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Sermon: John 16:1-15: Word and Spirit

Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 44:1–5

“But now hear, O Jacob my servant, Israel whom I have chosen! Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you: Fear not, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams. This one will say, ‘I am the Lord’s,’ another will call on the name of Jacob, and another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’ and name himself by the name of Israel.” (Isaiah 44:1–5, ESV)

New Testament Reading: John 16:1-15

“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, 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. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:1–15, ESV)

Introduction

Let us again use the imagination to put ourselves with Christ and his disciples on the night of his betrayal – the night before his crucifixion. The passover meal was finished. The betrayer had been sent out to do his deed. Christ, it would seem, left the upper room with the eleven who remained, having said to them, “rise, let us go from here” (14:31). Now Jesus is walking with his disciples in Jerusalem, or he is standing somewhere with them, and he is instructing them. In particular, he is equipping them with what they will need for the difficult journey ahead. As a commander equips his troops with weapons and ammunition, instructions and encouragement, so that they might fight the good fight, so too Christ equips those who are his with those things necessary for the battle. Of course, the weapons he gives are spiritual, and not physical. The Christian’s weapons are Spirit and truth. And that is what Christ, our commander, gives to his disciples – the promise of the Holy Spirit, and truth.

God Preserves Us By His Truth

I’ve asked you to use the imagination to put yourself there, not only so that you might see what Jesus gave to the eleven disciples who remained with him on that night, but so that you might also see what Christ has given to you! These words spoken to the original disciples of Christ – though they, in some respects, apply only to them – by and large apply to you and I as well. What he said to them, he says to us. He was preparing them to live in this world in the time between his first and second comings, and he prepares us also. He gives the Spirit, and he gives truth.

When I say that Christ equips his people with truth so that they might fight the good fight I am attempting to draw your attention to the simple, but often overlooked, fact that Jesus taught his disciples. He instructed them. He challenged their belief, and sought to change their minds. He was deeply concerned that they believe the right things. Jesus taught his disciples. He was called Rabbi, which means teacher. His followers were called disciples, which means learner. Though it is true that Christian discipleship involves more than the dissemination of information, it certainly does not involve less than that. Thought it is true that walking with Christ involves more than laying ahold of true doctrine in the mind – we are also to obey God from the heart, walking in holiness, loving God and neighbor – we should not forget that the foundation of our faith is truth.

I emphasize the centrality of truth and the importance of doctrine in the Christian life for two reasons:

First of all, this passage makes much of it. The Spirit, we learn, will guide the disciples of Christ “into all the truth” (16:13). Truth, among other things, is what they will need to stand firm in this world which is hostile to the things of God. Truth would serve as a foundation to them.

Secondly, as I continue to look out upon the modern church I grow more and more concerned that this is the very thing which is so often neglected in our day. There are forms of Christianity which minimize the importance of doctrine, or teaching. I say “forms” (in the plural) because there are many different manifestations of it, but they all seem to do essentially the same thing. They seek to reduce the Christian life to one thing are another, to the exclusion of doctrine. “What matters”, they say, “is that we love Jesus”, but they are opposed to doctrine which would seek to teach what the scriptures have to say about him. Or, “what matters is that we live holy”, but the basis for holiness, or the way to holiness, is neglected. Or, “what matters is that we serve the poor”, or “that we evangelize.” “Relationships matter”, they say. And on and on the list goes. But when it comes to doctrine – when it comes to the vital truths of the Christian faith – truths clearly set forth in scripture, mind you – these they want noting to do with.

I am painting with very broad brush strokes, I know. Not all churches are like this today. There are many churches that have not given in to this trend. By no means am I saying that we are the last ones standing.  But I am concerned that a great many have abandoned doctrine, believing in one way or another, that the facts of the faith are far less important than other aspects of it – love, obedience, emotion, service, and so on. And of course even these churches – the ones that have abandoned doctrine – do teach something. I am not saying that they teach noting at all. But my concern is that in these anti-doctrinal traditions the Christian faith – and here I am using the word faith to refer to the Christian faith as a body of truth, a collection of doctrines – has been reduced down to a few fundamental doctrines, the idea being, that if a Christian believes these fundamental things – these, essential things – then the teaching ministry of the church has accomplished it’s purpose.

