THE HOLY SPIRIT AND DISCIPLESHIP
Key verse: John 14:16-17
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
In the last regular study of our discipleship series, we’re considering the topic of how the Holy Spirit’s work relates to discipleship. In all our efforts to grow as Jesus’ disciples and to help others do the same, Holy Spirit is working behind the scenes. So it’s important for us to gain a deeper understanding of how the Holy Spirit works, so we can work together better with the Spirit. This message has three parts.
The Holy Spirit’s identity and coming
The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is one of the more poorly-understood parts of Christianity. So we should start by defining exactly who the Holy Spirit is. Then we can also understand more clearly how that Spirit works. The word “spirit” indicates the invisible, incorporeal essence of something. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God himself. The Holy Spirit is not just an unconscious force. The Bible tells of the Holy Spirit working with God’s own wisdom and agency. We call the Holy Spirit “he”, not “it”. Our confession of faith is very clear that the Holy Spirit is divine, as a person of the Trinity.
The first mention of the Holy Spirit is in the second verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:2, which says, “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” This teaches us a lot. For one thing, it shows us that the Holy Spirit was actively involved in creation. As we’ll see, the Holy Spirit has an equally important role to play in the new creation of the gospel. Also, the phrase “hovering over the waters” supports the idea that the Holy Spirit’s presence is spread throughout creation. Theologians call this property “immanence” (with an “i”). The Holy Spirit’s immanence is most important to us because the Holy Spirit was meant to come and live within us.
The coming of the Holy Spirit to dwell in believers in the gospel era was prophesied in many places in the Old Testament. Possibly the most vivid such prophecy was given through Joel. In the book of Joel 2:28-29 God says, “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” This tells us of the power that the Holy Spirit would enable people to speak God’s words and to be enlightened with great spiritual vision. And it says this gift would be given without respect to any human status or group, whether priests or laypeople, men or women, old or young. What a great hope this was for God’s people.
As the time of Christ came, Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist, also told about the coming of the Spirit. In John 1:33 he said about Jesus, “And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’” It is Jesus the Messiah who obtained the gift of the Holy Spirit for us and who sends him to us; that’s why John said that Jesus gives us the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, the Bible gives us a very clear picture of the exact circumstances of the Holy Spirit’s coming at the beginning of the gospel era, in the book of Acts. After Jesus resurrection, Jesus instructed his disciples to stay in Jerusalem and wait for this promised gift. After Jesus’ ascension, the disciples joined together constantly in prayer. Then, in Acts Chapter 2 it says, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” The visible phenomena accompanying the arrival of the Holy Spirit included the sound of a rushing wind and the appearance of tongues of fire that came upon each apostle individually. These illustrate the dynamic and indwelling nature of the Spirit.
These are some of the objective facts about the person and work of the Holy Spirit. In the passage we read, Jesus promises the gift of the spirit to his disciples in a very personal way. In the first part of our key verse, John 14:16, Jesus says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” This promise was not just for the disciples of that time, but for everyone who seeks God through Jesus. Jesus will give us the Spirit, not just as a matter of procedure, but by asking God the Father on our behalf. Now let’s consider how the Spirit may work in us today as Jesus’ disciples.
The Spirit’s work in Jesus’ disciples
The Holy Spirit is a gift promised to all believers. This was explicitly stated by Peter in his very first sermon on that same Pentecost day in Acts Chapter 2. He said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” This promise is how we know we can rely on the work of the Holy Spirit within us.
In fact, we can find plenty of evidence in the Bible that the Holy Spirit begins to work in someone’s heart even before they explicitly confess Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 12:3 Paul said, “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” In other words, if we are moved to faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit must have already been working in us. What is the nature of this initial work of the Holy Spirit? Well, that might not be the most pleasant experience. When the Holy Spirit begins working in someone’s heart to bring them to salvation, that first work is going to involve conviction of sin.
