When Corrie Ten Boom was a young girl, she overheard a few others at a train station speaking somewhat inappropriately and while puzzled for sure, it raised her curiosity. As she and her father were on the train ride home she asked her father about it and to her surprise he turned to look at her and said nothing. In her biography, The Hiding Place, Corrie describes how the whole scene played out. “At last my father stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it on the floor. “Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he said. “It’s too heavy,” I said. “Yes,” he said. “And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you. And I was satisfied. More than satisfied – wonderfully at peace. There were answers to this and all my hard questions. For now I was content to leave them in my father’s keeping.”
This story about Corrie Ten Boom resembles what’s going on in our passage today as Jesus tells His disciples much of the same thing. He still has much to tell them but they, at that moment, couldn’t bear it. When could they bear it? Only when the Spirit of Truth comes.
And so…while John 15:26-16:4a speaks of the hatred of the world coming to them, and while John 16:4b-11 speaks of the Spirit’s work in the world exposing their sin and guilt, this last installment of the Ancient Mast series on the Spirit brings us to John 16:12-15 where Jesus speaks of the work of the Spirit in the Church.
So let’s ask a question today: what does the Spirit do in the Church? This passage, which is the final place in John’s gospel where there is explicit teaching on the Holy Spirit, gives us four answers.
Answer 1: the Spirit will guide us into all truth (v13a)
v13a states, “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth…” As before in 15:26 here the Spirit is called the Spirit of Truth. Back then the meaning was that the Spirit is the Spirit of Truth because the Spirit will bear witness of the Truth, namely the truth about the Father and Son. Here the meaning is that the Spirit is the Spirit of Truth precisely because He will guide the disciples into all truth. This is understandable, Jesus has already said He is ‘the truth’ in 14:6 so naturally His Spirit can truly be the Spirit of Truth and flowing from this also, the Spirit of Truth can lead the disciples into all truth because Jesus, in His Person and Work, is all the truth our souls could ever need.
That Jesus says His Spirit will lead us into all truth does not mean the Spirit literally give us knowledge of all things (like where to live, what job we should have, or what person to marry) no. Rather this means the Spirit leads us into all truth, specifically, He will lead us into all the truth concerning our God and His Word where His ways are made plain to us.Before getting too much farther along I ought to mention that there is an order here that matters. Before this is a promise to us this is a specific promise first made to the 11 disciples.That they would be filled with the Holy Spirit when the Spirit comes at Pentecost and then they, under the inspiration of the Spirit, would be led into all truth as they were carried along by the Spirit to write the inspired Scripture of the New Testament. After this monumental event the same Spirit that filled the disciples, inspired the disciples, and led the disciples into all truth now does His illuminating work leading you and I into all truth as we read this inspired Scripture with faith, so working in and through us that He will spread the truth to the whole world.
You may be thinking, why go into all this? Well, I do so because in our day (and really in every generation) there have been Christians who have abused this very passage by teaching the Holy Spirit will lead us beyond what Scripture says, giving us something like private mysteries and insights, personal revelation not found in Scripture. Sadly in these situations the leader being ‘led by the Spirit’ carries him or herself as above rebuke and above correction because only they have been privy to the special insight of the Spirit into the truth of the Spirit and only they have such apostolic authority, so we must either trust them and follow them or leave. We ought to not only be suspicious of such claims, we should also be eager to avoid the popular books that do this very thing and the popular leaders who write them. For example: right now on the Barnes and Noble bestseller list, 8 of the top 20 books are presented as Christian books. Of these 8 books, 5 of them fall into the category of claiming to have personal mysteries from God that go beyond what Scripture says. And they’re bestsellers! Lesson? You must be wary of those who preach, teach, write, and sing in an effort to commune with God and hear from God outside His Word. Be wary of those who yearn for more.
We must be careful. Don’t mishear me, there is true apostolic authority to be had today in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. But this true apostolic power comes in what v13 is saying: that the Holy Spirit does and will continue to lead us into all truth…not by leading us into private mysteries or personal revelation beyond or outside of Scripture but by pointing us back to the truth He has already revealed in Scripture. In this manner the Spirit of Truth always leads us to Christ, who is the Truth.
