The Holy Spirit has often been called the “shy Person of the Trinity.” His purpose is to focus our attention on Christ, not on himself. Nevertheless, he is true God and as such deserves to be worshipped and glorified for all he is and all he does.
Believers are temples of the Holy Spirit. So we say because this is what Scripture teaches in 1 Corinthians 6:19. We’re therefore accustomed to thinking that the Holy Spirit has exclusive dealings with Christians. We might hesitate to affirm that the Holy Spirit could have anything to do with any unbeliever. But then there’s King Saul in the Old Testament.
King Saul’s relationship with the Holy Spirit is curious. In 1 Samuel 10, Saul was anointed to be king and afterwards the Holy Spirit “rushed upon him” and he prophesied. The Holy Spirit came to Saul in the same way in 1 Samuel 11 when he heard of the siege of Jabesh-Gilead. However, after David is anointed to be King Saul’s successor, we’re told in 1 Samuel 16:14 that the Spirit of the LORD departed from him. Yet nevertheless the Holy Spirit comes upon Saul one last time in 1 Samuel 19. Under the power of the Spirit, Saul strips off all his clothes and lays naked on the ground prophesying.
How do we explain this situation where we see the Holy Spirit coming and going with a king whose spiritual state is at best ambiguous? Or do how we make sense of Hebrews 6 which speaks of those who “shared in the Holy Spirit” and yet cannot be restored to repentance after having fallen away? The answer has to do with an important theological distinction between the general and special operations of the Holy Spirit.
The special operations of the Holy Spirit are by far the most well-known to us. They’re called “special” operations because their application is redemptive. They’re directed specifically towards the salvation of God’s elect. Let’s survey some of those special operations. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit provides a witness to Jesus (John 15:26). When the gospel is preached, he works the new birth in the person whom God has decreed to save (John 3:1-7). The Holy Spirit convicts “the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). He is the Helper/Comforter (John 14:16). The Spirit also works holiness in the life of a believer (2 Thess. 2:13). The foregoing is not an exhaustive list of his special operations, but it illustrates some of what’s meant by redemptive application.
Reformed Christians are often in the dark about the general operations of the Holy Spirit. We call them “general” operations because they’re not limited to or directed necessarily towards the salvation of the elect. In God’s decree, these operations or works have a more general scope.