The Ministry of the Holy Spirit: Lessons from John 14-16

A couple weeks ago I was teaching on the ministry of the Holy Spirit and I was struck by just how much we learn from John 14, 15, and 16. Of course, the whole Bible contains lessons about the Spirit, but we learn more in this portion of Scripture than anywhere else. Here is a sampling which I trust you will find encouraging in your walk with the Lord.

  1. God the Father will send the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name (14:16, 14:26, 15:26)
  2. The Holy Spirit is called the Helper, Advocate, Counselor, Comforter (14:16, 14:26, 15:26, 16:7)
  3. Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “another Helper” (14:26). The first, of course, was Jesus.
  4. The Holy Spirit will be with believer’s forever (14:16)
  5. Also called the “Spirit of truth” (14:17, 15:26, 16:13)
  6. The world cannot receive the Holy Spirit because it does not know Him (14:17)
  7. The Holy Spirit dwells within believer’s (14:17)
  8. The Holy Spirit will teach believer’s all things (14:26) and guide then into all the truth (16:13)
  9. The Holy Spirit will bring to our remembrance all that Jesus says (14:26)
  10. The Holy Spirit will testify on behalf of Jesus (15:26)
  11. Jesus will send the Holy Spirit (see the connection with #1) (15:26, 16:7)
  12. The Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (16:8)
  13. The Holy Spirit will not speak with His own authority (16:13), but with the authority of God.
  14. The Holy Spirit will declare to believer’s the things that are to come (16:13)
  15. The Holy Spirit will glorify Christ by declaring the Word of God (16:14)

Two bonus lessons: The Holy Spirit is God (who else could do all of the above) and the Holy Spirit is a person (the pronoun “he” is used throughout John 14-16).

What is the Illumination of the Holy Spirit?

J.I. Packer: “The work of the Spirit in imparting this spiritual understanding is called illumination or enlightening. It is not a giving of new revelation, but a work within us that enables us to grasp and to love the revelation that is there before us in the biblical text as heard and read, and as explained by teachers and writers. Sin in our mental and moral system clouds our minds and wills so that we miss and resist the force of Scripture. God seems to us remote to the point of unreality, and in the face of God’s truth we are dull and apathetic. The Spirit, however, opens and unveils our minds and attunes our hearts so that we understand.” (Concise Theology p. 155)

 

Another definition: “The ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian person and community in assisting believers to interpret, understand and obey the Scriptures.” (IVP Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms)

 

It is important to note, as Packer touched on in his definition, that illumination is not about receiving new revelation. The canon is closed (Revelation 22:18-19) and Scripture is complete and sufficient (2 Timothy 3:16-17) to meet our every need. Far too many people have been led astray by looking for new revelation from God instead of looking to the Holy Spirit to shed light and illumine what has already been given in the Bible.

 

So we would say that God not only speaks through His Son (Hebrews 1:1), but God also speaks through His Word. Through the agency of the Holy Spirit, God allows us to see the truth of Scripture that has been placed before us. A lot of people today emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit over and above the Word of God. In all reality, they work together. As we open the text of Scripture and search out its riches, the Spirit brings life and understanding to our hearts.

 

For further study read: 1 Corinthians 2:14-16, Colossians 1:9-10, 1 John 5:20, 2 Corinthians 4:6, and Ephesians 1:18.

A Warning For Teachers

James 3:1 tells us, Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” Teaching in the church is not open to the masses. Only those who have a clear calling from God should venture down this path. James’ reasoning is simple – one day when we stand before God to give an account, we will be judged with greater strictness. As Jesus explained, “to whom much was given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). As the pastor of a local church, I have the great privilege of teaching the Word of God to men and women every week in a number of different settings. I love doing this and it is a great honor to do so, but I am also aware that one day God will hold me accountable in this regard. Paul told Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). This is in line with the Old Testament prophet of God. The prophet was required to declare the very words of God to the people. And while the response was out of his control, he could deliver himself by faithfully acting as God’s mouthpiece (check out Ezekiel 2-3 for more on this). In the same way, the pastor must watch his life and teaching, not just for the sake of his hearers, but also for the sake of himself, knowing that one day he will give an account before God.

A few thoughts to ponder for pastors and teachers:

  1. Have I invested the time and preparation needed for the material I will teach (whether it be sermon, Sunday school, Bible study, etc.) this week?
  2. I am confident that what I will teach is doctrinally sound and will be edifying for my listeners? “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1).
  3. Have I coated everything that surrounds my teaching ministry in prayer (preparation, my listener’s, me, presentation)?
  4. Am I expecting the Holy Spirit to work in powerful ways through the teaching of God’s word?

