We’re continuing in our series through Jesus’ farewell speech in John 14-17.
Yesterday, I asked you to read John 14:15-26 and John 15:26-16:15, and to note down everything we are told about the nature and role of the Holy Spirit (the “advocate” whom Jesus will send). How did you go?
Here’s my list (which I don’t claim is absolutely everything we might deduce about the Spirit), some of which we discussed a couple of weeks ago when we looked at chapter 14:
- 14:16 – he is another advocate/counsellor/encourager, just like Jesus was
- 14:17 – he is the Spirit of truth; he is alongside us and within us
- 14:26 – he will teach us all things and remind us of what Jesus had said
- 15:26 – he will testify about Jesus (as will we, v27)
- 16:7 – he can’t come until Jesus goes; he is sent by Jesus
- 16:8-11 – he will convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgement
- 16:13-15 – he will guide us in truth – truth that he hears from Jesus and the Father (which the disciples couldn’t cope with at that moment, v12)
- 16:14 – he will glorify Jesus
So what does all this add up to?
You might have noticed how most of what we’ve listed relates to one of two (related) concepts: truth and testimony (or word and witness, if you like W’s better than T’s).
Firstly, his role concerns the truth. After all, he’s described as the Spirit of truth! Specifically, Jesus says that his role was to teach and remind. So he would remind them of what Jesus already said. We see examples of that in the rest of John’s Gospel, where the disciples are described as “remembering” Jesus’ words after his resurrection, and seeing their significance:
John 2:22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
John 12:16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.
But he would also teach them new truth – truth which would only make sense in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection, which hadn’t happened yet (so they couldn’t yet “bear” it.) The Spirit would reveal the full saving significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection:
John 16:12-13a “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”
So how do we access that truth? Primarily through the writings of the New Testament. The disciples wrote down the words of Jesus they remembered, and the theological interpretation of what took place in his life, death, and resurrection – all by means of the Spirit.
(So when people want to talk about being “Spirit-led” over against “Bible-based” – or vice-versa – they’re missing the point. The Spirit was the one who guided the production of what would become our Bible!)
But the Spirit isn’t just the source of the revelation of this truth – he’s also the one who convicts people of this truth. He’s involved not just in the sending of the message, but also in its reception:
John 16:8-11 “When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”
The Spirit makes the word of God effective, convincing people of its truth and calling them to repentance. In other words, the Spirit testifies to people about the truth of Jesus’ message: he enables us to speak words of truth, and he enables our hearers to accept it.
John 15:26-27 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.”
And by doing that, he brings glory to the Father and Son (as do we) because he faithfully proclaims the truth about what God has done in saving his people:
John 16:14 “He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”
How, then, might we summarise the work of the Spirit, as Jesus teaches in this farewell speech?
The Spirit is the one who encourages us (walking alongside us) and empowers us (dwelling in us) as we fulfil our calling as people who are sent to testify about Jesus. He revealed the truth of the gospel to those first “sent ones” – called apostles – who preserved this teaching in the New Testament, which we have come to accept and believe. And he continues to convict the ones to whom they (and we) were sent, so that they accept this truth – thus bringing glory to the God who sends!
Now the Bible says plenty more about the Holy Spirit, particularly in regards to the equipping of God’s people with spiritual gifts (see 1 Cor 12, for example). But sometimes we can get so caught up in discussing – and arguing about – spiritual gifts that we miss the overarching picture of what the Spirit was sent to do. He isn’t just the Spirit of strange languages, words of knowledge, healings, and prophecies; he is, first and foremost, the Spirit of truth. The gifts are there simply to help us to do our job as the people of God sent with the message of truth to the world.
After all, that’s why the Spirit was given to us:
John 20:21-22 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”