So, Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32).”
What is the primary ministry and mission of The Holy Spirit? It seems that many good people sincerely disagree. Is there a final authority who can lead us and show us the path to the appropriate answer? Who can be relied upon to tell us the truth? Who is he? For the purposes of this study, we will look to Jesus Christ. Why do we do this? We do this because were it not for Jesus we would not have the Spirit. Were it not for Jesus we would not and could not be ‘Spirit-filled.’ Remember that it was Jesus who alerted His disciples to the coming of The Holy Spirit, as well as their need to rely on The Holy Spirit.
"These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:25-26)
Here Jesus inaugurates the first extensive teaching on The Holy Spirit in John’s gospel, and, indeed, the entire New Testament. Therefore, we begin our study by attempting to ask and answer the question, ‘Just what did Jesus say about the Holy Spirit?’ It appears that Jesus addresses our question beginning in John 14:16, elaborating further in John 14:26. Notice what He says.
16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. 18 "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:16-18, 26).
What’s going on here? What’s Jesus saying? What do we need to learn? Let’s begin my make a few contextual observations. For starters we need to understand that Jesus is talking to His disciples on the eve of His arrest and crucifixion. He has just washed their feet as an example of the love and service of one disciple to another that He hopes to see modeled by them in the years to come (cf. John 13). He has told them that He is about to leave them and they are deeply troubled. In John 14:1-6 we find the well-known “Let not your hearts be troubled discussion, ending in “I am the way, the truth, and the life...” statements. He told His disciples who have seen Jesus that having seen Him they have seen the Father (i.e., God). Jesus, after comforting His disciples and pointing to His own deity, begins to tell them that they will not be alone, nor lack resources, after He leaves them. We see Jesus’ love and commitment to the continuing provision and care of His disciples. As He discusses the plans for their ongoing provision in ministry without Him, Jesus reveals a great deal about the Holy Spirit.
Jesus revealed the primary mission or purpose of The Holy Spirit. He appears to say that The Holy Spirit’s role is primarily that of “helper,” “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever (John 14:16).” Jesus indicates that The Holy Spirit’s mission is one of assistance. What kind of assistance? The Holy Spirit, as Helper, will bring to mind all that Jesus has said, having taught them all things: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (John 14: 26).” Jesus indicates that The Holy Spirit is to equip believers and enable them to remember and apply the teachings of Christ to their lives and the lives of others. The Holy Spirit comes from the Father, in the name of Jesus, to do what? Jesus, in our text, indicates the primary mission of The Holy Spirit is to equip, teach, and recall to our minds Jesus’ teachings. This is not the only description of this kind of The Holy Spirit’s mission, ministry, and purpose. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus comforts His followers, noting:
When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matthew 10:19-20)
Call this operation or practice ‘ illumination (bringing things to light).’ This is different than revelation. Revelation is revealing new truth. Illumination involves The Holy Spirit is enabling them to recall and explain and say what Jesus taught (i.e., what Jesus already revealed). He’s bringing these things to mind and enabling them to select just the right words in the sense that God is speaking through them. We see this emphasized in another parallel passage:
And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say." (Luke 12:10-12)
The Holy Spirit would equip the disciples of Christ, who would become apostles, to teach by giving them God’s word. The difference between the Apostles (and prophets of old) and us is that we now have God’s Word in writing because they wrote it down for our instruction (Romans 15:4). In our cases, The Holy Spirit will bring to our minds all that we have learned from Jesus through His Word, or in the case of the disciples, all that they learned from Jesus personally and during His earthly public ministry. We have the completed revelation of God, the completed Word of God in the sixty-six books of the Bible. At that time, His disciples relied upon His teaching and explanation of the Old Testament. Today, we have the revelation “made fully confirmed (2 Peter 1:19-21)” in writing as the Bible.
Jesus expands upon The Holy Spirit’s role as Helper in John 16. What does The Holy Spirit do? Does He go beyond bringing things to mind? In John 16 Jesus prepares His disciples for His departure, explaining The Holy Spirit to them in greater detail. It is during these discussions that Jesus tells them (and us) that the Helper helps not only by bringing Jesus’ teachings to mind but by working on the hearts of believers and unbelievers, alike.