The Importance of Christ’s Ascension

R.C. Sproul has said (among others) “If there is any dimension of the life and work of Christ that is neglected in the church today, it’s His ascension.” Evangelicals, for the most part, do a good job of emphasizing the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. We often fail to see, however, the importance of the ascension. The ascension is Christ’s return to heaven after the completion of His atoning work. After finishing the work God sent Him to do, it was time for Christ to return to His Heavenly Father. Luke gives us a record of the ascension at the end of his gospel (24:50-53). Sproul suggests that there were four things that occurred because of the ascension of Christ, and these four things are the reason why it was to our advantage that Jesus departed.

1. Exaltation to Glory

In John 17, Jesus speaks of the glory He had with the Father before the world was created and looks forward to enjoying it once again. Even before his crucifixion, Jesus was requesting for God to grant Him the glory he once enjoyed. It was at the ascension that Jesus returned to the realm of glory. His time of suffering and humiliation was over, and He was now being exalted.

2. Pentecost

Before His passion, Jesus made it clear to His disciples that He was going away in order that He may send them another Helper or Paraclete (the Holy Spirit). Even though Jesus was leaving his disciples, His Spirit would remain with them. Jesus promised that the Spirit would guide them into all truth and it was only about ten days after the ascension that the promise of the Holy Spirit was realized. But without the ascension, there could be no Pentecost.

3. The Intercession of the High Priest

The third thing that happened at the ascension was that Jesus, our High Priest, entered into the Holy of Holies where He now functions as our Priest-King. As our great High Priest His chief priestly work is the work of intercession (For more on this read Hebrews 7:23-27 and 9:11-14). As sinful human beings, the only way we can stand before a holy God is through the atoning work of Christ. His shed blood ‘covers’ the sins of the redeemed. Those who have put their faith and truth in Christ can know that the Son of God is interceding on their behalf. That is why we can rightly call Jesus our Mediator.

4. The Coronation of the King

The forth thing that occurred because of the ascension was Christ’s coronation. Jesus was brought up to the right hand of the Father where He reigns and rules eternally. The kingdom of God is not something yet to be realized in the distant future. The kingdom has inaugurated because the King has been enthroned. Jesus is now the King of kings and Lord of lords (Philippians 2:5-11)! The name that was mocked and scorned and trampled upon at the cross is now the name above every name. As Hebrews 1:3 explains, “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). Later on in Hebrews we read, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12). His atoning work was now complete and now all the faithful await the day when Christ will return and make all things new.

What is Spiritual Leadership?

According to Henry and Richard Blackaby, “Spiritual leadership is moving people on to God’s agenda.” Ok, what does that entail?

1. The spiritual leader’s task is to move people from where they are to where God wants them to be.

“This is influence. Once spiritual leaders understand God’s will, they make every effort to move their followers from following their own agendas to pursuing God’s purposes. People who fail to move people on to God’s agenda have not led. They may have exhorted, cajoled, pleaded, or bullied, but they will not have led unless their people have adjusted their lives to God’s will.”

2. Spiritual leaders depend on the Holy Spirit.

“Spiritual leaders work within a paradox, for God calls them to do something that, in fact, only God can do. Ultimately, spiritual leaders cannot produce spiritual change in people; only the Holy Spirit can accomplish this. Yet the Spirit often uses people to bring about spiritual growth in others.”

3. Spiritual leaders are accountable to God.

“Spiritual leadership necessitates an acute sense of accountability. Just as a teacher has not taught until students have learned, leaders don’t blame their followers when they don’t do what they should do. Leaders don’t make excuses. They assume their responsibility is to move people to do God’s will. Until they do this, they have not yet fulfilled their role as leaders.”

4. Spiritual leaders can influence all people, not just God’s people.

“An important reality that must not be overlooked is that spiritual leaders can influence all people, not just God’s people. God is on mission at the local factory as well as at the local church. His agenda applies in the marketplace as well as the meeting place. Although spiritual leaders will generally move God’s people to achieve God’s purposes, God can also use them to exert a significant godly influence upon unbelievers.”

5. Spiritual leaders work from God’s agenda.

“The greatest obstacle to effective spiritual leadership is people pursuing their own agendas rather than seeking God’s will. God is working throughout the world to achieve his purposes and to advance his kingdom. God’s concern is not to advance leaders’ dreams and goals or to build their kingdoms. His purpose is to turn his people away from their self-centeredness and their sinful desires and draw them into a relationship with himself.”

Adapted from pages 20-23 of Spiritual Leadership by Henry and Richard Blackaby.