ACST 37: The Guide

SDC11547Jesus described the Holy Spirit’s ministry in some detail. He said “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”[1] That description of the Holy Spirit’s ministry suggests a number of principles which help believers understand whether a word or thought is from him:

1. He is the Spirit of truth. No teaching or action or policy that involves deception or false implications is of the Holy Spirit. By contrast, any teaching or action or policy that champions and celebrates truth might possibly be from the Holy Spirit. One has to be careful, because the Adversary is quite capable of using many truths to hide his lies. However, truthfulness and honesty in ministry is a telling sign of the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

2. His purpose is to guide the church into all the truth. He is not simply one to champion or reveal a part of the truth, and let believers go on living with lies and half-truths in other areas of their lives. His veracity is comprehensive. His goal is to help believers understand and communicate the whole counsel of God.

3. The Holy Spirit acts as an emissary. He is an agent of Jesus Christ, delivering Christ’s counsel, and forwarding Christ’s commands. He is not a free agent – which means that he is not given authority to rescind or reinterpret what Jesus said as recorded in the Gospels. Instead, he is responsible to those words. Just as Jesus submitted to the Father in all things, so the Holy Spirit has submitted to Christ’s will and words in what he has done. That is his function. He continues the task of making disciples of all nations with all the same rules and policies intact.

4. His ultimate goal is to glorify Christ, just as Christ’s ultimate goal is to glorify the Father. To glorify someone is to enhance his reputation. For example, I glorify my wife by praising her for what a good wife she is to me. I also glorify her by living a good life and being a good husband and father myself. My actions reflect upon her because we have a relationship. When the Holy Spirit does great things it reflects upon the greatness of Christ.

The Holy Spirit accomplishes all these things (at least partly) by working with and within the church. He guides believers upon the Christ-track. He keeps them from getting off the Christ-track. He exerts influence – the same kind of influence that Christ did as he walked the desert roads of Galilee and Judea.

It take a Person

When God decided to step into the mess that this planet had become he cared enough to send the very best. He sent a person: Jesus of Nazareth. When Jesus decided to continue his ministry after he left for heaven, he did not change plans. He sent another like himself. This was the meaning behind Jesus’ prediction that the Father would send another helper.[2] That word another means another of the same kind.[3] Since Jesus had begun the rescue of humanity from Satan’s grasp, it stands to reason that the one sent after him would be like him – a person.

Humanity has always been cheated by the gods (spirit-beings represented by the idols) who offer another way. The gods of the nations suggest that humans can manipulate their environment in order to get better luck, or harm an opponent. The suggestion involves the assumption that this world operates by means of impersonal, mechanistic laws. The gods behind pagan idolatry teach that what humans need is power to control the way things are. If you have the right source of power, you can get things going to your advantage regardless of your relationship with God.

Into that atmosphere, Jesus came preaching that the kingdom of God is not a matter of just doing acts of righteousness, but of being children of our heavenly Father.[4] What matters is not power, but relationship and living up to that relationship. That is why it was necessary for Christ to come as a teacher. He showed us how to live like children of God. An impersonal influence could not have done that.

Likewise, when Jesus left us to go back to his heavenly Father and ours, he entrusted the task of guiding us into God’s footsteps with another person: the Holy Spirit.

He is a person

In chapter 16 the major arguments for the personality of the Holy Spirit were presented in summary form, but this is an important place to review and accentuate that summary. Seeing the Holy Spirit as a person is not just important to give evidence for the doctrine of the Trinity. It also helps believers better understand who the Holy Spirit is, and what kind of role he plays in our lives.

Masculine Pronouns

Especially when the ministry of the Holy Spirit is being explained, the scriptures use masculine pronouns to refer to him:

John 14:17 “…even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”

John 14:26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

John 15:26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”

John 16:13-14 “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

If the authors the Gospels wanted to preserve the concept of the Holy Spirit as an influence or power from God, they would have only had to substitute the neuter definite article for all of these masculine ones. To do so would have been consistent with the word spirit as it is neuter.[5] The choice of the Gospel writers to use the masculine definite article accentuates all the other evidence of the personality of the Holy Spirit.

He Initiates Actions

The Holy Spirit takes the initiative and does things that no mere influence can do:

John 15:26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”

Romans 8:14 “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

John 14:26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

John 16:15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

1 Corinthians 2:10-11 “…these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”

Romans 8:26 “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

1 Corinthians 12:8-11 “To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

So, the Holy Spirit is not simply an instrument in God’s hands. He is a person who the Father uses to perform his will, just as Christ is.

He Can Receive Actions

Personhood involves the ability to receive and respond to other actions as well. Those who deny that the Holy Spirit is a person often see the actions above as having been simply actions of the Father. So, the Holy Spirit is simply another term for God in action. But why would the scriptures specifically point out the Holy Spirit as the recipient of certain actions if the term was merely a nickname for the Father? The New Testament speaks of the Holy Spirit as being acted upon:

Acts 5:3 “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?’”

Acts 5:9 “But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.””

