THE MOST MISUNDERSTOOD PERSON IN THE WORLD
26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.
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 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. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 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. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
— 15:26-27, 16:5-15, ESV
I have always felt misunderstood, not so much as a preacher, but as a pastor. God called me to churches in desperate need of reform. Applying biblical solutions to traditional (and sometimes heretical) problems is hard, and it can make you seem like a hard person. But ask my wife, my daughters, and now my grandchildren, and they will tell you I have the softest heart, and sometimes head, of anyone they know.
Other people of much greater importance and accomplishment have been much more misunderstood than me. Martin Luther was threatened with death, John Calvin was run out of town, Jonathan Edwards was fired from his church, and Charles Spurgeon was censured by the British Baptists, all because they were terribly misunderstood. Yet there is still someone far greater and even more misunderstood than these heroes of the faith.
The most misunderstood person in the world is misunderstood because He is everywhere, all the time, yet no one can see Him. He is misunderstood because He knows everything, and is the best teacher in the world, yet so few listen to what He has to say. He is misunderstood because He has all power to do amazing things, yet only a remnant of the world’s population has yielded to His control. Omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, yet overly misunderstood. Perhaps it is because He does not even seem to have a proper name. We refer to Him mostly as, the Holy Spirit.
Who is the Holy Spirit?
There is one true and living God who has revealed Himself in three persons. The Holy Spirit is God in the third person. This is an Old Testament, New Testament, and eternal doctrine.
In the Old Testament, God is known personally as “YHWH,” or Yahweh, and positionally as “Elohim,” or God. The later term is a majestic plural, meaning He is one supreme being with multiple personages. When God said, “Let us make man in our image” (ref. Genesis 1:26), He was talking to His selfs. This is not divine schizophrenia, this is the Holy Trinity.
Yahweh is the unseen first person of the Godhead. The visible second person once appeared as “a son of the gods” (ref. Daniel 3:25). More commonly He appeared as “the Angel of the Lord” (57 OT references). I suspect the fourth man in the fire and the often seen angel bear a strong resemblance to a certain carpenter’s son who staked a claim as the Jewish Messiah two thousand years ago.
Then, in the third person, always present around the presence of God and the people of God is the one the Scriptures identify as “Ruach Elohim,” or the Spirit of God. Since holiness is God’s chief attribute, sometimes He is referred to as “Ruach Qodesh,” which means Spirit of Holiness. This is how He came to be called the Holy Spirit.
The Old Testament reveals one God in three persons. The New Testament does the same, even more so, as in the exquisite first verse of this text. Notice how “Helper” (Holy Spirit), “I”/“Me” (Jesus), and “Father” (God) flow interchangeably and are unequivocally equal. One reveals and glorifies the other. Still, to this day, the doctrine of the Trinity remains greatly misunderstood, especially when it comes to the third person.
Let us focus now on Jesus’ teaching concerning the Holy Spirit, who was, is, and always will be God. After God’s Old Covenant was fulfilled, and after Jesus Christ established the New Covenant, it is the turn of the Holy Spirit to come to the forefront to lead His people and His church. God will always be our Father, Christ will always be our head, but the Holy Spirit is our, as Jesus called Him, our “Paraclete” (or “Paracleytos”).
The name literally means the one who comes along side to enable, strengthen, help, comfort, counsel, and advocate for you. A better translation would be “The Enabler,” or “The Strengthener,” but English translators have chosen “Helper” (ESV, NASB), “Comforter” (KJV, Geneva Bible), “Counselor” (CSB), and “Advocate” (NRS, NIV).
The multiplicity of names makes Him misunderstood, but make no mistake about this, the Holy Spirit is God, along with the Father and the Son. And without the person of the Holy Spirit, the person of Jesus Christ and the person of the Father would remain unknown to us, and we would remain unsaved by Him.
What does the Holy Spirit do?
The Holy Spirit is God, the God who lives up to His name by what He does. He enables, strengthens, helps, counsels, and becomes a permanent advocate. He does this in an action word carefully called by Jesus, “convict.”
This verb, that tells what the Holy Spirit does, is as multifaceted as the name of the Holy Spirit Himself. It is translated various ways in English, including convince, convict, expose, rebuke, refute, reprove, and show fault. It means to show a person where they are wrong, and lead them to what is right, in the matters that matter most to God. Jesus identifies them as sin, righteousness, and judgment.
