When we don’t understand things, our tendency can be to cast them aside and pretend they don’t exist or to discount them and treat them as if they aren’t important. This is often how we treat the Holy Spirit; yet our proper understanding of the Holy Spirit is vital to our walk with Christ. His role in our lives as a helper to us is crucial. The misinterpretations and misrepresentations of Him that we see and experience shouldn’t scare us away from embracing who He is.
Growing up I always felt confused by the Holy Spirit, who He was, and what He did. I imagined He was some ethereal force that floated around and sometimes filled people up in such a way that they reacted with yelling and shouting, speaking in unintelligible language, and led them to dance and run around the church building. I remember bringing a friend with me to church when I was young and during one particularly raucous moment in the service, I looked over at him and he seemed as if he was going to cry. He was completely confused and afraid because of what was going on around him. To me, it wasn’t anything new, I’d seen it before and I’d see it again. To him, it was frightening, and it took some comforting by my parents to calm him down.
My purpose of sharing this story isn’t to point fingers or criticize, but it is to say that we must be sure we have a proper understanding of the Holy Spirit, who He is, and how He works. I think a good understanding of that begins in John 16.
In John 16 we find Jesus talking to the disciples and sharing with them about His departure soon-to-come. Yet, the disciples are much more concerned with their own loss of Christ and how it will affect them, so concerned in fact that they don’t even question Jesus when He says He will be leaving them. At one point Jesus even tells them that they cannot bear the things that He needs to tell them, they are too preoccupied with worrying about themselves and how losing Jesus would affect them. In the middle of this, Jesus explains that although He will be gone, He will send a ‘helper’, and that if He does not go – the helper will not come. This ‘helper’ is the Holy Spirit. This should be a glorious moment for the disciples; Jesus is going to be with the Father and He is going to send a helper to the disciples so that they may further understand the depth of the gospel that Jesus is living and proclaiming. Yet they stay intently focused on their own loss. We are often like the disciples, focusing on ourselves instead of what Jesus is really telling us.
In this conversation, Jesus reveals that the role of the Holy Spirit is to be a helper, an aid, a counselor, an advisor.
The Spirit is being sent to guide with conviction and in truth, bringing clarity to the gospel and proclaiming that which He is given to proclaim, from God.
One of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is to work in our hearts and minds to reveal to us three things; our sin, our false ideas of righteousness, and our false ideas of judgement.
First, the Holy Spirit works to convict us of our sin. He reveals to us the truth of our situation; that we have offended God and are separated from Him, and apart from the finished work of Jesus Christ we have no hope to be rescued or saved back into relationship with Him. This is a constant and needed reminder for us all. The Spirit works in us to remind us of this, and not just one time to draw us to God, but daily, so that we may understand fully that we live by grace through faith in Jesus’ completed work on our behalf. Because of our sin and separation we are called to repent and place our trust in Jesus. This is the gospel; that we are sinners in need of rescue, and rescue is available only through Christ. We need to be reminded of this often.
Second, the Holy Spirit illuminates us to the truth that we cannot obtain our salvation by our good deeds or religious behavior. Salvation is a free gift from God based not on anything we have done, but on everything that Jesus has done for us. Apart from Christ, we are spiritually dead in our sin, unable to revive ourselves or provide ourselves with life, and our only hope for life is through Jesus. The Spirit reveals to us that our level of morality and our ideas of merit are not what save us, only Jesus saves us. Our idea of righteousness is flawed, our good deeds and religious acts are rubbish apart from the work of Jesus on our behalf.
Lastly, the Holy Spirit informs us that our judgement by God will be based not on “the good life we have lived”, but on whether or not we have placed our trust in Jesus. This is offensive to so many of us and often the most difficult part of the gospel to accept, yet our reluctance to accept it doesn’t make it less true. Our sin is offensive to God, and we will be judged on our rebellion of Him unless we have been rescued by faith in Jesus Christ. Our dependence on our “good” life will fall far short of what we need when we stand before God and make an account of who we are and how we have lived. At that moment, after our last breath is drawn, the only assurance we have of God saying “well done” is if we have placed our trust in Jesus Christ.
For the Christian, this work of the Spirit in us plays out in day-to-day moments of realizing our sins, times of clarity in which we further understand the gospel, and gentle reminders of our daily need for Jesus Christ. We are far from perfect and in constant need of grace, but we don’t often behave that way. We like to point fingers and bash people with the same gospel that we are disobeying. We like to play God and judge and convict those around us of their sin while wallowing in our own filth. This is why we need the Holy Spirit to daily, sometimes minute-by-minute, minister to our hearts of the truth of our sin, to crush our false ideas of righteousness, and to remind us that God’s judgement of us is based solely on Jesus Christ.
For those who don’t believe in Jesus, this work of the Spirit looks like the beginning of understanding that there really is truth to the gospel, that something in us and in the world around us really is broken and we are in need of rescue, and that rescue is only available in one place; through faith in Jesus Christ. It’s impossible to look around and not feel as if something is off, something just isn’t right. Human nature has gone awry and is in need of help. We are broken people in a broken place and nothing satisfies us; our vain pursuits for money, sex, happiness, and things, never satiate the hunger inside us. Rescue, rest, and joy are only available in one place; Jesus Christ.
The work of the Spirit in us through guiding and convicting our hearts and minds is ultimately the work of God in our lives to move us closer and closer to the truth of the gospel.
Scripture says that the Holy Spirit will communicate to us whatever He is commanded by God, that He will at all times glorify Jesus Christ, and that His message will always be true.
For both the Christian and those who aren’t following Jesus, the message of the Holy Spirit never ceases to be truth, never ceases to put Christ first, and never roots itself in selfishness or self-focus.
The work of the Spirit in us through guiding and convicting our hearts and minds is ultimately the work of God in our lives to move us closer and closer to the truth of the gospel. This shouldn’t be confusing, frightening, or off-putting, but should be a sweet source of joy to our souls that strengthens us and reminds us that we are loved and have been rescued and are now able and called to proclaim that same message to the world.