Christian Witness Is from the Father
When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father (15:26a)
The ultimate witness to Jesus Christ is God the Father (cf. 5:37; 6:27; 8:18), who testified to the Son in several ways. First, God spoke in the Hebrew Scriptures (Heb. 1:1–2) and the theme of His revelation is the Lord Jesus Christ. In John 5:39 Jesus said to His opponents, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me,” while in Luke 24:44 He told the disciples, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Revelation 19:10 notes that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
A second way the Father testified to the Son was through the divine works that Jesus did. In John 5:36 Jesus told His adversaries, “The works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do—testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me.” “The works that I do in My Father’s name,” He declared in 10:25, “these testify of Me”; in verse 37 He challenged His opponents, “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me.” Peter affirmed that Jesus was “attested … by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him” (Acts 2:22; cf. 10:38).
The Father’s direct statements also testified to the Son. At Christ’s baptism, and again at the transfiguration, the Father’s “voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased’ ” (Matt. 3:17; 17:5). Reflecting on his dramatic experience at the transfiguration, Peter would later write:
For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”—and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:16–18)
Finally, the Father testified to the Son by sending the Helper … that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father. In his first epistle John wrote, “It is the Spirit who testifies [about Jesus Christ], because the Spirit is the truth” (1 John 5:6). In Acts 5:32 the apostles declared to the Sanhedrin, “We are witnesses of these things [concerning Christ]; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.” The writer of Hebrews also connects the Holy Spirit with the apostles’ testimony to Christ:
How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. (Heb. 2:3–4)
Christian Witness Is about the Son
He will testify about Me (15:26b)
The Holy Spirit’s primary ministry to the lost world is to testify about Jesus. Likewise, the message of the church is not political activism, social reform, or psychological self-fulfillment but Jesus Christ. In his sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter boldly declared, “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32), a truth he repeated in his second recorded sermon (3:15). The apostles fearlessly declared to the Sanhedrin,
The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him. (5:30–32; cf. 10:38–41; 13:31; 22:15, 20; 23:11; 26:16)
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2; cf. 15:15), and Peter described himself as a “witness of the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 5:1). The apostle John was exiled to “the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 1:9). The Lord commended Antipas as “My witness, My faithful one” (Rev. 2:13), and the martyred tribulation saints are called “the witnesses of Jesus” (Rev. 17:6).
But despite the clear biblical emphasis on being witnesses of Jesus Christ, much of today’s evangelistic methodology focuses on meeting people’s felt needs. It also downplays the essential biblical emphasis on the glory of the person and work of the Savior and the crucial importance of confronting unbelievers with their sin and its consequences unless they are rescued by faith in the atoning accomplishment of Jesus Christ. Any inadequate presentation of Christ and His death for sin can leave the sinner in his love of iniquity and ignorance of the truth of justification by faith and produce a false and temporary confession. Evangelism is as basic and unchanged as when Paul said
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. (1 Cor. 2:1–5)
The preaching of Christ and the cross is still the power of God for salvation (1 Cor. 1:18–25).
In addition to the truth of Christ, repentance is at the heart of the biblical message of salvation. Christ’s forerunner, John the Baptist, challenged his hearers to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.… bear fruit in keeping with repentance,” and told them, “I baptize you with water for repentance” (Matt. 3:2, 8, 11). From the outset of His public ministry, Jesus’ message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). He rebuked the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida for refusing to repent (Matt. 11:20–21), and commended those of Nineveh because they did repent (Matt. 12:41). When they were sent out by the Lord Jesus, the Twelve “preached that men should repent” (Mark 6:12). When the scribes and Pharisees took Him to task for hobnobbing with the riffraff of society, Jesus replied, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). The Lord shocked those who told Him of Pilate’s massacre of some Galileans by bluntly telling them,
Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:2–5)
Christ also described the rejoicing in heaven that takes place when sinners repent (Luke 15:7, 10). After His resurrection He declared that “repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).
The early church obeyed the Lord’s command and preached a message of repentance. At the conclusion of the first sermon in the church’s history, Peter exhorted his hearers, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Peter sounded the same theme in his second recorded sermon: “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (3:19). Standing before the Sanhedrin, the apostles boldly asserted of Jesus, “He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (5:31). After hearing Peter’s report of what took place at Cornelius’s house, the believers in Jerusalem “glorified God, saying, ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life’ ” (11:18). Paul declared to the pagan philosophers at Athens, “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent” (17:30). The apostle described his ministry as one of “solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (20:21), and his message was that people “should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance” (26:20).
