Pastor Alastair Begg is the senior pastor of Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and can be heard teaching daily on the radio program Truth for Life. Dr. Begg has served in pastoral ministry for over thirty years and has written many books including The Hand of God, Lasting Love, and Made For His Pleasure.
To address the topic The Breadth of the Almighty: The Holy Spirit, Pastor Begg read from John 16:4-15. The passage contains words which Jesus spoke to His disciples in the upper room concerning his departure (which was at hand). He tells them he wants them to love each other. The world will hate them, and will soon put them out of the synagogue. Now if ever there was a time when the disciples need Jesus, one would think it is now.
1. The necessity of Christ’s departure
In verse 7, Jesus tells his disciples that it is to their advantage that he go away. For if he does not go away, the Helper cannot come. It is helpful for us to consider at which expense this was accomplished. Jesus lived his entire life in union with the Father. Classically, at the age of 12, Jesus was not found to be with Mary and Joseph. When they found him in the synagogue, Jesus told them that “he needed to be about His Father’s business.” Luke tells us that this is one of the things that Mary treasured in her heart. In these chapters of John, we see Jesus preparing His disciples for His departure. And that at that peculiar moment on Calvary, we see Jesus (orphaned) as it were. It was necessary: How deep the Father’s love for us // How vast beyond all measure.
The necessity lies not simply in the disciples need to receive the Helper, but in the drama of redemption — it goes back to the covenant of redemption, where in eternity past the Son committed Himself to doing the Father’s will, giving Himself for the sins of His people.
2. The identity of the helper
This is the word parakletos, it has a legal dimension — that of an advocate. More broadly, it speaks of guidance, counsel, and comfort. We are introduced to Him as the Spirit of Truth.
In terms of the identity of the Holy Spirit, we need to understand (a) that the Holy Spirit is a unique person (a “He” not an “It), not some kind of impersonal force. Some people refer to the Spirit as a neuter. (b) As a person, He may be grieved, and He may be resisted. He is co-eternal with God the Son and God the Father. (c) The Spirit of God was present at creation and participated in creation. In Genesis 1:2 we see the “Spirit of God” hovering over the face of the waters. Then in verse 26, we understand the “let us make man in our image” as including the Holy Spirit. [Is it not the case that as we read further in the Bible, we see more in the Old Testament] (d) The Spirit of God is involved in the new birth (see Nicodemus, John 3). (e) The Holy Spirit is the author of the Scriptures. The doctrine of inspiration is directly connected to the Holy Spirit. Jeremiah noted that God had put His words into Jeremiah’s mouth.
The Holy Spirit is identified as “another” helper — He comes alongside. He will remain with God’s people forever.
3. The activity of the Holy Spirit
Jesus says straightforwardly in verse 8: “When he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin….righteousness…and judgment.” We see Jesus doing this sort of thing when he clears the temple. The Holy Spirit will confront the world by proving it guilty. Guilty of unbelief. Guilty of living a crooked life. Every deviation from God’s standards is culpable. The world is out-of-line. The Holy Spirit will be bringing the fact of this guilt onto the hearts and minds of sinners.
Consider the thief on the cross. He tells the other thief, “We are receiving our due. This man, Jesus, has done nothing wrong.” What happened in His heart? The Spirit of God confronted the thief in the dying moments of his life. This man was confronted with his sin, judgment, and his need for righteousness. “I know not how the Spirit moves, Convincing men of sin, Revealing Jesus through the Word, Creating faith in Him.”
What does Paul say to Felix and Drusilla (Acts 24:24-25)? He doesn’t just give a little sermon. He speaks of righteousness, self-control, and judgment. Why? Because he must. Many of us have lost our sense of the authority of God’s Spirit, rendering our efforts ineffectual. The work of the Holy Spirit needs to be understood Christologically — it is always centered on bringing glory to Christ, His person and His saving work. The unique prerogative of the disciples/apostles was to receive from the Holy Spirit the record of Jesus ministry, and to document it in the Scriptures for us.
The Holy Spirit glorifies Christ to the disciples and through the disciples. As the Holy Spirit indwells the disciples, they become like Him. “He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own.” That is part of the ministry of the Spirit — to give us assurance of salvation. It was a tremendous thing for Jesus to go away–it universalized (and internalized) the person of Jesus. And what is the ultimate work of the Spirit of God if it is not to conform the children of God into the image of God? And I John 3:1-3 reminds us that our future is to be like the Holy Spirit — holy:
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”