What would life be like for the pastor without the help of the Holy Spirit? What would life be like for all believers without “The Helper?” There are undoubtedly millions of people on the planet who know the answer to this question. If the Holy Spirit did not indwell one’s life at conversion, then all of life would consist of trying to suppress one’s own bondage to an indomitable sin nature, and stumbling around seeking after a God to whom there could never be access. Salvation, in essence, would be meaningless, for the practical impact in sanctification would never materialize. The pastor wouldn’t have a job, and even if divine provision were made so that he did, the task would be impossible. The “helping” nature of the Holy Spirit is absolutely imperative in ministry. In both Scripture and life, the role of the Holy Spirit is to point men to the enabling ministry of Christ. His operation is largely invisible, and it is that way on purpose. His objective is to promote the person and work of Christ Jesus so that the glories of the Father might be made known to a sinful humanity.
Largely because His work is invisible, the Holy Spirit is often subject to two extremes within the evangelical pulpit. In the first extreme, He is ignored as though He simply didn’t exist with no mention of His name or His function. The second extreme takes place when the Holy Spirit’s role is abused as churches pursue the next “spiritual experience” in the name of the Holy Spirit. Because of the magnitude of the Holy Spirit’s role, and the prevalence of these extremes, it is critical to keep an accurate view of Him while presenting the truth of the Scriptures from the pulpit.
In the New Testament, Jesus refers to the Spirit very precisely using a term that means “Helper,” or “Comforter.”12 While the Holy Spirit is alluded to throughout the New Testament, it is within the writings of the apostle John that the summit of this truth – the Holy Spirit as Helper – is visible in all of his glory. All five times that this term is used, it is within the writings of John. In fact, four times in John chapters 14-16, Jesus calls the Spirit “the Comforter.” As recorded by John, Jesus identified three aspects of the Spirit’s helping ministry. The first aspect is the Spirit’s ministry of conviction to the world. The second aspect relates to the Spirit’s helping ministry to those who proclaim the Word of God in directing others into truth. The third aspect is His helping ministry to all believers and involves guidance toward their glorification. Each of these categories holds important implications for those who proclaim the truth of the Bible.
12 Paraclete – “from paraklhtoj, meaning…when used in its widest sense, a helper, succorer, aider, assistant; so of the Holy Spirit destined to take the place of Christ with the apostles…Reveals the Holy Spirit as one who is always ready to help the Christian.” John F. Walvoord, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit: A Study in Pneumatology (Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1943), 19.
In John 14-16 Jesus has just informed the disciples that He is going to be taken away from them, but that another will come who has the ability to minister to them in the same way that Jesus had already done. The Savior was making clear to his followers that “God’s presence had blessed them particularly while Jesus was with them, and Jesus’ physical departure from them would mean for them His return in a spiritual, more universal presence.”13 That spiritual presence, which would comfort them, would be the person of the Holy Spirit dwelling in them.
The Spirit would be uniquely suited for his task, for “who, indeed, unless it be the Spirit, working freely in us, could support us in our sorrows, receive us when discouraged, heal our wounds, dry our tears, give us quietness, kindle in our hearts a living hope and accord us peace which passes all understanding?”14 This truth of the “The Helper” was vitally important to the original twelve disciples, and has been equally important to every other disciple of Christ in the following 2000 years. When Christ said that the Holy Spirit would be the Helper, He was saying that the Spirit would be the one “called alongside” to give aid, ministering the gospel of Christ the world, to those who proclaim the gospel, and to individual believers.
His Help to the World (John 16:7-11)
The first aspect of the Spirit’s helping ministry is to the world through bringing conviction. Without this work of conviction in the unbelieving world, the task of the preacher would be beyond difficult; it would be impossible. Conviction can only come through the power of the Spirit, and never through clever presentation. Indeed, as Christ Himself said, in this passage, the work of the disciples would be possible through the Spirit. “In light of the disciples’ responsibility to testify about Christ in the face of strong opposition, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to aid them. Part of the Holy Spirit’s assisting ministry would involve a work of convicting the world.”15
Why was this conviction necessary, and why is it necessary for the Spirit to convict the world in our own day? Apart from this work of the Spirit, no man would be able to find God, thus making it a hopeless task for pastors or believers to even attempt evangelism. “In view of the natural blindness of the human heart, and the inability of the natural man to understand the Gospel sufficiently to believe, apart from the convicting work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-11), it must be assumed that there is a continued work of the Holy Spirit in revealing to the lost the way of salvation.”16
The conviction that Jesus talks about here is not the expression of a strong disapproval, or getting the individual to simply say “I’m sorry.” The point is that He shows men their sin and guiltiness before a holy God. Without the aid of Helper, it would be absolutely impossible for anyone to realize their true condition of depravity. Even if this were possible, it would be equally difficult to try to convince someone else of that condition. Stated most straightforwardly, without the helping ministry of the Holy Spirit, evangelism and salvation would be impossible.
13 James W. Cox, “The Helper We Must Have,” Review and Expositor 94, (1997): 90.
14 Rene Pache, The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit (Chicago: Moody Press, 1954), 150.
15 John Aloisi, “The Paraclete’s Ministry of Conviction: Another Look at John 16:8-11.” JETS 47, no. 1 (March 2004): 56.
16 Walvoord, Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, 258.
A specific understanding of the conviction that the Spirit brings is clearly laid out in the passage where the Spirit is said to “convict of sin, righteousness, and judgment.” The reference to sin is not speaking of all the evil acts that people have done. It is rather addressing the life of an individual and all encompassing action. “Man is condemned before God not because he is a sinner, but because, being in a state of sin, he has refused to believe in the Savior and accept His pardon…There is none to whom He does not impart a sense of guilt, whether it be through the Scriptures or simply by his conscience (Rom. 2:14, 15).”17 The Spirit helps in convicting men of this sin of unbelief.
With regard to righteousness, the Spirit works to convict the world of its hypocritical righteousness, and help them see exactly where they truly stand before a Holy God. Without the Spirit, man is utterly capable of feeling good about himself for his external goodness, but when the Spirit turns on the flood lamps of inspection and conviction, the reality of man’s internal nature is fully revealed. The Holy Spirit shows the world that where Christ was perfectly righteous and made a sacrifice acceptable to God, the race who condemned Him was infinitely unrighteous.
Finally, in relation to the judgment mentioned in this passage, the Spirit works to demonstrate that the world will be judged by the standard of Christ’s righteousness. The Helper has indeed come, and it is part of His ministry to show that the same standard by which Christ’s sacrifice was judged, will the same standard applied to the judgment of individual people. Thus, the work of Christ upon the cross is the standard by which all judgment will be made, whether righteous or unrighteous.
Finally, the Spirit’s role as a Helper in bringing conviction to the world makes the job of the exegete possible. Without the Spirit’s work, no amount of exposition or explanation would move the heart of the hearer. It is here, where the ability of the Proclaimer ends, that the aid of the Helper begins. In the next month’s article, this aid to the preacher of the gospel, and the aid to believers individually will be further examined.
17 Pache, Person of the Holy Spirit, 57.
Pulpit Magazine Vol. 02. No. 1 January 2013