The Bible demands that sinners be broken over their sin and forsake all to come to Christ (Luke 9:23–24; 14:26–33). Many contemporary evangelism methods, however, by emphasizing meeting felt needs, make it sound like following Jesus is easy. (Some, proponents of the now popular “wider mercy” view, even argue that people do not have to know the gospel or believe in Jesus to be saved. But the Bible unequivocally teaches that salvation comes only through faith in Jesus Christ [John 3:36; 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Cor. 3:11; Gal. 1:8–9; 1 Tim. 2:5; 1 John 5:11–12; 2 John 9–11].) Jesus, in contrast, taught that it was hard for sinners to believe. He even went so far as to say that, humanly speaking, salvation is impossible (Luke 18:27).
A memorable illustration of the Lord’s evangelistic methodology in action is His encounter with a rich synagogue ruler in Luke 18:18–27. This man seemed to be the ideal prospect for evangelism. Although he was an outwardly devout, religious man, he knew something was lacking in his life. That prompted his question, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 18). This was no abstract theological question; he not only recognized his need, but also felt it deeply. This young man was also diligent in his pursuit of an answer. Mark records that, oblivious to what the crowd might think, he “ran up to [Jesus] and knelt before Him” (Mark 10:17). He also came to the right source, since Jesus Christ is the only source of eternal life (John 14:6; 1 John 5:20). Finally, he asked the right question, how he might personally take possession of eternal life.
But to his sorrow (Matt. 19:22) and the crowd’s astonishment (v. 25), this seemingly surefire prospect went away unsaved. Proud and self-righteous, he treasured his earthly possessions more than the promise of heavenly riches. His shallow, superficial faith was not sufficient for him to confess his sin and forsake all to enter the kingdom of heaven; he wanted eternal life on his own terms, but they were not God’s terms.
As this account reveals, far from seeking to remove barriers that might hinder the lost from coming to Him, Christ instead raised new ones. The Lord refused to ignore real spiritual issues for the sake of expediency. The church must not ignore them either. People are sinners, facing God’s eternal judgment unless they repent and believe solely and submissively in Jesus Christ for salvation. Those truths cannot be watered down; the stumbling block of the cross cannot be removed (Gal. 5:11). Those who in any way tamper with the reality of sin and the true person and work of the Savior are purveyors of a false gospel (Gal. 1:8–9).
He Will … You Will
“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.”
Could anything be more exciting than being a coworker with God? I hardly think so. Yet this is what is promised to every faithful Christian in the pages of God’s Word. If your boss should call you up tomorrow morning and say, “I have been watching your work and have been very satisfied with it; I would like you to become a partner with me in directing the affairs of the company,” you would be thrilled. You would be even more thrilled if the call should come from the President of the United States asking you to be a member of his cabinet or a special counsel in the area of your expertise. How much more delighted should we be, then, that the sovereign and eternal God has appointed us coworkers with him in carrying the gospel of salvation to this world!
Where does God say that we are appointed coworkers with him or with Jesus Christ in this ministry? The passage I am thinking of as I use that word is 2 Corinthians 6:1, in which Paul says, “As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.”
The idea also occurs in the words of Christ in the midst of the final discourses as he instructs his disciples concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit. Here Christ says, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you … he will testify about me. And you also must testify” (John 15:26–27). He will testify … you must testify. It is the combination of these two testimonies, however strange it may seem, that God uses to exalt Christ and draw men and women to him. And yet, lest we get too carried away in thinking about being coworkers with God, we need to note that the Lord mentions the Spirit’s witness first and only after this does he mention our own. Our witness is necessary, but it is powerless without the presence and supernatural activity of God’s own Spirit. Only he can illuminate the unregenerate mind and move the rebellious will of man to embrace our Savior.
Witness of the Spirit
How does the Holy Spirit bear his witness? Or, to put it in slightly different words, in what does the testimony of the Holy Spirit consist? There are two answers. One is the work of the Holy Spirit in directing the writing of the books of our Bible. The other is the Spirit’s work in bringing those objective truths home to the subjective experience of the individual Christian.
