Tag Archive: judgment

The Promise of the Helper

(John 16:5-16)

 John 16:5 “But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. 8 And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. 12 I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you. 16 A little while, and you will no longer see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.”

 This instruction was given at a particularly significant point in Christ’s ministry. Just before He was betrayed by Judas into the hands of the Romans, Jesus spoke to His disciples regarding what they could expect as they continued to serve Him once He returned to His Father in heaven. These words of Jesus appear in that particular context—that of preparing the disciples for the challenges ahead. These verses contain three primary points, all of which have to do with the person and work of the Holy Spirit.

First, in verses 5 through 7, Jesus speaks of the connection between His ministry and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Savior teaches that the ministry of the Holy Spirit cannot commence until He has concluded His mission on earth and returned to heaven. Specifically, Jesus says that He must return “to Him who sent Me.” This is, of course, a reference to God the Father. (v. 5)

In a few short hours, Jesus will have been betrayed, arrested, interrogated, abused, and nailed to the cross. There will be no grand transformation of the landscape, no coronation of a new King, and no vanquishing of the oppressors. The battle that Jesus waged was one of a spiritual nature. What He was about to do would be the most wonderful and meaningful act ever witnessed in human history.

Far from being a sad defeat, Jesus teaches that His departure will be of great advantage to these men. The Savior adds: “for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” (v. 7) Provision has been made for the ongoing edification and guidance of the disciples once Jesus has left the earth. Appropriately, therefore, He describes the Spirit as the “Helper.”

The Greek word, which is translated “Helper,” is parakletos. This term refers to one who serves as a comforter or an advocate. It was used to identify someone who might be called to one’s side in a time of great need. The word was also used to designate one who pleads the cause of another before a judge. Although Jesus will continue and give a more detailed explanation of the Helper’s role, the definition of parakletos already tells us much about the Spirit’s involvement with the disciples of Christ after Jesus returned to heaven.

Jesus is facing an unbearable experience, yet here He is ministering to His disciples so that they will be encouraged and hopeful as the events of the night began to unfold. He will be leaving this world, but He will not be leaving the disciples on their own. They will not be abandoned or left to fend for themselves. God the Spirit is coming to their assistance.

Following His ascension, the record of Scripture will focus on the arrival of the Helper. The book of Acts opens with the dramatic portrayal of the Spirit’s arrival and subsequent equipping of these same disciples for the work of the gospel. Jesus knows what has been ordained and He is giving the disciples a glimpse of what God has prepared for them. They soon will understand that the cross was necessary and that the death of Jesus had set in motion a plan by which all the nations of the earth would be blessed.

At this moment, these men could do little more than try to process what was happening and Jesus, of course, understood that this was the case. He does not chastise them, nor does Jesus demonstrate any frustration with the disciples. As I indicated, they could not see beyond that night and their fear temporarily robbed them of the ability to exercise discernment. That will come in time and the primary element that will allow the disciples to understand more clearly the plan of redemption is the Helper, the Holy Spirit who is being promised to them.

Eventually, the disciples will have no fear and no doubt about their calling. The transition that will occur in the thinking and conduct of these men will be undeniable testimony to the presence of the Helper and the transforming power of God. Instead of hiding themselves for fear of persecution, these disciples will soon stand in the streets of the same city where their Master has given His life so that sinners may be saved. When that time comes, the disciples will be wise, bold, and confident. And there will be no stopping the movement that is about to commence.

As already pointed out, Jesus establishes a connection here between His ministry and that of the Helper. One does not replace the other, but the ministry of the Helper will be a continuation of the ministry of our Savior. He will send the Spirit who will take what Jesus accomplished on the cross and apply it to the world, beginning with these few disciples.

Second, in verses 8 through 13, the Savior explains in greater detail what the Spirit will do once He arrives. As these verses indicate, the Holy Spirit will be active in revealing the righteousness and judgment of God. He will “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” (v. 8) All of this has to do with the revelation of God’s will in light of the sinfulness of mankind.

