The Helper is to your advantage (John 16:7-11)

“There is no way that Your going away is to our advantage!” This is not in the biblical text, but I suspect that more than one of Jesus’ disciples had this thought when the Lord told them, in John 16:7-11, that He was going away to the Father.

But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.

Once again, we are in the Upper Room as Jesus is giving His disciples final instructions and preparing them for what is to come. In a few hours, Jesus will be arrested, tried as a criminal, scourged, and crucified, and thus He will accomplish the work He was given to do (John 17:4). But now He has a couple of last hours to spend with His apostles. One of the most important teachings of this discourse is Jesus’ teaching here on the Holy Spirit.

SENDING THE HELPER

Jesus has told His disciples that He is going to the Father (John 16:5), “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away.” Before the disciples break out in a panic, Jesus explains that He is going to send the Helper to them (16:7). Who is this Helper? They have already learned about this Helper, the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). He is a member of the Trinity, fully God and worthy to be worshiped. But more than that, Jesus introduces Him as the Helper. That means that one of His primary roles is that of helping the followers of the Lord Jesus. And, while Jesus, because He had taken on a body of flesh, was localized in one place at one time, the Holy Spirit can be in multiple places. Thus, the Helper can be helping believers in far-flung places at the same time. Jesus must go, but He will send the Helper to them.

CONVICT THE WORLD

The primary area in which the Helper will help the disciples is in the area of fulfilling the mission that Jesus will give them. After His resurrection, but before He ascends to heaven, the risen and victorious Lord Jesus commissions His church to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20) and to be His witnesses in all the earth (Acts 1:8). Their primary “weapon” is the gospel, but their source of power is the Holy Spirit. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you (Acts 1:8).” And so, the weak and mortal and often-fearful disciples of Jesus go out into the world empowered by the divine Holy Spirit. And what will the Helper, the Holy Spirit, do? “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:8).” The Holy Spirit, then, is the One who works in the hearts and minds of unbelievers to bring a sense of guilt on the ungodly. He will convince the wicked of their fault, and He will show the unrighteous their sin. The church proclaims, but the Helper brings conviction. This is a huge advantage.

CONCERNING SIN

“concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me (16:9).”

Fallen man is sinful by nature and by choice. The natural man is a slave of sin (John 8:34) and he loves the darkness and hates the Light (John 3:19-20). For the world, sin is enjoyable, and the world does not mind evil at all. Those who do not believe in Jesus have no one and nothing to convict them of sin, and so they continue in their wickedness.

But there are some among the ungodly, some who do not believe in Jesus whom the Father is calling and drawing (John 6:44), and for these, the Helper begins convicting them concerning sin. The Helper, the Holy Spirit, is speaking to their mind and to their heart and changing their view of sin. For these whom the Helper is convicting, sin is gradually losing its pleasure. Because of the Holy Spirit’s conviction, sin begins to look less appealing and more disgusting. Eventually, under the Holy Spirit’s conviction, those who did not believe in Jesus repent of their sin and forsake their sin and believe in Jesus. This is a huge advantage.

CONCERNING RIGHTEOUSNESS

“concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me (16:10).”

For the duration of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the world had a vivid display of perfect righteousness. Wherever Jesus was, there righteousness was displayed. And when Jesus was around, the unrighteousness of everyone else in the world was painfully evident. When Jesus was there, you were automatically convicted of your unrighteousness by comparison. But Jesus is going to the Father, and who will convict the world of their unrighteousness now?

The Helper is the Person who convicts the world of unrighteousness now that Jesus has gone to heaven. The Holy Spirit speaks to the minds and hearts of the unrighteous and convicts them. “Your words are vile.” “Your thoughts are wicked.” “All you care about is you.” “You know that you just lied to her.” “God condemns your hatred.” There is no longer conviction by comparison; now there is direct conviction from the Helper. And this is a big advantage.

CONCERNING JUDGMENT

“concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged (16:11).”

