Have you ever found yourself wishing that Jesus hadn’t gone back to heaven and that he was still here on earth to help you? Imagine you are experiencing some trial or difficulty and Jesus walked through the door and put his hand on your shoulder and said, “It’s OK, I’ve got this.” Would that be amazing?
Well, I have some news for you: it’s actually better that Jesus is not physically with us. In the privacy of a small room, only hours before he went to the cross, Jesus revealed to his disciples what was going to happen after he left. What he said was important not just for the disciples, but for every believer in every age.
“But now I am going away to him who sent me, and not one of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Yet, because I have spoken these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:5–7)
Jesus is referring to the Holy Spirit. The Greek word for “counsellor” is paraclete; it means one who comes alongside to help or assist. If what Jesus is saying is right (and he’s always right), there is something about the Holy Spirit’s coming or arrival after he leaves that surpasses what Jesus could do for us if he was physically beside us.
Let’s consider some of the things the Holy Spirit does in and for a believer that wouldn’t happen if Jesus was confined to a physical body here on earth:
1. He teaches us and guides us into all truth
Jesus said in John 16:13, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. For he will not speak on his own, but he will speak whatever he hears. He will also declare to you what is to come.”
This promise was made first and foremost to the disciples but has application to us. The Spirit’s role is to teach us the truth of God’s Word. You say, “Well Jesus could do that if he were here with me.” Not as effectively as the Holy Spirit. You remember when Jesus was teaching his disciples a parable and afterwards, they’d look at him and say “huh?”, and then he would have to explain it to them, and they still didn’t get it. Well, the Holy Spirit helps us “get it.” 2 Corinthians 2:9-10 says:
“What no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human heart has conceived— God has prepared these things for those who love him. Now God has revealed these things to us by the Spirit.”
The Spirit is both the teacher and revealer of truth. He reveals the meaning of God’s word to us, internally – not just in our heads, but in our hearts. In Psalm 119:18 the author prays, “Open my eyes so that I may contemplate wondrous things from your instruction.” That’s the work of the Spirit. He makes the Bible alive to us.
2. He empowers us to witness
In Acts 1:8 Jesus said to his disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The Spirit empowers and emboldens us to share Jesus with others. You want to talk to someone about Jesus, but you are fearful and don’t know how, so you give a quick prayer – “Spirit God, please help me say the right thing” and then you open your mouth and start talking and not even you can believe what you’re saying. That’s better than meeting up with Jesus beforehand and asking for tips on witnessing.
3. He assures us we are God’s children
Paul says in Galatians 4:6, “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” The natural attitude of our hearts is not that of sons and daughters. We don’t really trust him; we don’t love to come into his presence – we rather fear him. But when the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts, he assures us we are God’s children. All fear is gone. In its place is a wonderful sense of love and trust in God.
4. He enables us to overcome sin
In Romans chapter 8, that great chapter on how to have victory over sin, Paul refers to the Spirit 22 times. The implication is clear: the way to overcome sin in your life is to be empowered by the Spirit. Having Jesus beside you might encourage you (or maybe frighten you), but it wouldn’t empower you like the Spirit does.
There’s more: He also imparts to us spiritual gifts, gives us a deep love for fellow Christians, produces in us beautiful Christ-like fruits – love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness and self-control. He also stirs us to draw near to God in prayer and gives us a deep love for fellow Christians.
But there is another aspect of the Spirit’s work in us that we can sometimes overlook. Dane Ortlund brings this out in his book Gentle and Lowly: The Spirit causes us to experience Christ’s heart for us. Ortlund writes:
“The Spirit makes the heart of Christ real to us: not just heard, but seen; not just seen, but felt; not just felt, but enjoyed. The Spirit takes what we read in the Bible and believe on paper about Jesus’ heart and moves it from theory to reality, from doctrine to experience.”
Consider again the words of Jesus to the disciples in John 16. He has just informed him that he’s leaving them. And he says, “Sorrow has filled your heart” (John 16:6). They were crushed by this news. But then further down in verse 20, Jesus says, “Your sorrow will be turned to joy.” How can this be? How could they be filled with joy after he was gone? The answer is the Holy Spirit. Jesus will be leaving in body but coming right back in the person of the Holy Spirit. The disciples therefore will continue to enjoy the same fellowship and intimacy they enjoyed with Jesus beside them by way of the Spirit who will come and dwell in them. In fact, more so. The same applies to us today.
Let’s say Jesus appeared to you today, in your very room. He put his hand on you and said, “I love you – I really do.” How would you feel? Wonderful, right? That would be awesome. Then he walks out the door. An hour later, you mess up, you sin, you do something dumb and what are you thinking? I bet he wouldn’t say that to me now. The Holy Spirit – who indwells you, will comfort you and assure you of Christ’s continual love for you so that you don’t have to wait for another visit from Jesus. And the more you are in God’s Word, the more he will assure you because that is the primary means by which the Spirit speaks to us.
So there we have it. If you are a believer, you have something greater than Jesus besides you; you have God’s Spirit dwelling in you. He is not some impersonal force or energy; he is a person. He has been sent by the Father for your benefit. He makes Jesus real to you. He brings God’s truth alive to you. He gifts and empowers you. And he enables you to experience Christ’s heart for you.
With all these things in mind, how should we respond? Let me suggest three ways:
1. Welcome him into your heart and life.
Some Christians down even acknowledge the Spirit’s presence. That’s like having a guest in your home and completely ignoring him. If I were that guest, I would consider that very rude, wouldn’t you? James 4:5 says, “The spirit he made to dwell in us envies intensely.” The Holy Spirit loves us and yearns over us. He earnestly desires that we allow him to have free access into our hearts and lives. So don’t ignore him. Don’t neglect him. Welcome him. Talk to him.
If you find that difficult, first try using his name interchangeably with the Father and the Son. Don’t worry if you think you might get it wrong. You could say something like:
“Father – thank you for this new day. I want to put you first in my life. Jesus, thank you for your love for me, even when I mess up and sin. Spirit of God, please make Christ love for me real to me today. And empower me to speak to others about Jesus.”
Do you see how it works? It might seem awkward at first, but after a while it will come naturally to you.
2. Learn from him.
He is your teacher. So let him teach you. Open up your bible and ask him to help you understand it. Say to him, “Spirit of God, teach me today about the Father. Teach me what I need to know. Show me the path of life.” If you get stuck in a passage, ask for his help. He specializes in bible interpretation. After all – he wrote it!
3. Lean on him.
You can’t live the Christian life in your own power. You need the Spirit’s help. So lean on him. Yield to him. Surrender yourself to his power. Do you find witnessing to others difficult for you? Does the thought fill you with fear? Lean on the Spirit of God. Let his words speak through you. Do you find serving God hard work to you? Give it over to the Spirit. Let him do the work for you. D.L. Moody once said,
“How easy it is to work for God when we are filled with His Spirit! His service is so sweet, so delightful. He is not a hard master…. Without this power, our work will be drudgery. With it, it becomes a joyous task, a refreshing service”
If you would like to view the message in full you can watch it here (the message begins 3.20 min in)