The Promise of the Holy Spirit

The book of Acts begins with Jesus making a power promise: You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you (Acts 1.8). Previous to this, however, Jesus made a beautiful promise about the Holy Spirit being with us and dwelling in us forever. Our text -  John 14.15-26 - is an incredibly dense and rich bit of scripture; what follows are a few brief reflections.

1. A Family Affair

Christians discover a perpetual source of joy and wonder in the fact that God has chosen to reveal himself as an eternal Trinity of Love. The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father; both love the Spirit who in turn loves both.

At the heart of the eternal relationship of Father, Son and Spirit is love. And Jesus brings us into the relationship be describing the love both He and the Father have for his followers.
But first, Jesus describes the indicators that someone really loves him: v. 15: If you love me, you will keep my commandments; v. 21: Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.

Don’t miss this point: obedience to God is the indicator we love God; there is no love of God without obedience to him. Jesus makes this point: Whoever does not love me does not keep my words (v. 24).

Jesus sets an example for us by pointing to his own pattern of obedience: ‘For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me’. Submission to the Father’s will is the mark of participatory love.

But the good news for us is that, for those who love God, for those who keep the commandments of Jesus, there is benefit: v. 21: And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. We – broken and sinful humans - are brought right in to the family affair of mutual love.

Obedience is not for the sake of obedience; obedience is out of love – and in our relationship with God – built on trust that God is God and God is good and obeying him is not only the most loving thing we can do but the most appropriate response to God.

It is in this context of love and obedience that Jesus makes an astounding promise.

2. The Promised Helper

Do you know anyone, or have a friend, who is a perpetual drip of negativity? It’s sunny, and when we speak to them, they say, ‘But it’s probably going to rain soon’. Rather than enjoying the good bits in a film, they point out the bad. Rather than celebrating your small victories, they remind you of your really big blunder last year. When their team wins, rather than celebrating, they start thinking about what’s going to go wrong next week! No one needs a friend like that! Thankfully, that’s the opposite of the Holy Spirit’s MO (modus operandi)!

This is what we read in verse 16:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you for ever.

This promise is remarkable on two fronts. First, the second bit, is that God the Spirit will be with us forever. Think about that for a moment. This is a promise of God’s presence in the person of the Spirit always being with us. Forever.

And second, the first bit is that it is the Helper who will with us. This is an interesting way for Jesus to describe the Spirit. The Greek word translated as helper is paraklétos and can mean an advocate, intercessor, a consoler, comforter, helper. It comes from two Greek words which mean from close beside and to make a call.

This word parakletos was often used in legal contexts, Properly, a parakletos was a legal advocate who makes the right judgment-call because he’s close enough to the situation. That’s why sometimes it is translated as advocate - an advisor-helper – like a lawyer, someone giving evidence that stands up in court.

Though the ‘calling to us from close up’ may imply many kinds of content, there are some specific areas of ministry described in scripture in which the Spirit speaks God’s truth to us. One of the key places is found in Romans 8.16:

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.

So as you go through your day, your week, your year – through good times and bad, the Holy Spirit is walking along beside you ‘bearing witness – giving testimony, reminding you – you are a child of God!

One fruit of walking with the Spirit and listening to the Spirit is to be refreshed and strengthened in the revelation, ‘I am child of God’!

3. The Exclusive Spirit of Truth

The Holy Spirit is how we experience intimacy with God. But not everyone gets to experience this. Notice verse 17:

... even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.

Did you watch Prince Philip’s funeral recently? Something like 13 million folk in the UK did. Here’s a little secret: I wasn’t invited. Come to think of it, I have never been invited to participate in any royal event – no wedding, no funeral, no dinner, no Christmas morning with the Windsor’s. Does not Her Majesty the Queen realise what she is missing by not having me as a conversation partner?

Part of the Queen’s royal prerogative is to include, and exclude, from her events whomever she wishes. God, the King of kings and Lord of lords exercises this same royal prerogative, but even more so.

Jesus makes an astounding statement including three key points about the Spirit’s exclusivity: first, the world cannot receive the Spirit. This is because the Spirit is only accessed through the blood of Christ; the Spirit is only given to those whom God redeems and calls to himself.

Second, Jesus explains this by affirming that the world does not see the Spirit. This is an interesting phrase because the Spirit is a spirit, and even believers cannot ‘see’ with physical eyes. But one of the ministries of the Spirit is to open the eyes of our heart to God, and when this happens, we see the Spirit and the Spirit’s ministry with and for us.

Third, the world – those outside God’s family – do not know the Holy Spirit. They may have heard of the Spirit and be aware of the Spirit in the same way that I am aware there is a Prince William. But I’ve never met him and do not ‘know’ him. In the same way, the world has not ‘met’ the Spirit and does not know him.

To flip this around, Jesus is saying that Christians who are part of God’s family see and know the Spirit, and the Spirit is the Spirit of truth. He picks up on this theme in v 26: But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

The Holy Spirit inspired scripture (1 Peter 1.21); He himself is the best interpreter of scripture there is. One of the ministries of the Spirit in our lives is to affirm truth and expose error.

To flip this around - it is the Spirit who is the final arbiter of what truth is; that is, true truth is the Spirit's truth. Exclusively - though he shares it with his friends.

4. The Indwelling of the Spirit

This is what we read in verse 17: You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
The indwelling of the Spirit is a great advantage of the New Covenant. Because Jesus has purchased access for us to the presence of God, not only is the Spirit with us; the Spirit lives in us. This is why Paul wrote to the Corinthians 6.19-20:

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, you were bought with a price.

The price of our redemption is the blood of Christ; the benefit of our redemption is that the Holy Spirit dwells in us. This is why Jesus could make the promise that the Spirit – the advocate – would be with us forever.

5. Conclusion

As noted, there is much more packed into this text that we touched here. Hopefully you’ve seen that the promise of the Holy Spirit is that God himself will be with us in personal and powerful ways.

What can you do to cultivate an intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit?