Having considered the work of the Father and the Son on previous Sunday mornings, it’s now time for us to turn our attention to the work that the Holy Spirit continues to do today. Of these three subjects, this is the one that is by far the most controversial.
Many of us know people with charismatic or Pentecostal convictions. They believe that not only is the Spirit still at work today, but that part of His work is still the bestowing of miraculous spiritual gifts. On the other end of the spectrum, there are many brethren who believe that today, the Spirit works only through the word.
These are two extreme, indeed irreconcilable, positions. However, our concern is not with the doctrine promoted by anyone, but with what the Scriptures truly teach. With this in mind, let’s see what the Bible says about how the Spirit works today.
First, we learn that the Spirit GUIDES us. Look here at John 16:13. Sometimes, you’ll hear people talk about being guided by the Spirit to make various life decisions. The Spirit guided them to take a particular job, or marry a particular person, or so on.
However, if we look closely at this passage, we will see that that’s not what it is teaching. This text isn’t about the Spirit guiding us to good life decisions. Instead, He is guiding us into all truth. Similarly, He isn’t giving us feelings or nudges. He is speaking and declaring. When we put these things together, we see that this is a passage about prophetic revelation. In the first century, Christians received the Spirit’s guidance through the spoken word of prophets. Today, we receive it through the word they wrote down.
From this, we must conclude that the word, as produced by the Holy Spirit, is the only reliable guide to divine truth. Sure, people might have these promptings or feelings, but when we experience those things, we always have to evaluate them according to the Scriptures. Only the Scriptures have been confirmed as genuine revelation.
If, on the other hand, we start valuing those experiences as much or more than we value the Scriptures, we are going to get into all sorts of trouble. I know a brother in the Chicago area whose wife left him because she said she felt guided by the Spirit to have an affair with the pastor of her church. When we easily accept the validity of unconfirmed revelations, we give an opportunity to the devil.
Second, the Spirit GUARANTEES our heavenly dwelling. Consider 2 Corinthians 5:4-5. Once again, in order to understand the passage here, we have to focus on the words that Paul is using. He says that the Spirit is given as a guarantee. Other translations will describe the Spirit here as a deposit or a down payment. Incidentally, the Greek word arrabon, which is translated in so many ways here, is used in modern Greek to describe an engagement ring.
What all of these things have in common is the idea of certainty, particularly when it comes to deposits, down payments, and engagement rings. You put down a deposit on an apartment when you rent it so that the landlord knows that you won’t trash the place and leave him stuck with the bill. You spend thousands of dollars on an engagement ring so that your fiancée knows that yes, you’re serious about marrying her.
Once again, then, the operation of the Spirit here can’t be about a conviction or a feeling. It has to be something that is tangible and certain, something that is proof. In the first century, that proof came through the miraculous gifts of the Spirit. When Peter raised the dead, that proved that the promises he made came from God. Today, the guarantee of our hope is found in the written word. In the inspired record of God’s revelation, we have the evidence we need to conclude that it truly came from God.
Third, the Spirit CONVICTS. Let’s examine both this statement and its implications in John 16:7-11. This is another place where working our way carefully through the text will help bring its true meaning to light. First, notice that the convicting work of the Spirit is directed at the world. The Greek word used here isn’t about filling somebody with conviction. It’s about exposing and rebuking wrongdoing.
There are three areas in which the Spirit convicts: sin, righteousness, and judgment. Jesus says that the Spirit convicts the world of sin because they don’t believe in Him. In other words, they have all the evidence they need to accept Him as the Christ, but because they willfully choose to reject that evidence, they do wrong. He convicts the world of righteousness because in the absence of Jesus, the word of the Spirit is the new standard of righteousness, which the world doesn’t meet. Finally, He convicts the world of judgment because Satan has been judged, and if even the devil can’t protect himself from judgment, how will all the servants of the devil fare?
All of this should remind us that the gospel doesn’t only affect those who are willing to hear it and be saved. For those who turn to the Lord, the Scriptures are a message of life, but for those who reject Him, they hold a message of death. We must be willing to sow the word even on hearts we think are hard because that’s part of the purpose of God too.
