Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Tag: believers’ church

THE PROMISE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

 

 

Jesus has been seeking to comfort His disciples and to show them that it really was to their advantage that He leave them to go to be with the Father.  And an important part of that was the promise to send the Holy Spirit.

“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:147,18; NKJV).  The Greek word translated here as “Helper” is Parakletos, or “Paraclete,” as it is sometimes transliterated into English; and the commentators have long debated exactly what the word means.  The old King James Version translated it here as “Comforter,” but in I John 2:1 rendered the same word as “Advocate.”  In our present text in John 14, the NASV, ESV and TEV, besides the NKJV, all render it “Helper.”  The NIV, NRSV, NEB and JB all have “Advocate.”  In the New Testament the word only occurs in the writings of John, and in the present passage it translates something that Jesus had probably said in Aramaic.  In the immediate context Jesus obviously wanted to comfort His disciples, but, as the use of the word in John 14:26; 15:26 and 16:7 indicates, there is more to the work of the Holy Spirit than being just a Comforter of legal Advocate.  The Holy Spirit was sent to help us in a variety of ways, and thus the translation “Helper” is probably best.

When Jesus said that the Father would give them “another Helper,” the implication is that the Holy Spirit would be a Helper in the same manner as Jesus Himself.  Jesus will go on to elaborate on that further later on in the Upper Room Discourse, and the rest of the New Testament will describe it even further.  It suffice to say here that just as Jesus taught, directed and comforted His disciples here on earth, the Holy Spirit would continue to do so after Jesus’ departure.  And this is important.  The church is not left to its own resources, and it was never meant to.  We are dependent on the divine power that is communicated to us through the Holy Spirit.

Significantly Jesus makes a special point of calling the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth.”  He is the Spirit who is truth (I John 5:6), and Who guides us into all truth (John 16:13).  The truth is ultimately God Himself, and His purpose and design in creating the world.  But He is infinite, and we are not; and, to make matters worse, we are fallen sinners, our eyes darkened by sin.  A key role of the Holy Spirit, then, is to reveal the truth to a lost and dying world, and this He does through the preaching of the Gospel; He empowers the preacher and opens the hearts and minds of the listeners to receive the truth.

But his, then, creates a sharp contrast between the church and the world.  Jesus said that the world “cannot receive” the Spirit, “because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you” (v. 17).  Jesus here, of course, is referring to the situation that will exist after He has ascended into heaven and the Holy Spirit is poured out at Pentecost.  But He uses verbs in the present tense in anticipation of the event (grammarians call this “prolepsis”).  Here the conditions of believers and of the world are contrasted.  The world “cannot receive” the Spirit, and the reason given is that “it neither sees Him nor knows Him.”  This, of course, is referring to man in his natural condition, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.  He is spiritually blind.  He does not want to know the truth because he wants to live his life apart from God.  And because the Holy Spirit is invisible, and works inside the heart, the unregenerate sinner knows nothing of His presence and operation.

But how vastly different it is with the person who has been born of God!  “ . . .but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”  He comes into the heart and creates spiritual life.  He fills the believer’s heart with a real desire to know God, to love Him, and to serve Him.  And thus ter3e is a real sense in which the believer lives in a different world from that of the non-believer.  The Christian is attuned to a spiritual reality of which the unbeliever is completely unaware.

This, in turn, points to the fact that the church needs to be a spiritual brotherhood of genuine believers who are set apart from the world.  It is supposed to be a believers’ church with a regenerate church membership.  And in its public gatherings, its worship and its life together as believers it needs to make manifest the life of Christ – a genuine reverence for God, a love for the brethren, the fruit of the Spirit.

“There is a scene where spirits blend,

Where friend holds fellowship with friend,

Tho’ sundered far, by faith they meet

Around one common mercy seat.”

Hugh Stowell

Significantly Jesus says that all of this will come about through His intercession.  Having just told them that He is about to depart from them and return to the Father in heaven, he says, “And I will pray [or “ask” – NASV, ESV] the Father, and He will give you another Helper” (v. 16).  And, as it happened, that is exactly what occurred.  After His resurrection Jesus instructed His disciples to wait at Jerusalem “until you are endued with power from on high” (Lu. 24:49).  As Paul would later put it, paraphrasing Psalm 68:18, “When He ascended on high, / He led captivity captive, / And gave gifts to men” (Eph. 4:8).  The presence of spiritual gifts within the church is proof that Jesus ascended into heaven, and is alive and making intercession there for us.  It is a testimony to the fact that Jesus loves us, He deeply cares for us, and is actively interceding there on our behalf.

And Jesus reassures them that He will ask that this Helper “may abide with you forever” (v. 10).  Jesus was about to depart.  His disciples were filled with dismay.  But Jesus’ departure was both necessary and beneficial to them, as He pointed out to them.  But with the Holy Spirit it would be different.  He would be with us until the very end.

