gives all glory to God for his power, faithfulness, goodness and grace in spite of all difficulties and oppositions. Faith glorifies God's wisdom for working out this way for us to be cleansed. It glorifies God's infinite grace in providing this fountain for all uncleanness when we were lost and under his curse. Thus we are united to Christ from whom alone comes all our cleansing.

Duties of believers

The first duty is to be in continual self-abasement. In your own estimation, put yourself in the lowest seat, as Christ told the Jews to do when at a feast. Remember the defiled and polluted state from which you have been delivered (Dent. 26:1-5; Ezekiel 16:3-5; Psalms 51:5; Ephesians 2:11-13; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Titus3:5).

The second duty is to be continually thankful for that deliverance from the original pollution from sin which Christ has given you (Luke 17:17; Revelations 1:5, 6). We are to value the sprinkling of the blood of Christ in the sanctification of the Spirit. Be aware of that inward joy and satisfaction you may have because you have been delivered from that shame which deprived us of all boldness and confidence in coming to God, and be thankful. Praise God for these things.

We must, therefore, watch against all sin, especially its early stirrings in the heart. Remember its danger and punishment. Consider the terror of the Lord and the threatenings of the law. Do not sink into that servile fear that longs to be rid of God, but seek that fear which keeps from sin and makes the soul more determined to hold on to God. Consider the loathsome, polluting effect of sin (I Colossians : 3:16, 17; 6:15-19).

Walk humbly before the Lord. Remember that the best works we do are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). When we have done all we are commanded to do, we are still to see ourselves as unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10).

Starve the root of sin (James 1:13-15). Do not feed your sinful desires.

Come continually to Jesus Christ for cleansing by his Spirit and the sprinkling of his blood on your conscience to purge them from dead works - those works by which the soul, neglecting the fountain established for its cleansing, attempts to cleanse itself from sin and its pollution.

Question. But how can he who is holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners be united to and have communion with those who are defiled and in a state of darkness? Does not Scripture tell us that there can be no fellowship between righteousness and unrighteousness, and no communion between light and darkness (2 Corinthians 6:14)?

Answer Those who are wholly under the power of their original defilement neither have nor can have union or communion with Christ (I John 1:6). No unregenerate person can be united to Christ.

Whatever our defilements may be, Christ who is light is not defiled by them. Light is not polluted by shining on a heap of manure. A sore on the leg does not defile the head, though the head suffers with the leg.

Christ's purpose in uniting himself to us is to purge us from all our sins (Ephesians 5:25-27). It is not necessary that in order to be united to Christ we be completely sanctified. We are united to Christ in order to be completely sanctified (John 15:1-5). Thus, where the work of sanctification and spiritual cleansing is really begun in someone, there the whole person is now considered to be holy. Our union with Christ is directly by the new creation in us. This new creation which is united to Christ was formed in us by the Spirit of holiness and is itself therefore holy.

There are many sins by which believers are defiled. But there is a way of cleansing still open to them. If they continually use that way of cleansing, no defilement of sin can hinder their communion with Christ.

Under the Old Testament, provision was made for defilement. If a person did not make use of this provision when defiled, he was cut off from the people. God has provided us with the blood of Christ to cleanse us from all the defilement of sin, and he expects believers to use it. If we do not make use of it we cannot have communion with Christ, nor can we have real fellowship with other believers (I John 1:6, 7).

We ought to pray as David did (Psalms 19:12, 13). His prayer was a constant humble acknowledgement of sins. 'Who can understand his errors?' He sought a daily cleansing from those defilements which the least and most secret sins bring with them. 'Cleanse me from secret faults.' He prayed to be kept from 'presumptuous sins', or willful sins committed deliberately against known light. So long as believers are kept within the bounds set in David's prayer, even although they are defiled by sin, yet there is in them nothing inconsistent with their union with Christ. Our blessed head is not only pure and holy, he is also gracious and merciful. He will not cut off a member of his body because it is sick or has a sore in it.

Conclusion. There is, then, a great difference between true holiness wrought in us by the Holy Spirit and a morally decent life produced by self-effort. Moreover the life of holiness wrought in us by the Holy Spirit needs to be kept pure and undefiled by the Spirit of God and the blood of Christ, whereas the morally decent life, produced by self-effort, endeavors to keep itself pure by 'good resolutions'.

By permission
Banner of Truth Trust
Edinburgh, Scotland
Carlisle, PA
Banner of Truth