One thing that’s occurred to me recently, not only in observing the visible church, but also within my own life and ministry is that there is very little knowledge, active presence, or reliance upon the power of the Holy Spirit. It would seem that this is the case from the largest efforts of man to build mega-churches to the most individual efforts of “convincing” sinners of their need for Jesus and calling on them to make decisions for Christ. The Holy Spirit, the 3rd member of the Trinity, the “other Helper” that Jesus promises, is largely absent. The Forgotten God as one author states. Ask most people what He does and you’re likely to get blank stares. In fact, ask if the Holy Spirit is a He at all, not an “it”, and watch panic set in. Why? I believe largely this is due to decisional evangelism and pragmatic, results based ministries that were so popularized by Charles Finney (1800’s) and has become to this day the model for mainstream evangelicalism. It seems that today the Holy Spirit is either ignored all together in most denominations or largely overemphasized in charismatic and Pentecostal denominations. Each extreme is a travesty, but unless we return to preaching Christ-centered messages in the power of the Holy Spirit and recover the lost doctrines of what the Bible teaches about the ministry of the Spirit, then no revival, no reformation will happen. Only man-centered, flesh driven ministries that thrive on attendance and the tickling of ears will prosper, albeit for a season and then flame out because they’re powerless. So why the lack of Holy Spirit teaching and understanding? Because the Spirit convicts and most people do not want to feel convicted. It’s uncomfortable. It can be difficult, even painful at times. But make no mistake about it, it’s necessary and without it there is no genuine salvation.
In studying the Holy Spirit recently, albeit very limited, I ran headfirst into a problem, namely a lack of information on the biblical role of the Holy Spirit, if not a complete lack of info, then at least incomplete information or inconsistent at best. Keep in mind, I’m not referring to spiritual gifts, i.e. tongues, prophecy, healing, etc. I’m talking about the ministry of the Holy Spirit, what His purpose is and how He accomplishes that purpose.
Jesus defines this ministry in what has been called the greatest sermon ever preached, the Upper-Room Discourse, as it’s affectionately known, as found in John’s Gospel, chapters 14-16. Here Jesus describes and promises the coming ministry of the Holy Spirit to His disciples. In His last message to His disciples before His death, Jesus is telling them that He has to go, His earthly work will soon be finished at the cross, but He promises that He will send another Helper for them (and us). This promise is made in John 14:16-17 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 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.” Now imagine just for a second what must be going through the minds of the disciples. Jesus, whom they’ve been with for a few years now, walked with, talked with, touched, learned from, broken bread with, is leaving and He is going to send someone else that the world can’t see or know. That had to blow their minds and bring up so many questions. Nevertheless, this promised Helper is promised power for the disciples. Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will teach them and remind them of the things He’s taught them, surely an inference to the Spirit-guided inspiration of Scripture.
As He continues with His sermon, Jesus points out in John 15:26 the primary purpose for sending the Holy Spirit, “But 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.” It’s here that we see the Spirit will “bear witness” about Jesus. But what exactly does this “bear witness” mean, by what method is it accomplished, and how?
To bear witness simply means to point towards or to testify of. It’s the Greek word martyreo, which means to bear witness or affirm that one has seen or heard or experienced something (see Blue Letter Bible Lexicon for more). So the Holy Spirit’s primary role is to point towards Christ. Likewise, we see that His role is to glorify Christ, as read in John 16:14. But by what means or avenue does He do this? The first way that the Holy Spirit testifies of Christ is through the written Word of God, namely the Bible. Remember that Jesus told us back in John 14:16-17 that the Spirit would bring to the disciples’ memory all the things that Jesus taught and told them. Ever wonder how the written works of the disciples were written in such detail? They likely didn’t walk around carrying notebooks; it was through the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. All of God’s Word, from Genesis to Revelation bears witness to Christ. Since it is inspired by the Spirit, we see the first of the methods used by the Spirit to point to Christ is through the Scriptures.
The second avenue through which the Holy Spirit works to bear witness to Christ is found in John 15:27, “And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” This verse followed right after Jesus’ declaration that the Spirit would bear witness. Are we to deduce here that there are two separate parties pointing to Christ, namely believers (in context the disciples) and the Holy Spirit? No, instead it’s best understood as in conjunction with, meaning believers through the power of the Holy Spirit bearing witness to Christ through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.
