We’re continuing in our series through Jesus’ farewell speech in John 14-17. Last week, we saw how both we and Jesus’ disciples are not to worry, but to trust in Jesus. Why? Because he’s God’s authorised representative, who alone gives access to the Father. This week, we’re given another reason not to worry – because Jesus is sending the Holy Spirit in his place.
Introducing the Holy Spirit
Much of Jesus’ farewell speech is about the Holy Spirit. In fact, I’d go as far as to claim that the majority of what we know about the Holy Spirit comes from this part of John’s Gospel. It’s the closest thing we have to sustained, systematic teaching about the Spirit’s identity and role. And it contains what I think is the most significant single statement about the Spirit – in verse 16, which we’ll get to tomorrow.
I think this is an important passage to focus on, as talking about the role of the Holy Spirit can be quite contentious and divisive. Some want to see the Spirit’s hand in every bold thought or gut instinct, without having a clear way of telling what might be the inner conviction of the Spirit, and what might simply be a case of spiritualising their hunches. They latch onto passing references to “prophecies” and “words of knowledge,” making them the focus of the Spirit’s work. Others – reacting to this – err in the opposite direction, their theological caution leading them to ignore the Spirit almost entirely. We can become either over-confident or under-confident in identifying the work of the Spirit, and both extremes are unhelpful.*
The antidote to an unbalanced view of the Spirit isn’t to airbrush him from our day-to-day theology, but to go back to where Scripture teaches about him most directly. What does Jesus himself say about the identity and role of the Spirit? What aspects of his role does Jesus most focus on? That’s what we’ll be looking at this week, as Jesus gives sustained teaching on this in John 14. (We’ll also see some more when we get to John 16 in a couple of weeks.)
Yet Jesus begins not with who the Spirit is, or what he does, but on who will receive him:
‘If you love me, you will obey what I command…’
This week’s passage starts off with a confronting promise:
John 14:15-17a “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth.”
Notice how the NIV puts a full-stop at the end of verse 15. However, much like an SMS or a high-school English essay, there was no punctuation in the original Greek manuscripts. And most commentators agree that it should be all one sentence.
That is, the ‘if you love me’ condition governs the whole 2 verses. ‘If you love me, then (a) you will obey my command, and (b) I will give you the Holy Spirit.’
Our obligation – if we are a true follower of Jesus – is to be obedient. For his part – if we are truly his followers – he will give us the Holy Spirit.
This doesn’t make the gift of the Holy Spirit dependent on our obedience. As though we can somehow earn or deserve the Spirit. It’s a gift, given to everyone who puts their trust in Jesus and decides to follow him. But it does remind us that the Holy Spirit is only given to Jesus’ true disciples; those who love him, and who therefore demonstrate that love by being obedient. We’re kidding ourselves if we claim to follow Jesus but don’t pursue obedience. Obedience is the evidence that we’ve truly placed our trust in Jesus; that we are truly grateful.
And this isn’t simply obedience to a set of particular ethical requirements; a list of ‘commands’. Verse 23 goes further:
John 14:23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
That is, love for Jesus is obedience to the entire ‘story’ of Jesus: who he is and what he has come to do, as well as how he expects us to live. It’s not enough just to ask: ‘have I broken a commandment today?’ (Although the answer will probably be yes, at any rate.) More importantly we need to ask: Have I lived my life in light of Jesus’ teaching; in light of his death and resurrection that bought my forgiveness and compels me not to waste my life but to devote it to the mission I’ve been given by God to tell others about his love? In short: is my life oriented around the story of Jesus, or the story of myself?
If anyone loves me, says Jesus, he will obey my teaching, my commands. That’s our responsibility as those who are truly Jesus’ followers. And on his part, he says he’ll give to those who love him the gift of the Holy Spirit. But who is the Spirit, and what will he do? That’s our question for tomorrow…
* Some churches will confidently identify the Spirit in everything, infusing Spirit-language into everything that’s said. I remember witnessing one pastor comment that his guest speaker was ‘looking very anointed tonight.’ Personally, I thought it was just sweat from the stage lights, but I could be wrong. And it made me wonder: How do you ‘look’ anointed? And how can we be so confident in identifying it?
Other churches could probably go a year without even mentioning the Spirit in their services at all, unless he was mentioned in the Bible reading for the day. They might say they believe in him, yet live like he doesn’t exist or have any bearing on our lives. Or at best, he’s some kind of mystical force that makes us holy – a kind of legal disclaimer ensuring that God gets the credit for our obedience and transformed character.