Jesus’ promise here is very important in our outworking of our Christian lives here on earth and beyond to the eternal home in God. This has to go beyond our mental understanding, and there are deep principles here we need to comprehend, and to apply, and experience in our pilgrimage on earth.
When Jesus said that He would ask the Father to give us another ‘helper’ or ‘counsellor’, He used the Greek word ‘allos’, which means ‘another of the same kind’. It is imperative that we should not look at the Holy Spirit as simply a ‘divine influence’ or just God’s ‘animating power’. The Holy Spirit is equally God, the third person of the Godhead, and He is to live with and within those who believe. He is definitely a Person and not a force or influence – there are many parts of Scripture that affirm this truth. He is also a divine Person – He is called the eternal Spirit (Heb 9:14); the Spirit of Christ (1 Peter 1:11), the Spirit of the Lord (Isa. 11:2), the Spirit of the Father (Mat. 10:20) and the Spirit of the Son (Gal. 4:6).
The Spirit is the One who brings us new birth (John 3:6; Titus 3:5). He was the One who raised Jesus from the dead and who brings God’s resurrection life to you and me (Rom. 8:11). He is a person and He is God – there is no doubt about it.
In making His promise of the Spirit, Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:18-19). Some may conclude that this is a reference to His second coming – however, the world will not “see” Jesus because He will not be here physically; but believers will “see” Him despite the fact that He is physically present with the Father. The context of Jesus’ remarks point to Jesus’ intention for His spiritual presence to His disciples to be as real as His physical presence and in that light, they will not be alone or be like orphans. Somehow we will see Him;; somehow we will know Him; somehow we will experience Him as real and vital , as if He were by our side.
It is clear that the Holy Spirit is the One who establishes the link between Christ and the believer which makes our experience of the Lord Jesus possible. And what must we do to actually experience Jesus’ presence?
“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (verse 21)..” If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever 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”(verses 23-34).
Keeping His commandments and words refer not just to specific commands but to the whole revelation of the Father to the Son. In that sense, we understand why Jesus, in giving the Great Commission in Matt. 28, qualifies it with “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” and all that Jesus commands comes from the Father to Him as He walked on earth as the God-Man.
Notice that It is love for Christ that motivates obedience to Christ’s teachings; duty alone cannot truly motivate actual obedience to His commands. The world does not love Jesus, and thus will not be moved from the heart to obey Christ’s words. But believers who do love Jesus and seek to please Him will sense His presence, as we obey.
There are times when the Lord may not seem real to believers: Times when we pray, and heaven is silent. Times when we doubt, and hear no voice of reassurance. Times when we fear, and struggle hopelessly for inner peace. Yet here we have Christ’s own promise of HIs personal presence with us, and Christ’s guidelines and assurances of ‘seeing’ HIm, even in the most difficult of times. And how is this possible?
It is through the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit. If we love Jesus and obey Him, the Holy Spirit, who is with us and in us, would make the Father and Jesus present in our lives – the Father and the Son will make their abode or home in us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Here we are not just limited to thinking of our home as the eternal home and hope, but in our current situation, living in this fallen world, we can sense the presence of the Triune God in our lives, making their presence and home within us. The Holy Spirit, who is also described as the Spirit of Jesus, does not imply that He is Jesus, but that He is so intimate with the Son of God that He reminds us of all that Jesus had said and done while He was on earth. He also communicates to us what the Father desires us to know and He also continues to communicate what Jesus is saying and doing even now at the right hand of God. Also, as the author of the Bible, He illumines the revelation of God in Scriptures and gives us more wholesome understanding of what God ‘speaks in the Bible’.
We must note that it is the Holy Spirit who accompanied Jesus throughout His life on earth: Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit; He was anointed by the Holy Spirit, filled with the Spirit, such that He was sinless, and He was empowered to live a perfect life on earth, even to the point of obeying the Father to the point of death on the cross. In all these, the Holy Spirit was in Him and with Him and subsequently, the Spirit was the One who raised Jesus from the dead. In His ‘battles’ with the evil one, it is the Holy Spirit who enables Him to overcome and to resist the temptations of the enemy.
