We are going to walk through Scripture to construct a spine to understand the person of the Holy Spirit and to apply it to truths. The big idea in this study is that the Holy Spirit is God, worthy of worship and praise, and He intends for us to experience Him clearly. We will anchor our study in John 14-16 because it is where Jesus lays out what we need to know about the Spirit.
(A) Who: the Person of the Trinity who makes communion with God known and experienced (John 14:15-27)
The Bible speaks of the Spirit throughout Scripture:
Thus, the Holy Spirit is not merely a NT doctrine. However, in John 14, we see a concentrated section on the Holy Spirit just before Jesus prepares to leave His disciples (John 14:16-17, 26). Jesus teaches His disciples about the identity of the Holy Spirit. John speaks of the Holy Spirit as the one who mediates God’s presence and in the OT, this presence was centred around the tabernacle and temple. The Spirit is also the one who helps us through empowerment and is always there for God’s people (less for the individual, more concerned with His church). So even in the case of Samson at the end of his life, it was also for the people of God. The Spirit’s presence and work almost always comes with/through revelation (i.e., the Word of the Lord through prophets in the OT).
What about today? From Heb 1:1-2, long ago, God spoke through the prophets by the Holy Spirit. And today, God speaks by His Son, through the Holy Spirit.
How does Jesus refer to the Holy Spirit? He is called the Helper (“paraclete”), and He is referred to as “another Helper” (c.f. John 14:16-17). The original Helper was Jesus so Jesus is saying that the Spirit is like Him but not Him. This is where we see that He is God but is different from the Father and the Son. His immediate ministry will be similar to Jesus’ ministry to His disciples. Jesus’ ministry was all about teaching and here, He is telling His disciples that it won’t be over. The Holy Spirit will minister to and teach them when He comes.
The Father sends the Spirit in the name of the Son because Jesus asked (John 14:26). Again, we witness the unity of the Trinity. The Spirit doesn’t come as He wishes. The Son doesn’t just send whomever He desires. This mission is relational. We also read of how the Spirit will be with them forever (John 14:16b) and we will unpack this later.
We also see how each member of the Trinity performs specific actions:
Jesus and the Father promised to love us and make their home with us. These are immense promises. How does that happen? What Jesus says about the Holy Spirit answers these questions. What we see here is that God’s promises that He offers to us are never offered to us alone. Each member of the Trinity participates and has a role in achieving the will and purpose of God. God offers to us the whole Christ and the manner with which we get Christ is through the Holy Spirit. Paul writes this in 2 Cor 6:16. This is also what we mean by the unique communicative work of the Spirit, in that He makes communion with God know and experienced. This is immense and awesome, but for many of us, we might not see the wonder and value of it because we don’t understand this truth clearly.
(B) What He does: Glorifies Jesus by miraculously leading God’s people to the truth (Jn 14:25-26, Jn 16:12-15)
From John 16:8-11, we read of 3 things that the Spirit does. The Spirit will convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment and each action has an implication for salvation. Note that when John says “world” he is not referring to the size of the world, but to represent the evil and sin of this place that is opposing the kingdom of God.
On sin: “because they do not believe in me” – defined not in terms of moral failure but because of unbelief. It is when one places the weight of his life on anything apart from Jesus. This is what the Spirit will convict of!
On righteousness: “because you will see me no longer” – Jesus, present in the flesh, was convicting the world of its self-righteousness. Now, Jesus is leaving and the disciples will have to continue His work and also face persecution (c.f. John 15:27). Yet, His Spirit will continue Jesus’ work and empower the disciples.
On judgment: “because the ruler of the world is judged” – On the cross, victory has been won.
No one comes to Jesus without the work of the Spirit. We should expect the miraculous. It is a miracle that a sinner places faith in Christ and is saved! Eph 2 tells us that we were dead in our sins and trespasses. The Spirit regenerates and breathes life into dead sinners. Jesus intends for the Spirit to be our present Evangelist, and He delights to work with us to exalt Christ through the gospel. This is a miraculous work. If we try and do gospel work without Him, we will fail. If we try and relate to Him without the gospel, we’re not doing His work. There is something to be said here about how we think about evangelism. We may think it is ultimately dependent on saying the right thing and having the right “truths”, but this passage reminds us that the Spirit is ultimately the one that is at work convicting of sin. This passage calls us to question our dependence on the Holy Spirit.
We also live in an age where the word “miracle” is thrown around lightly. People tell us that “powerful” miracles, like that of miraculous healing, is how God is known. Perhaps. But what the world needs to know is not just that our God is a powerful God - the world needs to know that He is a God who is powerful to save. Miracles alone will not convict a person. That is insufficient and we know this to be true in the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16.
Jesus also tells his disciples in John 16 that it is to their advantage that the Holy Spirit comes. How could the Holy Spirit be more advantageous than Jesus’ physical companionship? We’ve already seen the convicting work of the Spirit, but in John 16:13, we also read of how the Spirit will guide them in to all truth, things that they cannot bear now (John 16:13). This includes bringing into remembrance all that Jesus has said (John 14:25-26). How do we know that John wrote things correctly, and Paul and Peter and the rest of the NT is true? Because the Spirit was at work. This is the basis for the apostolic authority of the NT, and why we can believe in the inerrancy of the Scripture. (c.f. John 17:3) We can have eternal life by coming to a saving knowledge of God through Christ. This is the work of the Spirit in our day and age (c.f. Heb 1:1-2). How do we experience it? When we remember the words of Jesus and see them imprinted on our lives, the Spirit is at work!
