Correcting some Misunderstandings
Jesus told Nicodemus (Jn.3:8), “The spirit [wind] blows where he [it] wishes; you hear his[its] voice [sound], but you don’t know where he [it] comes from and where he [it] is going.” So it should come as no surprise that some confusion should arise about the Spirit’s activity. Why else would John, later, as an old man, have deemed it necessary to give such careful instructions about discerning the provenance of things attributed to “the spirit” (I Jn.4:1-6)? There is no true spirit from God that does not acknowledge the Lord Jesus! This is the acid test.
With this in view, we will first consider several aspects of the Spirit’s assignment that Jesus himself introduced. In Jn.14:16, Jesus refers to the Spirit of Truth as a parakletos, which, unfortunately, was traditionally translated “comforter”, conjuring up the image of a fuzzy, “security-blankie” that will “make everything ok.” This is NOT what Jesus, (who, please remember, was soon to suffer torture and death), had in mind. (See #138 for a more detailed treatment.)
The verb, parakaleo, from which the term is derived, refers to “calling or summoning a friend for support in a trial; to exhort or encourage; to demand or require; to intercede;” as well as “to comfort or console.” The noun, then, must refer to anyone so summoned. Parakaleo is worthy of a word-study on its own – which exercise I commend to you. After an exhaustive review of its more than 100 New Testament uses, one student remarked, “That sounds like my basketball coach!” He explained that the best coach for any sports team has an excellent knowledge of how the game should be played, and also knows his players. He trains them carefully, sometimes with a hug, and sometimes with a kick in the pants, whichever is appropriate for the the occasion! That has been one of my favorite images of the job of the Holy Spirit ever since. The Christian life is not about “how I feel”, or “where I end up.” It’s about learning to play faithfully and well, on the winning team!
The same passage contains the promise (v.17), “He is staying beside you, and will be en [in, among] you all.” The English translation, lacking a plural form of the word “you,” (see the introduction to The Pioneers’ New Testament, and W.S. #142), has led to a very privatistic interpretation of the “indwelling Holy Spirit,” completely ignoring the fact that in both cases, the “you” is plural. The same thing is true of Paul’s statement in I Cor.3:16, 17, and even more vividly in I Cor.6:19, where “body” is singular, but “your” is plural. This very likely indicates that the reference is to the composite Body of Christ, as much if not more than to an individual’s physical body. If the individual members of a group are intended, a different form, hekastos humon (each one of you) is used. Were we properly to appreciate the primacy of the Body of believers, as described in the New Testament (and chapter 7 of Citizens of the Kingdom), I think we would have fewer problems with people claiming private “revelations” and going off on tangents. This is why I prefer the translation “among” to “in,” when the object is plural.
John’s report of Jesus’ discourse, continued in chapter 16, includes two more misused passages. We are frequently told that the Holy Spirit’s job is to “convict us of “sin.” Are you aware that Jesus never said that? Look carefully at v.8. “The world” is the object of that sentence. And Jesus goes on to say that it is because they are not faithful to him! Far too many sincere, but very mistaken people, take upon themselves the job of trying to “convict the world” – which is the Holy Spirit’s responsibility – and berate their fellow “believers” if the Holy Spirit hasn’t made them feel sufficiently “sinful”! (Please see Word Studies # 6, 7, and 121 for more on this subject.) This part of the Spirit’s work does NOT apply to those who are seeking to follow Jesus, but to the uncommitted.
His work with respect to faithful disciples is outlined in 16:13-15. Here, it is the preposition that is misunderstood. He is to lead us “in (en) all truth(fulness).” En has no directional implications. It has a dative (static) object. Please see #182 for more detail on this distinction.The directional kind of “in” [into] is represented by eis, which requires an accusative object. Jesus is talking to people who are already committed to him, who are already “in the truth” (and we have seen that Jesus himself is equated with that truth (W.S.#26). The rest of the paragraph presents the “course syllabus” for the Spirit’s teaching. “Signing up” is the beginning, not the end. There is much for the believer to learn.
Finally, consider the many accounts recorded in Acts of disciples being “filled with the Holy Spirit.” to put to rest once and for all the arguments about whether this is a single occurrence at conversion, or if it happens with baptism, or at some subsequent time. The evidence leads to the choice “all of the above” – and more! It should be obvious that at least some of the group “filled” at the prayer meeting described in Ac.4:8 had also been present at Pentecost. Had they been “missed” the first time? I don’t think so. They needed help with another challenge. For the folks in Samaria (Ac.8) it was subsequent to their conversion and baptism. For Cornelius and his group, it was before they had been baptized. In Ephesus, Paul apparently sensed something missing, and the gift came even later (Ac.19). Peter and Stephen both seem to have received an extra “booster shot” several times when needed.
It is past time for God’s people to stop trying to program the Holy Spirit to fit their theological or denominational agendas, and welcome him whenever, wherever, and however he shows up! And the more the better! We’ve been graciously given instructions for recognizing him when he comes, and for avoiding the counterfeits that are still rampant in our world.
Jesus has triumphed, but his team still needs coaching, until the final “whistle.” He has provided a “Coach” who knows the game plan very well.
(Did you know the “game” even has an umpire? The only use of brabeuo (classically, “to judge or act as umpire”) in the New Testament, is in Col.3:15: it is the “peace of Christ” that holds that position among his people!)
Our job is to learn from the Coach – welcome the rulings of the Umpire – and give all our energy to the game!
All glory and honor to King Jesus!