This leaves us with the question of how the Holy Spirit accomplishes His ministry through these two avenues that we identified. In chapter 16 of John’s Gospel, we are told what He will do upon His arrival. It’s this passage that I found lacking completeness in the study Bibles, commentaries, and sermons that I reviewed. Here is the rather complex passage, “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.” John 16:8-11
It seems reasonable, if the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to point towards Christ, then we must conclude that His role as defined by Jesus above, must likewise point towards Christ. In this passage, we see 3 functions of the Spirit’s ministry. The first is conviction of sin, but not just any sin, that of unbelief in Christ. In John 3, a chapter in which Jesus describes Spiritual rebirth no less, the chapter concludes with this bold statement (from John the Baptist), “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” The fundamental human responsibility upon hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to respond to the Spirit’s conviction by repenting and then subsequently placing one’s Spirit provided faith in Christ. (Note: The order of repentance first vs. faith first has often been one of debate; however there can be no debate over the necessity of each). We read of an example of the Holy Spirit’s ministry of conviction in Peter’s Gospel sermon from Acts 2, where the hearer’s were “cut to the heart”, an obvious response to the work of the Spirit, which was followed up by repentance and an immediate declaration of their faith by baptism.
The second area of conviction mentioned in our passage is that of righteousness. On the surface, this might seem a bit confusing, especially in regards to whose righteousness the passage referring to. But clearly this is speaking of the righteousness of Christ, namely His active obedience (Romans 5:19, Hebrews 5:8) to the law of God in living the perfect, sinless life and reaching completeness in His passive obedience (Philippians 2:8) of death on the cross. Philippians 3:9 gives a little insight into this righteousness, “and be found in him [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” The Holy Spirit conviction concerning this is because through no righteousness of our own can we either improve our standing with God or earn our own salvation, but instead it’s through Christ’s righteousness that reconciliation and salvation come.
From our study passage above, the third way that the Holy Spirit convicts is “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” Critical to understanding this part is to find out who Jesus is referring to as “the ruler of this world.” In John 12:31 Jesus makes a similar reference, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” Likewise, reference to the “ruler of this world” is made again in John 14:30. Jesus says that this person is judged and cast out both of which are an obvious reference to Satan. When He states that Satan is judged, this is a reference to the finished work of Christ on the cross in defeating the powers of Satan. In Colossians 2:15 we read, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” Also, “…that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” Hebrews 2:14b At Calvary Jesus defeated Satan, the ruler of this world, and although his final sentence is yet to be handed down, he is already judged, as we read in John 16:11.
We need to ask ourselves, given the primary role of the Holy Spirit to point to Christ, how then does this conviction ministry point or bear witness to Christ? I believe that the key to understanding this is found in understanding the work of Christ, which we have studied here over the past few months. When doing so, we see that the Spirit’s conviction of the sin of unbelief points towards the need for Christ as Savior. In 1 John 4:14 we read, “And we have seen and testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” Because of sin, we need a Savior, and that is only found in Jesus Christ who died on the cross for the sins of all those who would believe so that they might have eternal life. Secondly, the conviction of righteousness points toward the need for Christ as Substitute. We are all born sinful by nature, meaning at birth we are “unrighteous”. Eph. 2:1-4, Romans 5:12 No matter how much we try to do good or work our way into God’s favor it will never happen. We can never be good enough. Our good deeds will never outweigh our bad; in fact as Isaiah 64:6 states even our good deeds are as filthy rags. Contrary to popular belief we are not “basically good people.” Romans 3:10-12 We need the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ credited or imputed to our account, just as we read in Philippians 3:9. Finally, in the conviction of judgment the Holy Spirit points to the need for Christ as Advocate or Intercessor. In 1 John 2:1b we read”…if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Likewise, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 7:25 The idea behind both of these passage is that Jesus, who now sits at the right hand of the Father, acts as a defense attorney on behalf of those who have faith in Him. Without Him, sinners are condemned and remain under the wrath of God.
There is so much more to say about God the Holy Spirit, but to understand His ministry it’s important to begin where Christ did, namely that the Spirit was sent to glorify Him. We are called to preach Christ from the Word of God through the power of the Holy Spirit and trust the Spirit to work in the hearts of men according to the will of God. “Faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ” Romans 10:17
Dear reader ask yourself if you have ever been convicted by the Holy Spirit. If you have, did you respond in repentance from your sin and faith in the finished work of Christ Jesus and His perfect righteousness? If you didn’t respond that way, what are you waiting for? You have need of a Savior, Substitute, and Advocate; otherwise you face judgment on your own.