The Paraclete: "I Believe in the Holy Spirit"

Original Date: 
Sunday, July 2, 2017

John 14:15-31 The Paraclete: I Believe in the Holy Spirit

The Creed
Last week I had the privilege of participating in the installation of a new pastor at Archer Reformed Church. And as part of that service, there came a point where we recited the Apostles’ Creed. But we didn’t have a copy of the Creed in the projection, so when we recited it, I just told people to recite the version they knew best. There were a bunch of people there from a bunch of different churches, with a bunch of different ages, and so when we recited the creed we had a variety of different phrases. Some people had Jesus descending to Hell. Some people had him descending to the dead. Some people said “quick.” Others said “living.” When we got to the third section, I heard one I had not heard in a while: some people said “I believe in the Holy Spirit” but other said “I believe in the Holy Ghost.”

That’s how I learned it growing up as well. At times, as a kid, I pictured the Holy Spirit like Casper the friendly ghost. At other times, it seemed a bit more spooky. Obviously, that old English expression had nothing to do with the haunted house version of ghosts we’re used to, it was just another way of saying Spirit. But it isn’t too hard to see why we don’t say it that way anymore.

Anyway, as many of you know, we are doing a series on the Apostles’ Creed, and that means we are reciting it together every week. One of my goals is that we will all be able to recite it by memory. But, because there are so many different phrasings out there, we are using the screen to give us common language every week. So, would you stand with me now?

Christians, what do you believe?
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Inevitable, Awful Solemnity
In 1908 a missionary with the splendid name of Jonathan Goforth began a speaking tour at the Christian churches and Mission Stations of Manchuria, China. (I mean, really, can you think of a better name for a missionary than Goforth? But I digress.) As Goforth went from church to church his experience can only be described as a remarkable spiritual revival. At each church spontaneous prayers and confessions broke out among those in attendance and hundreds of people flocked to worship day after day. Wikipedia describes what happened:

After Goforth’s address the first morning an elder stood up before all the people and confessed to having embezzled church funds. The effect on the hearers was “instantaneous”. One person gave a “piercing cry” then many, now in tears, began spontaneous prayer and confession. For three days these incidents continued. Goforth recorded, "On the fourth morning an unusually large congregation had assembled. The people seemed tense, expectant… All through that address I was acutely conscious of the presence of God. Concluding, I said to the people: "You may pray." Immediately a man left his seat and, with bowed head and tears streaming down his cheeks, came up to the front of the church and stood facing the congregation. It was the elder who, two days before, had given vent to that awful cry. As if impelled by some power quite beyond himself, he cried out: "I have committed adultery. I have tried three times to poison my wife…” Then he took out his elder's card, tore it into pieces and threw the fragments on the floor. "You people have my cards in your homes," he cried. "Kindly tear them up. I have disgraced the holy office. I herewith resign my eldership." For several minutes after this striking testimony no one stirred. Then, one after another, the entire [elder board] rose and tendered their resignations. The general burden of their confession was: "Though we have not sinned as our brother has, yet we, too, have sinned, and are unworthy to hold the sacred office any longer." Then, the deacons one by one got up and resigned from their office. "We, too, are unworthy," they confessed. For days I had noticed how the floor in front of the native pastor was wet with tears. He now rose and in broken tones said, "It is I who am to blame. If I had been what I ought to have been, this congregation would not be where it is to day. I'm not fit to be your pastor any longer. I, too, must resign." Then there followed one of the most touching scenes that I have ever witnessed. From different parts of the congregation the cry was heard: "It's all right, pastor. We appoint you to be our pastor." The cry was taken up until it seemed as if every one was endeavouring to tell the broken man standing there on the platform that their faith and confidence in him had been completely restored. There followed a call for the elders to stand up; and as the penitent leaders stood in their places, with their heads bowed, the spontaneous vote of confidence was repeated, "Elders, we appoint you to be our elders." Then came the deacons' turn. "Deacons, we appoint you to be our deacons." Thus were harmony and trust restored.

For days, and in several locations throughout Manchuria, similar scenes played themselves out.

