June 12, 2011
St. John 14, 23-27
“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. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me. These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
The Comforter comforts us by teaching us.
It was in the spring of 1973, near the end of my sophomore year in college. I was sitting in the cafeteria of Concordia Lutheran Junior College in Ann Arbor, Michigan talking theology with some other students when a seminary student who was finishing up his year of vicarage joined the conversation. He was five years older and wiser than I. After listening to me talk earnestly about the Bible as the inerrant word of God, the seminarian informed me that when I got out into the ministry I would learn that most people don’t care so much about pure doctrine. The implication was that if the people in the pew aren’t interested in Christian doctrine, why should I be? Why get all concerned about what doesn’t concern others?
Several years later I learned how right that young man was. Many people, even churchgoing people, don’t care about pure doctrine. People don’t care and they don’t want to care about pure doctrine. They are put out by the insistence that they should care about pure doctrine.
It’s not as if you can get people to care about pure doctrine by using a different word for it. Call it pure teaching or true teaching or something equivalent. It won’t make any difference. It’s not the term, “pure doctrine,” that turns people off. It’s the very idea.
Not that folks are against being taught. People are curious creatures, always learning new things and wanting to learn new things. No, it’s the pure doctrine, the true teaching that makes them uncomfortable. The claim that our teaching comes from God and is therefore utterly reliable and infallibly true is just too much for people to tolerate.
People think that we cannot know what is true and what isn’t true. Oh, you are free to teach that you want. And we are free to believe what we want. But don’t insist that your teaching is true to the exclusion of someone else’s teaching. Teach it if you will. But don’t be too dogmatic about it. Don’t insist that what’s true for you is true for me. Truth is whatever we choose to believe.
So the Church, eager to please the prevailing spirit, ignores the Holy Spirit and abandons the task Jesus gave her. She sets aside the true doctrine in favor of something else. She usually borrows it from the social sciences – psychology or sociology – gives it a quick religious makeover, and then markets it to finicky religious consumers who will suffer to be instructed just as long as you don’t insist that they submit to the instruction.
But then she is no longer the Church. The Church lives on the pure doctrine. The Church is the creation of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit’s primary work is to teach us. That’s what Jesus said. He called him the Spirit of truth and he said that he will teach. By teaching he comforts. By teaching he brings us the peace that Jesus alone has to give.
The Holy Spirit is not all about signs and wonders and visible miracles. The events of that first Pentecost happened just as St. Luke records them in the Acts of the Apostles, but those events cannot be duplicated. It never was God’s intent that we should be speaking in tongues just as the apostles did. It was God’s intent that we should be instructed in the pure doctrine of the apostles because that teaching was, is, and ever shall be the true teaching by which the Holy Spirit brings us peace.
Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
The peace that the world gives and the peace that Jesus gives are fundamentally different. The peace of the world comes from the law. The peace of Jesus comes from the gospel. The peace of the world depends on the threat of force. The peace of Jesus depends on the truth of his teaching. The peace of the world is temporary. The peace of Jesus is eternal.
The peace that the world gives comes from the law. That is, it comes from imposing the law on human behavior to keep some people from doing bad things to other people. We might call this civil peace. We can walk outside in safety. We can buy and sell without getting robbed along the way. We can enjoy the things of this world without having to be afraid of being beaten, imprisoned, or killed. This is the peace of law and order. Civil peace is a great benefit. Thank God for it. The best way to promote this peace is by obeying the law and praying for our government.
The peace of Jesus comes from the gospel, not the law. It relies, not on our obedience, but on Christ’s obedience. It can exist in the midst of violence, war, unrest – even persecution. That’s because it is not an outward and worldly peace. It is the peace of knowing that our sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake. It is the peace of having God as our Father with the confidence that he will guard and protect us from all evil. It is the peace of being filled with the Holy Spirit who confirms us in the truth.
The Holy Spirit teaches us the law and the gospel. He teaches us to distinguish between them. The law is to be obeyed. The gospel is to be believed. There is a difference. Jesus says,
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. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me.