I’m ranting a bit, I know. But I think this is an important issue to discuss so that you might understand something about what we are trying to do here. We are a confessionally reformed church. And one of the things that means is that we believe that doctrine is very important. Doctrine (teaching the truths found in scripture – not some of them, but all of them) leads to life. Doctrine matters. Truth transforms. Renewal in life comes by way of the transformation of the mind (Rom. 12:1). Doctrine is not the only thing, I know, but is a foundational thing. It is the truth of God’s word that the Spirit of God uses to transform the heart which leads to obedience.

Here in John 16 Christ is preparing his disciples to live in a hostile environment after his death, burial, and resurrection, and his ascension to the right hand of the Father. And what does he now say to them?

“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you… (John 16:1–4, ESV)

Christ has already warned his disciples that the world will hate them. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you”, he said (15:18). Here Jesus is more specific. Jesus predicted that his disciples would be “put out of the synagogues”. This reveals that Christ had in mind the unbelieving Jews when he thought of the persecutors. They would drive Christians from the established places of worship and push them to the fringes of society. It was the unbelieving Jews who crucified Christ, and much of the persecution that came upon the early church did, in fact, come from them. Indeed, many who persecuted Christians, even to the point of death, thought that they were doing so “in the service of God”. Think of Saul’s behavior before he was converted and became our brother, Paul.

Christ knows all of this. And how does he prepare his disciples for the trouble ahead? He teaches them. He instructs them. He gives them truth so that they might remember these things. To remember is to recall information. He gives them information so that they might remember it and live by it.

Notice here that when Christ thinks of the disciples whom he loves – as he looks into their deeply troubled eyes – he sees that the greatest threat to them is not suffering, nor is it death, but it is apostasy. In Jesus’ assessment of things, the worst thing that could happen to one of his followers is that they fall away. “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away”, he says.

This might sound extreme to you, but realize that for the one who is in Christ, death is life. The Christian is made alive spiritually at their conversion. And physical death – the first death – is not really death, but for those in Christ it is the first resurrection. This is what Revelation 20 teaches us. John – the same John wrote wrote the Gospel that we are now studying – said, “I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:4, ESV) These are the souls of those who have died physically. And where are they? They are alive with Christ – their souls are ruling and reigning with him. Paul takes courage in the same thing, saying that he “would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8, ESV) Death is not the worst thing that can happen to the one who professes Christ. Apostasy is. To apostatize is to fall away. An apostate is one who claims to be a follower of Christ, who identifies with the people of God, who tastes, in one way or another, of heavenly gifts, and then falls away in the face of temptation, or persecution, or for some other reason. This is the thing that Jesus is warning against. This is the greatest threat to the one who claims to be a disciples of Christ – not suffering, and not even death. The worst thing of all is to be found not in Christ in the end.

You’re thinking to yourself, Joe, I thought you were a Calvinist who believed in the perseverance of the saints! I thought you believed that if a person is truly united to Christ by faith – truly saved – then he or she will persevere, or be preserved, until the end, and cannot fully or finally fall away. Why then this talk about falling away? 

Brothers and sisters, you know I believe in the perseverance saints. You know I believe that if someone is truly in Christ, having been predestined to receive adoption as sons and daughters from before the foundation of the earth, that they will indeed remain in Christ and as sons and daughters, for God will preserve them.

But notice that what Christ says here concerning the danger of apostasy by no means undermines that doctrine. In fact all of the passages in scripture which warn against the danger of falling away, or coming short, or failing to obtain salvation, by no means undermine the doctrine of perseverance, but rather complement it. “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God”, the writer to the Hebrews warns. (Hebrews 3:12–13, ESV) The scriptures are filled with encouragement, warnings, and exhortations like this to continue on until the end, and to never fall away. Finish the race, brothers. Fight the good fight, sisters. Enter his rest, Christian, lest you seem to come short of it. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. And on and on I could go.

These warning passages do not mean that a true Christian – one who is truly saved – can in fact fall away. They simply reveal that preservation is a process. The question is not will God preserve his people, but how will he do it? The answer is that he will do it by means of word and Spirit. Preservation is a process. Preservation comes to us through means.

