John 15:26-28; 16:4-15
26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.
4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
On this Pentecost Sunday, we look at Jesus’ own words concerning the Holy Spirit as he explained to his followers why it was, in fact, good news that he was going away and that the Spirit was coming. But, depending on your faith background, you may either know very little about the Holy Spirit or you may have a complicated relationship with the Spirit because of weird things that you’ve seen in the church that have been attributed to him. So, today we’re going to get a quick Biblical overview of the Spirit, but we’re also going to root ourselves in Jesus’ words here in John as we seek to interact with the Spirit in our lives today.
- The Holy Spirit is not a New Testament invention.
The Spirit is not a figure that we meet once we get to the Book of Acts. You know, with Jesus, we see prophecies of a coming Messiah throughout the Old Testament, but we don’t meet the embodied, incarnate Jesus Christ, the only Son of God until we get to the New Testament. And, it can be easy to think the same thing of the Holy Spirit, and even in today’s Scripture, Jesus uses this sending language: “if I don’t go, he cannot come.” But the reality is that we see him throughout the entire Bible. In fact, he’s on page one.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
Have you ever noticed that? Chapter one verse two, the Spirit of God is present at creation. The Hebrew word here for Spirit is “ruach,” a word that literally means “breath” or “wind.” And, those words are descriptive of the spirit and come up often throughout the Bible. For example: Jesus tells the Pharisee Nicodemus:
5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
So, the Spirit has this mysterious, mystical quality where you can’t fully explain where he has come from. Later in John 20, Jesus “breathes” on the disciples and says, “receive the Holy Spirit.” Later still, when the Spirit came at Pentecost, it was said to sound like a mighty rushing wind. But, those are all New Testament examples. What about the Old Testament?
Well, back to Genesis, chapter two. God breathes into the man the “breath of life.” The “ruach” of life. Throughout the Old Testament, we see the Spirit of God come upon people to empower them for certain work. For some, like Samson, the Spirit gave him strength. For the prophets, the Spirit of God gave them words. For example, the famous words of Isaiah that are repeated by Jesus.
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…
So, the Spirit is by no means a New Testament invention, but instead, has been present and active from the very beginning.
2. The Holy Spirit is God.
He is God the Holy Spirit, and how we view God is of the utmost importance. Throughout Christian history, the most common symbol has been the triangle. We’ve heard that God is the trinity or that He is triune, but to see a triangle can be helpful.
God eternally exists as Father, Son, and Spirit. These are not three separate God’s. Here’s how the church has talked about him for centuries. This is one God in three persons. This is something that catechisms throughout the ages have sought to encapsulate, and it is difficult because we are trying to describe the indescribable. You’ll hear it said that God is ineffable, which means that, in reality, he is too great to be adequately described in words. Yet, we try:
The Westminster Catechism written in 1647 asks:
Q: How many persons are there in the Godhead?
A: There are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.
The New City Catechism says: “There are three persons in the one true and living God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are the same in substance, equal in power and glory.”
Now, notice what both of those are trying to communicate. Not just the makeup of the Godhead, but the way that the three persons of the Godhead relate. They are the same in substance, equal in power and glory.
The fancy theological words are:
Coeternal: meaning that all three persons have always been. God has always been God.
Consubstantial: meaning that they are all of the same being or substance
Coequal: meaning that one person of the Godhead is not more or less significant than the others
This is important, but our tendency can be to elevate or diminish parts of the trinity. Again, depending on your faith background, it’s possible that one part of the God-head was what was primarily talked about. I grew up in an evangelical church hearing mostly about Jesus and very little about the Holy Spirit. If you grew up Pentecostal or Assemblies of God, it’s possible that you primarily heard about the Holy Spirit. But, God is triune, coeternal, coequal and consubstantial. The Father, Son and Spirit are all equally worthy of our worship and obedience. In other words, to disobey the Spirit is to directly disobey God.
