The Spirit of Truth
By David Feddes
Sheila Larson is a nurse who describes her faith as “Sheilaism.” Sheila says, “I believe in God. I’m not a religious fanatic. I can’t remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. It’s Sheilaism. Just my own little voice.” Sheila’s devotion to Sheilaism and to her “own little voice” is described in Habits of the Heart, a study of society in the eighties.
Today the church marks Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit came to the disciples of Jesus. On Pentecost God’s Spirit came in a special way to live inside his people. But what does that mean for us today? What’s it like to have God’s Spirit living inside you? What does it mean to be a spiritual person?
An approach like Sheila’s is one possibility. You believe that God lives in everybody, and that he communicates through that little voice inside you, that gut feeling, that intuition, that deep impression, that unique experience. You take your own little voice as God’s voice. Now, is that what true spirituality is all about? Is that what it means to have the Holy Spirit?
Well, not according to Jesus. He said that the Holy Spirit’s main purpose isn’t to put us in touch with ourselves but to put us in touch with Jesus. The Holy Spirit doesn’t lead Sheila Larson into Sheilaism, or David Feddes into Davidism, or anybody into any form of me-ism. The Holy Spirit only leads people into “Jesus-ism.” The Spirit’s main objective is to draw our attention away from ourselves and our experiences to the person of Jesus Christ.
Testifying About Jesus
In John 15:26 Jesus says of the Holy Spirit: “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.” Jesus twice emphasizes that the Spirit originates from God the Father, not from inside of us. Also, Jesus calls him “the Spirit of truth.” He’s not merely a feeling you might have. He’s not your own little voice. He’s God’s voice. And he doesn’t give you your own private religion. He testifies about Jesus Christ.
So if the main focus of your spirituality is yourself, or an experience you’ve had, or a voice you’ve heard, you can be sure of one thing: whatever it was, it wasn’t God’s Holy Spirit. If it had been the Spirit, you’d be thinking more about Jesus than about yourself or the experiences you’ve had or the voices you’ve heard. The Spirit never gives an experience simply as an end in itself. He always testifies about Jesus. He always glorifies Jesus. His work always brings you closer to Jesus. Take the day of Pentecost, for example.
Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them (Acts 2:2-4).
If there was ever an astonishing supernatural experience, that was it. And yet, when the disciples came out of the house and began speaking to the crowds outside, Peter didn’t even mention the tongues of fire. He didn’t say much of anything about his experience of the Spirit or what it all felt like. No, Peter quoted several passages from Old Testament Scripture and showed the crowd how these passages were talking about Jesus. He spoke about Jesus’ life and about his death. He spoke about Jesus’ resurrection. Peter said, “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” Finally, Peter declared, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Peter didn’t preach about his experience, remarkable though it was. He preached about Jesus, with Scripture as his guide. That’s what happens whenever the Holy Spirit is genuinely at work: you get to know who Jesus is, and you understand what God is saying in the Bible. As that happens, a tremendous spiritual change takes place in you. The Spirit moves you from a life centered in yourself to a life centered in Jesus. In promising the Holy Spirit, Jesus told his disciples, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.”
Jesus speaks of the Spirit as “the Counselor.” Now, a counselor is a person; he’s not a vague influence or mystical power. This Counselor is a guide, an advocate, a comforter, a friend. The Holy Spirit is a person, not a thing. He’s the third person of the Holy Trinity, the third member of the eternal union of Father, Son, and Spirit. It’s a mistake to talk about the Holy Spirit only as a mysterious force, or as your own little voice that gives you private guidance. According to Jesus, the Holy Spirit is a definite divine person.
If you think of spirituality as getting in touch with your higher self, or going deeper within yourself, you need to think again. That’s not the kind of spirituality that comes from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit doesn’t draw me to the trinity of me, myself, and I. He draws me to the Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit. In John 16:12-15, Jesus told the disciples,
I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to my Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.
God’s Spirit doesn’t lead us further into ourselves. He leads us out of ourselves and into fellowship with the triune God. The Spirit focuses our attention on Jesus and on the Father’s riches in him.
On Pentecost the disciples had some remarkable experiences from the Holy Spirit, but what did Peter do? He didn’t talk about what those experiences were like. He talked about Jesus of Nazareth. He told them about the Jesus who had walked their streets, who had performed great miracles, who taught with divine authority, who was betrayed and executed before their very eyes. Peter then told them about the exalted Jesus, the conqueror of death, the ascended Lord who reigns in heaven at the Father’s right hand.
