Giving Thanks for the Spirit of Truth
Passage: John 15:26–15:27, John 16:12–16:15
Sermon from John 15:26-27; 16:12-15 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on November 23, 2014
Both John 15:26-27 and 16:8-15 speak to the unique role the Holy Spirit plays within God’s plan to save us. They certainly don’t cover everything about the Spirit. But they do provide some crucial insights to the nature of his ministry once Jesus returns to the Father. We must remember that Jesus on his way to die and then rise again to glory. The disciples won’t see him much longer. But that doesn’t mean they’ll be left alone.
Jesus plans to send the Spirit, and these disciples need to understand the Spirit’s role within God’s purposes, in order to then help the church—that’s you and me—understand the Spirit’s role within God’s purposes.
Many people throughout church history have failed to understand the Spirit’s role within God’s purposes, and it has led to great error in the church and brought great harm outside the church. It has led to great error in the church, because the church has lost sight of where we access Christ in all his glory. And it has brought great harm outside the church, because people are missing out on Christ for some other experience or man-made religion, without seeing what the Spirit himself reveals about Jesus; and people are perishing for it.
And so what I want to do for the next few minutes is look at four truths about the Spirit’s role within God’s purposes; and I want to frame these four truths as opportunities to give thanks for the Spirit of truth. We’ve already been giving thanks for God’s abundant grace this morning; and I want to continue that as we look at the Holy Spirit. But let’s start by reading Jesus’ words—first in John 15:26-27…
26But 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. 27And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.
Alright, now let’s jump over to 16:8-15. Jesus continues…
8And when [the Helper] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 12I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When 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. 14He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
So four truths about the Holy Spirit for which we should give thanks. And then I want to look at how these truths should transform us.
1. The Spirit Is One in Divinity & Mission with the Father & the Son
Number one, give thanks that the Spirit is one in divinity and mission with the Father and the Son. Notice that Jesus doesn’t present the Spirit as a kind of impersonal force. Jesus doesn’t say, “it will bear witness about me,” but “he will bear witness about me” (15:26); “he will convict the world” (16:8); “he will guide you into all truth” (16:13). The Spirit is a person, not a mere force or mysterious power.
Also, notice the Spirit is a distinct person from Jesus and the Father—Jesus sends the Spirit; the Spirit comes from the Father (15:26; 16:7). So, we should never say—with some heresies in church history—that the Spirit is but a third mode of God’s existence. The Spirit is never the Father; and he is never the Son. The Father and Son do not become the Spirit. The Spirit is his own distinct person.
But that doesn’t mean the Spirit just does his own thing any more than Jesus does his own thing. Rather, there’s an unceasing unity between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. To this point in John’s Gospel the primary focus has been the unity between the Father and the Son. The Son pre-exists with the Father (1:1), loves the Father (15:10), pleases the Father (8:29), always knows the Father (10:16), comes when the Father sends (3:16), speaks the Father’s words (8:28), does the Father’s works (5:36), dwells in the Father and the Father in him (14:11)—and all this to the degree that the Son reveals the Father perfectly (1:18; 8:19; 12:45).
It’s by looking at the Father’s unity with the Son in mission that we get a glimpse of the Father’s unity with the Son in divinity (1:1, 18; 5:23; 8:58; cf. 1 John 5:20). Now we find something similar with the Spirit. The Spirit’s work reveals what God is like relationally—that is, how the Spirit relates to Father and Son—and constitutionally—that is, what God is like in his very being, his triune community.
The Spirit’s distinct role alongside the Father and the Son in mission also points to his unity with the Father and Son in divinity. For instance, that Jesus sends the Spirit from the Father, presupposes the Spirit dwelling with the Father and Son in eternity (15:26). Or, in 14:18, that Jesus says he will come again to the disciples by the Spirit’s mediating presence—so that to have the Spirit in you is to have Jesus in you—presupposes a unity that extends beyond just who they are in mission and into who they are in divinity. Same thing happens with the Father and Son dwelling in the disciples by the Spirit in 14:23. Again, it reveals a unity in mission as well as divinity. Or, in the same way the Father and Son are the source of truth, so now we see the Spirit called the Spirit of truth (15:26; 16:13). This, too, reveals unity.
But—and this is important—when the Spirit comes, he doesn’t reveal the Father the same way Jesus reveals the Father. Meaning, the Spirit doesn’t take to himself a human nature like the Son. The Spirit role is simply to point everybody to the Son, who did take to himself a human nature.
That’s the Spirit’s role, period. The Spirit unceasingly bears witness to the Father’s glory in the Son; and now, at the Father and Son’s request, the Spirit comes to convince rebels that the Father has done something amazing in the Son that frees them to enjoy the glory he has witnessed for all eternity.
