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John 14:16-17, 25-26, 15:26-27, 16:5-15
Over the years I have known several well-meaning Christians who have boldly approached me to say something like, “Randy, the Spirit led/told me to tell you should do this or you should do that.” Sometimes it had something to do with my personal ministry; I should preach a different way or should lead the church differently. And other times it was, “The Spirit led me to tell you our church should buy something, or do something, or refrain from doing something.”
When I first got started in this business I was, Wow, that person must really be close to God if the Spirit is leading him or her to tell me something. And I wondered why I wasn’t being so led. Was I missing something; was there something lacking in my faith?
Then there are the folks who aren’t so bold to say the Spirit told them to tell me but rather, the Spirit led/told me to buy a Honda rather than a Ford, or the Spirit told me to sell my house, or the Spirit told me to quit coming to your church.
But now when people tell me the Spirit led them to use Aquafresh toothpaste rather than Pepsodent or to plant beans rather than potatoes, I tend to be a little skeptical.
For I have come to believe that God did not send the promised Holy Spirit for the purpose of telling us or leading us or guiding us into anything that is outside the realm of the Bible.
Now, if you come to me and tell me that Holy Spirit has led you to increase your giving to the church, I have no problem. Why? because that’s in the Bible. If you told me the Spirit of God told you or led you to forgive me or someone else, I would say, “Amen” because that’s in the scripture.
I say this because I believe that is what Jesus is teaching about the role of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s turn to the gospel of John, chapters 14, 15 and 16; where Professor Jesus is giving his last lecture to His pupils. I want to read from the four sections in these three chapters and then read from Gary Burge’s commentary on John.
First, we have Jesus:
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you” (John 14:16-17).
Gary Burge in commenting on this passage is describing the Greek word “Advocate.”
‘Paraclete’ comes from a verbal root that describes someone “called alongside” and occurs in secular Greek literature for an advocate in a court of law, who comes “alongside” a person to speak in his or her defense and provide counsel. … The word does not mean, comfort (as in the KJV “Comforter”). “Counselor” (RSV, NIV) is a popular translation, but today its therapeutic connotations can be misleading. Rather, one must think of a legal counselor.” Thus the best translation is Advocate. 1 (that is one who speaks on another’s behalf).
It is interesting that Jesus calls the Spirit another Paraclete. This should not be taken to mean that the Father will send “another person, namely, a Paraclete.” First John 2:1 makes clear that John views Jesus also as a Paraclete. (But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous,” NRSV italics added). Jesus is thus a Paraclete, who is now sending a second Paraclete. This means that the ongoing work of the Spirit will be a continuation of the work of Jesus during the disciples’ lifetime. 2
“I am telling you these things now while I am still with you. But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you” (John 14:25-26).
Again, Gary Burge:
We can see this at work in John’s own gospel. After Jesus cleansed the Temple (2:13-23) John adds the editorial comment, “After He was raised from the dead, His disciples had recalled what He had said. Then they believed the scriptures and the words He had spoken” (2:22). It was the resurrection – and its gift of the Spirit – that provided the meaning of Jesus’ works. The inspiration of the Spirit, therefore, does not bring forth new revelations about Jesus, but simply gives applications and meanings for what He did in history. Just as Jesus’ primary work was revealing the Father (1:18), so now the work of the Spirit – Paraclete is revealing the “Jesus of history” to His followers. 3
“But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me. And you must also testify about me because you have been with me from the beginning of my ministry. (John 15:26-27).
The promises of the Spirit in the Synoptic Gospels fit this setting precisely. Jesus says in the midst of persecution (Matt. 10: 16-18) His followers should not worry about what to say since the Spirit will speak through them (Matt. 10:19-20; mark 13:11). The Spirit will also instruct, “for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say” (Luke 12:12). 4
“But now I am going away to the one who sent me, and not one of you is asking where I am going. Instead, you grieve because of what I’ve told you. But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more. Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged. There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’”(John 16:5-15)
The final promise of the Spirit brings to a climax the range of the Spirit’s work among the followers of Jesus. But something new and important here is added. While the work of the Spirit in 14:26 stressed “remembering” the historic words of Jesus uttered in His ministry, 16:12-15 suggests that the Spirit will provide supplementary revelations that the disciples have not yet heard. 5
What supplementary revelations that the disciples haven’t heard yet? He’s referring to the letters that remain to be written: the three letters of John, the two letters of Peter and the 13 letters of Paul. It is one thing to write the history of Jesus contained in the gospels. It is quite another to interpret that history for theological purposes. Where does Paul come up with his grand doctrine of ‘justification by grace’? The Holy Spirit helped him formulate that doctrine as Jesus predicted would happen in John 16.
