THE HOLY SPIRIT
By Gordon Wilson
The most extensive teaching of Jesus concerning the Holy Spirit was done at the Last Supper with his disciples. This present lesson will not deal with that teaching, but it will be dealt with later.
The sayings of our Lord about the Holy Spirit are scattered throughout the Gospels: four in Mt; four in Mk; five in Lk; and six or seven in Jn exclusive of the remarks at the Last Supper. There is nothing systematic about these teachings, and no information is given –except by implication—regarding the existence or nature of the Spirit. Only the work of the third person of the Godhead is discussed by the Master. We can here notice only three of the important aspects of the Spirit’s work as taught by Jesus.
When Nicodemus came to Jesus by night he was told, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God (Jn 3:5). The water here is to be taken in its natural sense as referring to baptism; almost certainly the baptism of John is in immediate view. John the Baptist was baptizing as a sign of repentance unto the remission of sins. His baptism was based on the preaching, Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. Those who rejected John’s baptism were in fact rejecting the counsel of God (Lk 7:30), and were refusing the offer of entrance into the kingdom that was drawing nigh. However, Jesus wanted Nicodemus to know that baptism in water was not the sole prerequisite for entrance. The kingdom of God, which is not outward and material, but inward and spiritual, can be entered only by one who is born anew (from above) by the Holy Spirit. Such passages as 1 Pet 1:23, as well as the general tenor of New Testament teaching, would indicate that the Spirit’s work in the new birth is through the word of revealed truth. This does not, however, lessen the fact that the Holy Spirit is personally active and responsible in the new birth. Jesus said that the flesh (outward man) is born of the flesh, while the spirit (inward man) is born of the Spirit. Just as the wind is invisible and can only be seen in its effects, so the one born of the Spirit is the inward and invisible person. The operation of the Spirit can only be seen in its effects: the change made in one by being born from above.
Another important teaching about the Holy Spirit is found in Mt 12:31, 32; Mk 3:29, 30; and Lk 12:10. Jesus said that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Our Lord’s remarks were called forth by the Pharisees’ accusation that Jesus had an unclean spirit. This was blasphemy against the Son of man, and could be forgiven when the Spirit came later on. But if they then treated the Spirit and his gospel in the same way, it would not be forgiven; there would be no forgiveness “in this age” (the personal ministry of Christ) or in “the age to come” (the gospel age following the resurrection and ascension of Jesus). It is like a man who is stranded on an island, desolate and without hope. A ship comes by and puts a boat ashore. The man refuses to leave with the boat for lack of faith in the captain. He is warned of his danger, but told that one more boat would be put ashore the next day; if he remains obstinate and the last boat leaves without him, then there will be no further opportunity to make the safety of the ship and be rescued. Beyond the gospel of grace, revealed and made available by the Holy Spirit, there is no hope of salvation from sin. Such rejection is final and unforgivable. What a stern warning this is, not only for the guilty Pharisees who lived when Jesus was here, but for us now who live under the gospel of final opportunity.
Jesus also taught that the Holy Spirit would be given to those who believe in him, and that this would enable believers to be a blessing to others (Jn 7:37-39). The Spirit at that time had not yet been given, but would be given after the glorification of Jesus. Also, our Lord said that the heavenly Father would give the Holy Spirit to those who ask of him in prayer (Lk 11:13). This passage must have reference to the blessings God dispenses to his children rather than to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit himself. First, the passage contemplates material as well as spiritual blessings and, second, the parallel passage in Mt 7:11 uses the term “good gifts” in place of “Holy Spirit.” We might conclude, then, that the Holy Spirit is now given to those who obey the Lord, and that the Spirit blesses the believer and enables him to be a blessing to others.
Jesus, the night he was betrayed, ate the Passover meal with his disciples. The conversation that took place involved only the apostles, and some of the remarks by Jesus concerning the work of the Holy Spirit applied to them as ambassadors of Christ.
The Holy Spirit was to take the place of Jesus as helper or comforter (Jn 14:16-18). Since Jesus was going away into heaven he wanted to assure his disciples that they would not be left desolate (mg “orphans”). The word “comforter” comes from a compound word meaning to call to the side of. The Holy Spirit then is the one who, after the ascension of Christ, came to stand beside the disciples as our Lord himself had been doing. He was for them a helper and an advocate. In the person of the Holy Spirit, Jesus would continue to be present with those he had chosen. In promising to send the Holy Spirit Jesus said, “I come to you.”
The Holy Spirit was to be a teacher and a reminder (14:25, 26). The word that the Father gave to the Son was faithfully delivered to the disciples while Jesus was with them. But now he was going away and would send the Holy Spirit to continue the work of teaching. The teaching referred to here is not the revealing of new truths (this is covered in a later promise), but the interpretation and application of what Jesus had already taught. This activity is part and parcel of the other work mentioned in the text: “bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” Since the significance of the sayings of Jesus was not fully grasped by the disciples while he was still on earth, they would naturally tend to put some of those sayings out of their minds; they would not know how to choose between the important and the relatively trivial. Moreover, in reporting truth orally and in writing, the teachings of Jesus would need infallible recollection beyond their human capacities. The Holy Spirit would supply this need –benefitting both the apostles and the church that received their reports.
The Holy Spirit would bear witness to Christ (15:26, 27), It is strange how this point has been effectually missed by so many. The witnessing work of the Spirit was to glorify Jesus, not to glorify the Spirit himself. One of the surest evidences that many who claim the guidance of the Holy Spirit today do not really have it is the amount of emphasis that is put on the Spirit. Boasting about the Spirit and his gifts manifests that the Spirit is not guiding, for he came not to bear witness to himself but to Christ. Jesus told the disciples, And you also bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. This means that the apostles were qualified as witnesses by their own experiences with the Lord. To that experience would be added the witnessing power of the Holy Spirit. The sources of the information contained in the Gospels are therefore the natural and the supernatural. They saw and heard, and they were infallibly reminded.
The Holy Spirit was to convict the world (16:7-11) This would not be done through the Spirit’s direct operation on the world, but through the apostolic testimony, which had the witnessing power of the Spirit within it. The convicting would be done when the Holy Spirit came “to you” –the apostles, not to the ones being convicted. The world would be convicted of the sin of unbelief; of the righteousness of the one whom they had counted guilty; of the judgment on Satan, who had seemed to win a victory in the death of Christ. The testimony of the witnesses to the resurrection would provide such conviction. An example of this is seen on Pentecost (Acts chapter 2).
The Holy Spirit was to guide into all the truth (16:13). It is specified that the Holy Spirit would speak new truth never before revealed to the apostles. Things that Jesus did not speak personally while among them on earth, due to lack of time or lack of perceptiveness on the part of the disciples (v 12), would later on be revealed as they were able to bear them and as need for additional revelation arose in the church. This continued throughout the apostolic age, and the revelation was capped by the Spirit making known things that were yet to come (v 13). It is well to notice also that the apostles were to be guided into all the truth. This makes for confidence in the sufficiency of the revelation given to and through them.
As mentioned above, much of this work involved only the apostles. However, this is not to detract in any way from the work of the Holy Spirit within the church and within individual believers.