Finally, the Spirit INTERCEDES. Let’s turn to Romans 8:26-27. I have to admit that this is a passage that brings a smile to my face. I can’t read it without thinking of my father because he and I argued about it for 20 years. He believed that this passage wasn’t about the Holy Spirit at all, rather being about our own spirits. I still have great respect for my father as a Bible student, and I agree that every time the translators use a capital S isn’t necessarily talking about the Holy Spirit, but I think he was wrong on this one.
Let me explain why. Romans 8:26 is the conclusion of a series: three things that are groaning for God to answer them. The first is the creation, which in 8:22 is groaning to be set free from corruption. The second is we ourselves, who are groaning in 8:23 for our adoption. The third is the Spirit, which is groaning in 8:26.
The problem with saying that the “spirit” in 8:26 is our spirits is that we already have appeared in Paul’s list. He’s already talked about our groaning four verses earlier. In 8:26, then, Paul isn’t repeating himself. He’s moving to a new topic: the groaning of the Holy Spirit.
This is significant because this is the only passage I’m aware of in which the Spirit is clearly working outside the word right now. He is helping us in the times when we don’t know what to say in our prayers, so that our meaning gets through to God. The Spirit certainly communicates God’s will to us, but there are times when He communicates our will to God too.
Psalm 75 praises God for the way that He brings order to His creation. He keeps the earth from tottering, and he rebukes the boastful and wicked. No one else but God can be relied on to judge righteously, and the wicked cannot escape drinking the cup of His wrath. In addition to bringing the wicked low, He will exalt the righteous.
Psalm 76 contrasts God’s power to the power of an earthly army. He took Jerusalem for His dwelling place, and there he broke an enemy army’s weapons and rendered its troops unable to fight. As a result, it is God, rather than they, who is to be feared. No one on earth can oppose Him. As a result, it is appropriate for mankind to worship Him because of the judgments He brings against even the rulers of the earth.
Psalm 77 expresses the psalmist’s confidence that God will hear him. His trouble is so great that he is practically fainting. At night, instead of sleeping, he finds himself asking whether God has abandoned him.
He finds the answer to the question in God’s past works. He has always worked wonders to deliver His people. In fact, His power and determination to save them are so great that He even parted the Red Sea to save them.
Psalm 78 explores the paradox of God’s faithfulness to Israel and Israel’s unfaithfulness to Him. The psalmist begins by explaining his purpose, which is to teach the children of God’s people about the stories of God’s power that the fathers taught him. Indeed, God established His law so that His people could hand that law down from generation to generation, so that they would not fall into the faithlessness of the Israelites of old.
The psalmist cites the Ephraimites as the foremost example of this faithlessness. They did not walk according to His will, despite the power He displayed in parting the Red Sea and giving them guidance and water in the wilderness. They doubted that He would be able to provide food for them too.
In response, God provided them with manna and quail, but their sin made Him angry, so that He struck down many of them as they ate. Nonetheless, they continued in sin, only repenting briefly when He punished them. However, He was merciful and did not destroy them altogether.
Their repeated sin was particularly offensive because of all that He had done to deliver them from Egypt. He struck down the Egyptians with a multitude of plagues, but He led His people safely to Canaan.
Even there, the Israelites continued to sin. They provoked God with their idolatry. As a result, God rejected Israel and abandoned His dwelling place at Shiloh, allowing His priests to be struck down. Instead of continuing to dwell among the Ephraimites, He selected Mount Zion in the midst of Judah, to be His new dwelling place, and the Judahite David to be the new king of His people.
In You, O Lord, do I take refuge;
You are the rock in whom I trust;
O God, redeem me from the wicked,
For they are cruel and unjust.
From childhood, You have been my Savior;
I lean on You and give You praise;
My life has been a sign to many,
For You have kept me all my days.
Though I am old, do not forsake me
To those who think You hide Your face;
Do not be far; make haste to help me;
Reward their lies with their disgrace.
Then more and more, my mouth will praise You
And tell Your righteousness alone;
Old age will teach new generations
And make Your might and power known.
Your righteousness ascends to heaven;
O God, who else compares to You?