The Spirit will establish a definitive distinction between the lawlessness of the human race and the holiness of God. He will enable men to discern between good and evil, and between rebellion and living according to the will of God. That which the Spirit will reveal will be man’s true spiritual condition and what man faces as a result of his transgressions.

In particular, Jesus indicates that the Spirit will be responsible for revealing the truth about the Savior. He will disclose that those who do not believe in Christ are committing sin. (v. 9) Opinions about Jesus will matter. Rejection of the gospel will matter because Jesus is not just another man or teacher, but is God in the flesh. To refuse to believe in Him, therefore, is an offense to God.

Moreover, the Spirit will convict the world concerning righteousness, Jesus adds, “because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me.” (v. 10) Although this saying is a bit puzzling, I think it has to do with the vindication of Christ. He declared Himself to be the Son of God when He walked among men. But He was accused of blasphemy for such statements and eventually put to death.

As the Spirit works in the hearts of sinners, the true nature of Christ and His mission will be made known to them and the proclamations of Christ will be verified. Scripture does, in fact, teach that God’s acceptance of the atonement provided by His Son was vindication of His claims. Jesus said that He had come to give His life a ransom for many and that He was here to do the will of God. Upon the completion of His mission, Jesus was received back into heaven amid much glory, which spoke of the Father’s approval.

Paul, for example, wrote that God “raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” (Eph. 1:20, 21) In another place, the writer of Hebrews says: “When [Christ] had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high . . .” (Heb. 1:3) Again, the honor that Jesus received when He returned to heaven verified that He was who He claimed to be and did accomplish what He was sent to accomplish.

The ministry of the Helper will also involve revelation of God’s judgment against the ruler of this world. (v. 11) Through the followers of Christ, the Spirit will make known the defeat of Satan and the termination of his sway over fallen man. Through the preaching of the Church, the Holy Spirit will proclaim to the world that the devil has been subdued, just as God promised at the beginning of human history.

At this point, Jesus indicates that His instruction of the disciples is coming to an end, but the Spirit will continue educating the disciples once the Savior has completed His mission. (v. 12) The day will come when these men are ready to receive and act upon what remains to be revealed to them. It will be the Helper’s responsibility to provide that guidance and complete the equipping of the disciples for their labors for Christ’s kingdom. (v. 13)

Note in particular what Jesus says about the Spirit’s work in the second half of v. 13: “He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” This statement reinforces the notion that the Helper will be sent by Christ to serve the Savior’s interest. He will not come in order to reveal knowledge about Himself and thus bring glory to Himself. On the contrary, just as Jesus came to do the will of His Father, so the Holy Spirit will come to apply to sinners what Christ accomplished so that they might be saved.

Third, in verses 14 through 16, Jesus describes the manner in which the Spirit will relate to the Savior. This passage has already indicated that the Spirit will come as One sent from Christ to continue the work of the Savior. And in that capacity, the Spirit will serve the cause of Christ by applying the atonement to the fallen world. Now, in the last three verses of this passage, Jesus gives more specifics concerning how the Helper will relate to Christ.

The first thing that Jesus says is “He will glorify Me.” (v. 14) This statement alone clearly defines the role of the Spirit in relation to Christ. The Spirit will not come in order to draw attention to Himself. The Spirit will come in order to point sinners to Christ in whom they will find eternal life.

This is where we run into some controversy concerning how the Church has incorporated the doctrine of the Holy Spirit into our belief system. It seems perfectly clear that the Spirit should not be expected to promote Himself, yet this is precisely the point on which some ministries are based. They emphasize the person and work of the Holy Spirit to the point where His role as a servant of Christ is obscured. The result in many cases is that the Holy Spirit becomes the focus of ministry. This is clearly contrary to what Jesus teaches in this passage.

There are several negative consequences to be faced when a church or some other organization builds its ministry around the Holy Spirit rather than around or upon Christ. For example, those who count on such an organization for their spiritual instruction are going to be out of balance, so to speak. Christ and Christ alone is to be the foundation and focal point for Christian ministry. But an undue emphasis upon the Holy Spirit naturally eliminates that possibility. This kind of  faulty instruction can easily warp a person’s theological understanding.

