Sermon on John 15:26-27 – “The Witness of the Spirit”

Sermon for Sunday, July 19th, 2020 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Gen 1:1-5 ESV] 1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

New Testament reading:

[Eph 1:3-14 ESV] 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Gospel reading and sermon text:

[Jhn 15:26-27 ESV] 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. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

INTRODUCTION

At the end of chapter 15 of John’s Gospel, Jesus returns to his promise of sending the Holy Spirit, the helper or comforter. And in Jesus’s words here we find further teaching about the Holy Spirit, that sometimes overlooked third person of the Holy Trinity. This is then a good opportunity for us to focus on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. And in doing so I want to look at three points from the text.

I. The Sending of the Spirit.

II. The Witness of the Spirit.

And
III. The Word and the Spirit

First,

I. The Sending of the Spirit.

Here we have an opportunity for a history lesson.

While the Scriptures of course do not change, other church documents can and do change. Last week at our church we approved new bylaws. And throughout church history changes have been made to church documents.

One of the documents that has changed a few times in fact is the Nicene Creed. Its original version written in 325 at the Council of Nicea was shorter than the later expanded form modified and approved at the Ecumenical council of Constantinople in 381. By the late sixth century a small addition to the creed had been made in some of the Western churches. And this contributed some centuries later to the great schism between the East and the West.

The addition is known as the Filioque.

The early Nicene Creed versions said “the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father.”

But we in the West use the Nicene Creed revision that says “the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father AND THE SON.”

This added clause—“and the son”— in Latin is “Filioque.”

You might have heard the Latin saying “In nomime Patri et Fili et Spiritus Sancti” – in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In this saying the son is “et Fili.” And in the creed the added clause is not “et Fili” but “Filioque”—meaning in “and the Son.”

So there has been this modification. But not everyone has been happy with it. While the Nicene Creed of early ecumenical councils was exactly that—ecumenical—made with involvement of presbyters (or bishops) from the whole word, the addition of the Filioque was done only in the West. And the Greeks in the East weren’t exactly happy about being left out. Many in the East in fact opposed the change and have contended that the Spirit does not proceed from Jesus, but only from the Father. And they look to verses like John 15:26 to support their argument.

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.”

The Greeks argue that this verse has the Holy Spirit proceeding eternally only from the Father and with no “relationship of being” to the Son.

But, when the word “proceed” is here used it might not even be referring to the eternal relationship of the Father and the Spirit, but rather to the action of the Holy Spirit being sent of the father.

And, even if this verse was about the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Father, it would not preclude a similar relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Son.

What in fact we find in many places of Scripture (Acts 5:9, Romans 8:9; II Corinthians 3:17, Galatians 4:6, I Peter 1:11) is that the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit OF CHRIST. From these places the West is proven justified in saying that the Spirit proceeds also from the Son. The Spirit is OF the Son just as he is OF the Father.

[Rom 8:9 ESV] 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.

[Gal 4:6 ESV] 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

Granted, the doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most challenging doctrines in the Christian faith. And we cannot look at all of its elements in this sermon, nor scarcely if we had 10 sermons on the subject. But for today, and from our text, we understand that the Spirit is sent from both the Father and the Son. And from the Scriptures in total we can rightly affirm the Filioque saying the Spirit is “of Christ.”

We in fact do affirm this truth in the Westminster Larger Catechism:

WLC #10

Q. 10. What are the personal properties of the three persons in the Godhead?
A. It is proper to the Father to beget the Son, and to the Son to be begotten of the Father, and to the Holy Ghost to proceed from the Father and the Son from all eternity.

When it comes now to the action of sending the Spirit, we now see in John’s Gospel that it is an action both of the Father and of the Son.

In John 14:26 we read of the Father sending the Spirit:

“The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name” (John 14:26)

And in John 15:26 we now read of the Son sending the Spirit:

“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.”

Both are correct.

So now, knowing that the Spirit is sent, we look to a purpose of that sending.

