The Ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 16:5-15)
By Andrew E. Courtis
The Lord Jesus Christ has promised His people, that despite the hardship they may face in this world, He will always be with them, and He will personally come back for them one day. There is a place in Heaven for all His people. So as to provide an unchanging guarantee that this is true, the Lord Jesus Christ left a precious gift for all His people – they “were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1:13).
The doctrine of the Holy Spirit has undergone a lot abuse and neglect over the centuries. There are those who speak so much about the Holy Spirit but sadly have a distorted and warped understanding of Him. Then there are those who almost seem to be afraid to speak about Him and therefore sadly neglect Him.
The Holy Spirit is no mere force or a mere means for growth; the Holy Spirit is the third member of the Holy Trinity. He is God. For this reason we ought to love Him and know Him as He is revealed in Scripture. This passage begins by Jesus saying,
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (16:4b-7).
In this message I would like to consider three aspects of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. These relate to three different areas: the world, the people of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. THE HOLY SPIRIT CONVICTS THE WORLD (16:8-11)
The first aspect of the Holy Spirit’s ministry is seen in relation to the world. Jesus said, “And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (16:8). These are three important realties that are always to be a part of the gospel message to the world. It is very interesting and sad to think that these tend to be the three most avoided topics in many ‘gospel’ presentations today. They are replaced with things like felt needs, personal happiness and tolerance.
The word “convict” can refer to both of the acts of exposing guilt and convincing one of their condition. It carries both a negative and positive meaning in this passage.
Convicted of Sin
Jesus continued by saying, “concerning sin, because they do not believe in me” (16:9).
When God originally created Adam, He made him in His own image, and free from sin. But after the temptation of Satan Adam deliberately disobeyed the command of his Creator and sinned. In this one act, he fell from his original condition and brought the entire human race down with him (Rom. 5:12). Since Adam, every human being has inherited a corrupt nature that is opposed to God. Not every human is as bad as they could be, but without exception every human is sinful and has the potential to be most corrupt in their thoughts and actions.
It is only the work of the Holy Spirit that can expose the guilt of their condition and convince them of their sinfulness. In the world we have all sorts of ways to cover up or even disguise our sinful condition. However, these creative ways really don’t help. Just like putting fresh paint on rotten wood, or a clean rug over filthy mess on the floor, the reality of sin doesn’t disappear when you cover it up or disguise it.
When the Holy Spirit convinces a person of their sin, they will either respond with repentance or refusal. Many examples are seen in the book of Acts where the preaching of the Word goes out and the Holy Spirit does the invisible work of conviction and many see their sin and repent. However, there were many who saw their sin and then grew harder and refused to acknowledge it.
Convicted of Righteousness
The second area of this work of conviction is “concerning righteousness”. Jesus said, “because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer” (16:10). The life of Jesus Christ on earth was a constant public display of perfect righteousness. Every thought He had, every conversation He was a part of, every response that He gave was always in conformity to the right standards of God. His life revealed the righteousness of God. Now that He is leaving, the visible presence of His life is no longer going to be seen. So the Holy Spirit will convict people of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. People in their natural condition don’t have a high view of Jesus Christ. To them He is a fictional character, a mere good teacher or something else that doesn’t reflect what Scripture says. Only the Holy Spirit is able to do a work in people’s hearts so that they can see and understand the perfect righteousness of Christ. The fact that He is with the Father is evidence of His righteousness.
Again, people will either respond with repentance or refusal. After being present during the crucifixion and witnessing everything Jesus did and said, after Jesus spoke His last words and died, the Centurion said, “Certainly this man was righteous” (Luke 23:47).
Convicted of Judgment
The third area of this work of conviction is “concerning judgment”. Jesus added, “because the ruler of this world is judged” (16:11). Without the love of Christ people will live according to what they believe is right. However, our Lord made it clear that the Holy Spirit will bring about the convicting work of judgment. At the cross the Lord Jesus Christ defeated Satan (cf. Col. 2:15) and this will be fully realized at the return of Jesus Christ (Rev. 20:1-10).
These invisible works of the Holy Spirit will expose the guilt in people and some will refuse and become hardened, whereas others with repent and be saved. On the day of Pentecost after Peter had preached the gospel, Luke records that “when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). They repented and believed and were then baptized. There were 3,000 souls added to the church that day. That is the convicting work of the Holy Spirit.
2. THE HOLY SPIRIT GUIDES US (16:12-13)
What is the Holy Spirit’s ministry to those who love and follow Jesus Christ as Lord? Jesus told His disciples,
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come” (16:12-13).
Notice the wisdom and the sensitivity coming from the Lord who is the master teacher. He said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (16:12). He understands their abilities and knew they could only handle so much. We would all do well to do the same. We need to be patient with the people of God. Not everyone is at the same stages in their growth and others who are being overwhelmed with sorrow can only take so much. It is our duty to apply wisdom and sensitivity to our speech.
Jesus continues, “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth” (16:13a). This is describing the invisible work in which the Spirit guides the people of God into a greater understanding of the Word of God. Notice that it doesn’t refer to unique or independent revelations that others aren’t having. He guides God’s people “in all the truth”. For the apostles this was seen in Him guiding them to write the inspired Scriptures (2 Pet. 1:19-21). For us, He guides us through the inspired Scriptures by illuminating our minds (1 Cor. 2:10-16).
This truth “He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come” (16:13b). The “things that are to come” are found in the rest of the New Testament. The gospels, the books of Acts, the epistles and the book of Revelation give us all that we need for life and godliness (cf. 2 Pet. 1:3).
3. THE HOLY SPIRIT GLORIFIES CHRIST (16:14-15)
As the Holy Spirit convicts the world and guides believers, this is done with the view of bringing glory to Jesus Christ. Despite many who love to speak a lot about the Holy Spirit and His ministry, any belief or understanding of the Holy Spirit that does not point to and revolve around the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ is wrong. Jesus said concerning the Holy Spirit,
“He will glorify me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that He will take what is mine and declare it to you” (16:14-15).
The Holy Spirit is not interested for a moment in presenting to the people of God impressions and revelations that are outside of what Christ taught and did. His mission is to convict and guide with the view of pointing people to the magnificence and glory of Jesus Christ. In the words of our Lord, the Holy Spirit will “take what is mine and declare it to you”.
This is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This ought to fill us with so much excitement and confidence when it comes to the Christian life. This is why we can do what the Lord commands us to do.