To keep the law is to obey it. To keep the gospel is to believe it. If we love Jesus we will do what he says. That’s love in action. And if we love Jesus it is because we trust in what he promises. His gospel is the source of our faith and love. What does it mean to keep God’s word? When God’s word tells us what to do we keep his word by doing it. When God’s word gives us a promise to believe we keep God’s word by believing it. Faith is how God wants us to respond to the gospel. Obedience is how he wants us to respond to the law. That’s how we keep his word. That’s how we receive and show his love.
The Holy Spirit teaches us the law and he teaches us the gospel. That’s what Pentecost is all about. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit taught the law to the self-righteous mockers who accused the apostles of being drunk when they were speaking in languages they had never learned. It was what we might call a teaching moment. When God gave miraculous proof that the gospel was intended for all people of all nations and languages, the Holy Spirit spoke the law to those who believed that being Jews made them better than the Gentiles. By implication, God condemned worksrighteousness in every form. The Holy Spirit teaches his law to those who glory in themselves and think they are better than others. He teaches and condemns. The law condemns those who trust in it.
Consider how the Holy Spirit teaches us through the law. The law teaches us to love. Before we say or do something that will affect our neighbor we should ask ourselves what we would want others to say about us or to do for us in a similar situation. Would you want your reputation to be defended or sullied? Would you want your marriage to be honored or violated? Would you want your property protected or damaged? And if you fail to do for your neighbor what you would want your neighbor to do for you, the Holy Spirit teaches you that you have sinned against your neighbor. You are accountable for that sin. You have the obligation to do whatever you can do to undo the harm you have caused your neighbor, but even if you do all you can do you will not be able to undo your sin. This is what the Holy Spirit teaches you. This teaching cuts your conscience. This is how the Holy Spirit prepares to teach you the gospel.
Teaching the gospel is the Holy Spirit’s greatest work. This is the greatest work done in this world. No other activity on this earth compares in importance to the teaching of the gospel. This is what the Holy Spirit does. By teaching us the gospel he makes us holy.
The gospel is not a message of what God wants us to do. The gospel is a message that God wants us to believe. If you regard the gospel as a law to be obeyed that’s because you are relying on your own sinful flesh to understand the things that belong to the Holy Spirit. That’s folly. It’s the conceit of every manmade religion. St. Paul writes:
These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2, 13-14)
We need to be taught. The Holy Spirit must do the teaching. Otherwise, we’ll regard the gospel as pure foolishness. The natural man – that is the man, woman, or child who seeks to understand God without first being taught by the Holy Spirit – will always use the law to do what only the gospel can do. Always.
The gospel is for sinners who have given up on the law to make them holy. They know they are sinners, want to be forgiven of their sins, and know they are powerless to gain forgiveness by their own works or religious exercises. The Holy Spirit has taught them through God’s law that they need what they cannot get for themselves. So the Holy Spirit gives it to them freely. They don’t work for it. Jesus did all the work necessary for them to receive it. The forgiveness of sins was dearly won. It cost Jesus his innocent obedience under the full weight of bearing the entire load of our sin. No greater price has ever been paid for anything than the price Jesus paid for our forgiveness. There is no such thing as cheap grace.
But grace is free. Forgiveness is free. To charge for it is to demean it and to insult Jesus who has purchased salvation for us by his impeccable obedience and his vicarious suffering and death. The Holy Spirit teaches us about this forgiveness. By teaching us he gives us this forgiveness. In teaching us he changes us on the inside so that we receive this forgiveness by trusting in Jesus alone as our Savior from sin.
This is how we are filled with love. This is how the Father and the Son find their home with us. The Holy Spirit makes us holy. The Holy God communes with us and makes his home with us. With the forgiveness of sins comes Jesus who won it for us. With Jesus comes peace. Our hearts don’t accuse us. God’s law doesn’t condemn us. The things in this world that make us afraid are rendered impotent to do us harm. We are at peace with God.
This peace cannot be broken by our failures. It doesn’t depend on us. It depends on God. This peace remains inside of us even when we cannot feel it. It is there by faith. It is planted inside of us where the sin is, deep down where our fallen nature is most vicious. Everywhere that sin still exists in our thinking, speaking, doing, or feeling, there it is that the peace of Jesus goes to assert itself. The gospel covers that sin, blots it out, sends it away, and replaces it with the comfort of the Comforter. This sets our hearts at peace with God. We are Christians! We live under grace! This is what the Holy Spirit teaches us. This is why we care about the purity and truth of his doctrine. Amen