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The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit


Scripture Readings:Isaiah 63:7, 10-14; 27:2-6; JOHN 14:16-17; 15:26-27; 16:5-15 (texts)

May 22, 2016 • Download this sermon (PDF)

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Beloved congregation of Christ: Today, in the liturgical year of most Christian churches, is Trinity Sunday. The universal church of Christ believe in the Trinity: there is one God in Three Persons. Our Athanasian Creed declares that these three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – are of the same substance, all uncreated, infinite, eternal, almighty, and co-equal. But the mystery is that all three Persons are one Godhead. Most Christian churches agree with this doctrine, but the Holy Spirit is not much talked about, except in Pentecostal churches.

There is also a great misconception that Reformed believers like us avoid talking about the Spirit, because we only want to discuss doctrines. Too many Pentecostals who do not know much about the Spirit always talk about the Spirit. And too many Reformed who know much about the doctrine of the Trinity talk too little of the Spirit. But did you know that the great Reformer John Calvin is also known as the “theologian of the Spirit” because he gives a lot of attention to the Spirit in his sermons and writings?

So today, we give honor and praise to the Holy Spirit, who on this day 2,000 years ago, was poured out by the Father and the Son to his disciples. On that Pentecost Sunday, when the first church made up of 120 Christians were gathered together in one house in Jerusalem, “there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:2-4). The symbolism in this text cannot be missed: the Hebrew and Greek words for “Spirit” is also the same word for “wind,” “air,” or “breath.” The Spirit is also often symbolized in the Scripture as fire (Isa 4:4; Matt 3:11-12) and water (Isa 44:3; John 7:37-39).

The Feast of Pentecost is one of the seven feasts that Israel celebrates as commanded by God. Three times a year, all Israeli men were required by God to come to the temple in Jerusalem. These occasions were at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths (Deu 16:16). The Feast of Weeks was also known as Pentecost, which was celebrated 50 days after the Feast of Passover, the day on which Jesus was crucified. Pentecost means “fiftieth,” and was the grand celebration of the end of the harvest season. Food and animal sacrifices were offered on this day to thank God for the bountiful harvest (Lev 23:15-22).

This is the reason why Jewish pilgrims from all over the Roman world were gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost in Acts 2. They spoke languages from where they came, but the disciples, most of whom were Galilean fishermen, were able to speak each of their languages after God poured out the Spirit on them. And with one sermon by the Spirit-filled Apostle Peter, 3,000 of these pilgrims believed in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

This event is the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise in Joel 2:28, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” This is also the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to his disciples that he will send the Spirit after he leaves them. Today, we will study the basics of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, “The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit,” under three headings: first, “The Paraclete Will Glorify Me”; second, “The Spirit Will Convict the World”; and third, “The Spirit Will Guide You into All Truth.”

“The Paraclete Will Glorify Me”

In our previous studies in John 14-15, we read that three times, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to his 11 disciples (without Judas Iscariot) after he leaves them to go to his Father in heaven. And in John 16, he made his promise twice more. We also learned that the word he used for the Spirit in the first four promises is parakletos, and then pneuma (“Spirit”) in the fifth. The Greek word parakletos literally means “one who is called alongside,” and often translated as “Helper” or “Comforter.” But the context of most of the verses here is that of an Advocate, like a lawyer who appears before a judge alongside a defendant. This is also the context in 1 John 2:1, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

In John 14, Jesus promised that the Spirit will empower the disciples to greater works, their prayers will be answered, and enable them to remember his teachings. In John 15, the disciples will bear witness about Jesus because the Spirit will bear witness about him. But in John 16:12-13, Jesus’ promise is about truths, “many things” and “things that are to come,” that the Spirit will reveal to his disciples. Then in verses 14-15, Jesus says that the Spirit will glorify him by declaring Jesus’ words to them.

How does the Spirit glorify Jesus? He does so by applying his work of salvation to believers. Through the preaching of the gospel of repentance and faith in Christ, the Spirit points the hopeless sinner to the Savior. The Spirit gives him a new heart and puts a new spirit within him. This new heart and spirit enables the sinner to repent and believe in Christ. Then, the Spirit begins his sanctifying work on the believer, indwelling him, which causes him “to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezk 36:26-27; John 14:17). Another work that the Spirit does is to cause the believer to witness about Jesus and his work: his life, death and resurrection to save sinners. The good works of believers that the world sees also give glory to God, as Jesus teaches, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mat 5:16).

