Meditating on Great Themes in John: 23. The Holy Spirit
John 14:15-17 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
When you compare the Gospels, Mark has the fewest references to the Holy Spirit (6) then Matthew (12), then John (16) and then Luke (17). However so many of those are to do with Jesus’ or John’s birth and Jesus’ temptation. When you take those away, the picture changes: Mk – 5, Mt – 8, Lk – 10, Jn – 16. Something else that is interesting is that when you look at the Synoptics, none of the titles of the Holy Spirit are descriptive but when you come to chapters 14-16 of John all the titles are descriptive. John brings a new clarity to the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
In John the Spirit is mentioned three times in connection with John the Baptist, (Jn 1:32,33), three times in connection with Nicodemus and the new birth (Jn 3:5-8), then one reference in Jn 3:34, one in 6:53, and two in 7:39 and no others before chapters 14 to 16. What we do find though, is a number of references to ‘spirit’ (3 in Mt, 2 in Mk, 4 in Lk). In John the word ‘spirit’ is used 7 times (all of this excludes ‘evil spirits’) John appears that much more aware of the spirit-dimension to life and to the ministry of Jesus. So let’s see what he says in chapters 14 to 16 – 2 references in ch.14, 1 in ch.15 and 2 in ch.16. Not a lot, but significant.
Chapter 14: Our starting verses again, “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (v.15-17) The key to receiving the Holy Spirit is obedience. In Acts the apostle Peter testified, “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:32) He is given when we respond to him and surrender our lives in repentance and confession and are born again. As Jesus said, “he lives with you and will be in you.” (v.17) Moreover note that he is called a ‘Counselor’ (older versions have ‘Comforter’ meaning a helper, a supporter and an encourager. ) He does all these things in and through us. But he was also called “the Spirit of truth”. Now God is also known as the God of truth (see Psa 31:5) and Jesus has also recently said “I am… the truth.” (Jn 14:6). Truth is a key characteristic of the Godhead.
Also in chapter 14 we find, “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (Jn 14:25,26) Here again he is called the Counselor and whereas the previous verse just identified him as the one who was coming to them, now he mentions part of his work – to teach and to remind. It may be this latter work that is the cause for the very existence of John’s Gospel. We have commented before that elderly people seem to be able to remember the distant past very clearly but the recent past very badly. Well that may have been true of John but it may also be the working of the Spirit to enable him to remember specific things the other Gospels had not brought out.
Chapter 15: “When the Counselor 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.” (Jn 15:26) A third time he is called a Counselor, a second time he is called the Spirit of truth. This time his work will be testifying to Jesus. He will come to us and convince us of the truth about Jesus, and so we will testify also: “And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (Jn 15:27) That was their unique calling; ours, like the blind man of Jn 9, is to tell what we know has happened to us and relate it to Jesus, and the Spirit will give us the words (Lk 12:12)
Chapter 16: “Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” (Jn 16:7-11) A fourth time he is called the Counselor. The message version puts verses 8 to 11 very well: “When he comes, he’ll expose the error of the godless world’s view of sin, righteousness, and judgment: He’ll show them that
- their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin;
- that righteousness comes from above, where I am with the Father, out of their sight and control;
- that judgment takes place as the ruler of this godless world is brought to trial and convicted.”
This is his work of convicting or convincing us of the truth: there is sin as opposed to righteousness and sin will be judged by God and Satan will be dealt with.
Also in chapter 16: “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.” (Jn 16:13-15) A third time he is called the Spirit of truth. He will lead us in the truth, warn us about the future, and generally share Jesus’ heart with us. He is after all ‘the Spirit of Jesus’ (Acts 16:7, Rom 8:9, Gal 4:6, Phil 1:19, 1 Pet 1:11)
Thus we find in John this designation of the Holy Spirit, that he is the Counselor (the helper, supporter, encourager), the Spirit of truth who comes to teach and remind about who and what Jesus is as revealed in the New Testament, and to show us the meaning of our sin and failure, and the possibilities of righteousness in Christ, and he does all that from within us where he dwells today. Hallelujah! Thank the Lord that John brings this clarification and understanding.