The Spirit of Truth
Cantate Sunday| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| May 3, 2015| St. John 16:5-15
“But now I go away 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 Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.” John 16:5-15
Have you noticed how the word “spirituality” has become popular in recent years? Religion is out. Spirituality is in. You invite people to church and they tell you they aren’t into religion but they have their own spirituality. In other words, they want their own “do it yourself” religion where you get to be your own god, make up your own rules, invent your own doctrine, and change it at will to suit your own fancy. Call it irreligious religion. What is called spirituality these days is a retreat from knowing the truth.
Jesus speaks to our generation. He tells us about the Holy Spirit. He calls him the Spirit of truth. He is the Comforter. He who proceeds from the Father and the Son takes what belongs to the Son and declares it to us. All that belongs to the Father belongs to the Son and this is what the Holy Spirit gives to us. He gives us the very treasures of God, wealth that cannot be measured, citizenship in heaven, fellowship with our Creator and our Redeemer, and this is how he comforts us when we face sorrow in our lives.
How does the Spirit of truth do these things? He tells us the truth. Jesus said that the Spirit of truth would lead the apostles into all truth. He did. They wrote it down. We have what they wrote. We call it the New Testament. Just as God spoke by the prophets before Jesus was born, so he spoke by the apostles that Jesus sent out. They didn’t go out to share their own opinions. The New Testament did not bubble up out of the spiritual consciousness of the people. It did not come to us from Holy Mother Church. It is not the result of the evolution of oral traditions. It was not established by any civil authority. The New Testament is a miracle of the Holy Spirit. It is the fulfillment of our Lord’s promise to his apostles when he said:
However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth.
Truth and error don’t mix. Jesus contrasts the truth of the Holy Spirit to the error of the world. Jesus uses the word “world” to refer to the popular religious sentiment that the devil, the ruler of this world, inculcates in his disciples. The spirituality of the world is the religion of popular opinion. It is respectable, established, popular, and pervasive. It goes by many names. It is often mistaken for genuine Christianity. That is why it is important that we let Jesus explain the difference between the spirituality of the world and the spirituality of the Holy Spirit.
I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.
Jesus must disappear from sight. Then he will send the Spirit of truth to lead his apostles into all truth. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit glorifies Christ. He takes what is Christ’s and declares it to us. If you look for the Spirit apart from Christ you will not find the Holy Spirit but the spirit of self-righteousness and despair.
The Spirit of truth convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. He shows that what the world says about sin, righteousness, and judgment is wrong. The Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, Jesus says, “Because they do not believe in me.”
The world does not understand why the greatest sin is not to believe in Jesus. They ask what not believing in Jesus has to do with sin. They ask because they don’t know what sin is and they don’t know who Jesus is. They think of sin as breaking religious rules. They look only at the outside of things. They refuse to consider that their outward deeds reflect an inward corruption of the soul so deep that everything they do from their natural powers is sin. As Jesus says, “A bad tree bears bad fruit.” And again, “Without me, you can do nothing.” As the Psalmist says:
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me. Psalm 51:5
As the apostle says:
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:7-8
The world sees no need for Jesus, for him to shed his blood for our sins, for him to become the sacrifice to take away God’s anger against us sinners, because the world insists on trivializing sin, reducing it to doable do’s and avoidable don’ts.
The Holy Spirit says otherwise. He discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart. He sees every motive. He cuts through every rationalization, parries every projection, and silences every excuse. He identifies lust, covetousness, hatred, greed, and all idolatrous desires as sins, damnable sins, sins requiring the death of the Son of God on the cross if they are to be forgiven.
This is why not believing in Jesus is the greatest sin of all. Jesus died for all sin. God forgave all sinners all their sins when Jesus died on the cross. St. John the Baptist says: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” All sin is forgiven, but the only way to receive forgiveness is through faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin because they do not believe in Jesus.
The Holy Spirit will convict the world of righteousness, Jesus says, “Because I go to my Father, and you see me no more.” The world knows nothing of the righteousness that is ours by faith. That’s because you cannot listen when you are doing all the talking, and the world loves to talk about how holy she is, how pious, how devout, how spiritual, how righteous. Those whose sin blinds them to the depth of their spiritual corruption are equally blind to their lack of righteousness.
The righteousness that God requires is not complicated. There are essentially only two commandments given to us by God: to love God above all things and to love your neighbor as yourself. Anyone who claims to have loved God more than anything else in his life or claims to have loved his neighbor as himself is lying. St. John writes,
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 Jn 1:9-10
The world is wrong about righteousness because it is wrong about sin. Since it cannot see its own sin it cannot see its own lack of righteousness. The world’s error is taught in the name of the Church. Christians are held in spiritual bondage by the very reasonable but utterly false notion that to be righteous you do the best you can do and then God will do the rest. That’s a lie. How do you know you’ve done the best you can do? Couldn’t you have done more? When you try to make yourself righteous before God you deny Christ. He is your righteousness before God. The righteousness that we need is the obedience and passion of Christ. This is what the Spirit of truth teaches us. Jesus speaks of a righteousness that you cannot see, because he goes to his Father where you cannot see him. St. Paul writes of this righteousness:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” Romans 1:16-17
This is the righteousness, the goodness, the holiness, the perfection that God demands of us all. None of us has done it, but our Savior Jesus has. He lived his life in perfect obedience to God’s law and by his death on the cross he bore the sin of the world and washed it away by his blood. Christ alone is our righteousness before God. God doesn’t regard us as righteous on account of anything any of us has done. He regards us as righteous on account of Christ’s obedience and suffering as our substitute. We don’t see this righteousness. We believe it is ours because that’s what the Spirit of truth tells us in the gospel. Those who reject this gospel reject Christ. They hold up their own righteousness to God as if he should honor it, reward it, and praise it. They offer up their sin as righteousness. The Spirit of truth shows them wrong.
The Spirit of truth will show the world is wrong about sin, about righteousness, and about judgment. About judgment, Jesus says, “Because the ruler of this world is judged.”
Satan is called the ruler of this world because he rules those who don’t know Christ, those who bear their own sin because they won’t let Christ bear it and who think that their sin is actually righteousness before God. They live under judgment. They do not believe in Jesus, so they must bear their own sin and live without true righteousness. The result is that they are constantly judging themselves and others by whatever standards they can dream up to salve their accusing conscience. Their real accuser is Satan. Christ judged Satan when he crushed his head under his heal.
Satan cannot stand in judgment of us Christians. We are robed in Christ’s righteousness. Let the world judge us. Its judgment is null and void. Christ, whom the Spirit has given to us, has freed us from judgment. So says the Spirit, and he is the Spirit of truth. Amen