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The Promise of the Spirit’s Presence in Us

We probably shouldn’t compare biblical promises, as they are all precious and assured of coming to pass. Continue reading . . . 

We probably shouldn’t compare biblical promises, as they are all precious and assured of coming to pass. But I’m especially drawn to the promise Jesus made in the Upper Room Discourse when he said to his disciples:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17).

There are at least two factors that must have weighed heavily on the hearts of the disciples and give our Lord’s promise a special place in their experience. First, never forget that the disciples in the upper room with Jesus were facing the most excruciating crisis of their lives. Jesus is about to leave them. He’s going to be crucified. He’s told them repeatedly that he will soon depart. Needless to say, they are crestfallen. They are crushed and worried and probably terrified of what the future might hold once Jesus is gone.

Second, we should also take note of v. 15 where Jesus says this: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” I suspect that the disciples in the first century were just as overwhelmed by that statement as you and I are today. “Yes, I love you Lord. But Lord, I’m so weak. I’m so prone to serve my own interests and not yours. I’m selfish and arrogant and prideful and greedy. How can I ever hope to keep your commandments, especially once you are no longer here with us?”

Jesus knew this would run through their minds. On the one hand, they are discouraged and frightened by the prospect of Jesus’ departure. On the other hand, they are terrified by the call to obey his commands. So what does Jesus do? He tells them: “Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t be overwhelmed. I know my departure is of great concern to you. And I know that you feel utterly incompetent and ill-equipped to obey my commands. That is precisely why I’m going to ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit to you. He will help you. He will encourage you. He will strengthen you. He will guide you when you start to wander off the path. He will teach you. He will remind you of what I’ve said. He will comfort you when you are frustrated and depressed. He will counsel you when you are confused.”

I want you to see several critically important truths about what Jesus says concerning the coming of the Spirit. By the way, the Spirit is sent to us in fulfillment of this promise on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).

First, there is considerable debate over how we should translate the word in v. 16 that is rendered by the ESV as “Helper”. I’m inclined to say that all of the suggestions carry a measure of truth. Yes, the Holy Spirit comes and indwells us to help us in every conceivable way. Others render this word as “Counselor” or “Advocate.” The point is that the Spirit is like someone who stands alongside and defends your case in court. Thus the idea would be of a legal assistant. The word is used in this sense of Jesus in 1 John 2:2. Some render it “Comforter”, inasmuch as the Spirit comforts us in trials and struggles and pain.

Regardless of the word we choose, the point is that the Spirit is one who is to be experienced. Remember that Jesus is trying to reassure them in their discouragement and fear by saying that another Helper or Counselor or Advocate will come. Their sense of abandonment will be overcome by the Spirit, pointing to some sort of experiential ministry on his part to encourage and uplift.

Second, when he comes he comes forever! He will be “with” us, says Jesus, “forever” (v. 16b). He will never leave us. He permanently indwells us. This is surely one of the most encouraging promises found anywhere in Scripture. Jesus does not say the Spirit will be with us “only as long as we behave ourselves” or “only as long as we don’t commit a sin” or “only as long as we live up to expectations.” Can we grieve the Spirit by our sin? Yes (Eph. 4:24). Can we quench the Spirit by treating prophetic words with contempt? Yes (1 Thess. 5:19-20). But the Spirit will never abandon the children of God. He will never leave us or forsake us.

Third, the Holy Spirit is not given to the world at large but only to believers in particular. “The world cannot receive” him, says Jesus in v. 17. The world has no knowledge of the Spirit, no experience of the Spirit. Why? Because the world doesn’t know me. Only those who know and love and believe in me will receive this presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus says much the same thing later in v. 19. “Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me.” And in v. 22, Judas (not Iscariot) asked him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” What these texts indicate is that this special relationship of intimacy and love and the abiding presence of the risen Christ in us through his Spirit in us is something that the world cannot understand or see or know and will never experience until such time as someone repents and turns to Christ in faith.

Fourth, the Holy Spirit won’t just be “with” us, as if a companion walking alongside. He will be “in” us. He lives inside, not just alongside. He doesn’t come to you as your pastor does on Sunday mornings, standing in your presence, speaking to you from outside who you are. He comes into us. He lives in us. He makes his dwelling and his home in our hearts, minds, affections, and in our bodies. We are his temple (Eph. 2:21-22). The apostle Paul asks this question: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). Again, later in 1 Corinthians 6:19 he again asks: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?”

Clearly Jesus is saying that the Day of Pentecost marks a massively significant shift in the way God’s people relate to the Holy Spirit. We know that people in the OT were regenerated by the Holy Spirit. We know that the Holy Spirit would come “upon” certain people to empower and equip them to do specified tasks. The Spirit is described as coming “on” those who constructed the tabernacle, and as coming “on” the kings of Israel to equip them and aid them in leading God’s people. The Spirit would come “on” prophets and military commanders and others to do what God had commanded them. But in no case did the Spirit come “into” them and remain there forever. The permanent, abiding presence of the Spirit “in” the believer is something that first came to pass on the Day of Pentecost.

Fifth, the Holy Spirit is a person with whom we are to experience a personal relationship. Observe that Jesus says to them, “You know him” (v. 17b). He doesn’t say, “You are aware of the existence of this impersonal power.” No. He says, “You know him.” Each word is crucial to the disciples, and to us. It means, among other things, that the Spirit is a living, thinking, feeling, choosing person whom we can “know” and enjoy and enter into fellowship.

Sixth, the presence of the Holy Spirit in us is nothing less than the presence of Jesus himself in us. Look again at John 14:18 – “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” Some think this “coming” of Jesus refers to his appearance to the disciples after the resurrection (see John 20:19-23). Others argue that this “coming” of Jesus is the second coming that will occur at the end of history. But I’m inclined to believe that when the Spirit comes to them to indwell them forever it is Jesus who comes to indwell them forever. That’s not because the Spirit and Jesus are the same person, but because they are the same God!

Seventh, the coming and abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in us is equivalent to an orphan being adopted and taken into the home of loving parents who devote themselves to doing everything that a child needs done. “I will not leave you as orphans,” says Jesus in v. 18. Yes, Jesus will “leave” them physically. He is about to be crucified and raised from the dead and will ascend to the right hand of the Father in heaven. But when the Spirit comes it is the Spirit “of Christ” who comes. And whatever bereavement or loss or loneliness that his disciples might otherwise have felt will be overcome by the presence of the Holy Spirit in them.

Here, then, is my prayer for you and for me:

“Precious Holy Spirit of Christ our Savior. We rejoice in your permanent abiding reality in our lives. We pray that you yourself would work in our hearts to make our hearts a fit dwelling place for your presence. Show us Christ! Reveal his glory! Deepen our love for him! Fill us with your power! Comfort us in our distress! Encourage us in our conflict! Defend us against the enemy! Impart your spiritual gifts! Energize us for ministry! Amen.”

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