The witness of the Spirit in directing the writing of the Bible is clearly involved in this section, for the next chapter goes on to speak of it explicitly. “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you” (16:13–14). “The truth” that was to be revealed is the truth of the Christian gospel, centering in Jesus’ ministry. It involved the past (“he will remind you,” 14:26) and future (“he will tell you what is yet to come,” 16:13). In this ministry there is special reference to the official role of the apostles as the recipients of the witness.
This is taught at several other key places in the Bible. Second Timothy 3:16 says: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” This verse teaches that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the result of the direct breathing out of God and that the vehicle of that divine “spiration” was the Holy Spirit.
Similarly, 2 Peter 1:21 teaches that the Holy Spirit directed the human writers of the Bible so that the work they produced, while still in one sense the work of men, was nevertheless precisely what God himself desired. The verse says, “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
This puts the Bible in a category of its own, for it is not like other books. It is true, if we speak only on a human level, that from time to time human authors are what we may choose to call inspired. That is, they are wrestling with a problem and then suddenly are confronted with a great solution or with an exceptional way of stating what they desire to say. They write it. Later, when we come to what they have done, we are so impressed that we say, “Well, he must certainly have been inspired when he wrote that.” But this is a loose use of language, and it is not what we are speaking about when we say that the Bible is inspired. When we speak of the Bible being inspired we mean that in a unique way the Holy Spirit came upon the human authors so that what they produced was what God desired, both in the whole and in its parts. It is this that makes the Bible distinct.
The Internal Witness
There is also a second way in which the Holy Spirit bears witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. He continues to bear a witness (present tense) by speaking through the Bible to carry the truths of the Bible home to the individual human mind and heart.
The experience of this truth is what lay at the heart of, and was fundamentally new in, the Protestant Reformation. When the Reformers spoke of the unique authority of the Scriptures they spoke of sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”). But this meant more to them than the simple idea that God had revealed himself to men through the Bible. The new element was not that the Bible, being given by God and through the channel of his Holy Spirit, speaks with God’s own authority. The Roman Church held to that as well as the Reformers. The new element was the Reformers’ belief, substantiated by the explicit teaching of Scripture and by their own personal experience of Bible study, that the Bible interprets itself to God’s people from within, due to the fact that the Holy Spirit has not ceased to speak through it to their hearts. It was this discovery that freed them from an improper and debilitating dependence upon traditions and the decrees of church councils. These may have had value, but they were ultimately unnecessary, for God is not only able to teach but also does teach his people without them.
What is this activity of God’s Spirit? The Reformers called it “the internal witness of the Holy Spirit,” for they wished to stress that it was the subjective or internal counterpart of the objective or external revelation embodied in the pages of the written Word of God.
Their own experience of Bible study taught them this, but they also noticed that this particular function of the Holy Spirit is repeatedly revealed in God’s Word. For example, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). Or again, from the last discourses, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26). Similarly, in his first epistle John writes of this, extending the principle from that special ministry of the Spirit toward the apostles to a more general ministry for all believers, “But you have an annointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. … As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him” (2:20, 27). Later in the same letter John adds, “It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth” (5:6).
Paul writes of the same reality. “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in words” (1 Cor. 2:12–13).
Comprehension, Conviction, Commitment
We may break this down a bit by asking, “When we say that the Holy Spirit speaks through the Bible to the individual heart, precisely what does the Holy Spirit do? What are the results of his ministry?” There are several answers.
First, the Holy Spirit gives comprehension. Apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit there is no understanding of spiritual things. The Bible is taught, but men and women do not comprehend it. The gospel is proclaimed forcefully, but the unregenerate consider it nonsense. What is wrong? Is it the nature of the Bible or the inability of the preacher? What is wrong is that the Holy Spirit has not yet granted understanding. This is what Paul is speaking about in 1 Corinthians 2 when he says, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (v. 14). Without the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, the unregenerate comprehend nothing of the gospel. On the other hand, where the Holy Spirit is at work, understanding follows. This is true regardless of the obstacles to comprehension.
