Summary: The Holy Spirit tells us the truth. He tells us the truth about sin (the sin of unbelief), about righteousness (in Jesus), and about judgment.
WHAT JESUS IS DOING here is: He is consoling his disciples. This is the last night before his death, and he tells them that he is gong away. And, of course, they are sad.
But he reassures them. He tells them that his departure is for their good. “It is to your advantage that I go away,” he says, “for if I do not go away, the Advocate [that is, the Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, will send him to you” (v. 7).
That’s what this passage is about. It is about the Holy Spirit. More specifically, it is about “when he comes” (v. 8). And what Jesus says is that, when he comes, he will tell the truth.
Now, at first, that may not sound very comforting. It may not sound like any consolation at all. There may be things – things that are true, no doubt – but things we don’t want being told. If you want to know the truth, the truth is: We work hard at masking our mistakes and shortcomings. We take extra care to cover our sins. Why? Because we don’t want to be found out. In fact, we may avoid getting too close to others for fear that they will find out about us. We are afraid of being vulnerable.
So, the whole idea of removing our masks may not only not comfort us; it may actually cause us more distress. But I’m going to ask you to reserve judgment on that, if only for a few moments more. Because, if we aren’t willing to face the truth about ourselves, we will never know the comfort that intimacy with Jesus brings. We will wind up living a lie. You can never get close to anyone if you can’t risk exposure.
Jesus says that the Holy Spirit, whom he calls here “the Spirit of truth” (v. 13), will tell the truth. And in telling the truth, he “will prove the world wrong” (v. 8). That is, he will prove us wrong, and, according to Jesus, he will prove us wrong about three things. Those three things are “sin and righteousness and judgment” (v. 8). The first is sin. Jesus says the Spirit will prove the world wrong about sin – that is, he will tell the world the truth about sin – “because they do not believe in me” (v. 9). We think the really big sins are sins that other people commit. Maybe they are substance abusers. Maybe they are lazy idlers or known liars. Maybe they have embezzled money. Maybe they have cheated on their spouse. We console ourselves in knowing that we have never done anything like that. Our sins are not so bad.
But Jesus says that we’re wrong about sin. The worst sin of all is the one you and I would never guess. In fact, we may even disagree with Jesus about what it is. But the Holy Spirit tells us what it is, and what he tells us is the truth. The worst sin of all is the sin of unbelief. It is the failure to organize our belief system – and therefore our lives – around Jesus.
And, speaking of Jesus, the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of truth – will also prove the world wrong about him. Jesus says that the Spirit will tell the truth “about righteousness” (v. 9). And we need to hear the truth, because people believe they can be righteous apart from Jesus. And if that’s what they believe, they’re wrong. They don’t think they or anyone else needs a Savior; they just need a good example, or perhaps some exalted ethical teaching or an inspiring model. Therefore, when they look at Jesus, that is what they see. They see an exemplary human being, a great teacher, an ethical moralist, a motivator. They think all they have to do to be righteous is to try to be good. But Jesus says the Spirit of truth proves them wrong about righteousness because the only righteousness that will qualify us to stand in God’s presence is the righteousness of Jesus, which is applied to us when we put our faith in him. He is the Son of God, sent to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins – to be your righteousness and mine. And he says what proves it is: he is “going to the Father” who sent him in the first place (v. 10).
If you and I can’t admit our sins – if we spend our energy disguising them or masking them, if all we ever do is hide from the truth – then we can never know sin’s remedy. And sin’s remedy is Jesus. That is why it is so important to see ourselves for who we are and to see him for who he is. It is a perfect match. We are sinners in need of a Savior, and he is a Savior sufficient for sinners.