The Spirit’s entire message through Peter that day focused on the Lord Jesus Christ, and still today, Jesus is the focus whenever the Spirit is at work. As Christ himself said, “When the Counselor comes, … he will testify about me.” The Spirit testifies about Jesus. He constantly reminds people of who Jesus is, of what Jesus did and continues to do, and of what Jesus taught. The Spirit creates faith in Jesus; he moves people to adore Jesus; he transforms people to live like Jesus. His entire work is to connect us with Jesus. As Christ put it, “He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.” The Holy Spirit gives us Jesus, Jesus, and more Jesus.
Speaking Through Scripture
And remember: the Jesus we meet through the Holy Spirit is the Jesus of the Bible. When Peter preached on Pentecost, full of the Holy Spirit, he kept appealing to the Old Testament part of the Bible, and he showed how those scriptures were fulfilled in Jesus. So the Spirit’s testimony to Jesus isn’t just an inner feeling; it’s grounded in the written testimony of the Bible. The Holy Spirit inspired the Old Testament books to prepare for Jesus’ coming, and he inspired Jesus’ followers to write the books of the New Testament as the final and definitive testimony about Jesus.
In John 14:26 Jesus told the disciples, “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” The Spirit did indeed teach them all things. He not only reminded them of what Jesus said and did, but he inspired them to explain the significance of those things. In the Bible, the Spirit gives us the facts about Jesus, and he also gives us the meaning. We’re not just told that Jesus died, or how he died–we’re told why he died. In the Bible, the Holy Spirit tells us not only that Jesus rose from the dead, but also what his resurrection means for us. We need the Bible to know Jesus.
Jesus left such an imprint on history that almost everyone has an opinion of him, but often it’s an imaginary Jesus we’re thinking of, not the real Jesus. It’s common to think of Jesus as just a great moral teacher, but the Jesus of the Bible claimed to be nothing less than the eternal Son of God. It’s common to think that Jesus is so kind and gentle that he would never send anyone to hell, but the Bible says otherwise. No personal opinion or inner voice that contradicts Scripture can possibly be the voice of the Spirit, because the Bible is the Spirit’s testimony about Jesus, and God never contradicts himself.
The Spirit who filled Jesus throughout his ministry on earth is the very same Spirit who inspired the writing of the Holy Scriptures. As Peter wrote, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21). The Bible isn’t a collection of human opinions. It’s the testimony of God’s Spirit, revealing Jesus to us.
Convicting Not Flattering
So let me repeat what I said earlier: True spirituality isn’t rooted inside of us. True spirituality is a bond with the Lord Jesus Christ, in accordance with the testimony of the Bible. Sadly, though, even some churches and preachers ignore Jesus and the Bible almost entirely, and offer a brand of spirituality that is preoccupied with the self.
Art Townsend is a pastor whose views are discussed in Habits of the Heart. Pastor Townsend says his main objective for his congregation is, “How can I help these beautiful, special people to experience how absolutely wonderful they are?” His job, he says, is to “help them take the scales from their eyes and experience and see their magnificence.”
Pastor Townsend’s brand of religion is becoming more and more common, I’m afraid. Self esteem is more important than Christ esteem. The language of pop psychology replaces the language of the Bible. Preachers want people to have a new self-image rather than a new self. That is the spirit of psychobabble, not the Spirit of God.
The Spirit shows us the truth about ourselves, but it’s not the truth that Pastor Art Townsend and others like him are so busy promoting. In John 16 Jesus said, “When [the Spirit] comes, he will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” Not exactly “I’m okay, you’re okay.” Not exactly helping “these beautiful, special people to experience how absolutely wonderful they are.” Before anything really beautiful or wonderful can happen in your life, you first need help seeing how sinful and miserable you are.
The Spirit convicts people of sin, and he does this the way he does everything else: by revealing Christ. You may have thought you were a pretty good person, and that God should be happy with you the way you are, but when the Holy Spirit forces you to compare yourself to Jesus, you see that it’s the difference between black and white, between perfect holiness and utter corruption. The Spirit shows you the full ugliness of your corruption by convicting you that your sins were responsible for the death of this perfect person. And then the Spirit convicts you of the supreme sin, the sin of unbelief, of not believing in Jesus. All of us have a tendency to think that we deserve God’s favor on our own merit, apart from Jesus. But when the Spirit introduces you to Jesus, he shatters your self-confidence. Once the Spirit touches you, if you’re to have any confidence at all, it will have to come from Christ.
