If we are honest with ourselves, most of us would say we spend little time thinking about or seeking to know or understand the Holy Spirit. If we are honest with ourselves, many of us would admit that we treat him more like that strange family member everyone has, the one you acknowledge is around, but don’t ask questions about because they seem too weird or mysterious. Yet, in John 16:7, Jesus said it was better for him to go away so that the Helper, the Holy Spirit, could come. So why do many of us relegate the Spirit to the recesses of our minds and attention? Why have we not pursued knowledge of him? Perhaps it is because the Holy Spirit seems the least comprehensible part of the Trinity that we are hesitant, or afraid, to put in the effort.
The disciples could have had the same thought about this Helper. Jesus, who put on flesh to dwell among them, had been teaching and doing signs so that they, and all who saw, might believe in him and by believing have eternal life (20:30-31). In the midst of this, Jesus tells them it’s better for him to go away. What could be better than hearing Jesus teach and seeing him heal the sick and broken? How could his absence be better than his presence?
Until this point in the biblical narrative, the earthly presence of God had been “limited” to one place. It’s not that God was limited in his ability. He was still omnipresent and outside of space and time, but he only manifested his presence in one place. Throughout the Old Testament, God manifested himself regularly, first in the tabernacle and then the temple. Communing directly with him came once a year with sacrifice and ritual, but only for the chief priest who had been suffciently cleansed. This was all meant to be a picture of something far greater. Enter Jesus, God’s manifestation of himself in time and space. Because he was fully man and fully God, sinners were able to commune with Jesus freely. This, however, was still limited by geography and circumstance; not everyone could physically be in his presence. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, he sent the Holy Spirit to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (16:8) and “guide [us] into all the truth” (16:13), continuing the ministry Jesus began. God no longer dwells on earth in a singular time and place in the tabernacle, temple, or Jesus, but now, through the Holy Spirit, he dwells in every follower of Jesus as Helper, Counselor, Comforter, and Keeper.
So what do these things mean? What work of the Holy Spirit is Jesus describing in these verses? Jesus says the Holy Spirit will convict “concerning sin, because they do not believe in me.” The Holy Spirit is a revealer of sin. He opens our eyes so we can see our sin for what it truly is—thinking, feeling, and acting like we are God. He not only shines light on our sin, but through him, we put those sins to death (Rom. 8:13), killing the lingering remnants within us.
In addition to convicting of sin within, he convicts of the righteousness without. To be in the presence of God, we need a righteousness from outside us. Jesus is that righteousness, and the Spirit flashes the proverbial neon sign, declaring, “Jesus is the one you need!” Without his work in our hearts, we could have knowledge of this and never believe it. He gives us a new heart that we may believe. Not only does he reveal our sin and need for a Savior, he helps us declare and demonstrate the gospel to others where we live, work, and play.
Lastly, the Holy Spirit convicts concerning judgment, the judgment to come for the ruler of this world. e Holy Spirit gives us hope that Satan’s tyrannical reign will come to an end and Jesus will reign throughout all eternity. All the brokenness, pain, and sorrow that comes under Satan’s rule will be vanquished, and we will be given eternal joy and delight in the Son.
What a humbling and staggering reality that the God of the universe now dwells in his children, not in a tent or temple! Jesus’ bodily absence makes way for the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence in every follower of Christ, to convict of sin, righteousness, and judgment. And that’s better.