Answer 2: the Spirit will speak what He hears (v13b, v15)
v13b states, “…for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak…” Just as Jesus never acted or spoke on His own initiative but acted and spoke as the Father directed Him, so too the Spirit of God doesn’t speak on His own authority but only speaks what He hears from the Father and the Son. There is a harmony within the Trinity to be seen here. Whatsoever the Father speaks the Son speaks, and whatsoever the Son speaks the Spirit speaks. The Spirit doesn’t operate as a rogue agent within the Trinity doing or saying whatever He desires. No, He speaks what He hears. Some believe this implies a kind of hierarchy within the Trinity, placing the Father above or over the Son whom He sends and the Spirit whom He instructs. Wrong. What’s in view is the equal and unified yet distinct roles within the Trinitarian community. In v15 Jesus says much of the same, “All that the Father has in Mine; therefore I said that He (meaning the Spirit) will take what is Mine and declare it to you.” From Father to Son to Spirit to us, and it isn’t supposed to end there is it? It comes to us but is intended to go through us to others. In 2 Timothy 2:1-2 Paul says to Timothy, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
Perhaps in this we see once again why we must continue to remember what took place in the Reformation. True, there is a danger in idolizing the past as we look back, but we must not overcorrect in that frame of mind and simply forget what took place in the past. So we look back and remember: the Roman Catholic church believed final authority was not in the Scripture but elsewhere. The tradition of the church was believed to be a second source of revelation, and the Pope was viewed as the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. Standing against this belief the Reformers believed the Bible to be the sole source of divine revelation, the only inspired, infallible, final, and authoritative rule for faith and practice. The Reformers boldly proclaimed that when Scripture speaks, God speaks. And though Scripture is certainly to be interpreted by the Church, and though tradition is certainly helpful, the Church and its traditions only have authority insofar as they are in line with and underneath the authority the Word of God. And so today, will we do the same thing? Orwillthe brilliant clarity of Christ in the gospel saturated Scripture not be enough for the Church today? When we resort to culturally hip strategies seeking to tickle the eyes and ears of churchgoers we show that we don’t think the God of Scripture can compete with the world, so we make our churches look like and sound like the world to win the world and what happens? We…lose…the truth.From Father, to Son, to Spirit, to the disciples, to the Scriptures, to Timothy…to you and I…will the trend continue? The Spirit speaks what He has heard, will we speak what we have heard? We must! Indeed every generation must.
Answer 3:the Spirit will tell us what’s to come (v13c)
The end of v13 states, “…and He will declare to you the things that are to come.” Throughout the Old Testament God often challenges the idolatry of men and the false gods they worship by this very thing, challenging these false gods to declare what is to come. When it is seen that they can’t do this, God powerfully drove a truth home: He, and only He, declare things to come. This happens in Isaiah quite often. Isaiah 41:21-24, “Set forth your case, says the LORD; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob. Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come. Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified. Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you.” Isaiah 42:8-9, “I am the LORD; that is My name; My glory I give to no other, nor My praise to carved idols. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.” Perhaps most pointed of all is Isaiah 46:8-10, “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all My purpose…’”
Come back now to v13c. When Jesus says the Holy Spirit will tell you what is to come, do you see what He means? Is He implying the insignificance of the Spirit’s work? No, He’s not, in fact the opposite is in view. By saying these things Jesus means to teach us that this Spirit no mere insignificant member of the Trinity but is full Deity and is Himself nothing less than God Almighty.For only God can declare what is to come.
But what does that mean? This part of v13 has frequently been understood to mean the Spirit will reveal information about the end of the world to us. I don’t think this is totally out of place, after all the Spirit inspired the book of Revelation and many other apocalyptic passages of Scripture, but let’s not forget again, this is a promise from Jesus to the disciples before it’s a promise to us. So for the disciples this would’ve immediately meant that the Spirit would tell them of: 1) the true meaning of Jesus’ work, 2) the global nature it, 3) the dawn of the Kingdom of God, or the in-breaking of the age to come as Joel 2 spoke of, 4) the nature of the Church, 5) the pattern of life for all those in the Church, and 6) the hope and eager anticipation all those within the Church ought to have for the end of all things.The Spirit will announce all of these things when He comes in power and fills the Apostles with a holy fire at Pentecost just as He used to fill the tabernacle and temple with a holy fire in the Old Covenant. I pray you see the gift the Spirit is to us. Without Him, we wouldn’t have the Bible, and if we don’t have the Bible, we don’t know God. But we do and now we either read it and believe it’s contents and it’s Christ unto everlasting life, or we neglect it and ignore to everlasting shame. Or I could say it like this: many talk today of being Spirit-filled, and this is good indeed, for all believers are filled with the Spirit of God. But if you claim to be filled with the Spirit while you avoid Scripture, you’re mistaken indeed. Those who are truly Spirit-filled, are Word saturated, for this Word is His inspired Word.
