John 15:26–27 (NRSV)
26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
John 16:4–15 (NRSV)
4 But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.
The Work of the Spirit
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
For the past hundred years there has been a great deal of focus on the Spirit of God. At times there has been so much focus on the Spirit that we often lose sight of who the Spirit of God truly is. The Spirit is very important but if we do not keep the Spirit in context we can find ourselves chasing after something that has already left us far behind. Who is the Spirit of God and what is her purpose? I as this because there are probably as many definitions as there are denominations, and one of the very first schisms in the church largely dealt with the Spirit.
This week the purpose of the Spirit became clearer to me than it has ever before, mainly because of the term Advocate. Most of us have been taught that the term advocate was a legal term and for the most part it is, but probably not exactly how we would imagine. When we begin to imagine legal terms and positions most of us quickly visualize the courtroom scenes of a judge sitting in a high seat facing attorneys for the prosecution and the defense. When we look at this scene we often imagine ourselves sitting on the side of the defense with the accuser or Satan sitting on the prosecution side. So when we read terms like advocate we often begin to think that the advocate is sitting next to us defending our case before the judge. That is often the image that I saw, but that began to change this week. This week I was called as a witness to court, which happens often in my line of work, but something happened while there that has never happened before. I had an advocate appointed to me. The role of the advocate was to assist me with any question that I might have in preparation for the trial. He introduced me to the attorney, and assisted the attorney in helping me become as good of a witness as I could be. This opened my eyes to the role and responsibility of the Spirit of God.
The Spirit is the advocate, not the attorney. The Spirit is the liaison between, speaking for me if I am confused, translating things to me if I do not understand, and helping prepare me to face the trial set before me. The advocate works with us but we do not control the advocate. The advocate’s primary responsibility is to bring the people they are appointed to assist to the attorney and to assist the attorney to equip those involved to perform what is necessary. The Spirit is the advocate.
This opens my eyes in so many ways. Knowing this has changed my thinking and heightened my understanding. It has lifted the fog surrounding areas of confusion, because the spirit is the advocate. Who is the spirit and what is her role? Her role is to connect, interpret, help, advise, and to assist humanity to align with the needs of God.
How many of us have had skewed images of the Spirit? How often do we misunderstand the role the Spirit of God plays in relation to our faith? How often do we misalign our faith to where we end up walking in a direction contrary to the desires of God? This can all be a result of misunderstanding the role and responsibility of the Spirit.
The image of the advocate something unique to the writings of John. I think this is important to note because so much of theology or our understanding of God gains the most support by the writings of John. John, the disciple Jesus loved, writes from a perspective that differs from the other gospel writers because he focuses primarily on the relational aspects of our faith. The various roles that the personalities of God play are largely derived from the writings of John, and that is why the term advocate is so important.
From the beginning of the Friends movement we have been very aware of the role of the Spirit in our faith. Our meetings for worship are centered on listening to the Spirit and following where the Spirit leads us. In many ways the Friends movement paved the way for much of the Pentecostal movement that followed over a century after, because we were very aware that there was an active divine interaction between mankind and God. But there is a danger in focusing too closely to the Spirit.
This almost seems like a heretical thing to say but I believe it is true, and this is why the term advocate is so important. If all we do is focus on the Spirit where is our faith grounded? Jesus describes the Spirit as wind blowing, we know it is there but we do not know where it comes from or where it is going. The Irish monks would describe the spirit as the wild goose, something that could be chased but very hard if not impossible to catch. The Spirit is fluid, formless, and something that cannot be defined. Just when we think we have caught it, the Spirit flies just out of our reach. But the Spirit is important, because the Spirit is the advocate.
Let us go back to the image of the courtroom. For most of us we are on the defense side, we are accused and stand before the judge hoping for grace. We have an image that is engrained in our minds, we are sinners in the hands of an angry God, we are worms, and a host of other ideas. Consider for a moment that image you have in your mind. Jesus said, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment…” Jesus goes away, it is Jesus that stands before the judge in this image, and the advocate is with us in the world. The advocate is working with us directing us away from the world’s understandings and pointing us to the truth. But this is the part that flips things on end, “[Prove the world wrong] about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.” Who is condemned? Who is the one on defense? It is not us on trial, but the ruler of the world.