From countless woes, You will revive me
And give me life and peace anew.
Then for Your grace, I’ll sing Your praises.
My lips and soul will shout for joy,
For You have put to shame the wicked
Who sought to injure and destroy.
I may be mistaken here, but it seems to me that when it comes to the work that God does today, we pay even less attention to the work of the Son than we do to the work of the Father or the work of the Spirit. We tend to credit the Father with all of those generic God functions, and the continuing controversies about the Spirit at least make us consider what He is doing now.
Jesus, however, doesn’t get any of that attention. From somewhere, we seem to have gotten the idea that now that He has ascended, He’s just kind of hanging out at the right hand of the Father, waiting until His reappearance on the day of judgment.
If that’s what we think, we could not be more mistaken. As with the Father, the Son is continually active, and we depend on His activities in any number of areas. Let’s consider some of these as we study the work of the Son today.
First, the Scriptures tell us that Jesus UPHOLDS. Here, let’s look at Hebrews 1:3. This text is a fascinating glimpse into the nature of reality, and it tells us just how mistaken Christian deism is. God did not make the universe like a watch and then sit back and let it run. The universe does not have an independent existence. Instead, it depends on a constant infusion of power from Jesus. If He were to cease upholding it even for a moment, all the visible creation would be obliterated.
Believe it or not, even science gives us reason to believe that Jesus is working in this way. The best model that we have for understanding reality is the general theory of relativity. However, according to the general theory of relativity, the universe should not be holding together. Stars should disintegrate. Galaxies should fly apart. Scientists generally agree, then, that there is some force that we cannot define or measure that is sustaining the universe. Typically, they say that dark matter, which, again, no one ever has seen or measured, is responsible for this. Personally, I tend to suspect that this incredible force is nothing other than the word of the power of Jesus.
This should awe us. It’s impressive that God created the heavens and the earth, but that happened a long time ago. By contrast, at this very moment, Jesus is wielding power on a scale that is cosmic, incomprehensible. I can’t even wrap my mind around the vastness of the universe to begin with, much less the incredible might required to hold it all together, atom by atom. Next to a being like Jesus, all of us are nothing.
Second, in a related idea, Jesus REIGNS. Let’s flip the page in our Bibles to Hebrews 2:7-8. Here, the Hebrews writer is quoting Psalm 8, which originally applied generically to mankind. However, as He explains, it especially applies to Jesus and to His rulership of creation until everything will be brought into subjection under His feet. For the past 2000 years, it fundamentally hasn’t mattered who rules on earth, because Jesus reigns in heaven.
Among other things, this exposes some of the problems with the false doctrine of premillennialism. Premillennialists claim that God always intended for Jesus to reign as an earthly king in Jerusalem, but His plan was defeated by Jesus’ crucifixion. The church, then, is basically a Plan B until Jesus returns to earth to take up the kingship that He was denied 2000 years ago, at which point He will rule for 1000 years.
Brethren, this doesn’t make sense. When Jesus is the King of the universe right now, why would it even be important for Him to be king in Jerusalem? That would be like the President of the United States finishing out His term and going to work as a convenience store clerk! Who would do that?
Instead, Jesus has authority over everything, Jerusalem included, right now, and His reign will continue until the defeat of His final enemy, death. At that point, He will return the kingdom to the Father. For now, though, no absolute monarchy the world has ever seen can compare to the reign of King Jesus. Let’s make sure we honor Him accordingly.
Third, Jesus MEDIATES. Consider 1 Timothy 2:5. Here, we learn not only that Jesus is a mediator between man and God. He is the only possible mediator.
There’s some confusion about this point. I’ve heard it said that Jesus is the only intercessor between man and God. The problem is, though, that intercession and mediation aren’t the same thing. Intercession is approaching someone else on a third party’s behalf. Mediation is helping two other parties to resolve their differences.
Jesus certainly is both intercessor and mediator. However, when it comes to intercession, Jesus is not unique. Every Christian has the right to intercede with God in prayer on behalf of another. In fact, every time we pray in the assembly for someone’s health or well-being, that is an intercessory prayer.