Now, it is worth noting that Jonathan Goforth was not the televangelist type. He was not the sort of traveling religious showman who specialized in whipping up spiritual excitement along the lines of the fictional Elmer Gantry. He was a Canadian Presbyterian Missionary who was in fact very uncomfortable with spontaneous displays of religious excitement. This is how he describes himself: “Hitherto I have had a horror of hysterics and emotionalism in religion, and the first outbursts of grief from some men who prayed displeased me exceedingly. I didn't know what was behind it all... I had no method. I did not know how to conduct a Revival. I could deliver an address and let the people pray, but that was all.”

So how to explain what was happening? Why these sudden, spontaneous confessions? Why this outpouring of grief over sin and hunger for God? Goforth wrote, in his book By My Spirit:

Perhaps you will say it’s a sort of religious hysteria. So did some of us…But here we are, about sixty Scottish and Irish Presbyterians who have seen it—all shades of temperament—and, much as many of us shrank from it at first, every one who has seen and heard what we have, every day last week, is certain there is only one explanation—that it is God’s Holy Spirit manifesting himself…One clause of the creed that lives before us now in all its inevitable, awful solemnity is, “I believe in the Holy Ghost.” (Quotes taken from Wikipedia article on the Manchurian Revival, and from J.I. Packer’s Keep In Step With the Spirit, p. 12)

The Neglected and Misunderstood Holy Spirit
“Inevitable, awful solemnity.” Is that what registers when you say “I believe in the Holy Ghost”? Does anything register at all? Do you spend much time at all thinking about the Holy Spirit?

I think it is safe to say that the Holy Spirit is the most neglected—or, at least, misunderstood—member of the Trinity.

God the Father we get. He’s the Creator. The one who’s in charge. The big guy.

God the Son we get. He’s the Savior. Jesus. The one who came to earth and died on the cross and came back to life.

But God the Holy Spirit? That’s tougher to grasp. He’s called a Spirit: that implies a lack of physicality. You can’t see Him or touch Him. He’s the third one: sent after by the Father and the Son. So that might imply He’s third rate. He’s never pictured in the Bible. He’s never quoted. He always appears to be working through someone else.

Churches like ours—pretty conservative, Dutch heritage, not so different from Goforth’s Scotch-Irish Presbyterians—tend to not say much about the Holy Spirit. And when we see churches that really emphasize the Holy Spirit…well…it seems kind of weird. The Holy Ghost, you know? Seems scary.

And yet, the Holy Spirit is the third member of the Trinity. When we confess our faith we do indeed say that we believe in the Holy Spirit. And I have no doubt, absolutely no doubt, that if the Holy Spirit were not in our church then we would not be a church. If there’s no Holy Spirit, then gathering here on Sunday morning would simply be a waste of all our time.

So it’s important that we learn about the Holy Spirit. It’s important that we think about and understand the Holy Spirit’s role.

Jesus obviously felt that way as well. In the book of John there is a section known as Jesus’ Final Discourse. It’s about 4 chapters of just Jesus talking. It’s Jesus preparing His Disciples for what is about to happen, right before Jesus dies. More than that, it’s Jesus preparing them for His departure, for what will happen after His ascension.

So the whole section starts, at John 14, with Jesus telling His closest followers not to be troubled. He’s going away, He’s going to die, but they can continue to trust in Him.

And in this section, Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit, a lot. One of the reasons, Jesus says, we can continue to trust Him is because He has sent the Holy Spirit. In fact, Jesus is going to say that it is for our good that He is going away, because it is only through His going that the Holy Spirit will come. And Jesus thinks it is important—very important—for us to know about the Holy Spirit.

So, at least five different times through this final discourse Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit—He wants His disciples (and us) to know how important a role the Spirit plays. And so, what we’ll do today is look at each of these passages—in John 14, 15, and 16—and see if we can answer the question (at least in part): What does the Holy Spirit do?

Another Comforter
First, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit represents Jesus to Us. One of the Holy Spirit’s jobs is to “stand in” for Jesus to us forever. The key verses here are John 14:15-17:

15"If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17the 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.

