St. Paul’s Gothenburg 1993
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 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. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you (John 16:12–15).
This past Sunday, the Sunday before Pentecost, falls within those days that remain between the Ascension, which we celebrated this last week, and the great day of Pentecost. It was during this time that the disciples of Jesus, as we heard in the epistle, were instructed to wait and had waited back in Jerusalem. Now they waited with great expectation and speculation about what would happen. And then it happened, what Jesus had spoken about: “When the Spirit of truth comes.” What would He do?
The Spirit of truth leads the apostles so that they can find the way to the whole truth—namely, the truth of Christ.
There is much else that the truth can touch upon. But here, it is the question of salvation, the important truth about Jesus Himself.
How would it go? We can read about it in Acts. The Spirit came. And the apostles had this assignment: now they would build the church, organize, explain, and remember all, to arrive at all truth.
Men cannot do this by their own hand. Therefore the Spirit was sent to them. The apostles were the core. It was they who would lead the whole. It was they who were gathered in prayer when something difficult came along. They prayed with certainty. They gathered together again and again with their congregation, hearing their concerns. And so one could write at the great apostolic council. It was the year 50 or so, in Jerusalem: the great meeting of apostles with the whole congregation and sojourning Christians from all quarters, when important questions were handled: Should they who were baptized, the heathen who became Christians, also be circumcised? Were they obligated to keep the Law of Moses? There was disagreement. And they listened to one another and heard each other out. So the decision was written down: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28). And so then follows what they came up with. Point after point was clarified. Baptism, but not circumcision. They began to celebrate the Lord’s Day on Sunday instead of the Sabbath. And they came up with all the other things that came with Christ, faith’s way to God. And we can be certain that He was sent to lead His church to all that we need to know when it comes to that which is the greatest and most important, salvation in Jesus Christ. Therefore it is wrong when people among us say, when something Paul says plainly and clearly has been laid out, “Yes, but Paul was of course only a man. I want to hear what Jesus has said, if he has said anything we know about it.” By this, they mean that they are free to do something contrary to what Paul says. This is not Christianity, for Paul was no ordinary man, but one of the apostles whom Christ had chosen, taken in His service, and led with His Spirit into all truth, as we have heard today. It is this that we have to stay true to.
Therefore it is so great that the church is apostolic. This she has become through the Spirit of truth sent by Jesus Christ. And this we have to stay true to, as is also learned in the church. Read what Paul wrote to one of his disciples, to Timothy, admonishing him: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it” (2 Tim. 3:14), and, “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Tim. 1:14). The word that has been translated as entrusted, paratheke in Greek, means something of a deposition, something entrusted to a curator or a trustee who should look after it so that it is not destroyed or dissipated. This was the first that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, has brought the apostolic church into all truth in these important points that cannot be changed: salvation in Christ and all that belongs to that.
It is the Spirit of truth that has preserved the truth, the apostolic truth in the Christian church.
This truth is always in danger because there is so much in this truth that people will not keep for completely different reasons at different times. Human reason has grown, as we know. But there have always been objections. Sometimes it is from a zeitgeist that includes all people. Those who have been courageous defenders of the faith come together and say, “It is better to be quiet or go along.” So they begin to slowly drift away. At first, nothing is said. Then the faith begins to be questioned. Then it begins to be denied. So it has taken a long time to break with the apostolic church. But so has the Spirit of truth come again and lit other flames. It has taken up what the Lord has said and what we have to remain true to. And so there have been reformers and even a complete reformation. Reformation, yes, what is it that happens with a true reformation? Reformation is something that has enduring significance. It is from Latin, reformatio. There is the little “re” in the beginning, it means “again,” back to what it was. To reform also means to form so that it becomes what it was before, back to the reality from which one has strayed, but that one desires to have again. To reform as it has happened many times in the church happens through such changes that have been carried out because they brought us closer to God. They are not at all attempts to get with the times and not in the least an attempt for consistency with a zeitgeist that makes sense for a time but will later be long forgotten. Such things are stained by human thinking; they are like a buzzword or a fad. It usually does not take long before one realizes that they don’t keep well. The real reformation is ongoing; the apostolic church continues to return to her foundational doctrines. And it is this we need at this time. It is the Spirit of truth that does it.