Another regrettable consequence is that an unbiblical preoccupation with the work of the Spirit can easily lead to conflict with other bodies in which the work of the Spirit and the work of Christ are kept in proper balance with one another. This is what we have witnessed in the evangelical Church in the past century. Churches and even denominations have been torn apart because one group insisted that the Holy Spirit must be predominant in that organization’s confrontation with the world, while the other group insisted that such an approach is not supported by Scripture.

To be clear, let me say that I am not implying that churches should rarely mention the Holy Spirit. I am saying that the person work of the Holy Spirit should be kept in proper balance with other major doctrines. We should be careful to follow the pattern of Scripture itself when it comes to how we incorporate the ministry of the Spirit in our lives, both as congregations and as individuals.

The role of the Holy Spirit as a servant to Christ is further emphasized when Jesus adds: “for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has our Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.” (vv. 14, 15) As I said previously, this sounds much like the manner in which Jesus described His relationship to His Father who sent Him into the world. The Savior understood that He had been sent to do the will of the Father. And so the Holy Spirit will be sent to do the will of Christ by teaching us all that our Savior desires us to understand.

Jesus closes this section with a word of encouragement to His disciples. Soon, as He has been telling them, they will no longer see Him. But that is not the end of the Savior. After the passage of time, He adds, “you will see Me.” (v. 16) Christ is referring to the post-resurrection encounters that these disciples will have with their Savior before He ascends to heaven.

It is worth noting that Jesus made provision for the spiritual welfare of His redeemed so that they would not be without reliable spiritual guidance once He returned to heaven. This unique ministry of the Spirit will continue until He has fully and perfectly applied the atonement attained by our Savior.


A Plea for Vindication

June 21, 2012

Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity,

and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.

(Psalm 26:1)

In Ps. 26, David emphasizes that he has always been faithful to God. It appears that this reaction comes in response to his enemies who were maligning his character. Although the exact details are not revealed, it is clear that David was greatly troubled by the insinuation that he should be numbered among those who have no regard for God’s Word. David speaks of his love for God several times and also voices his disdain for the wicked and their schemes.

Note how this Psalm begins: “Vindicate me, O LORD.” The term translated as “vindicate” means “to judge” or “to decide controversy.” David wants God to give the true and final verdict, as it were. He knows that he cannot succeed by pleading his case to his enemies. They would continue spreading lies about him. Therefore, he turns to God, the only one able to judge impartially and the only one capable of knowing the whole truth.

David doesn’t ask God to correct those who are slandering him. There was nothing he could do to change the damage done and nothing he could do to force his enemies to recant. But he wants to be assured that he has lived righteously in the eyes of the LORD. Clearly, God’s opinion mattered most to David. He is able to make this request of God without fear because he knows that he has lived in obedience to God’s law, regardless of what some men were saying.

Three points need to be emphasized. First, the slanderer is never concerned for the truth. We shouldn’t expect him to be interested in it. Slander, by definition, is a sin and is contrary to the Ninth Commandment (“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”). The man who will lie reveals his genuine goal, which is destruction.

Second, the slanderer will normally “go public” with his accusations. His aim is to destroy his victim, as noted, and that takes public condemnation. The enemies of David wanted to insulate themselves from scrutiny by disappearing into a mob. David could not possibly confront every person who heard the slander, believed it, and repeated it. Once an accusation becomes the mantra of a mob, there is little hope of genuine and thorough exoneration.

And third, there is only one appeal that makes sense and only one that will bring relief. As David illustrates, we must appeal to God because He alone knows the truth and He alone knows the hearts of the attackers. If our aim is justice, this is the only course of action.