Jesus says that He will send “another Counselor.” The Greek word He uses here is “paraclete.” That’s a Greek word no one is quite sure how to translate. It means “comforter, counselor, helper, advocate, strengthener, supporter.” It has the sense of someone who comes alongside to assist and encourage. It’s a rich word. But sometimes you will hear it left untranslated. That’s why I used it as my sermon title today.

And the key is that Jesus is promising “another” paraclete. Notice the word “another”. That implies that there was one counselor, but now another is coming take his place.

Let me give you quick Greek lesson. In Greek, there are 2 basic words for “another.” One means another of a different kind. And the other means another of the exact same kind

Let’s say that I went out and bought a new car—maybe a new hybrid. Then let’s say I came up to you and said: “I bought another car.” If I was speaking Greek, you probably wouldn’t understand me. But if I was speaking Greek, then I’d choose the first Greek word for another: another of a different kind; because right now I don’t drive a hybrid.

But let’s say I went out and found another 2011 Dodge Avenger, gray, with a black interior like the one I drive right now. If I say to you: “I bought another car” in this scenario, I’d use the 2nd Greek word. Another of basically the same kind.

The point is, Jesus is using the second Greek word in verse 16. When He talks about another counselor, He’s talking about another of the same kind. He’s talking about a second Helper that will pick up where the first Helper left off.

So who is the first counselor? Obviously, Jesus is talking about Himself. He’s saying that even though He is leaving, His Father will send another—like Himself—to take His place.

The disciples are concerned because Jesus is leaving, but Jesus tells them that another counselor—like Him—will come and “live with you and will be in you.” Jesus is actually saying that the Spirit will have a closer relationship with His followers. Instead of an earthly companion, Jesus is promising to put the Holy Spirit within us to be with us forever.

Teach You All Things
So, the first thing Jesus wants us to know about the Holy Spirit is that He represents Jesus to us. He is God with us. Second, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit teaches. One of the Holy Spirit’s jobs is to help us understand the message of Jesus. Skip down to verses 26 and 27:

26But 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. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

The disciples were troubled. Another way of putting that would be to say that they were confused. Throughout the Gospel of John the disciples have failed to understand what Jesus was telling them. They haven’t been able to grasp the meaning of His departure, the necessity of the cross, or even His identity as God come to earth.

But now He promises that when He goes the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, will come to remind them of His teaching and to help them grasp its significance. The Spirit’s job is to help them comprehend the meaning and the truth of the gospel that was otherwise incomprehensible to them.

Perhaps the best example of this occurred about 50 days later when this same band of troubled, confused disciples stepped out of a house in Jerusalem—possibly the same upper room they were in now—and proclaimed Jesus’ victory over death and called on people to repent and be baptized. Some 3000 people became Christ followers that day.

And what made the difference? It was the Holy Spirit, blowing in like wind and settling like tongues of flame upon each of them, teaching them the meaning of what Jesus had said and done and helping them to see the full scope of His claims (Acts 2:1-41).

The Holy Spirit’s job is to teach us. When the Holy Spirit is within us He empowers us to grow in discipleship. He helps us to make sense of the scriptures and apply them to our lives.

And so, we should pray that the Holy Spirit will come and teach us. We should pray that He will help us know Jesus and His word better and better. If the Holy Spirit isn’t here when we preach, or in our education programs or in our small groups, then we aren’t going to grow.

Or, let me put it this way, if you get anything out of my sermons on Sunday—if you feel like you know God better or are challenged to trust Him more—that has a whole lot more to do with the Holy Spirit at work than it does with me.

He Will Testify
Third, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit testifies. One of the Holy Spirit’s jobs is to help us discern the truth of Jesus. Skip ahead a full chapter, to John 15:26-27:

26"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. 27And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

The Spirit’s job is to call attention to Jesus. To bear witness to the presence of Jesus. Without the Holy Spirit at work, no one will put their faith in Jesus.

One of the things we are called to do as Christians is evangelism—we are supposed to tell other people about Jesus. As verse 27 here says, it is our job to testify. Like witnesses in a courtroom, we need to go out and share the story of what Jesus is doing in our lives.

