The Work of the Holy Spirit

Text: John 16:5-15

Every Sunday that we follow the Divine Service, there’s a portion of the service dedicated to the confession of our Christian faith in the Triune God. Either before the sermon or after, depending on the Setting, we rise to confess our faith using the words of the Apostles’ or Nicene Creeds. On Trinity Sunday, we’ll use the third Ecumenical Creed, the Athanasian Creed. Of the three, the Athanasian is the longest and spends the most time speaking specifically about the Trinity. Whether we use the Apostles’, Nicene, or Athanasian Creeds, each Sunday we are blessed to confess our faith in the God who loves and redeems us. Our God is the one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Though all three persons are equally God and together are involved in all their works, to help us humans understand all the things God does for us, we usually speak about God the Father as the one who creates and sustains the world. God the Son, of course, is Christ. Our redemption is His work. But, the Third Person of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit – what does He do? That is a question we can cover today. In short, it’s the Holy Spirit’s work to make us Christians. Jesus taught the Disciples in our text about this work. The Holy Spirit works through the preaching of the Law to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment; He works through the Gospel to take what is Christ’s and give it to us: namely, the forgiveness of our sins.


The setting of our text this week is, as with last week’s Gospel, the night our Lord was betrayed. On Holy Thursday, our Lord celebrated the Passover with His disciples one last time and instituted the Lord’s Supper. He also spent time preparing the disciples for His departure and what would come after that by teaching them. Last week, we heard our Lord speak about how the disciples’ (and our) sorrow will turn to joy. This week, we receive our Lord’s teaching about the Holy Spirit. He started by saying to the disciples, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.” (John 16:7, English Standard Version) Jesus’ disciples were sorrowing over the fact that our Lord was leaving them. But, it’s actually a good thing, Jesus said. Because, first of all, His departure means our salvation. Secondly, and more pertinent to this text, after Jesus goes to the cross, then the Holy Spirit gets to do His Work. But, what is His work?

Jesus said, “When He comes, He [the Holy Spirit] will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” (Jn. 16:8) The word “convict” here maybe doesn’t give the full sense of what Jesus said. Rather, He said that the Holy Spirit would prove the world wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment. “Concerning sin,” Jesus said, “because they do not believe in Me.” (16:9) There are certain things that the world does recognize as sins, in a general sense. Murder, for example; theft. These things are recognized all throughout the world as being wrong because, as St. Paul says, God has written His Law in our hearts. But, there are also sinful things that the world doesn’t recognize, such as sex outside of marriage. And then, there are yet things that aren’t actually sin that the world calls sin, such as recognizing differences in doctrine. Part of the Holy Spirit’s work is to show that the world is altogether wrong. The fact is, that all sin at its core is unbelief. Sin is no mere lapse in judgment or mistake. All sin has as its headwaters unbelief – a lack of fear, love, and trust in God.

Because sin is unbelief by another name, the world is also wrong when it comes to righteousness. We consider someone righteous when it appears to the outward observer that nothing bad can be said about a person. But, because all sin stems from unbelief – which is something on the inside – no one is righteous. St. Paul came to the same conclusion as he quoted from the Psalms, “None is righteous, no, not one.” (Rom. 3:10). It is the Holy Spirit’s job to point all this out, and He does it through the preaching of God’s Law. He uses the Ten Commandments to put everything and everyone in its proper place. Even us. We said earlier that it is the Holy Spirit’s job to make us Christians. One cannot be a Christian, however, who has not been brought to repentance over sin. So, the Spirit works through the preaching of the Law even in our lives, to convict us of sin, also. Because we are in the flesh, we all have blind spots when it comes to sin. We all have things that we’d much rather not talk about. There’s a phrase, “light is the best disinfectant.” It is the Holy Spirit’s job to shine the through the light of the Law and reveal the true state of things.


Jesus said, “When [the Helper] comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” This He does through the preaching of the Law. The Holy Spirit shows through the Commandments that all that the world thinks about sin and righteousness and judgment should be balled up and thrown away. He also does this work among us. When the pastor preaches a Word of Law from Scripture and applies that to our lives to show that we, too, are sinners worthy of condemnation – in that moment the Holy Spirit is at work. When we hear the preaching of the Commandments and realize from it that we are sinners and when we sorrow over our sins – that is worked in us by the Holy Spirit. Repentance and sorrow over sin isn’t something we create; the Holy Spirit does it. He produces repentance in us so that He can also do something else.

As our Lord continued teaching His disciples, He said, “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.” (16:13-14) Here Jesus promised the Disciples not a new revelation or teaching, but that the Holy Spirit would produce in them a deeper understanding of what the Lord had already taught them. This is one reason we trust the New Testament, since these writings were produced by men who had received this gift of the Holy Spirit. But, here, Jesus also touches upon a second work of the Holy Spirit, His proper work. He works through the preaching of the Law to convict the world and us of sin and our (lack of) righteousness. Then, He works through the Gospel to give to us what belongs to Christ: the forgiveness of sins.

While our text translates Jesus’ word as  “Helper,” many of us learned it as children, “Comforter,” or Paraclete. When Jesus promised the Holy Spirit, He promised that the Spirit would produce in His people comfort. Now, we’re not talking about a worldly comfort – hot chocolate in front of fire – that sort of thing, but a true and Godly comfort in the forgiveness of sins. We learn from the Scriptures that Jesus Christ bore in Himself the guilt of all the world’s sin and made payment for it by His death on the cross. The Holy Spirit works through the preaching of Christ’s cross to create faith in our hearts. When we hear that Jesus died for us and believe it, that is because the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts. We who are here now, are here because of the Holy Spirit. Just as He produces repentance through the Law, He produces faith through the Gospel. Along with faith, He brings to us the forgiveness of our sins. He takes what Christ earned and gives it to us.

Every Sunday we confess our faith in the Triune God. We believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. All three are God. Yet, there are not three gods, but one God in three persons. We’ll talk more about this next month. Usually, we have a pretty good grasp on God the Father and our Lord; but what does the Holy Spirit do? In short, it’s the Holy Spirit’s work that we are Christians. He works through the Law to convict us of our sins and bring us to repentance. Then, He declares to us through the preaching of the Gospel that by Christ’s death, our sins are forgiven. Now, since this sermon has been a little on longer side, let’s end it on a high note. Jesus Christ died for you. His death atoned for your sin. You are reconciled to God and He to you. Because Christ lives, you will, too.

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