The real reformation is ongoing; the apostolic church continues to return to her foundational doctrines.
It is written about the Holy Spirit in the Nicene Creed that He has “spoken through the prophets.” What was it the prophets said in the Old Testament? It was the message from God that constantly comes back, that Israel was charged to stand fast in faith to her God and the covenant He made. This voice that spoke through the prophets was the Spirit of truth. And this He has done throughout time in the same manner, against man and human reason in order that His church should be preserved and that we should be preserved, so that we would know what it was we are to stay true to and not stray from the true path.
Now we come to the third thing that the Spirit of truth does today.
The Spirit of truth teaches every single Christian to understand the truth of Christ, to understand with both mind and heart.
Understanding gives knowledge. But this isn’t just about knowledge. There is something that is called insight, a very good word for the issue at hand, which is to be able to understand and apply what one has learned to himself.
It is so that he will be able to do this, that it is so important that when one learns about Jesus, one also learns it with Him and by Him. When He called disciples, He always says to them when it came time for them to become disciples, Follow me, come along with me. He did not give them short summaries and to say, You shall believe this and that. They could not yet understand. They might have been able to understand with the mind but not yet with the heart, with the whole man. Not if they did not go to listen, learn, be amazed and horrified and gripped by enthusiasm and joy, and praise God with all the people. It is for this reason that Christendom finds it particularly important to read God’s word, to listen to God’s word, to hear it laid out while gathered with others in order to pray and listen to the word and to learn. It is then that one wanders with Him and begins to see it in a way that one could never simply conceive with the mind. So it is in this way that the Holy Spirit looks after our education with the Bible, with communion, in the prayers and hymns. This is the Spirit of truth’s work. It is insight that makes it so that there is one who hears something in his being and experiences it in a spiritual way. Jesus is living. Jesus says here, “He shall glorify me.” This is what He does. This glory that Jesus had in all His humility in human form, His love and power and ability to penetrate all, this comes out again here among us. This happens through the Spirit of truth, who is within God’s word when Jesus is proclaimed.
But He is behind us too. You shall not wait; the Spirit shall step in front of you and announce Himself saying: now I am here! Instead He stays behind you and guides you a little to see what you should see. He turns your head the right way. It is His work, when it starts to go badly, when I see how weak I am and I wonder, Can I be a Christian? Do I dare to come back to communion and confess again that I am a great egoist who thinks about myself again? I am a poor man who has to make another apology because I am guilty again of schadenfreude or rudeness or heartless laughter.
We have an old man within us. We may fight against him. But sometimes, he bursts out and escapes, as he is wont to do. We need forgiveness. And then it is good that the Spirit of truth is there. He is behind you. And He sees to it that the moment you need it, you will turn your head the right way to see Jesus, the Savior. Just in the moment when you think that you hear judgment over your sins, that you will never be better, that you will just return to your sin—it is just at that moment that the Holy Spirit gently takes your head and directs it to Jesus: “He shall glorify him.” You see, for such a sinner as you are, there is only one hope: Jesus, the Savior, your Brother and your Friend, who became man, who baptized you, who knows all about you, who has borne it in His heart even upon the cross, who has been redeemed for you and your forgiveness. And when He forgives, then it is struck out. “You may come, my child,” the Spirit of truth says. You may come.
We have reason, even if we do not see the Spirit’s face, to say, You dear Holy Spirit. This is how one must be able to speak to Him. Teach yourself again to say, “Dear Holy Spirit, beloved Holy Spirit, never leave me, do not leave me but do what I know that you have come to do, let me understand in my heart that Jesus Christ is my Savior.” Then the Spirit says, “Yes, Amen.”
An excerpt from “A Year of Grace: Collected Sermons of Advent through Pentecost” written by Bo Giertz and translated by Bror Erickson (1517 Publishing, 2019), pgs 213-217. Used by Permission.