When Jesus was on earth, he warned the world concerning the final judgment and urged people to repent of their sin and to believe in Him. His message of coming judgment was clear, even though most hearers ignored His warnings. But now Jesus is going to the Father. Who is going to convict the world about the perils of the coming judgment?

Jesus has not left the world without a witness but has called His church to proclaim the gospel and to warn the world of the judgment to come. The church now has the responsibility to warn the world of coming judgment, and the Helper is the one who brings conviction on the world when the church proclaims. The final judgment of the world should bring fear into the hearts of all unrepentant sinners, but the world scoffs and mocks (Genesis 19:14; 2 Peter 3:3-7). But while most of the world scoffs and mocks, the Helper convicts some in the world of the peril of the final judgment. Under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, some will begin to hear and to fear. Some will cry out for salvation (Acts 16:30). Some will be cut to the quick (Acts 2:37). Some will heed the warning and will flee from the wrath to come (Matthew 3:7). This is the conviction of the Helper, and it is a huge advantage.

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The question of the conscience (Romans 2:15)

The issue in the book of Romans is righteousness, that is, a right standing before God. Paul’s theological masterpiece describes how God legally grants righteousness to those who are manifestly unrighteous and sinful, and who, because of their unrighteousness, deserve His wrath and condemnation. The means of obtaining this righteousness is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).” If a person hears and responds to the gospel, they will be saved (Romans 10:9-10), but if they do not, they remain condemned (John 3:18, 36).

AWARENESS OF SIN

One of the critical components of the gospel message is for a person to come to an awareness of their own sin. This is where the conscience fits in. God has created man as a moral creature, and that means that we are all accountable to God for every disobedience of His commandments. So that we can know when we have broken one of God’s commandments, God has given every human being a conscience. And what does the conscience do?

            Romans 2:15 puts it this way:

They (the Gentiles) show that the work of the Law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.

            Paul is saying that the conscience makes the sinner aware of their sin by functioning like a copy of the Law written on their heart. The same God who issued His holy Law at Sinai is the God who has, by the conscience, written a copy of His Law on every human heart. So, when you or I violate one of God’s commandments, our conscience is provoked and accuses us of sin, and we experience guilt, as we should. And this is true for every human being, regardless of any external factors. God has given everyone a conscience so that we would all be aware of our sin and would, perhaps, seek for the Savior.

            But is the conscience enough to bring about salvation? No, it is not. The conscience renders all people guilty of violating God’s Law but offers no relief from the guilt. My conscience merely leaves me without excuse, justly deposited on death row without an apparent hope of pardon. My conscience reveals to me my unrighteousness but tells me nothing about where righteousness lies. The necessary bridge between a guilty conscience and the joy of righteousness is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only by faith in the crucified and risen Lord that my guilt is washed away.

APPLICATION

            Because all people have a conscience, all people should be aware of their sin and guilt. In our evangelism, then, we can be confident that some will be sensitive to their own unrighteousness and will be open to hearing about a forgiving Savior.

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Why are you doing that? (Romans 10:2-3)

SCENE 1

The squirrels had been in my attic for a while now. I could hear them overhead, running the length of the attic as they played in my insulation. It was driving me crazy. I hated those squirrels. “How are they getting into my attic?” Then one day I was standing in the front yard and saw a squirrel cross the street and head directly toward my house. It climbed up the trunk of a small tree near the house, jumped onto a branch of the tree, which bent under the weight and then sprung back up, catapulting the squirrel onto the roof of my house. “Oh ho! That’s how they are getting onto my roof and into my attic!” So, the next Saturday I was out with my tree saw and started to cut down the tree that the squirrels were using as a catapult. My neighbor wandered over to me and asked,

“Why are you doing that?”

“What do you mean, ‘Why am I doing that?’ I am cutting down this tree because I don’t want squirrels in my attic!” He shook his head and smiled and said, “Cutting down that tree won’t stop squirrels. You know, squirrels can just climb up the brick on the outside of your house and get onto your roof.”