This really changes everything that we thought we knew for so many years, in our individualistic world view we believe that it is us on trial, that we are front and center, but we are not the ones on trial. The ruler of the world is, the accuser, or Satan. It is the job of the defense to shift blame off of the accused and place that accusation onto another, the accused become the accuser. The condemned tries to distract those around them from the truth, convincing those around them that it is not them that are guilty but someone else. They wish to confuse us about sin, righteousness, and judgment. But the advocate will guide us in truth.
This is where theology comes into play. Jesus is in the center of theology and must be. Sin is anything that distracts us from the truth of Christ. The truth of Christ is that He is fully man and fully God. He is the fulfillment of humanity, the perfect example and expression of what humanity should be. Anything that keeps us from living the life that Christ showed us is sin. And the life that Jesus showed us was a life that had a rhythm of prayer, worship, and service to others. A life dedicated to building, maintaining, and repairing relationships between God and humankind. The accused accuser wishes to distract us from that, he wishes to divide us and separate us from the truth getting us look away from Christ. He wants us to withdraw from the big picture and focus on the little things. This is sin or that is sin, when in reality sin is the broken relationship.
The accused accuser then proceeds to redefine righteousness. But what is righteousness? This is a bit foggy in the passage but Jesus says, “I am going to the Father.” That one statement does give us some direction in defining righteousness. Righteousness is heading in the right direction, toward the Father. So often we want to define righteousness as being right or living right, but this does not necessarily mean we are heading in the correct direction. Jesus gave many examples in his ministry where the religious were doing everything right according to the law and were far from righteousness. The rich young ruler was a prime example. He came to Jesus asking what he must do to gain the kingdom. Jesus listed off all the legal obligations for righteousness and the young man said I have done all of this. Then Jesus said you lack one thing, sell all your possessions, give it to the poor and follow me. There is something about that that just does not sit well with us, he did everything right yet he was not on the right path. He lacked one thing and it was that his life was not directed toward the things of the Father. He was not following in the footsteps of Jesus. He could not give up his image of righteousness for the truth of righteousness. The accused accuser wants to cause us to focus on the images of righteousness instead of the path of righteousness. He will do whatever he can to get us to step off the path, following Jesus to the Father.
This brings us to judgement. Who is being judged and why? The ability to place blame somewhere else has plagued humanity since the fall, but even that was an action of redirected blame. We judge others to redirect the attention off of our own short comings. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, and the serpent blamed God. And we are each caught in the middle of the blame game. This is the method of ruler of the world, casting blame on others, providing to the masses a scape goat to direct our anger and hate. Claiming that our problems are not our own but caused by someone or something else, and all would be perfect if we just abolished the one that is blamed. The world is full of this, just scroll through Facebook for a minute and you will see a number of postings casting blame and demanding action to rid the world of the scapegoat. Big oil is the problem, Wal-Mart is the problem, ISIS is the problem, the Church is the problem, environmentalists are the problem, Obama is the problem, homosexuals are the problem, police are the problem, unions are the problem, or government is the problem. Each and every one of those issues are a problem but they are the problem because they distract us from the underlying reality that we want to refocus blame because we have been influenced by the ruler of the world, we have join in the accusations of the accused accuser.
But the Spirit is the advocate. The advocate works as the liaison guiding us in the direction we need to go to fulfill the task set before us. The Spirit is like the wind, we know it is there but we do not know where it comes from or where it is going. But we can lift our sail and let it carry us the direction we should go. The Spirit leads us down the right path, it teaches us the holy rhythms of life, and directs us to Christ who is going to the Father. The spirit gives gifts that assist us in doing the work set before us, and that work is to guide everyone around us into truth, the truth about sin, righteousness, and judgment. And that truth is revealed to us through the life, ministry, death, burial and resurrection of Christ.
Who is the Spirit, what is the Spirit’s role? The Spirit is the advocate, the one that brings us to the one that stands before the judge. The Spirit is the one that guides us to the path of the teacher and encourages us to continue down that path toward the Father. The Spirit is the force that connects us to Christ who stands for us. The Spirit is the one that helps us become witnesses for the truth, in a world that is ruled by deception.
As we enter this time of open worship and communion as Friends, let us celebrate that we are connected to God through this powerful force he provided for us. And let us embrace the Spirit as our ever present advocate directing us down the pathway with Christ to the Father who loves us so much that he sent his only son not to condemn the world but to give us life.