It is important to note that Jesus does not say anything about the Holy Spirit leading a person to anything other than the truth; which is found in Him.
When you put these teachings together, the big picture that emerges, in my humble opinion, is this:
The Father and the Son sent the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit to continue the work of Jesus to bring about the salvation of human beings. This is verified by Luke in Acts (history of early church) where in the opening salvoes of the book Luke writes, “In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1); the implication being, what he is about to write concerns what Jesus continues to do and teach through the Holy Spirit. And then Luke gives us the grand story of how the Holy Spirit uses the preaching of the disciples to bring about the salvation of souls.
The great evangelist of yesteryear, D L Moody, was fond of saying, “There is not a better evangelist in the world than the Holy Spirit.” 6 We dare not ignore the bible fact that the Holy Spirit was given to accomplish the work of salvation. It is the Holy Spirit Jesus says in John 16, who will convict people of sin, and enables us to grasp that there is righteousness in no one else but Jesus.
To be sure, in this series, we have seen that the Holy Spirit helps us to turn from sin, to bear the fruit of the Spirit so that our lives will bring glory to Christ. And the Spirit gifts us with special abilities to be used to build up the church to fulfill the great commission to reach people for Christ.
The Holy Spirit was not given to reveal new truths to us. We have already been given the truth in God’s Word, the Bible. Everything that you and I need to know about God and His will for our lives has been given to us in the Bible. “What more can He say than to you He hath said?”
Pastor, teacher and theologian R. C Sproul, in his fine book, The Mystery of the Holy Spirit, commenting on the verses we just read, writes:
The Holy Spirit is the author of scared scripture. He is the one who inspired the original writings. He is the one who illumines the Word for our understanding. He is the one who uses the Word to bring us under conviction.
The Holy Spirit may be distinguished from the Word, but to separate the Spirit and the Word is spiritually fatal. The Holy Spirit teaches, leads and speaks to us through the Word and with the Word, not apart from or against the Word. How grievous it is to the Holy Spirit when unbridled spirits mock God by claiming the leading of the Spirit when they are acting against the Word of God.
The Word of God is the Spirit’s Word. The Spirit never teaches against the Word. The Word is truth; it is the Spirit’s truth. 7
In his book, Keep in Step with the Spirit, one of the keenest theological minds on the planet today, J. I. Packer writes:
Twice, Paul speaks of being “led” by the Spirit (Romans 8:14, Galatians 5:18). Both times the reference is to resisting one’s own sinful impulses as the flip side of one’s practice of righteousness (see the contexts, Rom. 8:12-14 and Gal. 5:16-18). Leads is rightly taken to mean “guides,” but the guidance in view here is not a revealing to the mind of divine directives hitherto (previously) unknown; it is, rather, an impelling of our wills to pursue and practice and hold fast that sanctity whose terms we know already. Thus to be led and guided, says Paul, is the mark of a mature Christian. 8
In The Bible App’s devotional, Day By Day with Billy Graham, the famous evangelist writes:
He (the Spirit) will never lead you contrary to the word of God. I hear people saying, “The Lord told me to do this . . . The Lord told me thus and so.” I am always a little suspicious unless what the Lord has said is in keeping with His Word. God never directs us to do anything contrary to His Word. 9
In his book, Flying Closer to the Flame, Chuck Swindoll, essentially agrees and yet writes, “What about those unidentified inner promptings we sometimes?”