And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning 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. "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 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. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:8-14)
In these verses, Jesus is rounding out what He taught in John 14. The Helper like Jesus, (God the Holy Spirit) assists and empowers His disciples by bringing Jesus’ teachings to mind so that they may recall and apply them—and teach them to others. In so doing He gives them just what they need to say, resulting in them speaking for God (God speaking through them) like prophets of old. At the same time, He does more. What does He do?
The Spirit helps His disciples working through them to convict the world of sin. He employs the disciples to cause the consciences of sinners to sting. In this same way, The Holy Spirit uses us to indicate to unbelievers that what they have done or are doing is wrong. The French mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal, observed that there is a void inside all people that is in the shape of God. Only God can fill that void by providing their consciences peace and contentment. God has put eternity in the hearts of all people and an awareness of His presence. The Apostle Paul, in Romans 1:18-21, speaks to the reality that unbelievers don’t disbelieve. On the contrary, unbelievers (non-believers) suppress their awareness of His existence, which is a definition of unrighteousness. The Helper, The Holy Spirit, plays a role in all of this by pricking the consciences of those who pretend ignorance or insist God does not exist. He is, in a manner of speaking, present in their conscience. Think about it. Before children do something wrong, they characteristically know to look around, or over their shoulder. They seem to have some inborn or innate moral awareness. They know what they are doing is wrong and are checking to see if 'the coast is clear' because they do not wish to be caught in the act. One of the reasons that many who deny Christ often become angry when they hear the Gospel is that they know Jesus is real and realize their need of Him but that they’d rather sin against Him than serve Him. This is an example of the Holy Spirit working on the conscience, convicting the world “concerning sin.”
The Holy Spirit convicts the world of “righteousness.” Returning to John 16:8, “he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness.” When someone knows that what they are about to do is wrong, they understand by implication that which is the right and proper course of action. In Isaiah 55:11 the prophet tells us that God’s Word goes out and does not return void. God’s word accomplishes the purpose for which He sends it forth. God’s Word goes out for two reasons. First, for salvation (or sanctification),” Second, God’s word goes out for condemnation (or judgment). People, upon hearing it, viscerally understand they ignore it at their own harm and peril. God’s Word never fails. We see this in the next aspect of the mission of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning judgment. Don’t miss this. “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:8).” Convicting (convincing) people concerning sin and righteousness also points to sanctification as much as it does salvation. Convicting the world concerning judgment speaks to the fact, as Romans 1:18-24 tells us, that all people are without excuse. In John 16:9-11, Jesus expands the idea, 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 (John16:9-11) .” All this seems to indicate that when God’s people share God’s word, or His gospel, with others, The Holy Spirit helps them accomplish God’s mission. They are either saved, sanctified, or condemned (if they persist in sin).
The Holy Spirit helps the Christ follower, reminding him of what he’s learned. The Spirit helps, leading him in the right direction, and works on the hearts of minds of the hearers to either reassure them of their relationship with God or challenge them for change or repentance to salvation. In so doing, The Holy Spirit really, our Helper, is in us and with us forever. Our Lord Jesus Christ has not left us as orphans without resources. He sent us another Helper, The Holy Spirit. Jesus introduces the mission of the Holy Spirit, in John’s Gospel, telling His disciples this mission contains the following activities and aspects:
The Holy Spirit is a helper like Jesus, coming on behalf of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit teaches the 11 disciples what they need to know, equipping Jesus’ disciples for future service.
The Holy Spirit brings to their mind (and ours) what Jesus has already taught.
The Holy Spirit also convicts the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. He points the sinner to the need of salvation by indicating that they have sinned, needing to (instead) act righteously. If they do not believe and repent, they face judgment.
What else does He do?
The Holy Spirit is the Guide who keeps the disciples of Jesus on track. The Holy Spirit seeks to move Jesus’ disciples to bring glory to Christ rather than becoming distractions. How does The Holy Spirit do this?
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. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-14)
He does this by declaring the truth to disciples of Jesus Christ. This is one reason Jesus calls The Holy Spirit “the Helper.” Do not miss this. The Holy Spirit does not lead people astray by giving them misinformation or garbling the transmission of information, He cannot. He is God in perfect in all He does and in His communication. Because of who and what He is the Holy Spirit directs and guides Jesus’ disciples (those then and there and all of us here and not), helping them find all truth. He guides and clarifies what the disciples already know and learned so that they can be effective in ministry. He does all this without calling attention to Himself because He is concerned with the glory of the Father and Son.