On Pentecost, when Peter had finished preaching, the people in the crowd didn’t say, “Wow! Aren’t we magnificent? Thanks, Peter. We never realized before just how absolutely wonderful we really are.” No, the Bible says that they were “cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?'” They were gripped with horror at their sin. They were filled with dread of God’s judgment. They were desperately seeking a way out, and they asked what they could possibly do.
Peter didn’t reply, “Look inside you. Learn to believe in yourself.” He said, “Look to Jesus. Believe in him.” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:37-39). Once the people had been convicted of the bad news about themselves, Peter told them the good news of forgiveness in Jesus and new life in the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit moved 3,000 of them to be baptized into the church that very day.
The Mind of Christ
The Holy Spirit tears away our blindfolds and helps us to see Jesus and to really understand spiritual things. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 3 that apart from Jesus, people are blinded by a veil of spiritual ignorance. “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” The Spirit sets us free from our own cramped, selfish little lives, and brings us into the spacious freedom of God’s Kingdom. The Spirit breaks through the dullness of our humdrum lives and touches them with divine glory. He takes broken down, sinful people and transforms us progressively to be more and more like Jesus. He gives us something even better than self-esteem. He gives us new selves by giving us Jesus.
Only through the Holy Spirit is it possible to know Jesus. In Romans 8:9 the Bible says that “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” In 1 Corinthians 2, the Bible says, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned… But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:14,16). It’s only the Spirit who can give you the mind of Christ.
Even as you’re listening to me, the Spirit may be drawing you out of yourself and into Christ. As you sense the Spirit at work, you may be asking the same question the people on Pentecost asked Peter: “What shall I do?” My answer to you is the same one Peter gave. Repent of your sin. Admit your failure to God. Receive Jesus and be joined to him through baptism. Your sins will be completely forgiven, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. You’ll find that the Spirit who’s been working on you has taken up residence in you. He’s made himself a permanent part of your life. In fact, he is your life. He’s the life of Jesus in you.
And one final thing: join a church where the Spirit is present: a church where Jesus is glorified, where the Bible is proclaimed. You see, just as true spirituality isn’t something you can create inside yourself, it’s not something you experience by yourself. The Spirit doesn’t give you an exclusive, private relationship with God. When the 3,000 came to Christ on Pentecost, did they all go off by themselves to enjoy their own private relationship with Jesus? No, they were publicly baptized into the church, and, says the Bible, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
Still today, if the Spirit brings you to Jesus, he will also bring you to the church of Jesus. He will bring you to a church where you can hear the apostles’ teaching as recorded in the Bible, where you can enjoy the fellowship of other Christians and encourage each other, where you break bread in the Lord’s Supper and nourish your faith, and where you join together in prayer, praising God and praying for each other.
Christianity isn’t just a matter of “me and Jesus.” Faith is personal, but that doesn’t mean it’s purely private. The Bible says that the church is the body of Christ, filled with the life of the Holy Spirit. There are phony churches, of course, and you need to avoid them. Also, you’ll find that even a true church is never perfectly what it ought to be, but you still need the church and the church needs you. For Spirit-filled Christians, church isn’t an option; it’s a necessity.
Here’s what we’ve seen so far, then. The Spirit of truth shows us the truth about Jesus, he helps us grasp the truth of the Bible, he helps us to accept the painful truth about ourselves, he makes us a part of his true church, and in all of this, he draws us into a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. The Spirit stops you from being stuck on yourself and fills you more and more with the life of Jesus.
And ultimately, when you’re full of the life of Jesus, you’re full of the love of Jesus. There’s nothing more wonderful than this. The Spirit brings God’s love in Jesus home to us. We delight in God’s love for us, we respond by loving him, and we are caught up in God’s love for his people and his universe. Through the Spirit, God’s love flows into us and fills us and floods over in love for others. According to Romans 5:5, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” In Ephesians 3:14-19 the apostle Paul describes his prayer for his fellow Christians.
I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
That’s my prayer for you, dear friend. That’s what it’s all about: To have the Spirit’s power in your inner being! To have Christ himself at home in your heart through faith! To enjoy this in union with all the saints of his church, where the Spirit’s gifts to each become a blessing to all. To know a love that surpasses knowledge! To be filled with God’s fullness!
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.