In his discussion of this theme, R. A. Torrey refers to it as the explanation of something that every experienced Christian worker has noticed. He speaks of sitting down beside a person who has expressed a desire to know more about salvation through Christ and of trying to explain the gospel. The Bible is opened. Texts that speak of Jesus as the atoning, risen, and returning Savior are shown, but the inquirer does not see it. The truths are those the person needs to see and believe in order to be saved, but he stares blankly. He sees nothing. The worker goes over it again, but still there is no understanding. A third time! Suddenly, with face lighted up, the person exclaims, “Oh, I see it. I see it. Jesus is God, and he died for me. I only have to believe it to be saved.” He does believe it, and he is saved. What has happened? Torrey writes, “Simply this, the Holy Spirit has borne his testimony and what was dark as midnight before is as clear as day now. This explains also why it is that one who has been long in darkness concerning Jesus Christ so quickly comes to see the truth when he surrenders his will to God and seeks light from him.”
The second thing the Holy Spirit brings is conviction. This is necessary too because it is not enough merely to have a comprehension of spiritual things. Comprehension is necessary. But if we have a proper comprehension, this will involve an understanding of our own sin and we will need to be convicted of our sin. The next chapter speaks of this, for Jesus says, speaking of the Spirit, “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned” (John 16:8–11).
America will never experience a great revival until there is a deep and disturbing recognition and confession of both personal and national sin. It is the Holy Spirit’s work to bring such conviction.
Third, the Holy Spirit will also bring commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. Having comprehended the gospel and having been convicted of sin to the point of repentance, the one to whom the Holy Spirit bears his witness then commits himself to Christ as Lord and Savior.
We have an example of this in the story of Philip and the Ethiopian treasurer. The Ethiopian had been to Jerusalem to worship God and while there had apparently bought a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He was sincere in his search, but he did not understand spiritual things, so he was puzzled by what he read on his way back to Ethiopia. God sent Philip to him. When Philip arrived, the Ethiopian had come to Isaiah 53: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth” (Acts 8:32–33; cf. Isa. 53:7–8). He wanted to know of whom the prophet was speaking.
Philip taught him about Jesus and how he died for our sin, as Isaiah indicates. At this point, having been given understanding and having been convicted of his own sin, the Ethiopian asked to be baptized as a sign of his commitment. He said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (v. 37). This is what happens when the Holy Spirit is at work.
Is he at work in your heart? Do you know that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God, as he claimed to be, and do you understand that he died in your place, the just for the unjust, that he might save you from sin? Are you convicted of sin so that you are sorry for sin and willing to turn from it? Have you reached the point of committing yourself to Jesus? If you have, say, “Lord Jesus Christ, I am a sinner, but I believe that you are the Son of God and that you died for me. Accept me now as one of your children and help me to follow you faithfully until my life’s end.”
Finally, there is a word here for those who have heard the witness of the Spirit and responded to it. The Holy Spirit is witnessing, but you must also bear witness, and it is only because of his witness that yours has promise of succeeding. This is why Jesus, immediately after he has said, “The Spirit … will testify about me,” goes on to add, “and you also must testify” (v. 27).
Moreover, there is a reminder of what constitutes an effective human witness. There are three elements. First, there must be assurance that the gospel is indeed true. This is suggested in Christ’s reference to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth, for if the Spirit of truth has borne his witness to your mind and heart, one of the inevitable results will be your conviction that what he has testified to you concerning Christ is factual. There can be no true witness on your part without that, just as there can be no true conversion without it. John R. W. Stott, Rector Emeritus of All Souls’ Church in London, has said correctly, “No man or woman is truly converted who is not intellectually converted.” So, too, there is no true witness that is not at its heart a proclamation of facts that the witness knows beyond any doubt to be true.
Second, there must be a personal experience of that truth. In other words, it is not enough merely to be intellectually convinced of something, important as that may be. It is also necessary to have entered into the reality of it personally. This, Jesus indicates when he says, referring to the witness of the apostles, “And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” Today neither you nor I can reenact the experience of the apostles. But it is not altogether different to say that we must experience the Lord Jesus Christ as they did. Certainly we must spend time with him through our periods of personal Bible study and prayer. And we must attempt to put into practice what we learn of him in those sessions.
Finally, there must be a verbalized testimony. That is, you must speak about these things to others. It is not enough merely to be convinced of the truth of the Christian faith and have experienced it yourself. You must seek to tell others what you have known and experienced.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2008). John 12–21 (pp. 181–185). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 1195–1200). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.