2. The Spirit Guides the Disciples in All the Truth
And that leads us to the next reason to give thanks for the Spirit of truth. Number two, give thanks that the Spirit guides the disciples into all the truth. He’s called the Spirit of truth in 15:26, and that’s related to the truth he knows and brings with him from the Father. And then in 16:13, we actually see that part of his mission within God’s purposes is to lead these disciples into all the truth.
And this is massively important because in John’s Gospel, the world is full of people caught in the lies of the devil. The devil is called the father of lies, and he rules the world-wide system of rebellion against God by deceiving people into following him (John 8:44; cf. Eph 2:2). The devil blinds people’s spiritual eyes to keep them from seeing God’s glory in Jesus (2 Cor 4:4).
The only being in whom truth dwells is God, and the problem is that sinners have no access to him on their own. But here’s what the Father does in his kindness—he reveals himself, he speaks the truth (John 8:40). And more than that, he sends his only Son to embody the truth (1:14; 8:32; 14:6). And now we see both Father and Son sending the Spirit to guide the disciples into all the truth. This is mercy upon mercy to a rebellious world sitting in their lies.
But let’s clarify a couple things further. The truth, here—“he will guide you into all the truth”—isn’t all you could possibly know about everything, a kind of vague sense of truth. It’s all you need to know about Jesus—who he is, why he came, what he achieved, and what does all this imply. That’s how I take the end of verse 13: “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.” The Spirit’s role is to reveal the significance of the Christ-event as well as all its consequences.
So, for example, when he leads the disciples into all truth, he doesn’t just tell them that Jesus came and died and rose again, he tells them why Jesus came and died and rose again. Right now, all the disciples can do is be eyewitnesses of historical events; and it’s really clear they don’t get it. They don’t fully understand all that Jesus is doing in these events. But when the Spirit comes, he will teach them what those events mean.
He teaches things like this: Jesus performed miracles not just to wow people, but to prove he was sent from the Father. Jesus spoke words not as just another moral teacher, but as God himself in the flesh. Jesus died on a cross like a criminal, but not because he was a criminal, but because we were criminals. Jesus bled at the hands of sinful men—that’s a historical fact they witnessed—but the Spirit helps them understand that he bled as the Lamb who takes away our sins.
And this kind of teaching extends to the book of Acts to show how the Christ-event affects world-wide mission, and then into the Letters to show how the Christ event shapes our life together as a church, and then into Revelation to show how the Christ-event helps a suffering church win through Jesus’ present and future reign. This is how the Spirit teaches them about Jesus, and this is why your New Testament exists, which leads me to make another clarification here.
Jesus’ promise that the Spirit will guide you into all the truth is a promise given to the eleven disciples here. It’s true that the Spirit teaches all believers of all time. He illumines our minds to the truth. He helps us understand Jesus’ words. But that’s not the promise Jesus is making here. Jesus has in mind something more specific. He’s giving a specific promise limited to those he would authorize to communicate the final standard for all future preaching of the gospel.
I limit it this way, because of what we saw already in 14:26. Part of the Spirit’s role was to help the disciples remember all that [Jesus] spoke to them in his earthly ministry—and none of us were present for that. And also in 15:27 he promises that the disciples will bear witness in connection with the Spirit’s coming—and get this—“because you have been with me from the beginning.” And none of us can claim that.
So, Jesus didn’t authorize just anybody to bear witness in the sense spoken of here; he authorized those who had been with him from the beginning of his work on earth. Same thing comes up later when the disciples are trying to find a replacement for Judas Iscariot—and they chose Matthias. The replacement had to be a man who accompanied them “during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John the Baptist until the day when he was taken up from us” (Acts 1:22).
Meaning, if you want to hear what the Spirit says about Jesus, then you do not turn to a Joseph Smith or Muhammad, you turn to the Christ-authorized words of the apostles. The apostles’ witness to Jesus is identical with the witness of the Spirit—and not merely because we receive it as so, but because Jesus declared it as so. You want to know why we uphold the New Testament to be the word of God alongside the Old Testament. Jesus Christ. He made the apostle’s writings part of the Spirit’s work of revelation within God’s story of redemption.
Now, I’ll tell you where we come into the picture in just a minute. But there’s a couple more truths we need to give thanks for first.
3. The Spirit Glorifies Jesus
Number three, give thanks that the Spirit glorifies Jesus. Look at 16:14: “[The Spirit] will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
Again, we’re seeing the unity of the persons within the Godhead stressed, especially in terms of the message delivered to the disciples. The issue is how the Spirit’s word isn’t his own message, but Jesus’ message given him by the Father to deliver. It’s basically referring to all God has chosen to reveal of himself in and through Jesus. The Spirit takes what the Father chooses to reveal of himself in Jesus, and then gives it to the disciples. And when he does this, Jesus is glorified.
That means Jesus is lifted up before men to be seen as he truly is. He’s revealed as being glorious. The Spirit doesn’t add glory to the Son in his ministry; he reveals the Son as glorious in his ministry. And how is Jesus shown to be glorious? When the Spirit sets before us the Father’s revelation in the Son.
I once read J. I. Packer calling this the “floodlight ministry” of the Spirit. In the same way a floodlight might shine on a building, the Spirit’s ministry casts light on Jesus. Here’s what he writes,
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 it 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…The Spirit is, so to speak, the hidden floodlight shining on the Saviour (Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, 66).
That’s what’s going on here. When the Spirit reveals to the disciples who Jesus is and what he’s about. He glorifies Jesus. This is a remarkable new phase in the Spirit’s ministry, that has never occurred before. It is true that the Spirit has glorified Jesus for all eternity. His whole business was to declare the Father’s glory in the Son. And that never ceased even when the Son took to himself a human nature.
What makes his glorification of Jesus new was that he would be pointing the whole world to the glory of Jesus as the exalted God-man. That’s partly why 7:39 says, “for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” Once Jesus was glorified in the cross and resurrection and exaltation to the Father’s right hand, then the floodlight ministry of the Spirit would come and reveal Jesus as the glorious God-man, the one who took on flesh to defeat sin, death, and the devil. The disciples would have their eyes opened to Jesus’ glory, and they would write a New Testament that explains it.
4. The Spirit Convicts the World
But one more thing he does when this happens. When the Spirit glorifies Jesus—when he gives the disciples words that reveal his glory and his worth and his salvation and his victory—when he does that, the Spirit also convicts the world. And that’s the fourth truth we need to give thanks for: the Spirit convicts the world.
That’s what’s going on in verses 8-11: “When he comes, he will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”
Now, I want to explain those verses more thoroughly a couple weeks from now. But for today, let me just paint the picture of what’s going on. When the Spirit comes, he doesn’t just convict the world by fiat. He convicts the world by pointing the world to Jesus through the disciples’ testimony.
Notice that every phrase in verses 10 and 11 refers to something about Jesus: “because they do not believe in me;” “because I go to the Father;” “because the ruler of this world is judged [namely, by Jesus’ death; cf. John 12:31-32].” The Spirit takes the Father’s revelation Jesus, explains that revelation for the disciples, and then uses that revelation to convict the world. Conviction comes to the world when the Spirit sets Christ before the world in the disciples’ testimony.
How then Shall We Live
Now, let’s push the pause button there and reflect on how these truths should transform us. We’ve seen the Spirit’s unity with Father and Son; the Spirit guiding the disciples into truth—the result being our New Testament; the Spirit glorifying Jesus through what he reveals about his person and work; and just now, how the Spirit also convicts the world by proving Jesus is glorious. How should that change us.
The Church Should Be a Word-Based People
Well, first of all, it means that the church should be a word-based people. Our only access to the truth is through the Spirit-given words of the apostles. The Spirit reveals the truth about Jesus—and all that God is for us in Jesus—through the written words of the apostles. The way the Spirit worked to reveal Jesus to them was unique and unrepeatable. The apostles’ witness to Jesus is our access to the truth about Jesus. When we read what they wrote, we are encountering what the Spirit of God declares of Jesus.
Now, that’s not to exclude the Old Testament’s authority and witness to Christ. It’s just to say we best read the Old Testament the way Jesus taught the apostles to understand the Old Testament in light of himself (John 5:39; Luke 24:46-47). The whole of Scripture reveals Christ to us, and that’s most pointedly demonstrated in how the Spirit showed the disciples what to understand and write down about Jesus in connection to what the prophets wrote down in anticipation of Jesus.
That means we should be devouring the word of God. How else does a bride get to know her husband, unless she spends time with him and hears him speak over her? Church, we will know Jesus, and grow deep in our relationship with Jesus, insofar as both of our arms sit on either side of this text—and we pour over the written word.
Some of you are growing cold to Jesus and bitter about how far he seems from you. And that’s because his word has been far from you for some time. The ruler of this world has you confused in lies, while the Spirit is inviting you to come and drink from the truth he declares about Jesus here. Open this book and drink eternal life in Christ. “These [things] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31). Read these words. Meditate on them. Make them your life day in and day out.
This is where you come into the picture of the unique work of the Spirit in the apostles. John 17:20, Jesus prays, “I do not ask for these [disciples] only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” That’s us! We are those who believe in Jesus through the disciples’ words. But we’ve got to be reading them to believe them.
We’ve got to be reading them to discern the Spirit of truth from the spirit of error in this world. 1 John 4:6, “Whoever knows God listens to us [and John means the authorized apostles of Jesus]; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” How are you going to know whether you’re loving the true Jesus—amidst all the phony Jesuses this world throws at us—if you’re never reading the Spirit’s testimony about him?