            I began to feel just a tiny bit stupid, realizing that he might be right, but I continued cutting down the tree anyway. “There,” I said, as the small tree sunk to the ground. “That will stop them!” My victory was short-lived, however. About two hours later, I felt chagrined and outmatched as I watched that same squirrel scamper up the corner of my house, using the brick as you or I would use a sidewalk, pop over onto the roof and then disappear into my attic.

            What had just happened? Because of my ignorance of the real nature of the problem, I had employed a strategy that could never get me the results I wanted. I wanted to get rid of the squirrels in my attic, so I cut down the tree. No good. Waste of time. Bad idea.

            Now, other than a little bit of humiliation in the eyes of my neighbor, my blunder had no real consequences. No big deal. Lost a tree and kept the squirrels. Oh, well.

SCENE 2       

For the next scene, we turn to the Bible as Paul is applying the truths of the gospel to his Jewish countrymen in Romans 10. Paul presents a troubling scenario. Paul writes, “For I testify about them (his Jewish brethren), that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge (10:2). For not knowing about God’s righteousness (that is, not knowing about salvation by grace through faith in Jesus the Messiah), and seeking to establish their own (by religious works), they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God (10:3).”

            So, what I want to do is frame this scenario in terms of the incident with the squirrels in my attic, because these scenes are similar. Let’s say that an observer was talking to one of Paul’s friends, who was a Pharisee.

“I see that you are really zealous about doing religious things. You fast twice a week. You tithe from all that you get. You pray long prayers on the street corners. You always wash your hands before you eat, and you never do any work on the Sabbath. Everyone knows that you give to the poor. I’ve heard you even cast out demons and occasionally do a miracle! But . . . “

“Why are you doing that?”

            The Pharisee replied, “Because I want to be righteous, of course!” The observer sadly shook his head and said, “Doing all these religious works does not make you righteous. In fact, no amount of religious works can EVER make you righteous. Do all your works, but your sin will remain.”

            The Pharisee said, “That’s nonsense! Anyone can see that I am more righteous than you! I know that my religious works please God.”

            Once more, the other man tried to get through. “Actually, in Isaiah 64:6 the prophet says, ‘All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.’ The only way to be righteous is to believe in Jesus the Messiah.”

            For a brief moment it seemed that the Pharisee was considering what had just been said. Did Isaiah really say that thing about the filthy garment? And if he did say that what might that mean for me? Could my Rabbi be wrong? Could I be wrong? Could this guy be right? Then the mental window slammed shut. “I don’t need to be taught by you!” he said. “I will continue to work my works!”

            What had just happened? Because of the Pharisee’s ignorance of the real nature of righteousness, he was employing a strategy that could never get him the results he wanted. He wanted righteousness, but he is trying to obtain his righteousness by his own works. No good. Waste of time. Bad idea.

            But it is right at this point that things radically change. For while my blunder with the squirrels cost me a small tree and a little bit of embarrassment, the Pharisee’s error will cost him an eternity in hell. You see, “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness for all who believe (Romans 10:4).” The only possible way to obtain righteousness before the Holy One, the God of heaven, is to believe in Jesus the Messiah. This is not a preference issue. This is not a question of semantics. This is not an issue where you go at your way and I go at it my way and then we will probably both get there eventually. If the Pharisee does not change his mind and repent and bow the knee to Jesus the Messiah, he will never obtain any righteousness. In fact, he will miss righteousness by an eternity.

SCENE 3

            The final scene is a lunch discussion between me and Jack. Jack is a business associate of mine. We have developed a bit of a friendship and know a little bit about each other. I know that Jack is a Catholic, and we have had a couple of discussions about each other’s religious views. On this occasion, I have steered the conversation in the religious direction again.

            “So, as a Catholic, what sorts of things do you do? In other words, what religious things do Catholics do?”