So, all that God the Spirit does in saving and sanctifying a sinner give glory to God the Father and God the Son. This is why Jesus says that all the words of his Father are also his own, and the Spirit declares them to all who believe (John 16:15). This means that the Holy Trinity works harmoniously in our salvation, until we too are glorified in heaven. We cannot divorce the redemptive work of each of the three Persons of the Trinity from each other. And what does this redemptive work involved? It involves the Spirit and the Word of God; these two cannot be separated. The Word of salvation is preached to the sinner, and the Spirit applies this Word to the hearts of those who would believe.

Many Christians today think that the Spirit works apart from God’s Word. They are misled by their pastors into believing that the Spirit gives them new revelations apart from God’s completed and sufficient Word. They are not satisfied with the Word, so they seek signs and wonders, mistaking them for the work of the Spirit. They mistake “whispers” and “leading” as God’s Word in addition to the completed and all-sufficient Holy Scriptures.

“The Spirit Will Convict the World”

Through the preaching of the Word, the Spirit works in a sinner’s heart in convicting him of his guilt and sin before a holy God. Then he directs him to seek Christ as his only Savior and Advocate before God the Holy Judge. Jesus says in John 16:8 that when the Spirit comes, “he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”

Most translations use the word “convict” in this verse. The NIV translates it as “prove the world to be in the wrong about…” The idea here is one of “convincing” the world about sin, right­eousness and judgment. The Greek word here is used 17 times in the New Testament, mostly in the sense of exposing sin and convicting a person. For example, John the Baptist exposes and convicts Herod of sin (Luk 3:9). Prophecy convicts (1 Cor 14:24), sinners are to be convicted of their sins (1 Tim 5:20; Jas 2:9), and opponents of sound doctrine are to be rebuked (Tit 1:9).1Bauer, et. al., has four definitions of elencho:

a. to scrutinize or examine carefully, bring to light, expose (John 3:20; Eph 5:11, 13; Tit 2:15)

b. to bring a person to the point of recognizing wrongdoing, convict, convince (Tit 1:9, 13; Jud 15, 22, 23; John 8:9, 46; 16:8; Acts 6:10; 1 Cor 14:24; Js 2:9)

c. to express strong disapproval of someone’s action, reprove, correct (2 Tim 4:2; 1 Tit 5:20; Luk 3:19; Mat 18:15; Tit 2:15)

d. to penalize for wrongdoing, punish, discipline (Heb 12:5; Rev 3:19)

So those who do not believe are already convicted by God the Holy Judge. They are convicted concerning sin, because they do not believe in the One who is able to save them from sin and God’s wrath. They are convicted concerning righteousness, because Jesus lived a perfectly righteous life, and those who do not believe will never be righteous before God through their own good works. They are convicted concerning judgment, because they have judged Jesus as guilty, when they are exposed to be the ones who are eternally guilty, as Satan the ruler of this world is eternally guilty.

The world in rebellion against God is now put on notice. It is convicted of its love for worldly treasures and pleasures rather than the treasures and joys of heaven. The Spirit has severe warnings against this evil world:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10).

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:19-21).

Those who approve and support abortion, homosexuality, sexual immorality, and the use of addictive drugs are convicted. Those who do worldly pleasures and business rather than attending the assembly of the saints every Lord’s Day are convicted. Churches that follow their own desire for entertainment and gimmickry in worship are convicted. Those televangelists who teach a gospel of health and wealth, who deceive their followers by performing false signs and wonders, who make spectacular predictions, all for shameful gain, are convicted. They are convicted because they usurp the glory of the Father and the Son for their own glory and benefit.

Beloved people of God, be not deceived by these false teachers and false prophets who are already convicted of their lies by the Spirit. Sinner, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, and you will not be found guilty of your sins, because he has already sacrificed his own body and blood once for all for all your sins. And when you believe in him, God will count his perfect righteousness to you. Therefore, God will not convict you of your sins, because Christ has paid the all-sufficient penalty for them.