Sometimes, as much as we would like to have our enemies forsake their attack and admit their lies, we just have to live with what has been done and entrust ourselves (our reputation and our future) to the LORD. This is not an easy thing to do because, being made in the image of God, we naturally yearn for vindication in the eyes of all who have heard the lies. God’s judgment of such circumstances, however, is often not immediate. Therefore, if we have a clear conscience before God, we have to train ourselves to be at peace before Him regardless of what others say. We must remind ourselves that declaring something does not make it true and truth is what matters in the eyes of God.

Dan Savage is the founder of an anti-bullying campaign known as It Gets Better. Recently, Savage was invited to speak to several thousand young journalists who were present at a conference in Seattle sponsored by the National Scholastic Press Association and the Journalism Education Association. It was naturally assumed that the topic of the remarks would be bullying, which has become such an increasingly disturbing issue in our culture.

It became obvious, however, that Savage intended to address another subject. “I hope you’re all using birth control,” he said as he began to speak. After that, Savage related several stories about his husband and assured the students that, if his husband were to join him on stage, they would not be able to pull him off of his partner.

The tone of the speech became even more vicious as Savage started cursing as he made reference to the Bible. For example, he declared: “We can learn to ignore the b***s*** in the Bible about gay people.” And using the same phrasing, Savage referred disparagingly to the Bible’s teaching on slavery, menstruation, virginity, and several other subjects. Nothing had been said or done to spark such an outrageous commentary.

Personally, I think that the remarks of Savage amount to nothing of consequence. This was nothing more than a man who hates God shaking his fist in God’s face while thinking he was making such significant points. A couple of passages in Scripture came to mind as I heard the story. The first was Psalm 14:1 “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.” In an effort to escape the accusations of God’s Word, men like Savage are forced to attack the concept of God and righteousness. They find some perverted solace in raving against that which emphasizes their sin.

The second passage presents a response from the God that Savage hates so bitterly: “He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them.” (Psalm 2:4) Savage is no threat to God, but is just another foolish man whose behavior verifies the teaching of Scripture concerning fallen humanity. Consequently, God mocks the pathetic example of an enemy ranting against the standard by which he is judged now and in the world to come.

Although Christians are rightly disgusted by this performance, we should have a measure of pity for a man like this. And we should be humbled because we know that without the grace of God we would be in the same condition as Savage. There is nothing for the believer to boast about when it comes to our deliverance from sin. Savage happens to speak louder and more vigorously than other sinners, but the root cause of such perspectives is one we all share. We can only thank God for his merciful condescension to us in Christ our Savior.

Every person needs accountability. Regardless of age, experience, or other factors, and because we are fallen creatures, we must be made accountable to help us deal with the sinful impulses that continue to trouble us even after our conversions. The concept of accountability originated with God Himself. The fact that we are created beings necessarily implies that we are subject to our Creator’s authority. In His wisdom, God has established various levels of accountability so that we are never left without this much-needed benefit.

As children, we are answerable to our parents. As adults, we are accountable to a number of sources. For example, as an adult, I must answer to civil authorities for my conduct as a citizen in this society. I am also accountable to Church authority primarily for spiritual oversight. Even if we should manage to remove ourselves from liability to any civil or ecclesiastical institution, we are still ultimately and inescapably accountable to God.

In this post, I want to comment on one particular aspect of accountability, which is the situation you face when you are accused of wrong-doing and the matter automatically becomes the concern of those to whom you are accountable. For instance, as a teaching elder (minister) in a Presbyterian denomination, I labor in the local church, but my membership, and therefore my accountability, rests with the Presbytery. Consequently, in our system of government, when allegations are made against a minister (by fellow officers or church members, for example), his Presbytery is responsible for investigating the matter and rendering judgment. In order for this arrangement to function properly, it is absolutely essential that those conducting an investigation demonstrate a clear understanding of Biblical teaching covering such matters and a steadfast commitment to objectivity. This holds true for all situations in which accountability exists.