            “We have talked about this before, Roy, but anyway. We do confession and we do the Mass every Sunday with the Eucharist. We do some ‘our Fathers’ and some ‘hail Marys.’ Some people do the rosary. We pray to various saints. Like that.”

“Why are you doing that?”

“What do you mean, ‘Why am I doing that?’ I am doing these things because I don’t want to go to hell!”

At that moment, I felt like the neighbor who was telling me the truth about squirrels or like the “other guy” who was telling the Pharisee the truth about righteousness. Jack said that he wanted to avoid hell, but he was pursuing a strategy that guaranteed that he would arrive there. He had adopted the Catholic plan which promises that good Catholics will avoid God’s wrath by doing religious things. For Catholics, trying to do your best and obeying the Catholic Church will at least get you into Purgatory. These are the inventions of the Catholic Church that keep people from hearing the truth.

So, I tried to explain to Jack that this was not a preference issue. I tried to tell him that there was no such thing as Purgatory (“Jack, I think you have a hole in your parachute.”) I told him that Jesus died to atone for sin, so there is no longer an ongoing sacrifice needed through the Mass. The priest has no authority to forgive sins or to give you any sort of penance that you can do to remove your sin. But my words fell on hard ground and we basically left the restaurant a tiny bit incensed with one another and probably a little more polarized.

The lesson from this is that we must be clear about what is wisdom and what is absolute truth. With regard to salvation, we must insist that there is no room for compromise or personal preference. When the fireman crashes your door down with an axe, it is not so he can debate with you whether your house is on fire. For everyone of us, our house is on fire, and there is only one way to safety. His name is Jesus.

For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness for all who believe.

Romans 10:4

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Drive out, destroy, and demolish (Number 33:52-55)

“How is it that a man or a woman who has recently come to faith in Jesus Christ is transformed from a person with filthy habits and cherished sins and wicked ways of thinking into a sanctified believer whom Jesus Christ is not ashamed to call a brother or a sister (Hebrews 2:11)?” For when you initially repented of your sins and trusted in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you were immediately “seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6),” because spiritually you were as justified as you would ever be. That is, when you “passed from death to life (John 5:24)” at the instant of your salvation, you were 100% fully saved. Through faith in Jesus, you had been declared righteous. You had been acquitted. There was, therefore, then and now, no condemnation (Romans 8:1) for you . . . ever, throughout all eternity. You were no longer under God’s wrath and never would be again. Legally and spiritually, everything had changed forever. BUT morally and in terms of practical holiness, you still had your old filthy habits and cherished sins and wicked ways of thinking. In terms of growing in holiness, your direction had changed 180 degrees, from running toward sin to running toward obedience to God, but your moral location was unchanged. From God’s perspective, you were a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17); the old had gone, the new had come, but from everyone else’s perspective, you were the same old you. So, again I ask, how is it that a disciple of Jesus grows into a holy person who can “let their light shine before men (Matthew 5:16)?”

Now, I am not changing subjects when I turn our attention to Numbers 33: 52-55 and ask, “How can the land of Canaan, that has been polluted by pagan idolatry and pagan immorality, be made suitable for the people of the Holy One, the LORD of Israel?” In this passage, the LORD gives His people Israel direct commands for what they are to do to transform the land of Canaan into a land worthy of the LORD. We will examine these instructions carefully, because what the LORD tells Israel to do literally to “sanctify” the land of Canaan will serve as a model for what we need to do figuratively to sanctify our lives and to grow in practical holiness.

In Numbers 33:52-55, then, the LORD gives the people of Israel a series of commands and then issues a warning.