It’s one of the great privileges we have as followers of Jesus, to participate with Him in sharing the good news and bringing salvation to people who are far from God.

But it’s important to see the Holy Spirit’s role in that. Jesus says it is the Spirit’s job also to testify. Without the Holy Spirit being present in us and working through us, no one will come to see the truth about Jesus. Jesus is sending the Spirit to empower us for evangelism.

One of the reasons some people never come to believe in Jesus (in fact, we could say THE primary reason) is that without the Holy Spirit we are blind to the claims of Christianity. 1 Corinthians says: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (2:14)

The Holy Spirit testifies. And so we should pray for the Spirit to help us share the message of Christ. We should pray that the Holy Spirit fill our church, to help us bear witness for Jesus. We should pray that everyone who comes into our midst would be struck by the truth of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

He Will Convict the World
Fourth, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit convicts. One of the Holy Spirit’s jobs is to make us aware of our sin and help us turn from it. Skip ahead a few verses to John 16:7-8, the fourth time Jesus talks about the Counselor in this section:

7But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment:

Again, Jesus is telling us that the gift of the Holy Spirit will be better for us than having Jesus physically on earth. And the reason is because the Holy Spirit works as a sort of prosecutor, helping us to see our guilt, leading us to seek forgiveness.

Some times we talk about that quiet little voice that whispers in our heads whenever we think about doing something wrong. You know, you’re standing in the grocery store aisle by the candy bars and nobody is around and you think about how easy it would be to just slip a Snickers bar into your pocket, but then your conscience starts whispering to you that that would be wrong. That’s the Holy Spirit.

But more than just warning us away from wrongdoing, it is the Spirit’s job to help us see just how awful our sin is to God. That’s what was happening in that Manchurian revival that I described at the beginning of the message. With the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of those people they could no longer shrug their sin off as just one of those things, something that everybody else was doing, not so bad. As the Holy Spirit was poured out on them they saw their sin for what it was: an offense against a Holy God; a dreadful separation between them and their creator for which they needed incredible mercy.

And we need the Holy Spirit to convict us in the same way. We need God’s Holy Spirit to be poured out on us in such a way that we will be broken over our sin; that we’ll get rid of our excuses, that we’ll come to Jesus and seek His grace.

He Brings Glory to Me
Then, finally, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit Glorifies Him. One of the jobs of the Holy Spirit—in fact you might say His primary job—is to bring attention to Jesus Christ. Skip down a few more verses, to chapter 16 verses 13-15:

13But 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. 14He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15All 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.

The Spirit’s job is to call attention not to himself, but to Jesus. You see that in the first four roles we talked about: the Spirit lives in us as another counselor, the one that takes Jesus’ place; the Spirit teaches us to understand the things written about Jesus; the Spirit testifies to the truth of the message about Jesus so that we can believe; and the Spirit convicts us of sin so that we will fly to Jesus for grace.

God’s ultimate work of redemption was done by Jesus and so the Spirit’s primary role is to bring glory to Jesus.

J.I. Packer calls the Holy Spirit’s job a floodlight ministry. A floodlight’s job is never to call attention to itself, but to cast light on something else. It’s like the big flag on the corner of the fairgrounds. Have you ever noticed how it is lit up at night? All these big floodlights that shine up at it so you can see it in the dark. Very patriotic on a 4th of July weekend. The point isn’t the light, of course, but the flag.

In the same way, the Spirit’s job is to be a floodlight shining on the Savior. Packer writes:

It is as if the Spirit stands behind us, throwing light over our shoulder, on Jesus, who stands facing us. The Spirit’s message to us 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.” The Spirit, we might say, is the matchmaker, the celestial marriage broker, whose role it is to bring us and Christ together and ensure that we stay together. (Keep in Step with the Spirit, p. 66)

The real test of whether the Spirit is at work then—the real test of any church or any ministry or any preacher—is this: Is Jesus being glorified? Is Jesus being lifted up?

Because more than anything else, that’s what the Spirit wants to do. He wants to point you to Jesus.