As the accused, your one true hope for justice relies on the willingness of those to whom you look for judgment to process all information from both sides in a manner that shows no partiality, one way or the other. In matters in which there are two sides in conflict, the Scripture’s warning is plain:

“He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.” (Pro. 18:13)

“The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.” (Pro. 18:17)

These verses provide the opportunity for me to explain the title of this post, The Danger of Accountability. While I may find some genuine encouragement in the concept of accountability, since it applies not only to me, but also to whoever might accuse me of wrongdoing, this arrangement can become extremely detrimental if those to whom we are accountable violate the principle found in the two verses above (as well as many other passages in the Word, of course). This is the danger of accountability. If your circumstances are not given a completely impartial analysis, you may find that your relationship of accountability actually works against you and against a just resolution.

If those in authority fail to demonstrate absolute objectivity, regardless of the nature of the charge or the “evidence” offered, then your cause is lost. In situations where one person accuses another, those with the responsibility of rendering a judgment are in a critical position. Should they allow themselves to be persuaded, even in a minor form, one way or the other, based upon the initial information they are given, the process is corrupted and, in the case of an innocent man, a great injustice is in the works. The fact is that we are rarely as careful as we should be when it comes to hearing reports about others, but when the well-being of another person is in your hands as one responsible to judge, you must maintain neutrality until both sides have been examined.

This isn’t just a matter of human fairness, it is a matter of obeying the Scriptures. Since that is the case, if the Word is not kept in a situation like the one I’ve described, then the one acting as an evaluator has transgressed in a most harmful manner. In his failure to remain objective, he has sinned against one of the parties in the dispute. And let’s not overlook the involvement of the one who presented the initial “evidence.” It’s almost a certainty that his manner of presentation was characterized by repeated assurances of his regret for having to bring the charges, his concern for the good of his “brother,” an exaggerated declaration regarding the reliability of his “proof” and the righteousness of his cause. But this is precisely the kind of situation envisioned in the verses quoted above.

God has given us unmistakable guidance because of the danger that we would be tempted to believe the first report, especially if it is presented as just depicted. Due to our fallen natures, we cannot rely on our ability to remain unaffected by a presentation. In fact, we should assume that we will be unfairly persuaded unless we are dedicated to remaining completely unbiased having been forewarned by God’s Word.

Psalm 1:1 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. 3 He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers. 4 The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 6 For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish.

The first two verses describe the character of a righteous man. God’s favor rested on him because he does not follow the thinking or conduct of the wicked, nor does he allow himself to be identified with scoffers. The word translated “seat” refers to a dwelling place or a situation of being in the company of others. This man does not “hang out” with those who mock the words of God by rejecting His words. This man finds delight in the law of the LORD and, in fact, meditates frequently on the words of God. The word translated “meditate” refers to deep contemplation, the kind that would be given to the most significant issues.

The writer describes in a bit more detail the results of living as this man lived. The image of a tree is used. Strong and vibrant trees need two things, in particular: deep roots and water. Deep roots make the tree stable and plenty of water allows it to be productive. This tree yields fruit season by season, and it remains healthy. The next phrase indicates that this description is a metaphor: “And in whatever he does, he prospers.” Because he is grounded in the law of God, this man will be stable, productive, and able to withstand the pressures of life.

Turning his attention to the wicked man, the writer declares: “the wicked are not so.” At no significant point does the wicked man resemble the righteous man; that is because they are grounded in opposite points of view. Therefore, their thinking and behavior will not be compatible; their judgments and loyalties will be in conflict; and their goals and expectations will be at odds. While the righteous man is pictured as a strong, stable, and fruitful tree, the wicked man is pictured as chaff, which is the dry casings that surround seeds of cereal grain, that is blown away by the wind. As the seed matures, the chaff is discarded because it lacks any real substance and is carried off by the wind.

This Psalm concludes with the inevitable fates of the wicked man and the righteous man. The wicked man will not be able to avoid judgment. The wicked man is forever separated from the righteous. The nature of each man’s destiny reflects each man’s character. The life of the righteous man is known by the LORD and pleases Him. The way of the wicked man, however, does not please the LORD, and so he will perish. This short Psalm encapsulates the experiences and destinies of the two kinds of people that exist in this world: those who walk by faith and obedience before God, and those who reject that course of life.