I preserve the vegetables that I buy from the store by putting them into the refrigerator. I preserve my children by teaching them to look both ways before they cross the street. And I preserve my money by storing it in a safe place – my wallet, a safe, or a bank. Did you notice the repetition of the word “by”. The word “by” indicates that there is a way or means by which something is accomplished. Preservation is a process. It involves the use of means. We preserve things by means of refrigerators, education, and wallets. And God uses means to preserve those who belong to him. The means that God uses to preserve his elect are word and Spirit.

His word instructs us; his word encourages us; his word warns us. His Spirit, enlightens, encourages, and empowers. For the one who is truly in Christ, these means are effective. The true Christian hears the warnings about apostasy and heeds them. The true Christian has the Spirit, who is our helper – the Paraclete. The true Christian perseveres. But this is brought about by the power of the word and through the work of the Spirit. The false believer – the temporary believer – does not have the Spirit, nor does he pay attention to the warnings contained within God’s word. He is a disciple on the outside only, and not inwardly and from the heart.

Jesus’ mission is to keep those given to him by the Father. And how will he keep them till the end? In part, by giving them his word. “I have said all these things to you [ἵνα – in order to, or for the purpose of] keep you from falling away.” (John 16:1, ESV)

Brothers and sisters, if anything has been clear in the sermon up to this point it is that truth matters in the Christian life. The word matters for so many reasons, one of them being that God uses the truth of his word to preserve us. We are on solid ground when know the truth and live according to it. Though the storms of life beat against us, we will not be shaken.

God Preserves Us By The Spirit

Notice also that God preserves those who belong to him by the Holy Spirit. Two things should noticed about the Holy Spirit. First of all, the Holy Spirit is the one who works within the world, proving the world wrong, leading some to repentance and to faith in Christ.  Secondly, it is the Holy Spirit who works amongst the people of God, strengthening them in the faith they already possess.

First, let us consider the Spirit’s activity within the world.

Look with me in the middle of verse 4 where we left off, where Jesus says, “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.” In other words, Jesus did not speak explicitly about the persecution because, for one, he was with his disciples and served to shield them from the danger. Two, they needed to first witness the mistreatment of their master before the could understand the saying, “‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” (John 15:20, ESV) But now Jesus tells them about it in order to prepare them.

Verse 5: “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’” This may sound strange to us given that Simon Peter did ask, “Lord, where are you going”, in 13:36. I think the meaning of this is that they did not really seek to understand where Jesus was going. They stopped asking that question. They pulled back from seeking answers to that important question, and had allowed sorrow to overrun their hearts (vs. 6).

In verse 7 we hear Jesus repeat something that he had already said: “Nevertheless, 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.” Evidently Jesus wanted his disciples to understand the significance of his death, resurrection, and ascension to the Fathers right hand, and the subsequent pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Much has been said about this in previous sermons (on 14:15ff.).

In verse 8 -10 Jesus builds upon what has already been said about the Spirit: “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:8–11, ESV)

Where, then, will the Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the Holy Trinity, be active once he is sent by the Father? Will he be active amongst the people of God only? No. He, will not be “shut up” with us only (to use Calvin’s language), but will be active within the world also – the world that is hostile to God and to the people of God.

And what will the Spirit do in the world? Christ said that he would convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment. And so we are to picture the Holy Spirit – the third person of the Trinity – as an active force within the world. He will convict, which means to prove wrong, to rebuke, or reprove. The meaning is this, I think. Just as Jesus had a different effect upon different people- judgment to those who disbelieved, and grace to those given to him by the Father who would believe – so too the Spirit has a different effect upon different peoples. He convicts the world. To the elect of God, that conviction leads to repentance. To the non-elect, that conviction leads to condemnation – the Spirit proves them guilty. The point is that the Spirit is active within the world – convicting the world – leading some to repentance and proving others wrong or guilty in their sin and condemnation. At the heart of this teaching is the idea that the Spirit will help Christians in their witness. As the gospel is preached, the Spirit will be active. He will convict the world. Whether that conviction leads to repentance or condemnation is another story.

Notice that the Spirit convicts concerning three things: sin, righteousness, and judgment.

“Concerning sin, because they do not believe in [Jesus]” (John 16:9, ESV). If they would turn to Christ and believe in him, their sin would be taken away. To remain in unbelief is to remain in sin, and under the guilt of it.