“The Spirit Will Guide You into All Truth”

The last work of the Holy Spirit in our texts is in John 16:12-13. Jesus promises his disciples, “he will guide you into all the truth.” He says that there are still many things he had to teach them, but they cannot endure these things at that point. Only after his death and resurrection will they be able to understand them (John 2:29; 12:16; 20:9). Because persecution will also be coming against them, they will not be able to bear his words. But when the Spirit comes, they will be able to understand all things that Jesus had taught them, and bear all sufferings.

Some of these things are still “to come.” What can these “things to come” be? Most likely, this is the ability to prophesy, to predict future events. The Spirit actually gave this prophetic gift to the New Testament apostles and prophets. Peter says that the prophecy of Joel 2:28 was fulfilled on that Pentecost day, which inaugurated the “last days.” The Spirit will reveal God’s Word to the New Testament apostles and prophets and their close associates through dreams, visions and prophesies (Acts 2:17). Paul says that the Spirit gave the church apostles and prophets to establish the foundation of the church (Eph 2:20, 4:11; 1 Cor 12:29). After the New Testament was completed, these special gifts of the Spirit ceased. God’s Word is sufficient.

Three years of “seminary instruction” under the Master Teacher is not enough time for the disciples to learn all the truth. What is “all the truth”? These are all the things found in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, revealing God’s plan of saving his people from their sins through the work of his Son and the Spirit. The Spirit reveals to us all of the Bible’s true doctrines, all things about worshiping God in Spirit and truth, and all things about living holy and righteous lives in the Spirit. All Scripture is God-breathed, written by the Spirit, are all truths, and all-sufficient for salvation (2 Tim 3:16).

Jesus speaks of the perfect unity between him, the Father and the Spirit. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, so he speaks only what the Father and the Son would speak. The Word of salvation is one Word of truth. And this Word is given by the Spirit to the church. The church in turn proclaims this Word to the rebellious world. The Spirit will change the hearts of some, and they will believe and have eternal life. But many will reject the Truth, and they will be judged and suffer eternal death.

Notice also that in these texts, John uses the masculine Greek pronoun “he” instead of the neuter “it” to refer to the Holy Spirit (14:26; 15:26; 16:13-14). This means that the Spirit is not a mere non-personal force, but is a distinct Person in the one Godhead. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit teaches, convicts, speaks, searches, witnesses, reveals, creates, intercedes and grieves. Can an abstract Force, Power or Might do these things? No, for all of these are acts of a real Person.

Dear friend, do you have faith in Jesus Christ alone as your only Savior? If not, pray to God to pour out the Holy Spirit on you, give you a new heart, and create faith and repentance in your heart. He is the only One who is able to convict you of your sin, and point you to the perfectly righteous works of Christ. Then and only then will you be righteous before a holy God, and be able to flee from your sinful desires and works and live godly lives.

Dear Christians, praise God for sending the Holy Spirit to us to save us and enable us to live holy lives. He has given us all the benefits of salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ through the Spirit. He teaches us all the truths of God’s Word. He convicts us whenever we commit sins so we may repent and confess them before God. Our prayers are heard by God and Christ because the Spirit sends them to God’s throne of grace. He is our Comforter in our times of sufferings and sorrows. And because he indwells us, he preserves our faith till the end of our lives.

Praise be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit! Amen!

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Endnotes   [ + ]

1. Bauer, et. al., has four definitions of elencho:

a. to scrutinize or examine carefully, bring to light, expose (John 3:20; Eph 5:11, 13; Tit 2:15)

b. to bring a person to the point of recognizing wrongdoing, convict, convince (Tit 1:9, 13; Jud 15, 22, 23; John 8:9, 46; 16:8; Acts 6:10; 1 Cor 14:24; Js 2:9)

c. to express strong disapproval of someone’s action, reprove, correct (2 Tim 4:2; 1 Tit 5:20; Luk 3:19; Mat 18:15; Tit 2:15)

d. to penalize for wrongdoing, punish, discipline (Heb 12:5; Rev 3:19)

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