Jesus is about to die. His troubled disciples would soon be left alone like orphans bereft of their parents. He is preparing them for his departure: ‘Let not your heart be troubled’, he said. But what grounds for comfort could he offer?
The answer is clear. His heavenly Father would send them ‘another Helper – even the Spirit of truth’. We have all heard or read these words. But have we really taken them ‘on board’? We believe in the Holy Spirit. But do we know him, experimentally, as our Helper?
Triangle of life
In the discourse that runs through John 14-16 and delineates the person and work of the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus sets before us a ‘triangle of life’.
This triangle appears first in the verse cited above. Its three points consist of love for Christ, obedience to Christ, and the divine Helper. Like the corners of a triangle, the three cannot be separated. Each apex is linked to the other two – love for Christ begets love for his commandments; the Spirit sheds this love abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:5) and empowers us to keep Christ’s law (Romans 8:13); keeping his words we bear the fruit of the Spirit and demonstrate our love for the Saviour (Galatians 5:16-22).
The triangle reappears three more times – in 14:21; 14:23; and 15:8-10 – and is clearly central to the whole discourse. This is important for our practical Christian lives.
Many professing Christians seem to think that they can love Christ without obeying his commandments. They forget his warning that ‘not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven’ (Matthew 7:21; Luke 6:46).
What are Christ’s commandments? They are God’s laws written on the hearts of all true believers and which, says John Owen commenting on Hebrews 8:10, ‘are here taken largely, for the whole revelation of the mind and will of God’.
Equally, however, there are those who hold that Christ’s commandments can be obeyed by a mere effort of will, by conformity to some external code of conduct. No, says Paul. ‘The righteous requirement of the law [is] fulfilled in [those] who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit’ (Romans 8:4). Without the power of Christ’s Spirit we can do nothing that pleases God (John 15:5).
Bearing this in mind we can now consider the promised Helper himself. The Greek word translated ‘Helper’ or ‘Comforter’ (AV) is parakletos, meaning literally ‘one who is called alongside’. The word may not translate easily into English but the idea is familiar.
We all have occasion to ‘call in’ someone to help. Our car breaks down, our computer crashes, or our plumbing springs a leak. Sometimes we fix it ourselves but normally we have to call in the experts. And when they have sorted things out we are grateful and euphoric.
I am not suggesting, of course, that the Holy Spirit is to be called upon when things go wrong and forgotten at other times. Quite the reverse – the Helper abides with us constantly and for ever! But we easily forget the simple truth that the Spirit really doeshelpus in practical ways.
How? He leads us (Romans 8:14); he directs our paths (Acts 16:6-10); he instructs our minds (John 16:13 – he is the Spirit of truth); he supports our weaknesses (Romans 8:26) and helps us pray; he strengthens our inner man (Ephesians 3:16); and enables us to live fruitful lives (Galatians 5:22-23).
Much more could be added, but the point is this – do we fully appreciate the vast resources that lie at our disposal in the person of the Helper?
In Christ’s stead
Next, consider how Jesus calls the Spirit ‘anotherHelper’. Christ himself, of course, was their first Helper, but he was about to leave them. This other Helper was to take his place. He would be everything to them that Christ had been, and more.
The incarnate Son of God imposed limitations on himself. He could only be in one place at a time. He had to sleep (and be awakened in the storm by the fearful fishermen!). Above all, he could not stay with them for ever.
But the Spirit is not so. He remains with God’s people ‘for ever’ – wherever they are in time and space. He never neglects believers in China because he is busy with those in Peru! Well might Jesus say, ‘It is to your advantage that I go away … if I depart I will send [the Helper] to you’ (John 16:7).
Furthermore, in coming as ‘another Helper’ the Holy Spirit restores Christ to his people! In promising the Spirit of truth Jesus states, ‘I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you’ (John 14:18).
He is not speaking of his second coming but of coming to them by his Spirit. ‘A little while longer and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live you will live also’ (John 14:19). Again he declares, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in the midst of them’ (Matthew 18:20); that is, the risen and ascended Christ is present with us in the personof his Spirit.
This is confirmed by the exchange between Jesus and Judas (not Iscariot) in John 14:22-23. ‘How will you manifest yourself to us and not to the world?’ asks Judas. Christ replies, ‘If anyone loves me he will keep my word; and my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him’.
The indwelling Helper
This last quotation is staggering. Not only does Christ come to us in the person of the Holy Spirit, but both he and the Father dwell within us by that same Spirit. The believer is indwelt by the triune God. That is beyond our comprehension but it is Bible truth.
Jesus told his disciples, ‘You know [the Helper] for he dwells with you and will be in you’ (John 14:17). Leaving aside any debate on when the disciples received the Spirit, this states clearly that the Holy Spirit lives inthe believer – so that Christ also indwells the believing heart (Galatians 2:20).
What does all this mean in practice? The implications are too great to deal with here. But let me leave you with just one application. ‘Do you not know’, asks Paul, ‘that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s’ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).