Sin matters to God, and people are wrong about it. Sin is anything contrary to God’s perfect character and commandments. Human beings tend to be nonchalant about sin, or deny they are guilty of it, or redefine it in an attempt to make it no longer sin. God is not so flippant. He hates sin. He is bound by His nature to punish sin, and has ordained two places for such punishment, the cross and the grave.
Righteousness matters to God, and people are wrong about it. The typical secular and religious person thinks he is right with God as long as he lives a generally good life. God disagrees (ref. Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:10ff). The righteousness God requires is perfect righteousness, and the natural man does not have it (ref. Romans 3:23, 5:8, etc.). But you can, when convicted by the Holy Spirit.
Judgment matters to God, and people are wrong about it. Most people do not believe in judgement and modern people most certainly do not want to be judged. God has ordained a day when every member of the human race will be judged by Him (ref. Hebrews 9:27). You can face this judgment, without fear, if you are convicted by the Holy Spirit.
In order to be forgiven of sin, receive God’s righteousness, and be spared from judgment, the natural man needs to be made supernatural. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. He comes along side of us through the preaching of the gospel and the word of God. He comes into us by the power of regeneration, or the new birth. He brings the gift of faith and enables repentance, a change of mind that leads to a change of heart that leads to a change of life. God the Spirit does all of this to make us new creatures in God’s kingdom, and kingdom where God is Father, Christ is Savior, and the Holy Spirit is our resident teacher and guide.
It is right to say that the Holy Spirit saves! Yet, only God can save. Yes, the Holy Spirit is God, who brings us into a covenant and corporate relationship with Him and His church.
How do you know if you have the Holy Spirit?
Here is where the Holy Spirit is most misunderstood. Revivalists and many Baptists claim there must be some exhilarating feeling that overtakes you when you are dragged down the aisle by the Holy Spirit. Pentecostals and Charismatics claim excitements as well, especially the ability to speak in ecstatic, unknown tongues. The modern musical churches apparently associate the presence of the Holy Spirit with a full drum kit and a bass guitar so loud it can turn your spine into a corkscrew (an actual statement from a popular megachurch pastor).
By the way, I came to Christ in a Baptist church that gave altar calls, had a dog named Atticus who spoke in tongues, and love drums and guitars. I just do not think that any of that is sure evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work. There is a better way to tell. Just go back and look at Jesus’ teaching again.
The first feelings you will have when you have the Holy Spirit are negative. You will feel deep remorse, regret, dare I say shame and embarrassment, over your sin. You will know you have wronged God and people, and you will be dreadfully sorry for it. The weight, depending upon your age and experience, will be too much to bear. Indeed you cannot bear it. You beg God to take it away, and like the Pilgrim who became Christian, it rolls down the hill called Calvary.
Then comes the joy. It may be excitable, but most often it is calm, like the sea after a storm. But when the Holy Spirit teaches you the gospel of Jesus Christ, there is sheer, inexpressible joy. You see your sins upon the cross of Christ. You see His righteousness as your righteousness. And you know you have been saved, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone.
After this there is relief and assurance. You have escaped the judgment of Hell. Yet there remains a “judgement seat of Christ” for the believer (ref. Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10). So, with the presence of the Holy Spirit, you congregate with the church, study the Bible, live an obedient life, and glorify God.
You see, it is not a matter of emotion, of shouting or crying or some other such outburst. It is a matter of conviction, of a changed life, of the presence of repentance, faith, and subsequent obedience based upon love of God and the knowledge of the gospel shown to you by the Holy Spirit. This is how you know you have God, the Holy Spirit, in your life.
When you have the Holy Spirit, you will be a part of the age of “advantage” Jesus told the Apostles would take place after He departed and the Spirit manifested Himself. God the Father, immortal and invisible, gave the Old Covenant to one nation. God the Son, Lord and Savior, bought and brought the New Covenant, beginning with that same nation. But now, through the Holy Spirit, the whole “world” is invited into a covenant relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And who will bring the good news to the world? The Holy Spirit is doing it. And He does it through you, if you have understood the call and undergone the change wrought by the Holy Spirit. Praise Yahweh, God the Father. Praise Jesus Christ, God the Son. And, Praise be to God the Holy Spirit, the most misunderstood person in the world.