Jesus actually gave a deep description of this convicting work of the Spirit in the same discourse that we read our passage from, in John chapter 16. Speaking of the Spirit, Jesus says in John 16:8-11: “When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”
Here the Holy Spirit’s convicting work is expressed in regard to three things: sin, righteousness, and judgment. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, but we can say that the Holy Spirit works to teach us first, that we are sinners; second, that in contrast, God is righteous; and third, because of that state of affairs, we are subject to judgment. That’s not a pleasant realization. But it’s the beginning of salvation.
We can see this convicting work of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as well, in the crowd that Peter was speaking to. In Peter’s message, he did not shy away from pointing out the great sin of the people in Jerusalem in putting Jesus to death. Peter also revealed God’s righteousness in raising Christ from the dead and seating him at his own right hand, the seat from which Christ will finally judge the world. When Peter’s message ended, Acts 2:37 says, “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” When the Holy Spirit did his work of conviction of sin, people knew they had to make a change in their lives. Peter recognized that God had opened people’s hearts and that is when he told them to repent and be baptized. So, when we are witnessing the gospel to someone, it’s right for us to pray for the convicting and converting work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. There is no discipleship ministry without the work of repentance, and there is no true repentance without conviction from the Holy Spirit.
Thankfully, conviction of sin is not the only way that the Holy Spirit works; in fact, that’s really just the prelude. Once we repent and come to Jesus, the real positive work of the Holy Spirit can be experienced in our lives. There are many gracious verses in the Bible describing this.
We can start with the passage we read. Let’s consider John 14:15-17 as one unit. Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
This explicitly teaches the indwelling nature of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit lives within us. What good news this is, all by itself! It means we are never alone. The Spirit is our most direct and inward connection to God. That’s why Jesus follows up in verse 18 by saying, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” The Spirit is Jesus’ own presence with us. It’s the way that Jesus’ promise in Matthew 28:20 is fulfilled: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Then what does this indwelling Spirit do for us? Notice that in these verses, the primary word Jesus uses for the Spirit is “Advocate.” An advocate is someone who speaks on another’s behalf. The most obvious example of an advocate in our society is a lawyer who pleads someone’s defense. Jesus himself is our advocate before the Father as a result of his death on the cross. Jesus pleads for us with the authority of his own sacrifice, and has us declared not guilty of all sin before God. The Holy Spirit carries out a similar kind of advocacy, but within us, in order to deliver us from the power of inward condemnation. So even when our own hearts condemn us, the Holy Spirit can testify with our spirit that we are not condemned, and what is more, that we are accepted as children of God. It’s so comforting to know that when we don’t have anything good to say for ourselves, the advocate Holy Spirit can work in our hearts and take away all the power of condemnation.
Another role the Holy Spirit plays is that of a teacher. The disciples knew Jesus primarily as a teacher; after all, the word “disciple” primarily means a student. But Jesus couldn’t finish teaching the disciples everything they needed to know during his short time on earth with them. Jesus even told them, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.” (Jn 16:12) But once Jesus returned to the Father, the Holy Spirit would take over that teaching role. That is why Jesus also calls the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth”, because the truth is what we need to be taught. In John 16:13 Jesus says, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” The Holy Spirit’s guidance empowers us to discern the truth and receive it and apply it to our hearts.
The main way the Spirit leads us into truth is through Jesus’ words. In Chapter 14 verse 26 Jesus says, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” M. Paul said that the students in his classes are so happy when he gives them a review session before an exam. In the same way, the Holy Spirit can give us a review session of Jesus’ words at just the right time. Many of us can testify of a time when a word of God came into our heart at just the moment we needed it.
The Spirit also works in believers for the process of our sanctification. The very name “Holy Spirit” shows us that this is a Spirit of holiness, and he works with God to make us holy from the inside out. The convicting aspect of the Spirit’s work surely has something to do with this. But the Spirit also, in a positive way, gives us a new principle and power source for living a holy life. That’s what Paul says in Romans 8:2, that “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” With the Spirit, our mind can be controlled by the Spirit instead of the sinful nature, with the result of life and peace.