The Holy Spirit’s own testimony to Himself is through the Word (Jn 15:26, 16:14a) Yet in our churches today, we may think that God’s Word can stand apart from God’s Spirit. Or, for some of us, we may approach the Word in a way that could also quench the Spirit. What sort of testimony is your church showing? How do we treat the word? If your church is a “Bible-church” how do you approach the Word? Do you dwell richly and also lean heavily on the work of the Spirit? Or do you treat it as a mere intellectual exercise?
Who is the focal point of the Holy Spirit’s ministry? John 15:26 makes it clear that there is no confusion who the Spirit seeks to glorify. It is always, always, always about Jesus. Packer describes it as the “floodlight ministry” of the Spirit.
I remember walking to a church one winter evening to preach on the words “he shall glorify me,” seeing the building floodlit as I turned a corner, and realizing that this was exactly the illustration my message needed.
When floodlighting is well done, the floodlights are so placed that you do not see them; you are not in fact supposed to see where the light is coming from; what you are meant to see is just the building on which the floodlights are trained. The intended effect is to make it visible when otherwise it would not be seen for the darkness, and to maximize its dignity by throwing all its details into relief so that you see it properly. This perfectly illustrates the Spirit’s new covenant role. He is, so to speak, the hidden floodlight shining on the Savior.
Or think of it this way. It is as if the Spirit stands behind us, throwing light over our shoulder, on Jesus, who stands facing us.
The Spirit’s message is never, “Look at me; listen to me; come to me; get to know me,” but always “Look at him, and see his glory; listen to him, and hear his word; go to him, and have life; get to know him, and taste his gift of joy and peace.”
If the Holy Spirit’s work is always, always, always about magnifiying Jesus and if you are a Christian today and the Holy Spirit dwells in you, what sort of a message are you speaking? What is your testimony? Is Christ magnified, or has another vain idol taken His place? Do people see the message of the Spirit and is Christ glorified wherever you are?
(C) How we experience Him: clearly, in personal communion through God’s Word for the church’s cosmic testimony (Jn 15, 17)
(D) How we do not experience Him: in confusion, apart from God’s Word for our own benefit
Jesus leaves his disciples with blessings and responsibilities. He promises His disciples a wholeness and peace unlike what the world offers (John 14:27) and He leaves them joy (John 15:11). They are to abide in Him and bear fruit (John 15:4-5).
What is this joy like? It is a joy that comes from abiding in the Word and is a joy that cannot be taken from you (c.f. John 16:22). This is a joy that far surpasses all the health, wealth, status, romance this world offers. This is an imperishable joy that is rooted in the God that the Word speaks about.
What about peace? Jesus, after all, promises persecution to His disciples. This is a peace in spite of cancer, broken relationships, retrenchment and joblessness. It is a peace despite having the entire world stand against you. This is peace that knows that the Triune God dwells with us.
What about love? There are those who have poured their lives into a church, to care for God’s people, even though they have disagreements and struggles in church. This is a love that we also share with the world outside, taking the form of a childless couple who have opened their lives and homes to others, even if they’ve been mistreated and taken advantage us. This is a love that we can strive more for when people stand up to condemn us, even if our initial response is to self-justify. This is possible because we are people that know what it is like to have been loved as His enemies and are now resting in His love.
Gal 5:16-23 is a familiar passage to many of us. It is important to note that this is the mark of a life in the Spirit. This is the fruit that you will bear. Paul sets up a contrast between life in the flesh and fruit that comes from life in the Spirit. This is so familiar that we may not be excited. But, perhaps, the reason why these are not amazing and we don’t cherish and strive for these ordinary means of grace is that we make light of our sin. In our neglect of the Spirit, we think that we can conquer sin on our own strength, and lose our awe of the Spirit’s fruit-bearing work. Friends, God’s grace that He has lavished on us is not cheap grace. The lasting fruit of the Spirit is nothing short of miraculous.
This is fruit that lasts for all eternity. There are also things that don’t last – career, governmental structures and laws, and even miraculous gifts. But a life saved for eternity, bearing fruit from abiding in the Spirit and growing to become more Christ-like – this lasts.
The fruit therefore, are for the church. Now, we first came to experience these blessings in the context of the church, and through the Word, and we continue to experience them by abiding in it, as we’ve already read in multiple places in John (Jn 17:13-19, Jn 8:31-32, Jn 15:3, Jn 15:7-11)! The rest of the NT unpacks for us how this fruit and blessings are experienced in the context of the church community (c.f. 1 Cor 12, 1 Cor 14:1-25, Gal 6:1-2, Rom 15:1-7). When we think about blessings and gifts even in the OT, we need to realise that it is not for just an individual’s enjoyment but for the people. As we’ve read in the first study, Eph 3:10 tells us that it is through the church that the manifold wisdom of God is revealed at the cosmic level. These gifts and blessings are therefore not for us to hoard and make ourselves feel happy. It is not right to grieve the Spirit by depersonalizing Him and doubting His presence and work among people (note: even in Bible-believing churches). We can also pervert His ministry among people by making it all about ourselves. The gift must not be prized more than the Giver! How do you experience the work of the Holy Spirit in the body? Do not overlook the small things and don’t despise them!
As we wrap up, here are some reflection questions:
Have your experiences with the Holy Spirit been one of clarity? How can you seek Him clearly today?
Have you been thankful for the ‘ordinary’ experiences of the Holy Spirit? How will you seek to make them pronounced in your life and the life of your church?