“Counselor,” “Helper,” and “Comforter.” Those warm, assuring terms are among the translations of the word Jesus uses for the promised Holy Spirit–and they all reflect aspects of his work. But in John 16:5-11 Jesus tells you that this Counselor, when he comes, will convict.
That Counselor, of course, is the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. John 14-16 is full of Jesus’ teaching his disciples, last minute instructions before he goes to his suffering, death, and resurrection. What is the focus of this discourse? What does Jesus spend much of his time discussing? The Trinity! The Trinity is not an abstract theological construction, but as Jesus makes clear in these chapters, is the three persons of the Godhead working together for your salvation.
Jesus tells his disciples that it is “for your good” that he is going away (to his suffering and death, and his ascension). With irony he uses the same verb that the high priest, Caiaphas, had used in John 11:50 when he said that it was better that one man die for the people.
Jesus had to leave his disciples in order that he and the Father might give the Spirit to the church. That Spirit had been active in the Old Testament, where (in Joel 2:28-32 among other places) his future coming in fullness had been promised. That Spirit had come upon Jesus at his baptism, equipping him for his work as the Messiah. But his being given to the church would depend on the completion of Christ’s earthly work, which was about to happen as Jesus spoke.
We may naively think that it would be wonderful if we could go back in time and listen to Jesus teach the Sermon on the Mount, watch him cleanse the temple, see the miracles he worked. But we have something better. We have the Spirit, who focuses not on himself, but on Jesus. We have the Spirit who works so closely with Christ that they are functionally identical. If you have the Spirit in your heart you have Christ in you. In the Spirit, you have the Savior with you in a fuller, more wonderful way than the disciples did during Jesus’ time on earth.
The gift of the Spirit, his being poured out at Pentecost, is essential for the work of the church. John Murray writes:
“The Holy Spirit was given on the day of Pentecost in worldwide activity in the fulness of his grace and power. Pentecost was an event co-ordinate with the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ in the fulfilment of God’s worldwide redemptive design. It was a once-for-all event not to be repeated. But it is also an event that has not been repealed in its significance for his abiding presence and activity in the church and in the world.
“Here I submit is one of the great sins; we have not been sufficiently conscious of the Spirit’s function and grace; we have failed to bring sola gratia to its consistent expression.” (Collected Writings, Vol 1, p. 295)
You see that essential work as Jesus describes what the Spirit would do when he came. Comforting though much of the Spirit’s work is (and the term “Counselor” has legal overtones), Jesus here focuses on his work of convicting. He describes three different aspects to the Spirit’s work.
1) He convicts the world of guilt in regard to sin. You and I, together with the rest of the world, stand guilty before God. But it is the Spirit who brings that home, who cuts through the excuses that we make, who convicts us of our sin and enables us to recognize that we need Jesus as our Savior. Has he convicted you of your sin? Not just a sense that you have some shortcomings, but that you have violated the holiness of God and deserved his judgment?
2) He convicts the world in regard to righteousness, and Jesus ties that with his own going to his Father. Righteousness here is the righteousness of the risen, ascended, and glorified Son of God. His going to the Father is his vindication. The One who was made sin for you has been declared “not guilty.” And as the Spirit unites you to Jesus, that is your verdict as well. Has the Holy Spirit worked in your heart the assurance that your only hope is the righteousness of Jesus Christ that comes to you as the Spirit gives you a new heart, makes you a new creature, uniting you to Jesus Christ by faith?
3) The Spirit convicts the world of judgment, because, Jesus says, the prince of this world stands condemned. In the events of the next few hours as the Son of Man would be unjustly condemned, nailed to a cross, and subjected to the death of a despised criminal it might appear that the prince of this world, Satan, who deceives and corrupts, had conquered. The age old conflict between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent would seem to have been resolved in favor of the latter. But, as Jesus had pointed out earlier (John 12:31), the completion of his messianic work meant judgment for the prince of this world. The enslaving power of Satan has been broken. You have been set free to serve your Lord. Do you grasp how fully you depend on God’s grace in the gift of the Holy Spirit to walk in a new life of obedience? When you find yourself once again seeking the Lord’s forgiveness because you have stumbled and disobeyed yet once more, do you have the courage and strength the Spirit gives to recognize that Satan is a defeated enemy, and that now you can serve your Lord?
The more you grasp the breadth and depth of the Spirit’s work, the more you recognize that it truly was for your good that Jesus left and ascended into heaven so that he could give you the convicting, comforting work of the Spirit.
[In preparation for a sermon delivered on May 27, 2012]