The life of Jesus on earth is a model and paradigm for all believers. The Holy Spirit who was present with Jesus when He was on earth is the same Spirit the Father and Jesus sent to us to be with us and to live in us. Although we cannot be perfect in this fallen world with fallen bodies, we can make significant strides to live like Jesus when He was on earth, and the Spirit would work the work of transformation in our lives to be like Jesus. In other words, we can experience the ‘peace of Jesus’ and ‘our hearts need not be troubled’, and we can have the ‘joy of Jesus’, even in the midst of troubles and tribulations, even here on earth, because just as the Spirit empowered and enabled Jesus to experience all these while He was on earth, the Spirit can do likewise for us, albeit we may not experience it in the same measures as Jesus did. The peace that the world can offer is a cessation of external strife. The peace that Jesus brings through the Spirit is an inner calm and security tha persists however stormy our circumstances.
In verse 30, Jesus made reference to the ruler of this world, Satan himself. It is a reminder that in as much as we have the Holy Spirit with us and in us, we also have the enemy who constantly seeks to destroy us.
If God works effectively in us through the Spirit, (Gal.2:8), Satan works effectually in the children of disobedience (Eph. 2:2). The Spirit enlightens, the devil ‘blinds the minds of them which believe not’ (2 Corin. 4:4). The Holy Spirit fills the Christian; He comes with love, and is called the comforter (John14:16,17; Eph. 5:18). Satan, in contrast, is a molester and a destroyer. The Christian is called to a life of constant vigilance, of constant battle; a life filled with intrigue, attack and counter-attack, occasional defeats, but by God’s grace, increasingly frequent victories, assured that ultimate victory will be won. To this end God has provided His people with appropriate weaponry, in order that they may successfully prevail in the fight. The Christian is to stand and resist from the beginning of spiritual life until the last breath. God provides the armour (Eph. 6:10-11). The pieces of armour are figures describing a relationship with Christ. Essentially, it is “Put on the Lord Jesus’ (Rom. 13:14).
The complete armour is Christ HImself and the graces of Christ. Here then is crystallised the work of the Holy Spirit. He regenerates (causing us to be born again and to put us ‘in Christ’) and He enables us to experience the life and presence of Christ by putting ‘Christ in us’, the hope of glory, transforming us and strengthening us to fight the good fight. He also helps us to have communion with the triune God, and to share in the wondrous fellowship and relationship of theTrinity.
Hence, it is good for Jesus to depart physically and to return to HIs glory. We can rejoice in this because Jesus can then be present spiritually in us through the Spirit. He is with us and in us forever and He who is in us is greater than him who is in the world. Eternal life begins now; God’s peace and joy are for us now, albeit in increasing measures, and the war has been won at the cross but the battles with the evil one and the world, and our indwellling sin continue but victory is already secured. We must ponder further over what it means to walk in the Spirit, and to live by the Spirit.
Continuing the subject of the promise of the Holy Spirit, we now look at Galatians 5 to appreciate what it means to live by the Spirit and to walk by the Spirit, as a follow-up of the discussion in John 14.
In the OT, it was the Lord (Yahweh) who spoke to His people; in the Gospels, it was Jesus who spoke, and now since the day of Pentecost, it is the Holy Spirit who has taken the initiative to speak to and lead the believers.
The responsibility of Christians is to listen to the words of the Spirit and also to take action to obey or apply them; He speaks in order that believers should follow. It is indeed a great privilege to be able to listen to the Spirit (John 3:8); such a benefit must not be treated as unimportant. The Triune God who spoke the universe into existence chose to speak words to believers and express it in human language and in ways that are understandable to fragile people; this He did and does through the Holy Spirit. We must not take for granted the privilege of having the Spirit as our personal friend, mentor, teacher and guide.
To ignore the internal promptings of the One who has chosen to walk with us, in order to guide us, would be a foolish and ungrateful action. Walking with the Spirit is demonstrated by a willingness to follow His direction, a readiness to listen to His guidance, and a keenness to comply with Him. If believers continuously walk with the Spirit, they will naturally develop a lifestyle that is not dominated by sinful activities – not only is the Spirit their mentor, but also He empowers them. He enables them to achieve high standards of behaviour and in that regard, is fundamentally superior to the law.
