“And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth… you know him, for He lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:16-17)
Have you ever realised that the major difference between Christianity and all the other great world religions is that whereas the latter are simply systems of belief and ritual, Christianity is essentially a religion of fellowship with a living Saviour? This explains why the New Testament reminds us constantly that Christians are people who have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus is not simply a remote historical figure; the resurrection reminds us that He is alive and can be encountered. Paul makes this point explicitly to the Corinthians when he tells them that “God has called you into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor 1:9). He also reminds the Galatians, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (2:20).
But how does Jesus live with a believer today? How do we encounter Him? In the Upper Room discourse in John’s Gospel Jesus tells us that when He goes away (referring to His ascension to heaven), He will make Himself real to us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This is what Jesus means when He says that the Father “will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.”
The interesting thing about this Counsellor is that He will be exactly like Jesus. When Jesus says that He will send another Counsellor, He uses the Greek word allos which means another Counsellor who is the identical replica of Himself. In other words, Jesus is saying that when He ascends to the Father, He will not send the disciples any old kind of Counsellor or helper. Instead, He will send one who will be the same as Himself in every detail. In effect, Jesus is saying, “the Counsellor that I will send you will be just like Me. He will explain things to you, He will teach you, He will comfort you in times of trial, and He will strengthen you. He will talk with you and be your constant companion. In other words, He will make Me real and present to you.”
Indeed, Jesus makes it clear that the Spirit of God will not act in our lives as some independent influence. He is “the Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9). In other words, when He comes to dwell in us, He will make Jesus real to us in a personal sense. I think this is what Jesus had in mind when He promised His disciples, “and, behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Now it is this promise that Christ will dwell in us and with us that separates the Christian faith from all other religions. The goal of Christianity, and the aim of Jesus’ ministry, is to help us know and enjoy God personally; it is to enter into a fellowship of eternal life with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Christianity is not just a ritual; indeed, in one sense it is not even a religion; it is essentially a relationship – a relationship with God through Christ and the Holy Spirit.
But what sort of communion do we enjoy in this relationship? Is it mystical one in the sense that it is an essentially uncontrolled religious experience? No, the Spirit with whom we commune is the Spirit of truth, who always directs us back to the words of Jesus. Christian experience, therefore, is always controlled by the truth of God’s word and we can have no experience that is inconsistent with that word.