Mediation, on the other hand, is a role that belongs uniquely to the Son. For all of us who are of age, our sin has set us at odds with God, and we need someone to reconcile us to Him. Literally the only one who can do that is Jesus. Either we come to the Father through the Son, or we do not come to Him at all.
This means that we have to come to God on Jesus’ terms. We don’t get to decide that the sinner’s prayer, for instance, is adequate to cleanse us of our sins. Instead, we have to call upon the name of the Lord. We have to appeal to His authority in the way that He prescribed. If we want Jesus to mediate for us, there’s only one way to get Him to fulfill that role, and that is through baptism.
Finally, Jesus PREPARES. Here, let’s read from John 14:1-3. To me, this is one of the most beautiful passages in the entire Bible. However, I think it becomes even more beautiful when we take a moment to consider the Greek grammar. Unlike formal English, koiné Greek has a second-person plural pronoun, and that’s what Jesus is using here. To put things in Tennessean, all the way through this passage, rather than saying “you”, Jesus is saying “y’all”. In context, that means all of the people who still were present at the Last Supper, but by extension, it means all of us.
The implications for every single Christian in this room are profound. No matter how unworthy or insignificant you feel, Jesus loves you, right now. He is working to prepare a place for you in heaven, right now. Right now, He is planning to come again and receive you to Himself, so that forever, wherever He is, there you will be.
That, brethren, is what makes Christianity worthwhile. For that matter, it is what makes life on earth worthwhile. Discipleship isn’t always fun. Often, we are called upon to do difficult things that we don’t enjoy. We’re called to carry a cross, not a pillow. However, at the end of all of that, Jesus will be ready and waiting for us. Our amazing and wonderful Savior, who was willing even to die for us, is eager to fill our eternity with joy, and nothing could be better than that!
Psalm 71 is an appeal to God for protection in a time of trouble. In the opening segment of the psalm, the psalmist says that only God in His righteousness can save him. As usual, the problem is wicked people who are oppressing him. He observes that he has trusted in God since he was young and that he always has praised God for His deliverance. Now that he is old, he wants God to continue to deliver him.
The problem is that his strength has declined with age, so that now his enemies think they can exploit him. Instead, the psalmist hopes that they will fail and be humiliated, and that he will be able to continue to praise God.
In fact, the psalmist always has been interested in glorifying Him, and he wants Him to spare him so that he can continue to do so. He is confident that God will do exactly that, so he anticipates the rejoicing that he will offer Him as a result.
Psalm 72 is the last psalm that David ever wrote, and it asks God to bless the reign of the king (presumably Solomon). First, David wants God to help the king be a righteous judge and a protector of the poor. Next, he asks for the king to be respected and have peace as a result. Similarly, he hopes that the dominion of the king will extend across the known world because God will bless his goodness and righteousness. The psalm also expresses the wish that the king will prosper along with Israel. All of this will lead to God being blessed and glorified.
Psalm 73 contains the psalmist’s reflections when confronted with evil people who appear to prosper. He begins by acknowledging that his envy of such people almost led him into sin. He reflects on how prosperous and carefree such people appear—they’ve literally gotten fat on evildoing. What’s worse, their freedom from judgment leads others to question the justice of God.
Next to them, the psalmist finds himself wondering why he has bothered being faithful. However, he recognizes that giving expression to these concerns would have undermined the faith of others. Besides, after meditation in the temple, he found himself reassured. The time would come when God would destroy them.
He concludes by reflecting on his relationship with God. He treated God badly in his ignorance, but he sees that God always has been with him. People who reject God will be destroyed, but those who seek Him will prosper.
Psalm 74 is a lament after the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians. The psalmist asks God why He has apparently abandoned His people and invites Him to consider the ruin of the sanctuary. The enemies of the Jews have gone through and destroyed everything. They feel abandoned by God and wonder how long this intolerable state will continue.
However, the psalmist also acknowledges God’s power. He always has defeated His enemies and provided for His people. The psalm concludes with an appeal to Him. First, the psalmist wants God to remember the Jews’ enemies and punish them for their crimes. Second, he asks God to remember His covenant. Finally, He appeals to God to respond powerfully to the scoffing of those enemies.