  • “You shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land (52a).” The inhabitants of Canaan will be a constant source of temptation to return to idolatry and to pagan immorality. You must drive out this poison that is leaking into the land or you will fall to these temptations.
  • You shall “destroy all their figured stones (52b).” Figured stones were carvings that reminded them of their pagan gods. The pagans viewed them as cute and harmless, but the LORD viewed them as abominations. Because these figured stones reminded the Canaanites of their cherished gods, the stones must be destroyed.
  • You shall “destroy all their metal images (52c).” Metal images served the same purpose as the figured stones (above) in that these images kept the false gods in their minds and reminded them when it was time to worship. These images and stones kept the people enslaved to these idols. They must be smashed.
  • You shall “demolish all their high places (52d).” The high places were scattered all over the land to provide convenient places for pagan worship. They were like shrines or stone altars. The pagan could get in a short worship session without interrupting the flow of their day. These were to be demolished so that no one could use them again.

Notice that these first four commands called for violent, intentional action. “Forcefully, violently drive out the pagans until there are none left” was the idea. Get rid of them completely. Drive them out like a nest of vipers or like a hive of hornets. Eradicate them! Show no pity or compromise. Destroy their objects of worship and their reminders of their false gods. Smash them! Pulverize them! Leave no trace! Demolish their places of worship. Scrape them clean like you were wiping a dish. There is to be no remnant of these high places because remnants allow for revival and return. Demolish them so that they cannot be found.

  • “You shall take possession of the land (53a).” Now that the pagan residents have been driven out (52a), the void must be filled with the holy people. (Matthew 12:43-45 as a warning passage.) Now the LORD’s people are to move in and fill the land and subdue it (Genesis 1:28). They are to make this land a place where loud and public worship of the LORD fills the land from Dan to Beersheba.

Now we have seen the prescription for what the people of Israel were to do to transform the land of Canaan into a land suitable for the holy people of the LORD. The transformation required violent, intentional action that would continue until the land had been purged of its former ungodliness.

            This picture of transformation of the physical land gives us a blueprint for how we can transform our spiritual selves and grow in sanctification. First, we see that sanctification requires intentional, “violent” action.

  • The disciple of Jesus must figuratively drive out the former inhabitants of the land. The habits of the “old man” must be driven out, or they will be a constant source of temptation to drag you back into sin. Drive out the default behaviors and the cherished old sins. Drive them out of your mind and replace them with renewed, godly thoughts (Ephesians 4:23; Romans 12:2).
  • To grow in holiness and to walk worthy of the gospel (Ephesians 4:1), the disciple of Jesus must gather and then destroy all reminders of the idols of the past. Books must be thrown out. Old sinful songs must be erased and deleted. Photographs must go and phone numbers must be deleted. Websites are disconnected. Indulgences and distractions and wastes of time and entertainments that do not edify must be destroyed. This “search and destroy” mission must be ruthless. You desire to have nothing left that will drag you backwards into old sin.
  • Your sanctification will require that you “demolish the former high places.” This means that you go no longer to the places where you formerly went to celebrate your sin. These are your old “places of worship,” either mentally in your mind or physically with your feet.
  • Finally, after you have begun to drive out the former inhabitants, and have begun to destroy the reminders of your former idols, and have started to demolish all the old “shrines” and “altars” where you used to practice your former sins, then you need to move in and “take possession of the land.” What does this look like for the disciple that wants to grow in sanctification? I think this means that you move into your faith with vigor. You embrace the means of grace. You become intimately familiar with your Bible by spending hours reading the words of the living God. You sit under godly teachers and humbly receive the word implanted (James 1:21). You move into a local church and you learn what it means to love other believers who are very different from you. You take possession of serving and of giving and of encouraging and of doing things you don’t necessarily want to do for the benefit of others because that’s a disciple of Jesus does. You take possession of your faith and seek to bear fruit, thirty, sixty, a hundredfold. If you are patient and persistent in these activities of driving out the old inhabitants and destroying the reminders and demolishing the memories of your former sinful ways, and if you will take possession of your faith with vigor and enthusiasm and go deep with the Lord, then you will see the fruit of a transformed life.

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Celebrate Repentance (Colossians 3:5)

The other day I did a Google Search to find all the Celebrate Repentance groups there are in Charlotte, NC. Surprisingly, even in a city of Charlotte’s size, I did not find a single one. That meant that if such a group were going to exist, someone like me would need to start it.

