Thursday, November 15, 2012

Gospel of John on the Spirit

Here's an excerpt from the Jesus book I just finished.
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One of the key features of the Farewell Sermon in John is Jesus’ repeated mention of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Another reason why the disciples should not be troubled is because Jesus will be sending back the promised Holy Spirit after he ascends to heaven...

While John does not mention John the Baptist's prediction of the coming of the Holy Spirit, he does talk extensively about the Spirit’s coming. Jesus is sending back the Spirit of truth (14:17). The Holy Spirit will be like an advocate for them. He will teach them what they need to know along with reminding them of what Jesus had taught while he was on earth (14:26). The Spirit will bring peace to their troubled hearts (14:27).

This sense of the Spirit as leading us into truth underlies the Christian sense of prophecy. Anyone, man or woman, can speak the prophetic word of God to others because we all have partaken of the same Holy Spirit. Acts 2:17 explicitly brings out the prophetic implications of the Spirit inside us, quoting the prophet Joel: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy.”

There is a tendency among many evangelicals to limit the Spirit’s speaking to the reading of the Bible. Certainly most of us have no problem believing that the Bible is the primary place today from which God speaks to his people. But what of the great many of God’s people throughout history who have either been illiterate or have not had easy access to the Scriptures? What of the fact that very few people indeed are schooled in the kind of historical and cultural knowledge necessary to hear the words of the Bible as they were first understood?

God’s answer has always been the Holy Spirit. Mainstream evangelicals have often resisted charismatics and holiness revivalists because their openness to the Spirit seemed too unpredictable, too dangerous. These fears are not entirely ungrounded. But Jesus did not tell his disciples that the Holy Spirit would lead them to the right interpretations of the Bible. He told them that the Spirit himself, directly, would lead them into all truth...

John 16:8-11 give additional functions that the Holy Spirit does in the world. The Holy Spirit will “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (NASB). The Holy Spirit functions with regard to sin, to show the world that it stands guilty. People in the world do not believe in Jesus, but the Holy Spirit will prove to the world that it is in the wrong before God. The Spirit will convince the world that judgment is coming, because Satan stands condemned. Finally, without Jesus around to show the disciples what righteousness is, the Spirit will show them.

John doesn’t give a lot of specifics about what these revelations look like precisely. Indeed, John says the Spirit himself will fill in the blanks after Jesus leaves. What does it mean for the Spirit to convict the world of sin? I grew up hearing it preached that the Spirit will bring you to a strong realization that you had sin in your life. Some traditions think of the conscience like it’s some software that everyone has. By contrast, I grew up thinking about it more as a matter of God coming to you as an individual and grabbing hold of your conscience, making it come alive, bringing you under conviction. [of course I heard the other approach two]

One important push-back to both of these interpretations is that the Spirit is not merely convicting individuals of sin, righteousness, and judgment, but the world. It may very well be more of a collective than an individual conviction. The Spirit will show the world where it is wrong and the church where it is right.

But the Holy Spirit does show us as individuals where we are wrong and where we are right. It is much less something universal, something everyone has on their hard drive from birth. Anthropologists will tell you that there is very little in the way of a common conscience built into human nature across the world. The model that sees the Spirit bringing the conscience alive fits what we observe much better.

The fact that there is more to be said about righteousness reminds me of the fact that there will always be new situations, especially as science continues to transform our world. How does love of God and neighbor play out in a world of in vitro fertilization and cloning? Here it seems important that we pray together and think through new issues together, trusting in the Holy Spirit to show us the way.

After the resurrection, Jesus appears to the disciples, breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (20:22). There is probably a small play on words because the word for “spirit” can also mean breath or wind. This is probably John’s version of Luke’s Day of Pentecost. Both play the same role in each gospel’s narrative. For Luke, the Day of Pentecost is the fulfillment of John the Baptist’s promise that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. For John, Jesus’ breathing on them is the fulfillment of the promise that, if he went away, he would send another advocate for them...

1 comment:

Mr. Mcgranor said...

'Greater is he that is in me; then he that is in the world'.

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