THE SPIRIT’S WORK John 16“It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7).The Holy Spirit is alive and present with each believer today!
Jesus warned of the world’s hostility (16:1–4), but promised to send the Holy Spirit to convict the world (vv. 5–11). The Holy Spirit will also guide believers into all truth (vv. 12–16). Jesus promised that soon after His departure (death) the disciples would see Him again (in resurrection), and know joy (vv. 17–24). God loves and hears the prayers of those who believe in Jesus (vv. 25–28). Even imperfect faith is an avenue to peace (vv. 29–33).
Understanding the Text
“You will remember that I warned you” John 16:1–4. The reason for the warning? “So that you will not go astray” (v. 1). We all have a powerful desire to be accepted by others. Sometimes the desire stimulates relatively harmless behavior: kids want to wear what other children wear, and to have the same kind of school notebook. And businessmen dress as clones. But a need to fit in can be dangerous. A teen takes a drink, or tries a drug, because the gang urges him to. A teenage girl abandons her values in search of popularity. An adult violates his integrity for the approval of a boss or coworkers. Our need of acceptance is strong—and costly. If you or I ever assume that our faith is compatible with acceptance from the world, we’re in real danger of going astray. Jesus wants us to know ahead of time that when society asks, “Goin’ my way?” it is not inviting us to go His! The world lacks an accurate concept of God and of godliness (v. 3). Jesus said the world was hostile to and actually “hated” Him (15:18). To avoid the danger of being led astray by the world, we have to make a firm commitment to the Lord. So don’t make it your goal to please people. Love and serve others. But seek to please only the Lord. “It is for your good that I am going away” John 16:7. We can understand why the disciples were filled with grief at the thought of losing Jesus. Why would He “go away” and desert them? Christ tried to help His friends understand that His apparent desertion was for their benefit. Today we do understand: Christ left, but sent the Holy Spirit, who is a living presence within every believer. While Jesus was here on earth, He could only be present with a few of His own at a time. Yet note Christ’s sensitivity, and the disciples’ mistaken grief. Jesus knew and cared about how the 11 felt, even though their feelings were based in part on a misunderstanding of the situation. Sometimes you and I feel deserted and alone too. We wonder why God seems so far off, and why our prayers go unheeded. Jesus cares about our feelings of loneliness—even though such situations too are “for your good.” How close we can feel to Jesus when trials come. He is near, and He cares. He is at work even in our tragedies to bring us good. “If I go, I will send Him to you” John 16:7. In God’s wondrous plan, the Holy Spirit is the Person of the Godhead who bonds us to Jesus, and who lives within us as an endless source of spiritual strength and vitality. Christ took His bodily presence from earth for a time, and in return granted us His spiritual presence, in the person of the Holy Spirit. This is one of the most exciting consequences of the Resurrection. A risen Jesus was free to pour out the Spirit on His followers. You and I aren’t alone. The Holy Spirit of God is with us, always. “He will convict the world” John 16:8–11. Jesus had warned of an essential conflict between Himself and the world. He went on to explore the ministry of the Holy Spirit to the world. The word “convict” is elencho, a legal term that means to pronounce a guilty verdict, thus defining justice and fixing responsibility. While the Spirit convicts the world, He does so by working through us. We are the channels through which the guilty verdict is announced. Earlier Jesus warned that the world is hostile to Christ and to believers. He told the disciples to expect animosity, and not to be “led astray” when the world demands we conform to its values and standards. Now Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will convict the world through us. It is not enough to go quietly about our business. We are to make a stand, and by standing enable the Spirit of God to speak to the world. “In regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” John 16:8–11. How are we to understand these three ministries of the Holy Spirit to the world? In regard to sin: the essence of sin is unbelief (v. 9). Our steadfast trust in Jesus stands in contrast to the world’s rejection of Him, and confirms its guilt. In regard to righteousness: the ultimate standard of righteousness is God Himself, expressed in Jesus, whose claims have been vindicated by His return to the Father’s side (v. 10). Though men see Jesus no longer, His character is displayed in believers’ Christlike lives. We continually exhibit the gap that exists between sinners and the Lord. In regard to judgment: the Cross and Resurrection—the reality of which are seen in the believer who lives his life in Jesus’ resurrection power (Rom. 8:11), proves unequivocally that Satan is a defeated foe. Thus the world system he dominates is an empty sham. There is nothing you and I can do to convict the world we live in. It is our lives, infused by the Spirit’s power and displaying heaven’s grace, that boldly proclaim the judgment of our