Unfortunately it is too easy for the American church to underestimate the work of the Holy Spirit.  We are proud and self-sufficient – well=known for our “can-do” attitude.  But in the long run we accomplish little apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.  He must bless; He must provide.  America is sinking into a cesspool of sin.  We keep hoping that the next politician will help us out of it.  But ultimately it comes down to the Holy Spirit working in the hearts and lives of individuals, transforming them from within, and giving them spiritual life.

“Showers of blessing,

Showers of blessing we need:

Mercy drops round us are falling,

But for the showers we plead.”

Daniel W. Whittle

KEEPING HIS COMMANDMENTS

 

Having promised to answer prayer Jesus then goes on to add a qualifier: “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15; NKJV).  It is brief, simple, and of the utmost importance.

The first thing to be noted here is that Jesus has, in fact, given us “commandments.”  A commandment is a directive or order given by someone in a position of authority.  The commandment, then, is given to someone who is under that person’s authority, and who is obligated to obey it.  Jesus is in such a position of authority over us.  He is our Lord and Master; we are His servants.  He has given us explicit directives on how to live our lives, and we are obligated to obey Him.

This is a hard concept for modern Christians to grasp.  We naturally assume our own freedom and autonomy.  If Jesus loves us, we reason, He will look out for our personal well-being, which, we assume, means that He will do what we want Him to do.  But we have it all backwards.  He is the Lord; we are His servants.  We are here on earth to do His will and good pleasure.

Jesus said that we were to “keep” His commandments.  The Greek word that John used (and presumably the underlying Aramaic word that Jesus would have used), means “to guard” or “to keep,” and by extension “to keep watchful care.”  The idea here is that we are to give careful attention to what Jesus has commanded, and to be careful to obey all of His commandments.

But it is specifically His commandments that we are to keep, not some human tradition or social custom.  The importance of this cannot be overestimated.  Jesus is God; Jesus is the Supreme Authority.  And if we are Christians we are His disciples – we are followers of Him.  That means that we must go what He has said in all things.

On the one hand this requires non-conformity to the world.  As human beings we are social creatures, and crave social acceptance.  We must live and function in civil society.  But the human race is fallen and in a state of sinful rebellion against God.  It imposes standards of right and wrong that are often at variance with God’s moral law.  In such cases “we ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).  This principle will become increasingly critical as Western society continues to move in an anti-Christian direction.  But we must never forget that Jesus Christ is Lord and King, and He is the One who we at all times must obey.  And, ironically as it may seem, in so doing we are acting in he the best interests of society.  Humanity never benefits from sexual license, drunken debauchery, economic exploitation, or violence against others.  We may be hated and persecuted in the short run, but we will be proven right in the long run.   Let us take a clear, uncompromising stand for truth, justice, compassion and morality.

But in our churches we must also be careful not to follow blindly a human tradition instead of the commands of Christ.  It is easy to follow customary practices and a set of denominational distinctives.  But are they really biblical, and do they really honor Christ?  Christ is supposed to be the Head of the church, and the question should always be, what does He want?  The different denominations cannot all possibly be right; almost all of them have to be wrong at some point.  And too often we have developed an institutionalized form of church life that departs for the New Testament model of a Spirit-filled brotherhood of committed disciples.  We must make it our first order of business to seek Christ’s will for our lives as individuals and as churches, and seek to please Him in all that we do.  Only then can we expect to receive a blessing from Him.

But Jesus challenges His disciples to examine their own hearts.  “If you love Me,” He says, “keep My commandments.”  The question is, do we really love Him?  What does it mean to love Christ, in the first place?  Can we say that we genuinely understand ad appreciate all that He is, and all that He has done for us?  When we sing in church, do we really praise Him with heartfelt devotion?  Or are we simply enjoying the music?*  Is a genuine love for Christ reflected in our private devotions and public worship?

And what is our motive in getting involved in church activities?  Is it to glorify Christ and serve the brethren in love and humility?  Or is it to gain recognition for ourselves?  Do we consciously strive to please Christ in all that we do?  Do we really, honestly, sincerely love Him at all?

If we are honest with ourselves we will probably have to admit that we are too much like the lukewarm church in Laodicea: ”I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I could wish you were cold or hot” (Rev. 3:15).  And tells them (the church, mind you, not unbelievers), “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (v. 20).

This, then, in just a few words, is what the Christian life should look like: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”

 

*St. Augustine confessed to being torn between listening to the psalms being chanted in church for the content of the words and purely for the enjoyment of the music.  His decided preference was for the performance style advocated by St. Athanasius – as plain and simple as possible, closer to speech rather than song.  (Confessions, X.xxxiii)