So get alone with your Bible’s often, and listen to the Spirit testify in these words. Don’t listen for him to testify apart from these words, but in these words. I grew up in denomination that eventually forsook this teaching, and I remember hearing the shift when a woman stood up at one of the conferences, opened her Bible, and intentionally said, “Listen for the word of God,” instead of, “Hear the word of God.” I’m too sinful to listen for the word of God. I’ll make up all kinds of stuff and it wouldn’t lead anyone to Jesus either. Give yourself to these inspired, written words so that you do not miss all that is glorious about Jesus.
The Church Should Read Scripture to See Jesus’ Glory
Next, the church should also read Scripture to see Jesus’ glory. We’re told here that the Spirit comes to glorify Jesus, to shine the spotlight on Jesus. And he does this through the apostles’ testimony. So if this is the Spirit’s goal in the words he gives to the apostles—that Jesus would be seen and treasured as beautiful—why do we so often come to the Bible with different goals?
These words aren’t written first to fix your marriage. They’re not written first to make your business prosper. They’re not written first to establish good moral principles in your household. They’re not written first as a way to buttress your decision in the method you use to educate your children. They’re not written first for you win arguments in seminary. Those other things may come as a result of your encountering the Bible, but these things are written by the Spirit to enrapture you with the eternal glories of divine love revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. That’s why your Bible’s exist, so that the Bride enjoys her Husband.
The Church Should Be a Christ-Centered People
And when we’re reading the Bible that way, then the church will become a Christ-centered people. That’s another implication this passage should have on our lives. A truly spiritual church is not measured by extraordinary experiences, how large the campus facilities are, how high-tech the media is, how rhetorically polished the preachers are, how many services they provide, but by how central Christ is in their hearts and worship and speech and counsel and doing.
Again, J. I. Packer says this about honoring the Holy Spirit: “Believers honor the Holy Spirit when they give him his way in their lives and when his ministry of exalting Christ and convincing of sin, sinking them ever lower and raising Christ ever higher in their estimate, goes on unhindered and unquenched” (Packer, Keep, 237). Think of the transformation God would bring in us when that is true of us. The ministry of the Spirit by his word sinking us ever lower and raising Christ ever higher in our estimate.
Wherever a church is aroused or preoccupied with ministries devoid of Christ, red flags should go up. Wherever the miraculous isn’t calling attention to a crucified and risen Savior, then we got problems. Wherever we become more Christian-centered in our interaction with the world instead of Christ-centered, we must repent. It’s a serious flaw and dangerous to souls when we just want everybody to be like us apart from offering them the person of Jesus himself. We’re not just trying to win people to a philosophy of life, but to a person; not just to another moral standpoint, but to a Savior; not just to a logic, but to a Lord.
The Church Should Offer the Biblical Christ to the World
And that means also, lastly, that we should offer the apostles’ Christ to the world. Or another way we might say it, we should give the world the biblical Christ. As I said before, the apostles’ words in Scripture are the authoritative standard for all future preaching of the gospel. The Spirit convicts the world when the world hears his testimony. If the Spirit glorifies Christ and convicts the world through the apostles’ words that he inspired, what message do you think we should give the world? What message desperately needs to be translated for all nations, tribes, and tongues to read and learn? What do you think we should trust to change people, to save people?
Church, we should trust the same message the Spirit used to save us—the message of truth, the gospel of our salvation, the message that though we were but rotten sinners, the Father loved us. He loved us by sending his Son to die for our sins, to stand under the fierce wrath of God in our place. All our treasonous acts were wiped clean from our account, and all of Jesus’ righteousness was then given to us simply by faith, so that we could stand before God not in the rags of rebellion, but garments of glory that fit us for his kingdom.
In some form or fashion, we all heard this message; we heard Jesus saying “Come!” We heard the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come! Receive this grace. It’s free!” And even still, the Spirit invites us to taste the glories he knows so well, because he knows like no one else knows the majesty of God’s wrath and the depths of God’s love that spares us from it. And he inspired a story to be written that we might learn it and turn to Christ, giving our lives to him.
If you’re here today and do not know this truth personally; then I would ask you to listen to the Spirit’s word in Scripture and act on it. These written words are not merely human words, they are God’s words; and he says that whoever believes on Christ and submits to him as Lord will be saved. If you do not know Jesus, do not leave today without talking to someone about what the Spirit says in this Bible about Jesus. Some of the elders will be at the front afterwards if you need further counsel and prayer. But for now, why don’t we join together in prayer.
More in The Gospel According to John
May 24, 2015Eyewitness Testimony to the Greatness of Jesus
May 17, 2015Loving Jesus & Feeding His People at All Costs
May 10, 2015Believing the Apostle's Testimony When Not Seeing Jesus