3. The Holy Spirit empowers the church.
Let’s look back at John 15 and 16. An important question for us to ask is, “what does Jesus say about the Spirit?” And, that is an important Bible study principle that you can put in your pocket. What does Jesus say? And, you’ll be amazed at how much Jesus has to say. Often, with something like the Holy Spirit, the tendency is to want to look at examples of the Spirit’s power at work and then take interpretive leaps by saying that what the Spirit does in a particular Biblical instance is what the Spirit will always do, which sort of goes against that whole “he’s like the wind” thing. He’s unpredictable. We can’t put the Spirit in a box or anticipate how He is going to work. The reality is that the Biblical evidence indicates that the Spirit empowers people in exactly the ways they most need in order to accomplish God’s purposes. Here’s what I mean: in Acts 2, the Spirit comes and the apostles “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” This is an incredibly famous, significant and controversial moment. In its context, at least, it didn’t mean that they were speaking gibberish or some kind of heavenly language; it meant other human languages, which is a remarkable thing. And, the reason why it is controversial is because, since we see that very thing happen several times in the New Testament, some people have sought to say that particular empowerment of the Spirit must happen to everyone or you are not saved. And, that is a significant interpretive leap, because the Bible does not make that claim. The reality is that the Spirit gives all kinds of gifts and all kinds of empowerment to people, but the gift of tongues is the only one that people want to apply to everyone, which doesn’t make sense. The prophets of the Old Testament were all empowered by the Spirit to declare the actual words of God, but, everyone clearly does not have that gift. The Spirit empowered Samson with super strength, but everyone clearly does not have that gift. The Spirit came on Saul and he became a king. The Spirit left Saul and he was dethroned. The Spirit came upon David, and he became a king. But, no one is making the case that we must all become actual royalty to prove our salvation. Now, this is not a message about speaking in tongues, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on that today. If that is something you’d like to dig into, I’d be happy to do that with you. Don’t miss this: to say that the whole point of the Holy Spirit is to give all believers one particular gift is to diminish the Spirit. It does not recognize the myriad of ways that he has worked and empowered throughout history, and it ignores what Jesus says about Him. And so, what does Jesus say?
The Spirit Will:
- Bear Witness
- The Spirit testifies to the divinity of Christ and empowers our lives to do the same.
- Jesus says that it is good for Him to go away so that the “helper” can come.
- About Sin
- because there are those who don’t believe in Christ
- About Righteousness
- because we no longer have the incarnate Christ
- About Judgement
- because the enemy will be judged and sentenced and so will all those who don’t follow Christ.
- About Sin
- Speak truth
- In other words, he will impress upon us what is true of Christ by reminding us of Jesus’ own words…which are ultimately the words of the Father.
Now, here’s the thing. Many of us would probably affirm that we believe the things I just said to be true. But, how many of us are actually and intentionally seeking to walk in the Spirit, which means to listen and obey what the Spirit is saying? Francis Chan in his book on the Holy Spirit called Forgotten God says:
Churchgoers all across the nation say the Holy Spirit has entered them. They claim that God has given them a supernatural ability to follow Christ, put their sin to death, and serve the church. Christians talk about being born again and say that they were dead but now have come to life. We have become hardened to those words, but they are powerful words that have significant meaning. Yet when those outside the church see no difference in our lives, they begin to question our integrity, our sanity, or even worse, our God. And can you blame them? – Francis Chan “Forgotten God”
The thing that is abundantly clear is that in Acts 2, something significant happened at Pentecost. And what has changed is not the Spirit himself or the kinds of abilities he can give to believers, but the way that the Spirit is interacting with followers of God. Throughout the Old Testament we see the Spirit come upon people at certain times for certain purposes, but now, the Spirit indwells all those who call Jesus Lord. That is what changes at Pentecost. The Spirit truly comes to live within believers. When we say that God lives within someone, we don’t mean that metaphorically; we mean it literally. And, how we think about that and respond to that truth is critical. Because the Spirit has not come to live within you so that you can be a self-focused, casual consumer of religious things. He has come to live within you so that the truth, voice and power of God can be immediately accessible to you to accomplish the Lord’s purposes. He has come to be a helper, but the primary thing he has come to help you and me with is to help us grow up into Christ and to do the work that God has called us to do.