“Concerning righteousness, because [Jesus has gone] to the Father, and you [see him] no longer”. (John 16:10, ESV) Jesus, by his resurrection from the dead and his ascension to the right hand of the Father has been proved right. He has entered into glory by virtue of his sinless life. He is the righteous man. And one of the things his righteousness does is prove us to be unrighteous, if we are not believing in him. We need a righteousness like his, but we cannot find it in ourselves. It can only be found through faith in him.

And “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:11, ESV) The final judgment has not yet come. And for that reason the gospel must still be preached. Men and women must be implored to repent to trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. But there is a sense in which the judgment has already begun. When Christ died on that cross and rose from the dead on the third day, sin and death and Satan were defeated. The ruler of this world was judged. Not fully and finally, mind you. But the work is finished, so that we might rightly say that victory is won. This foretaste of judgment serves to warn concerning the final judgment. The Spirit convicts the world concerning that.

Again, this is not to say that this conviction (or “proving wrong”) of the world will have the same effect upon all. I do not equate it with effectual calling, in other words. It is not exactly regeneration that we are talking about. Here the message seems to be that the Holy Spirit will be a help to the Christians as they witness in the world. The Christians, through their witness, will extend the ministry of Christ after he ascends to the Father. And the Spirit will bring the power. The Spirit will extend the ministry of Christ as he works in the world through Christian disciples. Just as Jesus divided people as he proved them wrong, exposing their works as evil – leading some to repentance and confirming others in their condemnation – so too the Spirit would work in the world in this way.

And so in this way the Spirit will preserve us. He will be a help to the Christian as he or she serves as a witness for Christ in this hostile world, proving the world guilty concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. For some this will lead to repentance (these are the one’s given to the Son from all eternity; these are the ones whom the Father draws); for others this conviction will serve to confirm them in their condemnation. The Spirit of God is with you, brothers and sisters, as you witness. He is a help to you. Christ’s ministry  continues, not just through the word, but also by the Spirit.

Notice, secondly, that the Holy Spirit also preserves us by working amongst the people of God, strengthening them in the faith they already possess.

In verse 12 Jesus says,  “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Growth in Christ works like this, by the way. Learning is a process for us. There are some things that, if they were said to us now, we might not be able to bear. But as we continue to grow in our understanding of the things of God, we will be able to bear them later. Such was the case for the disciples. There was much that they simply would not understand that side of the cross, and that side of the stone that was rolled away. There were things that they would not understand until Pentecost, when the promised Spirit was poured out. Christ is patient with with us.

He said to them in verse 13, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” This is not a promise that if we open our Bibles and read, the Holy Spirit will magically cause us to fully and completely understand the things of God. No, the scriptures must be studied. They must be rightly divided and handled with great care. Instead, this is a promise to the Apostles that the teaching ministry of Jesus would not end with his ascension to the Father. He would continue to teach by way of the Spirit. The Apostles would remember what Jesus had said. More than that, they would understand the words and works of their Savior. Certainly this is connected to their teaching ministry and the writing of scripture.

The Apostles – the eyewitness of Jesus – spoke and wrote with prophetic authority. They were inspired by God in a unique way. But that does not mean that this promise has no application for us. Though we must make a distinction between ourselves and the Apostles, we should still acknowledge that the Spirit is active within Christians as he leads us in the way of truth.

Christ then says, in verse 15, “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Again, notice the Trinity. It is the Triune God who preserves his people – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Spirit glorifies the Son. The Son has all that is the Father’s. And it is that which belongs to the Father and the Son that the Spirit gives to the people of God.

He is our helper. He convicts the world of sin, righteous, and judgment. He guides us into all truth.

Conclusion  

Word and Spirit, brothers and sisters. God preserves his people by word and Spirit. To neglect one or the other is foolish.

Be students of the word. Be not content with milk, but desire solid food. Seek understanding. Build your house upon the rock, and not the sand. Know God’s word, and obey it. Move on to maturity in Christ.

But as you go, go in by the power of the Spirit. Trust in God, and not yourself. See that more information will benefit you noting. Words are without effect if they are not accompanied by the transforming power of the Spirit. Pray for God’s help. Pray that the Spirit would indeed be your helper until the end.

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"Him we proclaim,
warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

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