The Spirit of God in the Mission of God: John

Here’s today’s Installment of “The Power and Presence of the Holy Spirit“:

The Spirit in John. In John we are given significant statements on the Spirit’s role in convicting people of sin, in the new birth, in teaching and testifying to Jesus, and in all of this the Spirit glorifies Jesus.[1] Rather than discussing these topics in the order just articulated, we will take them up in the order in which they appear in John’s Gospel.

In John 3 Jesus tells Nicodemus that he can neither see nor enter the kingdom of God unless he is born again.[2] There is a focus in this passage on what one is able to do prior to and after the new birth (cf. John 3:3–8). After the new birth one is able to do something one was not able to do before it: see and enter the kingdom (3:3, 5). This indicates that the new birth creates new ability. The new ability that results from the new birth is not physical but spiritual, moral, and volitional (cf. 3:6). We should also note that just as we have no control over our own physical birth, so we have no control over the new spiritual birth. The Spirit, as Jesus says, is like the wind which “blows where it wishes.” We hear the sound but “do not know where it comes from or where it goes” (3:8). A few chapters later Jesus asserts, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). Here Jesus makes an important connection between the message he teaches and the need for the Spirit to enable people to profit from that message. If they hear it only in the flesh, without the enabling of the Spirit, the flesh “is of no avail.” But if the Spirit gives life to the one who hears, then the words become “spirit and life.”[3] The phrase “it is the Spirit who gives life” (6:63) points to the same reality as the new birth (3:3–8; cf. 1:12–13).

There are three places in John that refer to receiving the Spirit: John 7:39; 14:17; and 20:22. John 7:39 states that those who had believed in Jesus had not yet received the Spirit, for the Spirit would not be given until Jesus was glorified. John 14:17 states that while the world cannot receive the Spirit, the Spirit, with the disciples as Jesus spoke to them, would afterwards be in them. The connection between the disciples being able to receive the Spirit (in contrast with the world which cannot receive the Spirit) and the Spirit being in the disciples seems to point to the conclusion that receiving the Spirit amounts to being indwelt by the Spirit. Jesus told the disciples in John 14:16 that the Spirit would be with them forever. This is in direct contrast to the way that Old Testament figures were filled or empowered on multiple occasions, suggesting that their experience of the Spirit was not continual. Thus, I would suggest that the disciples were indwelt by the Holy Spirit when, after Jesus was glorified at the cross (cf. 7:39; 12:23–32; 13:31–32; 17:1), when he appeared to them on the day of the resurrection (20:1, 19), he said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (20:22). Jesus had earlier stated that the Spirit would come to the disciples only if he went to the cross (16:7), and before that he had indicated that a time was coming and had begun when worship would no longer be at the Jerusalem temple (4:21–24). It seems that by putting an end to sacrifice through his death on the cross (cf. John 19:30), Jesus opened the way for the Spirit to indwell a temple in which no sacrifices for atonement would be necessary. The temple would no longer be a building in Jerusalem but would instead be the church.[4] As soon as Jesus told the disciples to “Receive the Holy Spirit” (20:22) he went on to say, “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld” (20:23). Once the disciples were indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they replaced the temple as the place of God’s presence and as the place where forgiveness of sins was mediated to others.

On his last night with the disciples, Jesus not only explained that while the Spirit was with them he would afterward be in them (14:15–17), he also assured them that the Spirit would teach them and bring to remembrance all that Jesus said (14:25-26). This bringing to remembrance what Jesus said, along with helping the disciples understand the significance of those things, is probably also what is involved in the Spirit guiding the disciples into all truth (16:13). The reference to “all truth” here is contextually limited to the truths that Jesus still has to give to the disciples (16:12) and to the reference to “the things that are to come” (16:13). It would seem that what we read in the New Testament—all of which was composed after the events recorded in John 14–16—can be understood as a realization of what Jesus’ means when he tells his followers that the Spirit will lead them into all truth, and the book of Revelation does declare “the things that are to come” (John 16:13; cf. Rev 1:1, 19). John notes in his Gospel when he is relating insights that were realized after the resurrection, after Jesus gave the Spirit (cf. 2:17, 22; 12:16, 33; 13:7, 19; 14:26; 20:9). The disciples were led into all the truth about what Jesus said and did as the Spirit inspired them to write what we read in the New Testament, and those who are born again continue to be led into the same truths as the Spirit illuminates their hearts to understand the Bible. Jesus also told his disciples that the Spirit would bear witness to him (15:26). In addition to the writings of the New Testament, this may point to the mighty works done by the Apostles in the name of Jesus by the power of the Spirit in the book of Acts (cf. Heb 2:4). In all of this and more, the Spirit is glorifying Jesus (16:14).

The Spirit will teach the disciples and lead them into all truth (John 14:25–26; 16:13), and in testifying to Jesus (15:26) as the disciples testify to him (15:27) those outside the family of faith will come under conviction. Jesus promised that the Spirit “will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment because the ruler of this world is judged” (16:8–11). This appears to mean that the Spirit will convict the world of unbelief by means of Jesus going to the Father—righteously obeying God in going to the cross and being vindicated from that false condemnation. This shows that Satan, the ruler of this world, has been decisively judged. Revealing these things convicts the world, and some who come under conviction are born again by the power of the Spirit.

[1] For a more detailed discussion of the Spirit in John, see God’s Indwelling Presence, 56–99.

[2] For more on John 3, see God’s Indwelling Presence, 58–59, 127–39, and my essay, “The Church Militant and Her Warfare: We Are Not Another Interest Group,” SBJT 11.4 (2008), 73–74 (70–80), available online at:

[3] The lowercase “s” beginning the word “spirit” points to Jesus’ words not actually being the Holy Spirit but partaking of what may be referred to as the “sphere of the Spirit” as opposed to the sphere of the flesh. This sphere of the spirit is also in view in the statements that God must be worshiped “in spirit and truth” (4:23) and “God is spirit” (4:24). The sphere of the Spirit is God’s order and realm as opposed to the world’s (note the opposition of flesh and spirit in 3:6 and 6:63). See further God’s Indwelling Presence, 59–63.

[4] For more detail on the ideas in this paragraph, see God’s Indwelling Presence.


To see all the posts in this series, go to the category “The Power and Presence of the Holy Spirit.”

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