Mark 3:28-29 “”Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin””

The Holy Spirit’s Role As Discipler

Discipling requires acting in such a way that the way to live is communicated in both words and deeds. Jesus could do that because he could show his disciples how to live and he could explain to them the principles of God’s kingdom. The Holy Spirit can do the same thing – through us. He uses our tongues to speak, and our hands to heal. As a disciple, he continues what Jesus started by using disciples to make new disciples. He reveals God to the unbeliever; explains God to the ignorant, and shows God’s love and power to the needy. Just as Jesus was the world’s guide to God’s new covenant life, so the Holy Spirit takes up that responsibility – through the church.

In The Spirit

That is why when the church is said to do anything significant it is said to do it “in the Spirit” or “in the Holy Spirit.” Our actions as believers are guided (and – yes, influenced) by the Holy Spirit. He is living out Christ’s life through us:

Acts 19:21 “Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.””

Romans 8:9 “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”

Romans 9:1 “I am speaking the truth in Christ- I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit-“

Romans 14:17 “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

1 Corinthians 12:3 “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 14:2 “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.”

Ephesians 6:18 “…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints”

Philippians 2:1-2 “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Colossians 1:7-8 “… Epaphras … has made known to us your love in the Spirit.”

1 Thessalonians 1:5 “because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.”

Jude 1:20 “But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit

Revelation 1:10-11 “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, ‘Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches…’”

Revelation 4:2 “At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.”

Being a disciple takes more than some extra strength from a supernatural power. It involves a lifetime of decisions based on principles that sometimes seem to contradict each other. In those cases, what is needed is not a force that leans the disciple in the right direction. What is needed is a Counselor who can work with the believer to get her to see God’s will against a background of several good or bad possibilities.

The NIV translation of the Bible uses the word Counselor to translate the title Jesus uses for the Holy Spirit.[6] A friend of mine objected to the term because it made him think of a staff member of a camp, complete with shorts and a whistle. He argued that the Holy Spirit is more than that. That is true. The Holy Spirit is more than that. Yet, the term is helpful to understand the special role that God’s Holy Spirit has is helping disciples be disciples. He is a person who resides in us, and helps us be the kind of people who reflect Christ’s glory by doing what Christ wants us to do.

When Christians Fail

One final question must be introduced at this point. If disciples of Christ are being counseled by the Holy Spirit, why is it that they often say or do the wrong thing. Christians make mistakes, and sometimes intentionally sin. The simplest answer is that Christians have the freedom to reject the Holy Spirit’s influence just as those who sat under Christ’s discipling ministry did. The guidance of the Holy Spirit is not overwhelming. We are still free to choose our own path even when the Guide is showing us the correct one. If the Holy Spirit were simply an influence from God, it stands to reason that the influence would be effective. But since the Holy Spirit is a person, everyone who hears his voice has the option to heed it or reject it. When Christians fail their heavenly Father it is because they choose to ignore the counsel of the Counselor. We always live to regret those choices.

Learning to Be Sensitive to His Counsel

Christians sometimes are so busy doing their own thing that they leave no room for the Holy Spirit to do his thing. The Bible calls that quenching the Holy Spirit.[7] In that metaphor, the Holy Spirit is like a fire, and believers who are not sensitive to his counsel put the fire out. He wants to accomplish some things in our lives but often we have our own agendas and do not let him do his work.

Willful sin in disciples’ lives can bring emotional grief to the Holy Spirit.[8] This also can leave disciples unaware of their master’s will, because it further reduces their ability to hear his voice. We bring sorrow to the person that Jesus gave us for our own joy and strength. He will never leave us, but he will only do for us what we allow him to.

Becoming more sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s guidance involves several steps.

1) Repent of all known sin, and ask the Lord to reveal any unintentional sins.

2) Get into the Bible on a regular basis so that you can know God’s revealed will. Read the whole Bible, not just the parts you think you understand or the parts you think are relevant.

3) Pray for guidance on issues where the Bible is silent or your understanding of it is unclear.

4) Discuss issues and plans with other Christians because the Holy Spirit works through spiritual gifts possessed by the body of Christ, the church.

5) Also read the writings of other Christians on the subject, since the Holy Spirit is not limited to speaking through this generation or people in your present location or denomination.

God has given us another Wonderful Counselor in the Holy Spirit. His ministry is as various as he is, but part of what he does is guide believers so that they learn his word correctly, and make the right decisions in life. May we be the generation that takes full advantage of this awesome gift.


[1] John 16:13-14.

[2] John 14:16.

[3] The Greek word is allelos, as opposed to heteros, which means another of a different kind.

[4] Matthew 5:16, 45,48; 6:1,9,14,26,32; 7:11,21.

[5] The Hebrew word ruach is both masculine and feminine. Hebrew does not have a neuter gender. It may be that the Greek pneuma suggests the same kind of versatility, not the absence of personality, but a title that could fit either gender.

[6] John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7.

[7] 1 Thessalonians 5:19.

[8] Ephesians 4:30.

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