Think of The Holy Spirit as a coach on the sidelines providing instruction and guidance to the team rather than a player on the field. Sadly, this passage troubles many who have an unbalanced view of the Holy Spirit. There are those who give prophecies that do not come true and blame the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit guides Jesus’ disciples into all truth, not into all confusion.
The Holy Spirit does not call attention to Himself. He calls attention to Jesus. Therefore, the over-emphasis on the Holy Spirit (at the expense of Jesus) is erroneous, misguided, and uninformed. We must remember what the Scriptures say. The Holy Spirit is on a Mission from the Father at the request of the Son.
16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper. 18 "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:16, 18; 26)
He is to serve as a Helper to the people of God, disciples. While He is equally God in nature and essence, His role is subservient to that of the Father and Son, “26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (John 14:26).” That He is subservient to the Father and Son does not make Him less God, or sub-God. The Spirit submits to the Father and Son. This is about roles and goals, not nature and essence. We see this ‘submission’ indicated in the order in which they are listed in the baptismal formula of the Great Commission:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
This role subordination is a ‘functional subordination.’ The Son submits to the Father, the Holy Spirit submits to the Father and Son, having been sent by the Father in the Son’s name (John 14:16; 18; 26). They are all equally God, but they play different roles. Everyone is baptized in the name of the Father, the name of the Son, and the name of The Holy Spirit. They are all equally God. But each plays a different role in redemptive history. Consequently, there is submission within the Trinity. Jesus builds on this idea and clarifies further in John 16:13-15:
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. He 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. (John16:13-15)
The Holy Spirit is equally God but plays a less visible, yet vital, role as Helper. The Holy Spirit’s purpose is not to glorify Himself; instead, He glorifies the other two members of the Trinity. In fact, in the above passage, Jesus informs us that The Holy Spirit does not say anything on His own authority. He only speaks what He’s told to speak (“what He hears”). He glorifies Christ and declares Jesus’ teaching.
Maybe some of our discussion surprises you? It shouldn’t. What do we do with all this teaching, or information? If it just resides in our heads it becomes little more than head knowledge and a little knowledge puffs up and not much more. However, if it travels to our heart and takes root, then this information should both encourage us as well as move and motivate us to action. Consider the follow responses to what Jesus says about The Holy Spirit.
Ideas for Application
Rejoice in the fact that Jesus has not left us as orphans, without hope or resources. He sent us a Helper like Him who is with us and will live within us forever! We are not alone. We are not powerless. Rejoice, taking stock in the fact that we can live Spirit-empowered, supernatural lives. How?
Read your Bible with prayer and anticipation. If we seek to read, study, and apply God’s Word to our lives and various situations, then the Holy Spirit will recall to our minds all that Christ has taught us through His Word! The Holy Spirit will use us to glorify Christ! As you begin to read God’s Word ask God to enable you, through the Holy Spirit’s illumination to understand and apply this Word, as David does in the Psalms: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law (Psalms 119:18).”
Carefully study your Bible. Sometimes people use reading plans to read through the Bible in a year. That’s great and profitable. But we are called to investigate God’s Word so that we can be “approved workman unashamed” (2 Timothy 2:15). The Holy Spirit cannot guide us into all truth and right and wise application of what we have neglected or refused to study the word of God. We can’t remember what we haven’t learned.
Memorize Scripture. The Psalmist says, “I have hidden Your Word in my heart that I would not sin against you (Psalm 119:11).” The Holy Spirit will bring those texts you memorize to mind under the most difficult and unusual circumstances and situation. The Holy Spirit will bring them to mind and use them to guide you into all truth. He will also use this memorized word to speak through you as a follower of Jesus Christ.
With thanksgiving, prayerfully ask for the Spirit’s guidance. Jesus has not left you and me as orphans, without resources. Take time to thank your Father in heaven for the mission and ministry of the Holy Spirit as you depend on Him for guidance. Always remember that you have a Helper who will never leave you. He’s there. Never forget this, when and as you need guidance.
Know that in The Holy Spirit, you have a Helper like Jesus. We are not alone as we anticipate Christ’s return or await our own home-going. Jesus has shown us the kindness of clarifying the mission and ministry of the Holy Spirit in the most essential and minimal terms. His words are clear, simple, and understandable.