A. Craig Troxel
Not since the great Perry Mason has Hollywood given us a defense attorney who could argue a case single-handedly. Since then television series have featured teams of lawyers from high-flying law firms who prepare and argue cases together for their clients. Putting aside whether or not this reflects reality, wouldn't you want more than one person defending you if your welfare or life depended on it?
Think of the advantages. For one thing, while one attorney argues your case, the other could be sitting at your side, quietly informing you of the significance of everything that transpires during the legal proceeding. He could assure you that the testimony just obtained is momentous, that the judge's ruling strengthens your case, and that evidence submitted bolsters your chances for a favorable ruling. Surely having more than one advocate has its advantages. Yet every Christian already knows this, because Jesus has sent "another counselor," the promised Holy Spirit, to aid us in our communion with God.
In the previous articles of this series, I emphasized that we walk in communion with God as intimate and mutual friends, in the covenant bonds of love. As we listen and speak to God, and as he speaks and listens to us, through the Word of God and prayer, we draw near to him and he to us. Moreover, with every communication of grace, with every benefit, and in every aspect of our salvation, we commune distinctly with a particular member of the Trinity, but not to the exclusion of the rest of the Godhead. In this article, we will see that although we receive comfort from each member of the Trinity, we commune particularly with the Holy Spirit in comfort.
Since God the Son ascended, God the Spirit descended: "But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7 NIV). When Christ was exalted to the right hand of the Majesty, he "received" from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, which he poured out on his church as a gift on Pentecost (Acts 2:33). Christ "anoints" every believer with the indwelling of the Spirit, beginning at our new birth, when God replaces our sinful heart of stone with a renewed "heart of flesh" (1 John 2:20, 27; Titus 3:5; John 3:3, 5; Ezek. 36:26; Rom. 8:9). The Holy Spirit is the "seal" certifying that we belong to God now, in this life, and he is the "guarantee" of our full inheritance in the life to come (Eph. 1:13; 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Rom. 8:23).
Until that day, God's Spirit is continuously working sanctification in us, renewing us and enabling us increasingly to die to sin and to live for righteousness (Phil. 2:12-13; Eph. 3:20). Christ's resurrection power is at work in us through the Spirit, bringing forth the fruit of the new man (Rom. 8:11; Gal. 5:16, 22-23), transforming us with ever-increasing glory (2 Cor. 3:18) and carrying on the good work he began in us (Phil. 1:6). Thus, the church is the "temple of the living God" and his "dwelling place" forever (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:22). So what does the work of the Holy Spirit have to do with "comforting"?
Comfort assumes troubleafflictions, difficulties, sorrows, disappointments, doubts, and dangers. Jesus said that we would face many troubles in this world (John 16:33). Sin clings to us (Heb. 12:1). Satan seeks to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). The flesh constantly battles against the Spirit within (Gal. 5:17). The world antagonizes us because it hates us (John 15:18; 1 John 3:13). Amidst such adversity, a Christian might become discouraged or intimidated. Yet Christ tells us, "Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid" (John 14:27). This statement might sound insensitive or heartless. But Christ says this because he has sent someone to comfort us in the midst of all our troubles (John 14:16).
When do we call an attorney? When we get into trouble or face difficulties, we need wise counsel and a dependable advocate. So also the Holy Spirit consoles us as he brings the words and teachings of Jesus to bear upon our lives, amidst our stormy trials, to soothe us with a peace that this world cannot give (John 14:26-27).
Satan, his agents, and the world constantly attack us and try to unsettle us in our fellowship with God or shake our confidence in his love and forbearance. In order to repel their assaults, we might be tempted to reassure ourselves by reminding ourselves of our good works, by thinking of our growth in obedience, by contemplating our substantial holiness, or by complimenting ourselves on our growth in humility. But these are just different ways of trying to argue our own case. And, as most lawyers will tell you, serving as your own attorney is usually unwise and often dangerous. It's one thing to plead our case in a small-claims court, but it's another thing altogether to clear ourselves of credible-sounding charges prosecuted by the skilled and relentless accuser (Rev. 12:10).
A more promising source of comfort can be found in our communion with God the Spirit. Romans 8 reminds us that, since there are two prosecutors against the Christian (sin and suffering), God has provided two advocates (Christ and the Holy Spirit) to intercede for us. It is the Holy Spirit who uniquely intercedes within, comforting us, especially when we are in trouble over our heads.
When Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, he said that he was sending "the Counselor" (John 15:26 NIV; cf. John 14:16, 26; 16:7)someone who should be thought of more along the lines of an advocate or attorney than a therapist. Just as attorneys stand alongside us in court, so also the Holy Spirit works as our defense attorney, in conjunction with the Lord Jesus Christ. The Jewish background to this type of counselor is that friend who has known you well and stays by your side to argue your case at the city gate.
When Satan, as a prosecuting attorney, brings evidence against our right to be called children of God, he cites the many times we have transgressed the moral law of God. He submits the innumerable instances when we have betrayed our family name. He argues, compellingly, that even our own conscience has arisen to testify against us. His case is strong. Who can refute his points? The courtroom of our heart is deathly quiet.
But then rises a counselor of renowned ability and great integrity. He argues on behalf of us, the accused. Without denying the fact of our sin, he confirms with infallible skill and unshakable testimony that we belong to God and that he will not let us go. He assures us that we are in a right relation with God and enjoy all the freedoms and privileges of God's children. He confirms that we have access to our loving Father in heaven. And throughout all this turmoil, he helps us with our weakness in prayer, making the case for us with "groanings too deep for words," but always "according to the will of God" (Rom. 8:26-27). The "Spirit of adoption" pours continuous testimony of God's peace, joy, hope, and love into our hearts (Rom. 5:5; 8:15). He recalls the promises of God and his gracious provision of an irreproachable substitute in his Son for the free pardon of our sin. And so he stops the mouth of our adversary with the Word of God and completely overpowers the prosecution's case.
This is the Spirit who testifies for us, and what he testifies in our hearts is that we are God's children (1 John 5:6, 10; Rom. 8:15). This is Christ's cocounsel, who quietly whispers in our ear how each stage of our trial is progressing. He reminds us that the evidence of God's love will prevail. He encourages us that the judge's ruling has decided our case favorably. He assures us that our vindication from all charges will come one day. The "father of lies" tries to subvert our faith, but the "Spirit of truth" comes to our rescue, confirming to us our justification, adoption, and every other benefit that we have in Christ (John 8:44; 14:17; 1 John 4:6). Christ's intercession is effective and final in winning our righteous standing before God. But for those seasons when we doubt it, when we are confused and without hope, when we are struggling and depressed, we have another counselor, who is at our side to help us through difficult times.
We are blessed beyond words to fellowship with God the Father in love and with God the Son in his abounding grace. But to help us in our earthly pilgrimage (and to fill our hearts in the life hereafter), Christ has given us the One who fellowships with us in comfort. It is for our good that Jesus went away, so that this Counselor could come and minister to us (John 16:7).
It must have been an amazing blessing for the first disciples to be in the presence of Jesus every day. But it is also an amazing blessing for every Christian to have the indwelling Spirit, today and forever (Rom. 8:9). Having more than one advocate really does have its advantages.
The author is pastor of Calvary OPC in Glenside, Pa. He quotes the ESV unless otherwise indicated. This is the final article in a four-part series. Reprinted from New Horizons, August/September 2006.