Of course, this is a fictional organization. Celebrate Repentance as an organization does not exist, but I think that it should. And so, I began conceiving of what this group would look like. Although there are many passages in Scripture that speak about repentance, there are two that would be foundational to my group:

Luke 13:3, 5 and Colossians 3:5

LUKE 13:3, 5 – THE CALL IS TO REPENT OR PERISH

Jesus spoke with some people who supposed that a sudden, tragic end to life occurred only to those people who were rebellious and really wicked. In other words, “Of course the bad guys get punished. They deserved it, but the rest of us are okay.” Jesus used that occasion to speak about the universal sinfulness of man and the universal need for repentance. “I tell you unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:3).” To make sure that these people did not ignore His warning and imagine, instead, that He was speaking only in hyperbole, Jesus gave another story and restated His warning: “I tell you, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (13:5).” Jesus made a big deal out of repentance, so Celebrate Repentance would make a big deal out of repentance.

COLOSSIANS 3:5 – THE CALL TO PUT OUR SINS TO DEATH

In Colossians, Paul is writing to Gentile Christians who have recently been delivered from the pagan world of idolatry and immorality (“the domain of darkness” – Colossians 1:13) and been “transferred into the kingdom of His beloved Son (1:13).” To make sure that these disciples show the fruit of repentance and begin to display holiness, Paul gives them direct instruction: “Therefore, put to death the members which are upon the earth: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (Colossians 3:5).” Paul made a big deal about disciples of Jesus putting sin to death, so Celebrate Repentance would make a big deal out of putting sin to death.

From these two foundational passages there emerge two basic questions that would define the content for the local Celebrate Repentance chapter:

  1. What does it mean for the disciple of Jesus to REPENT?
  2. How doe the disciple of Jesus PUT SIN TO DEATH?

I anticipate that there would be two groups of people attending these meetings of Celebrate Repentance. One group wants to vanquish their indwelling sin and to cut it out of their life like a malignant cancer, and the other group wants to learn some new tools to better cope with their indwelling sin and to find some fellow travelers who could join them in their coping journey. These two groups are separated by a wide chasm, although they seem the same in outward appearance. What is it, then, that distinguishes a person from being a member of one group or the other?

A member of “the vanquish group” has mentally brought a scalpel to the meeting, and they are willing to use it. They have identified their sin and they have sharpened their dagger, but up till now, they have not learned how to use the dagger effectively enough to kill their foe. It seems that every time they think the quarry is in their sights, it somehow dodges the bullet. In fact, the reason they have come to the Celebrate Repentance meeting is to learn how to wield the dagger with skill so that the sin is put to death. A member of this “vanquish group” hates their sin and has come ready for war.

By contrast, a member of “the coping group” has brought no scalpel and no dagger to the meeting. They may have identified their indwelling sin, but they have no current plan or desire to kill that sin. While they do not like the effects the sin is having on their life and they are a little ashamed that they haven’t gotten rid of it yet, they have not resolved to kill the sin and to do violence to it. They do not hate the sin; truth be known, there are times when they still enjoy the sin, even though they know they should not.

The vanquish group” will find fellow warriors in the Celebrate Repentance group who are willing to give them ammunition and tactics for putting sin to death. The “coping group” will probably decide that they need to find another group that “knows more about grace” and allows them to continue in their sin as they continue to “struggle” with their sin.

Celebrate Repentance would indeed be a celebration of the freedom that we have in Christ to live as conquerors (Romans 8:37). Repentance is the weapon that appropriates for us the freedom that Christ bought for us on the cross. “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed (John 8:36).” We were slaves of sin, but now we are slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:18), and Celebrate Repentance would give you the comrades and the tactics to trample sin underfoot and to rejoice in the holiness we were meant to have (1 Peter 1:16).

What do you think of this idea of Celebrate Repentance?

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