The person and work of the Holy Spirit is a much debated topic and sometimes a topic which we try to ignore. This article will concern itself mainly with the work of the Holy Spirit, yet it is essential at the outset to affirm that I believe that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit is therefore God and not a force or power,we sometimes refer to the Holy Spirit when we do this we detract from his divine personality.
There are debates about the nature and work of the Holy Spirit which are hot issues especially regarding the gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit. before approaching these issues I want to look briefly at Jesus teaching about the Holy Spirit in John’s Gospel. Jesus himself lays the foundation for our discussion of the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the agent of regeneration. In John chapter 3 we encounter the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus and here we find Jesus teaching about the new birth or if you prefer the birth from above. What is important to notice is that Jesus attributes the new birth to the work of the Holy Spirit, look with me at what he says,
5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless someone is born of water and spirit, he is not able to enter into the kingdom of God. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘It is necessary for you to be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John3:5-8 LEB)
Jesus clearly teaches that without the work of the Holy spirit a person cannot be born again, the Spirit’s work is vital. We cannot convert anyone but God can give a new nature through the new birth. This fact should be an encouragement to us as we evangelise because we will know that although everything is impossible with us, God can and will act. for example we can look at the day of Pentecost and see that in what seemed an impossible situation,God sovereignly works through the preaching of his word and 3000 people are saved.
Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit: As Jesus prepares for the cross and his departure from the earth, he prepares his disciples for their future life and mission by teaching them about the work of the Holy Spirit. In John 14, Jesus says,
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, in order that he may be with you ⌊forever⌋—17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world is not able to receive, because it does not see him or know him.* You know him, because he resides with you and will be in you. (John 14:15-17 LEB)
The word translated here as Advocate is a very rich one which has been translated as Comforter,Helper,Intercessor, the original word has all these overtones. It can also be translated, as one called along to help. Jesus is here promising his disciples that after his exaltation he will send another advocate who is like him to be be with the disciples. The disciples are assured by Jesus that the Holy Spirit will live with them and be in them. This Advocate will be much closer than Jesus could ever be. Jesus then went on to promise that the Holy Spirit would be their teacher, he says,
Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and ⌊will take up residence with him⌋. 24 The one who does not love me does not keep my words, and the word that you hear is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me. 25 These things I have spoken to you while* residing with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name—that one will teach you all things, and will remind you of everything that I said to you. (John 14:23-26 LEB)
Here Jesus reminds them that as they love him they will be taught by the Holy Spirit. We can see this fulfilled in the inspiration and writing of the New Testament,but we most not confine it to that. The Holy spirit is still the one who teaches us. This is primarily through the preaching and reading of the Word of God. We need the Holy spirit to teach us so that we can live lives that are for the glory of God. Jesus promised also that as the Spirit testifies to us, we will be able to testify to the world.
26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father—that one will testify about me. 27 And you also will testify, because you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27 LEB)
Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth, he will only reveal things that are true and we see that he has done this by his inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. because we know Jesus we will testify about him because the Holy spirit who indwells us will cause us to share what Jesus has done for us. But we come back to where we started because with our testimony we find that the Holy Spirit uses it for the conversion of others. Jesus said,
7 But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he* comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and concerning righteousness and concerning judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me, 10 and concerning righteousness, because I am going away to the Father and you will see me no more, 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
12 I still have many things to say to you, but you are not able to bear them* now. 13 But when he—the Spirit of truth—comes, he will guide you into all the truth. For he will not speak from himself, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will proclaim to you the things to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and will proclaim it* to you. 15 Everything that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he takes from what is mine and will proclaim it* to you. (John 16:7-15 LEB)
Jesus clearly teaches that it is the Holy Spirit’s role to convince the world of it’s sin and the judgement that it deserves, this is not so that he can condemn te world but rather so that the world can see its need of salvation.
Also note that the Spirit does not call attention to himself but rather he will glorify Jesus, sometimes people use this verse as excuse not to consider the work of the Holy Spirit but this cannot be the intention of Jesus here. Jesus has just instructed the disciples about the Holy Spirit, so clearly they need to know about him. One of the great tests of any move of the Holy Spirit is, is it Christ centered. Anything that detracts from Christ is not from the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Commissions His Disciples for Mission: At the end of John’s gospel we find that when he appears in the upper room,he commissions his disciples for mission. John 20 gives us a vivid picture of this,
19 Now when it* was evening on that day—the first day of the week—and the doors had been shut where the disciples were because of fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace to you.” 20 And when he* had said this, he showed his* hands and his* side to them. Then the disciples rejoiced when they* saw the Lord. 21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you. As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” 22 And when he* had said this, he breathed on them* and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them. If you retain the sins* of any, they are retained.” ( John 20:19-23 LEB)
There has been much discussion about the precise meaning of Jesus words “Receive the Holy Spirit” at the very minimum these words shows us that Jesus knew that his disciples would be need to be empowered for their mission by the Holy Spirit. The rest of the New testament shows us how this was fulfilled. The book of Acts shows the Holy Spirit at work and the apostles in their letters were aware of the need to teach about him.