We’ve mainly been talking about the Spirit’s work within individual believers, but there is also a communal aspect to the Spirit’s work. Remember that the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost after all the believers had been meeting and praying together. The Spirit also works to produce unity within the body of Christ. The reason is very simple. Though we are separate individuals, the Spirit is one Spirit. So when we are all filled with the Spirit, we have a very deep connection to each other. When we are all “tuned in” to the spirit, we are all on the same wavelength and can experience a mysterious unity in diversity.
We can sum up the work of the Holy Spirit by saying that it is fundamentally a life-giving work. Romans 8:11 says, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” Our power to live a new life is Jesus’ own resurrection power, living in us by the Holy Spirit.
Co-working with the Holy Spirit in discipleship ministry
A major part of this message series is how we in the ministry should focus our efforts to be fruitful disciple-makers. The Scriptures we’ve looked at today have shown us that in fact, the Holy Spirit is working harder than we are in the work of making Jesus’ disciples. So in this last part, we should think about how we can work with the Spirit in our ministry. What part of the work is our part, and what is the part that only the Spirit can do?
Of course, only the Spirit can make that fundamental change in a person’s inner self by which they are born again as a child of God. But there is plenty for us to do to help. First of all, the Holy Spirit wants to work in people when we preach the gospel to them. In John 15:26-27, Jesus said, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” This shows that while we are testifying, the Holy Spirit will also testify to Jesus in the hearts of our hearers. It’s like a double testimony, with the human and the divine working together. We talked about the Holy Spirit’s teaching role. As Bible teachers, we should pray that the Holy Spirit will do his inward teaching while we are outwardly teaching the Bible.
In our Bible study Friday night, M. Gideon told about a time when he was introduced to a man who really didn’t speak much English at all. M. Gideon explained the whole gospel to him, only later finding out that the man had not really understood any of the words he said. However, M. Gideon also found out later that the man had accepted Christ at the very time M. Gideon spoke to him. How could it happen? Actually, the man had heard the gospel message before in his own language but not accepted it. When M. Gideon shared the gospel with him, he realized that he was talking about Jesus, because as M. Gideon was talking, he spread out his hands to indicate Jesus’ death on the cross. At that moment, when the man remembered the gospel he had heard before, faith came into his heart. So the Holy Spirit testified in the man’s heart while M. Gideon was testifying.
It’s also important for us to avoid opposing the work of the Holy Spirit. In 1 Thessalonians 5:19 Paul simply says, “Do not quench the Spirit.” To “quench” can mean to put out a fire, so this verse has also been translated, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.” The Biblical analogy of the Holy Spirit to a fire can give us insight on working together with the Spirit. Fire is full of energy, it can burn all by itself, but it is possible to smother it or put it out. How might we be guilty of quenching the Spirit? Of course, any sin could do that. The Bible says that sin grieves the Holy Spirit. But I think the sin that quenches the Spirit the most is unbelief. When we see the Holy Spirit working in a new disciple, we should encourage it without being overly critical. If we have an unbelieving attitude toward the work of God, that could be like pouring cold water on somebody’s small flickering fire.
Thinking more about the analogy of fire, I realized there are also small things we can do to help the Holy Spirit’s fire burn. Just as blowing on a fire or adding a small stick to it can help it burn brighter and keep going, our small encouragement could fan the fire in a growing disciple into a great flame. To be sure that the Holy Spirit is in control in our disciple-making ministry, we should above all stick to the word of God, because we know that the Holy Spirit is going to work most of all through Jesus’ words.
The powerful work of the Holy Spirit is the best news for our discipleship ministry and our life personally. Through meditating on the verses mentioned in this message, I realized that Jesus’ promises about the gift of the Holy Spirit are absolutely central to faith and ministry. We should rely all the more on those promises, knowing that there is a power that doesn’t have to come from us. May God bless you to recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life and be greatly strengthened, living a new life.