Do not miss that reality presented to us here!
Answer 4:the Spirit will glorify Jesus Christ (v14)
v14-15 state, “He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you.” Commenting on this very reality, J.I. Packer spoke of the Spirit of God as a floodlight saying, “When flood lighting is done well, the floodlights are so placed that you do not see them; you are not in fact supposed to see where the light is coming from; what you are meant to see is the building on which the floodlights are focused. The intended effect is to make it visible when otherwise it would not be seen for darkness…It is as if the Spirit stands behind us, throwing light over our shoulder, on Jesus, who stands facing us. The Spirit’s message to us is never ‘Look at Me; listen to Me; come to Me; get to know Me.’ But always ‘Look at Him, see His glory; listen to Him, hear His Word, got to Him and have life, get to know Him and taste His gift of joy and peace.’”Indeed, to look at the floodlights would blind us, but to look at what they light up is what God intends for us.
See the Trinitarian pattern once again. Just as Jesus in all things glorified the Father, so too, the Spirit in all things now glorifies Jesus. The Spirit then, is Christocentric, Christ-centered, always drawing attention to, leading us to, pointing us to Jesus Christ.And be sure of this. v14 implies no possibility, as if the Spirit just attempts to glorify the Son with the chance that He might fail. Wrong! v14 speaks not of possibility but of certainty! God the Spirit isn’t ever frustrated from not being able to accomplish what He sets out to do, as if anyone else could restrain, curb, check, stop, or restrict Him from operating in ways He desires to. He won’t make much of or glorify Himself but will make much of and glorify the Son! He says He will take what is Christ’s and make it known to us, which means, the Spirit will unfold, drive home, and awaken within the Apostles the true weight and wonder of Christ’s Person and Work, and will do the same is us ourselves as we read and meditate and embrace what the Apostles wrote. Therefore the Spirit is, as commentator Leon Morris says, “…the necessary sequel to Christ.”Or as commentator F.F. Bruce says “…the apostles had already been introduced to the truth of Christ by Christ, the Spirit will now guide them further along that way.”
So Church, when the Spirit falls in power, what happens? Some may think that is a loaded question with a very divisive and perhaps troubling answer. Don’t believe such things. It’s a beautiful question to ask because it has a beautiful answer! Answer that question by asking another: when the Spirit fell in power at Pentecost what happened? The gospel of Jesus Christ was preached in power and people believed and were saved! Is this not what occurred in the book of Acts? It is! And rejoice that the same thing occurs today when the Spirit falls in power. The gospel is preached and…no longer do sinners believe Christ to be foolishness, no longer do they believe Jesus to be one way of many ways, no longer do they believe that they’re ok and not sinful, and no longer do they believe that God won’t judge them one day for their sin. No, when the Spirit falls, the gospel is preached and…Jesus is Christ is beheld as beautiful, Jesus Christ is seen as the only True and Living Way, they see the depth of their sins and the judgment of God poured out on Christ in their behalf, and they rejoice that by faith they can enter into the promises of old made new in Christ!
Taking all these past three weeks together we’ve seen much about the work of the Ancient Mast of the Holy Spirit. He is truly not just the Mast within our own hearts individually, He is the Mast in the midst of us corporately as a congregation to keep us afloat in the stormy waters of this fallen world. I’ve just got one question to end this series today: do you want to be filled with Holy Spirit? Come to Christ, and the Spirit of Christ will fill you, reside within you, and ever lead you to Christ…who is Himself an ocean of glory without shore that goes ever on growing with each tide in it’s magnificence and beauty…So if the Spirit is opening your eyes and heart at this very moment and drawing you to Christ, don’t fear, rejoice with joy inexpressible, lash your heart to the Ancient Mast, set your sail, and risk this ocean, there’s only grace!
Grant R. Osborne, John – Verse by Verse (Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Press, 2018) page 377-380.
D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1991) page 540.
ESV Study Bible, note on John 16:13(Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2008) page 2057.
ESV Study Bible, note on John 16:13, page 2057.
J.I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Revell, 1984) page 66.
Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971) page 701.
F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1983) page 320.