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Ligonier Conference - Alistair Begg
March 20, 2009
This morning Alistair Begg preached on “The Breath of the Almighty: The Holy Spirit” and used as his text John 16:5-15. I jotted down some notes…
The nature of this topic, he said, makes it virtually horizonless. Considerations of any doctrine, but particularly this one, that are not grounded within the controls of the Bible itself, may lead to all kinds of flights of fancy. There has been as much confusion within evangelicalism about the person and work of the Spirit as there has been in any other part of the Bible.
There are many places we might have gone to in Scripture but Begg chose this one, John 16. The main dimension that is represented in these words which speak of the necessity of his departure. This news has been a source of consternation and grief.
He broke his talk into three parts:
1. The necessity of Christ’s departure
2. The identity of the Helper who is sent
3. The activity of this Helper or Counselor
The Necessity of Christ’s Departure
He tells them that he is leaving and reveals that this is to their advantage. If he does not go away, the Helper will not come to them. The disciples were clearly in need of his help but he told them not to be unduly troubled because help is on the way. We are familiar with all of this but it is perhaps helpful to ponder at what expense this promise was accomplished. Jesus is not just speaking to the pragmatic benefit of another Helper. If you read the gospels you’ll see the intimacy between the Father and the Son and it is meaningful and precious to Christ. Here he says he will ask the Father who will send this Helper on the Son’s behalf.
The nature of this necessity lies not just in the benefit to the disciples but in the entire drama of redemption. That which the Father planned, the Son in his death will procure, and that which the Son procures, the Spirit will apply. By the time the Apostles are writing their letters, that which is introduced in the gospels is being explained.
The Identity of the Helper
This word has a legal dimension of an advocate, but also has dimensions of counsel, guidance and so on. He is also called the Spirit of Truth.
We first need to notice that the Holy Spirit is a unique person and not simply a power or an influence. He is spoken of as “He,” not as “It.” This is a matter of import because many people refer to him in the neuter as an “it.” We have to understand that the third person of the Trinity is personal and as a person he may be grieved, as a power he may be quenched, in terms of the exercise of his will, he may be resisted.
Second, we need to see that he is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Son. It is the Father who is sending AND the Son who is sending and the Spirit acts for them both. The giving of the Spirit is never done in isolation from the work of Christ and the will of God.
Third, we need to see that the Holy Spirit was the agent of Creation. It is the breath of the Almighty that hovers over the face of the waters. It is the power and energy of the Spirit that is referenced in the act of Creation. It is the Spirit who is the irresistible power by which God accomplishes his will.
Fourth, we need to see that the Holy Spirit is the agent of God’s new creation in Christ—he is the author of the new birth.
Fifth, we need to see that he is the author of the Scriptures.
His identity is as “another” helper, another of the same kind rather than another of a different kind. He comes along side, he is the one whom Jesus says is with you and will be in you. His ministry is personal and permanent. He is the one who will remain with you forever.
The Activity of the Helper
What are the active dimensions to which Jesus introduces us here?
He will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness and judgment. What else would a Holy Spirit do? How could he come into an impure world without confronting the sin within it? We think of Jesus who, out of divine necessity, had to cleanse the temple. And the Holy Spirit also confronts the world by proving the world guilty—guilty of unbelief, of being out of line, of lives that are crooked, of culpability.
The work of the Spirit will be to bring the fact of that guilt home to the lives of individuals. You have a small foretaste of this before Christ dies on the cross. The two criminals are at first jeering at him but then the one thief turns to Jesus in faith. The Spirit of God confronted the thief at the very end of his life with the fact of his unbelief, with the fact that he faced the judgment of God.
In all of this the work of the Spirit is to be understood Christologically—always in the relationship to the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The activity of the Spirit is also to glorify Jesus. He takes what is Jesus’ and declare it to the world. He glorifies Christ both to the disciples and in the disciples. He comes and he makes his home with them. And as he does this, they become increasingly like him (because you become like people you spend time with). The communion to which Christ refers does not negate the dimension in each of our lives that we have a right expectation of intimate communion with God. Part of the work of the Spirit is to come to us when Satan rightly convicts us of sin to remind us that we have an advocate with the Father. It was a tremendous thing for Jesus to go away because until that time he was able to be in only one place. But the sending of the Spirit universalizes the person of Jesus. It also internalizes the presence of Jesus; he was with them but now he is in them. What is the ultimate work of the Holy Spirit if it is not to conform the child of God to the image of the Son of God? God’s eternal purpose is to conform us to the image of his Son. And this is what he does right now so that we are now being transformed into that same image. And when he finishes his work he will appear and we shall be like him. Everyone who has this hope within him purifies himself even as he is pure.