Of course we already know that the Spirit is to be our comforter, or helper. And he’s also called the “Spirit of truth.” Enlightening our minds with the truth is another role of the Holy Spirit. But here, as in our text, I want to focus on the role of the Holy Spirit as “bearing witness” to Christ. Jesus said, “He will bear witness about me.”

II. The Witness of the Spirit

The Spirit is the inward witness.

Our confession of faith explains a number of “evidences” for the truth of the Scriptures, but then it concludes that “our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority” of the Scriptures “is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.”

That is, no matter how many “evidences” we have of the truth of the Scriptures, or of the existence of God, or the resurrection of Jesus, we yet depend on the witness of the Holy Spirit.

In this way all the glory goes to God. For it is not that one person has better explored the evidence or has a better ability to believe. No, the reason for our belief is that we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit bears witness in our hearts.

John Calvin says: The spirit testifies of Christ in fixing our faith on him alone, that we may not seek elsewhere any part of our salvation.

Fixing out faith on Christ alone. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. So “we may not seek elsewhere any part of our salvation.”

The witness of the Spirit is necessary, it is essential to our knowledge of God and of our salvation.

This is confirmed in places like 1 Corinthians 2:12

[1Co 2:12 ESV] 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.

And this witness, the Holy Spirit, is a greater witness than any man.

We simply cannot persuade someone into the faith. That is the work of the Spirit.

This doesn’t preclude the disciples from being witness as well. Nor does it preclude Christians today from testifying to God’s greatness and bearing witness of the Gospel. These are good things, but ineffective without the witness of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus in fact says of his disciples, “27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”

But the role of the disciples—and of us—as witnesses is different from the role of the Holy Spirit. We can only be an “outward witness” who provides the Word of God (through speaking and writing) while the Holy Spirit alone is that “inward witness” that convinces the person to become a believer.

But these ordinarily go together. The Spirit of God words inwardly while the Word of God is heard outwardly.

So, we’ve looked at “the sending of the Spirit” and the “witness of the Spirit.” Our third point is “the word and the spirit.”

III. The Word and the Spirit.

The essential idea here is that the Spirit works in conjunction with the Word of God.

The Holy Spirit never goes contrary to God’s word. The Holy Spirit will never tell you to do something that the Bible says not to do! And the Holy Spirit will never tell you NOT to do something that the Bible says TO do.

They work in harmony. They go together. The Spirit and the Word. The Word and the Spirit. The outward hearing and the inward witness.

While a reprobate person can audibly hear the words of the Bible and can even understand them to an extent, only the believer, by the enlightening of the Holy Spirit can believe and truly know the Word of God.

The Holy Spirit is necessary to our ability to know the Truth. It is no surprise then that in our passage the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of Truth.”

So, as Romans 10:17 says “Faith comes by hearing the Word” but it is by the work of the Spirit that we believe those words that are heard.

The Word and the Spirit have each acted in the world from the beginning. In our Old Testament reading from the very first verses of Genesis we find the Spirt of God present; he is hovering over the waters of the deep. And the Word of God is God’s speaking the world into creation. “Let there be light.”

[Gen 1:1-5 ESV] 1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

CONCLUSION:

God has called each of us as Christians to be a witness of his truth, just as the disciples are also be witnesses out into the world.

Does your life testify to the fact that Jesus is the risen savior?

Remember last week we saw that like the disciples, we too, as Christians should expect persecution. We shouldn’t seek to bring trouble upon ourselves for anything else but for being faithful to the Lord. And we are to live in such a way that others know we are Christians and that we can possible be persecuted for our faith and we are to live in such a way that we are witnesses to Jesus Christ.

Jesus promised the disciples, “27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”

And this was fulfilled.

In Acts 5:29-32 we read

[Act 5:29-32 ESV] 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

[REPEAT: And we are witnesses to these things.]

The disciples testified of the truth of Jesus Christ and of his death for the forgiveness of sins. Just as Jesus had promised they would.

And not only were the disciples witness, but also “so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

The Work of the Holy Spirit is great indeed. He gives us faith and leads us to obey God. We rely on the Holy Spirit as we seek to testify to the greatness of God and the love of our savior. It is in his name, Jesus Christ, that we pray Amen.

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