When the Spirit changes and renews the heart by instilling in us a recognition of Christ’s reality and by uniting us to Him in His risen life, our way of thinking is at once altered. Instead of active alienation from and defiance of God, what comes from our hearts is grateful love to God, and a desire to praise and please Him. Sometimes our knowledge of what we ought to do is overwhelmed by our desire to do something else and we end up doing the right thing in a resentful self-centered spirit with hearts having no real concern for the glory of God or the good of others. This happens not because of the lack of godly motivation but because of indwelling sin in our system. We constantly need, therefore, to be asking God to enable us to do the right things in the right way, with love and hope and zeal for God, and only the Holy Spirit who indwells us can bring that about.
The Spirit sustains in us a personal understanding of gospel truth; He maintains in consciousness our fellowship with the Father and the Son; He reshapes us in ethical conformity to Christ; He equips us with abilities for loving personal worship of God in praise and prayer and loving personal ministry to others; He helps us to realise our present personal moral weakness and inadequacy of achievement, and to make us long for the future life of bodily resurrection and renewal, the life of which the Spirit’s present ministry to us is the firstfruits and the initial instalment, and deposit, guaranteeing the rest to come. Everything that is good, right, positive, and valuable comes from Christ through the Spirit. The Spirit speaks through circumstances as well as conscience, through music and word, through scenery and sacrament (and communion), through silence and sound or through an inner sense of feeling that one should or should not take a particular action.
The Law, as a gift from God, was good and gracious; but it was only intended to be a temporary influence until a superior guide should be given (Gal. 3:19-24). The Spirit now comes as a personal mentor who prepares a strategy for development, carefully tailored to individual believers. The Spirit is a guide, not a guide-book; a friend, not simply a formula to be followed; a mentor, not a modus operandi. Believers are improved by the involvement of the Spirit in their lives, resulting in their destinies, as set by the Spirit, being achieved. Although the Spirit is our friend He can be firm, for He is faithful to truth and a life of integrity; His friendship is not to be assumed to be the basis of a life with no rules or absolutes, where rules are deemed to be illegitimate and self-discipline inappropriate. In surrendering to the Holy Spirit, we release ourselves into the arms of someone who loves those whom He leads. He takes care of those in whom He will create a mirror image of HImself, gently tracing His design in their lives. We should not grieve Him and resist Him as we learn to walk in Him.
Note that the believer who walks with the Spirit is one who walks in harmony with others, who respects and supports them, partnering and sustaining them, thereby reflecting the Spirit. Whereas the Law points people in the right direction, identifying the rules for good behaviour, the Spirit enables believers to reach their destination. He empowers the believer to overcome sin, whilst at the same time identifying it. A personal ethical development in society should be an ongoing characteristic of believers, a way of life, motivated and empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit heralds a new era, enabling believers to enter that era and empowering them to be improved throughout their lives
The Spirit in the believer achieves what the Law could not do, or was ever intended to do – to affirm people as children of God, and to enable them to reflect that calling through improved lifestyles. The Spirit has the capacity, the desire and the determination to transform believers into the likeness of the Lord Jesus – it is the action of the Spirit that effects that transformation (2 Corinthians 3:18). It is the role of the Spirit to transform the believer within a life that is circumscribed by and filled with God. Such a life may be defined as ‘glorious’. Life on earth is to be the changing room in preparation for the final whistle for time on this earth and the commencement of eternity, when the full expression of God’s glory will be manifested.
One does not become more righteous simply by remaining a Christian; one has to participate in the process of holiness. The believer should not wait passively for the Spirit to move him; the believer should instead keep up with the Spirit, walk to HIs pace and keep in step with Him. Believers are to walk and, thus, make a conscious effort to move forward. Christians are not carried into the next life by angels; rather, they conscientiously and robustly make their own way there but they are to keep the Spirit in focus on their journey, for although they have a responsibility to progress, the process is under-girded by the Spirit. The Spirit is anxious for this partnership; He encourages movement in this direction on the part of the believer, and imparts His power to develop HIs fruit in their lives (Gal. 6:2).