God. “He will guide you into all truth” John 16:12–13. The Spirit has a ministry to believers as well as to the world. The Holy Spirit helps us understand and apply God’s truth to our lives as we grow in Him. The primary application of this teaching is to the 11 disciples, who later came to new and deeper understanding of what Jesus said and did. This deeper understanding is reflected in the epistles and other writings of the New Testament. Even so, we can see something similar happening in us. As young Christians we struggle to understand what seems obscure and puzzling. Then as we grow in our Christian experience, what was hidden becomes clear. When we are eager to know Jesus and to please Him, the Holy Spirit will surely guide us nearer and nearer to our Lord (see DEVOTIONAL). “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again, and you will rejoice” John 16:17–22. Jesus most probably was speaking of His resurrection and the sudden, joyous knowledge that He was alive that would drive away His disciples’ tears. Yet there is again application to you and me. Life on earth isn’t easy; in many ways this is our time of grief. But we too look forward to a return of Jesus Christ. When He comes, we will rejoice, and no one will ever take away that joy (v. 24). “Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” John 16:23–28. There are two meanings of “ask” in this passage. The first “ask” in verse 23, means to “ask a question.” The disciples decided that there was no need to question Christ further. They thought they understood. Later, all He had taught would in fact become clear. The second meaning of “ask” is to “ask a favor.” Knowing Jesus lives, and that we are His, we now come freely to God to make our requests. People have a saying, “It’s not how much you know, it’s who you know.” All that means is that if you want to get an interview for a job, it sure helps if someone high in the company will give you a letter of recommendation! If the person is high enough—the boss himself, perhaps—then the endorsement almost certainly means you’ve got the job. Some folks think that “asking in Jesus’ name” is like asking for Jesus to endorse our request. It isn’t. Asking in Jesus’ name means we identify with Christ’s values and goals so that what we ask reflects His will. We don’t need His endorsement! “I am not saying I will ask the Father for you,” He said. “No, the Father Himself loves you” (vv. 26–27). What an amazing thing! We don’t need a go-between in our dealings with God, because God loves us for ourselves. This is what’s wrong with the notion in some Christian traditions that we should ask dead saints to intercede. God loves Mary so much, so the reasoning goes, that He would certainly honor her request. So let’s ask Mary—or St. Francis, or whomever—to intercede for us. But, wonder of wonders, we’ve no need to seek a go-between! God loves you so much He is eager to honor your request. To ask some saint to intercede for you is to question the reality of God’s love—and Jesus’ assurance of that love. “That in Me you may have peace” John 16:29–33. Jesus’ instruction satisfied His disciples’ curiosity. And they thought they understood. They didn’t—and within a few hours they would scatter and leave Jesus to His fate. But even their imperfect faith was enough to win peace. Looking back the disciples would realize that there is no security, no basis for confidence, in themselves. But in Christ, and in Him alone, they would find peace. As the Resurrection demonstrates, Jesus is the Victor over this world. In Him and in His victory we have peace.
He Will Guide You into All Truth(John 16:1–15)
Of all the ministries of the Holy Spirit, this may be the least understood. We see the misunderstanding in the complaint that Christians are divided over doctrine. Some immerse for baptism, and some say sprinkling is enough. Some argue for predestination, others for free will. Some say Christians should speak in tongues today, others disagree. There are Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, Pentecostals, and multiplied other Christian brands. It seems that if the Holy Spirit were sent to guide us into all truth, He surely has fallen down on the job! The problem is our view of “truth.” To many folks, “truth” is “doctrine.” It’s beliefs or ideas about God. For these folk, the differences in Christian belief are deeply troubling. But biblically “truth” is not found in a harmony of ideas, but in the harmony of experience with reality. Both Hebrew and Greek words translated “true” mean “in complete harmony with reality.” Something is true because it penetrates the fog of human opinion and unveils reality as God alone knows it. The mission of the Holy Spirit is to guide you and me into “all truth.” His mission is to help us experience reality: to know Jesus as He is, to live a life in accord with true holiness, and to build relationships rooted in real love. The Bible never guarantees Christians will agree on every belief or doctrine. But the Bible does promise that as you and I live in fellowship with our Lord, God the Holy Spirit will take our hand, and conduct us step by step. We will know God’s truth, and our experience of that truth will set us free (8:32).
The Spirit doesn’t supervise disputes. He guides our experience.
“I find that doing the will of God leaves me no time for disputing about His plans.”—George MacDonald