You are experiencing an uneasy churning in the pit of your stomach. It is related to a decision you need to make. There is no specific biblical answer. Interestingly, as you imagine going down one side of the fork in the road the churning intensifies . . . but when you track the other side, it diminishes. You sense within yourself. That that is what you should, so you do it and it proves to be the right choice. We commonly call that ‘intuition.’ But is that a part of the Spirit’s working? 10
You are spending time on God’s word. You are trying to discern what it means. The truth seems veiled, hidden from you. You begin to pray for enlightenment. You read the passage again and again, suddenly the whole picture develops clearly in your mind. You are able to grasp the meaning of what earlier seemed vague. We call that ‘insight.’ In reality why couldn’t that be the supernatural inner promptings of the Spirit as He illuminates your understanding of God’s word and will? 11
There is a growing sense of unrest and/or conflict between you and another person close to you. You wish things would change on their own, but they are only getting worse. Them, at just the right moment, using carefully chosen words, you address the issue head on. Good things happen as a result of the meeting. We call it an ‘intervention.’ Yet couldn’t this be the empowering of the Spirit? 12
You are in a relationship with an individual who is becoming increasingly more difficult to deal with. It seems as though you won’t be able to escape a showdown, though you doubt how such a verbal encounter would be. You pray fervently. Just when the situation reaches the unbearable stage, a turn of events occurs that completely removes the person from your life. We call it a ‘coincidence,’ but is that really what it was? Who’s to say it wasn’t another of those unidentified inner promptings where God’s sovereign Spirit steeped in and choreographed the whole thing? 13
Intuition, insight, intervention, coincidence or the work of the Spirit; who’s to say? If you were to come to me and relate a similar story claiming the Spirit’s work I would never dispute it as I believe God answers our prayers. However; I would caution us to think it through before claiming the Holy Spirit told us or led us to do anything that is outside the realm of scripture.
Now as we conclude today, let’s return to the big picture of the work of the Holy Spirit.
Our Advocate, Jesus the Christ, has graciously been active in bringing about the salvation of our souls. He leads us to a place or the place where we are willing to acknowledge that we are sinners. And when we were told we needed to be forgiven of our sin to be right with God and that Jesus came to the earth to give His life to pay the penalty for our sins the Holy Spirit enabled quickened our hearts to pledge our faith to that truth.
And when we did, He sent His Holy Spirit to indwell us as a down-payment guaranteeing our future salvation. Because we haven’t yet received the prize that still awaits us and we won’t until we stand before the Judge.
And when we do stand before the Judge of all creation the one the Book of Revelation calls the Devil, the Satan, the Accuser will hurl a tirade of accusations against us calling out every sin we have ever committed and demanding that the Judge execute justice.
When the Prosecuting Attorney finishes, the Judge will say, “Counselor, do you have anything to say in response?”
That’s when Jesus, our Advocate will rise and approach the bench on our behalf and say, “Father, it is true as the accuser stated that this one lived a life of selfishness and sin and therefore he/she deserves to pay the ultimate price and die forever. However, it is also true that when this one heard that I died in their place they placed their faith in Me to accomplish for them what they in a lifetime could never accomplish on their own. The price has already been paid . . . this one belongs to Me.”
And the Righteous Judge will gladly declare what Paul wrote in Romans (8:1), “There is therefore, no condemnation for anyone in Christ Jesus.” “Not Guilty!”
Friends, we have been saved, are being saved as we learn to become more and more like Christ and will one day in the future be fully and forever saved. As a result of what the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have done for us, let us once again offer ourselves to the Lord as we sing, Shepherd of My Soul.
1 Burge, Gary. The NIV Application Commentary (John). [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, © 2000] page 395.
2 Ibid, page 396.
3 Ibid, page 399.
4 Ibid, page 421.
5 Ibid, page 439.
7 Sproul, R. C. The Mystery of the Holy Spirit. [Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers Inc. © 1990] page 121.
8 Packer, J. I. Keep in Step with the Spirit. [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, © 2005] page 97.
9 Graham, Billy. Day by Day with Billy Graham. (You Version Bible App, July 12).
10 Swindoll, Chuck. Flying Closer to the Flame. [Dallas, Texas: Word Publishing, © 1993] page 133.
11 Ibid, page 134.
12 Ibid, page 134.
13 Ibid, page 135.