The challenge for believers relates to whether we willingly work with the Spirit, taking advantage of His wisdom and power, or whether we try to get by without His influence – or worse, rebel against it. Given that the Spirit is ever ready to develop fruit in our lives, it is vital that we undertake the responsibility of ensuring that we do everything we can to listen for His guidance – and thus demonstrated that we are walking with Him, and appreciating the value of His personal partnership and mentorship. This responsibility demands discipline and effort. The Holy Spirit inspired and preceded the Bible; He speaks through it but He also speaks outside it. We must spend time looking in His direction for guidance or patiently listen for HIs voice, through the Scriptures, in various and many circumstances, even in unexpected moments and unusual contexts, for the Spirit is alive and dynamic as the third Person of the Godhead. We can be sure however that the Spirit never contradicts the revelation in Scriptures and He never fails to glorify Christ and to honour the Father.
Jesus promises the Holy Spirit: Specific Applications
First of all, I apologise for the long sharings in the previous two considerations of the promise of the Holy Spirit. There is much that is written on this subject and I summarised them and highlighted the main principles. My burden is that the knowledge of these principles and truths should blossom into applications and experience which are so pertinent and important in the lives of believers as we seek to live worthy of our high calling, and as we persevere to please God and honour Him in our lives and ministry.
In the light that many principles may be ‘lost’ in the midst of the long sharings, I venture now to crystallise some of the significant specific applications:
A. When the Lord Jesus told the disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me”. This was the occasion when the disciples were rather troubled and discouraged: The master is going away; One of them is a traitor and there is much uncertainty with regard to the future.
The Lord went on to assure them of the eternal hope – that He was going away to prepare a place for them and He will come back personally to bring them with Him.
Then the master went into the discourse regarding the promise of the Holy Spirit and the meaning and implications for them. Then in verse 27, He said, ” Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”.
Notice that the exhortation not to be troubled, afraid or discouraged but to have the peace of the Master was in the context of discouragement and fear for the disciples.
The first specific application: It is possible not to be discouraged, afraid or troubled in the midst of uncertainty and tribulations.
This is especially so for us today as we face much of these negative vibes in the global pandemic, climate change, calamities and even persecution for some believers. And what the master exhorted can also be our experience today because of the promise, presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit. Our experience of peace, confidence in God, freedom from fear and uncertainty can be true in our lives, even today – this experience is independent of the circumstances surrounding us. The Holy Spirit brings the presence of the Father and the Son into our lives; He comforts us; He assures us and encourages us; He transforms us and He points us to the hope in the Triune God and the transient illusions and promises of the ‘world’ and the definite victory over the enemy.
Christians know with clarity of mind that a close walk with the Father and the Son, leaning hard on them and drawing strength from them through the Holy Spirit, is both what they need and what they want. The promise and coming of the Spirit make this a reality in our lives.
Jesus Christ, who is now personally in heaven, nonetheless makes Himself present to us by the Spirit to stand by us, to love,lead, assure, quicken, uphold, and encourage us, and to use us in HIs work as in weakness we trust Him.
The Holy Spirit enlightens us, giving us understanding of the gospel and the Scripture so that we may have the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 6:19); He transforms, producing in us the fruit of Christlikeness (2Cor.3:18); He assures us; witnessing to our adoption by God, our eternal acceptance, and our future inheritance (Rom. 8:15-25, 31-39).
In other words, the whole Christian life is life in Christ in terms of the meaning, centre, and direction so that the whole life is life in the Spirit, enabling us to grow in knowledge and ability to love and to serve.
B. We can be alone but not lonely. Why so? Somehow, spiritually, we see Jesus, we hear Him, we ‘feel’ Him, even when physically we cannot visualise this. The Spirit links us to Jesus and to the Father; He speaks to us, He comforts us and He assures us that we are not alone.
King David experienced a little of this truth in his life when his followers were upset with him and talked about stoning him.
He said, “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope”. David’s experience was made possible by the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the context of the OT. Today, we not only experience the Spirit coming upon us; He is with us and He lives in us. How much more are we in the position to experience more deeply what David experienced.
We need to prayerfully ask God to make A.and B. real and true in our lives.