A Call to Intimacy:
The Holy Spirit in John’s Gospel and Epistles
D. A. Carson— Johannine Theology
Wed, Dec 8, 1993
The disciple whom Jesus loved (1) — John— who had the most intimate relationship with Jesus, who was entrusted with the Revelation of the future, and who it seems was chosen to have the most longevity (John 21:20-23) — this person of seemingly great sensitivity writes the Gospel and an accompanying epistle that provide for us the most intimate call to relationship with Jesus and the Father. And this call to intimacy with God is now possible because the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead has been sent by Jesus and now indwells all true believers, enabling us to have communion with the Father and the Son and with each other. The holy catholic church, the communion of the saints credal terminology illustrates the Christian church as a union of believers under one God, joined together by himself. In John, Jesus calls us to unity with each other with an uncompromised decree which can only result from a very sensitive, intimate communion with Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Then the world will know much about the Father and the Son because they have seen God’s love demonstrated by his radiant church.
…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17:21-23).
The glue in John that binds us to each other and to God is love, which we receive as a fruit as we position ourselves in him and under his directing guidance. John presents an illustration of us as the branches either connected to or not connected to Jesus, the vine, the only source from which we can bear genuine fruit— the only type of fruit that Jesus considers permanent and true (John 15:1-16). This mystical union between the Creator and his church is a necessity if we are to flourish and grow into complete union, not being a dormant, lifeless thing which is an embarrassment to God. D. George Vanderlip states regarding John 15: 4-6, the vine and the branches:
John is talking of a vital relationship in the literal root meaning of that word. It is a matter of life and death. Jesus is the source and channel of life for the branches, that is, the believers. When the branches “remain” in the vine, life-giving energy flows through the vine to the branches. This guarantees both health and fruit-bearing,. When the branches are separated from the vine, an inevitable result follows: the branches simply wither and dry up. Since no nourishment reaches them, they will bear no fruit. (2)
In order for the church to gain the respect of the world we must abide intimately in Christ so we will have the ability to completely love each other. Jesus commands us to love each other as much as he loved the disciples.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:12,13).
The first epistle of John fits hand in glove with the John’s Gospel, continuing with many of the same thoughts, and with a great emphasis on holiness and love. John presents a tremendous solution, goal, and challenge for the church today.
A significant aspect of John’s writings is how he shows Christ during his earthly existence as having in many ways a similar relationship to the Father as John says we are to have. This relationship is now to be pursued now that the Holy Spirit has been sent to indwell believers, beginning on the day of Pentecost. And a natural product of our communion with him is confidence (1 John 3:21,22) from which we are not only supposed to do the same works as Jesus did but to do even greater works. (3) There is considerable controversy to as what these works are, and unfortunately the differing views have divided the church in many ways. The focus for John, though, is not in doing the works but in the abiding— our relationship of love and dependence upon the Lord by the Holy Spirit who John said will teach us all things and lead us into all truth. (4) The works in John then will be a natural result as we obey what the Holy Spirit tells us. John also says that as a result of the sending of the Paraclete, our strengthener, advocate, legal counsel, and comforter, (5) Christians should have the full measure of joy (John 15:11; 17:13) and also have peace that eliminates fear. (6) Along with miracles, the Johannine literature states that fullness of joy and a fear abolishing peace are to be characteristic marks of believers who dwell in God through the Holy Spirit.
I would like to submit this concept: that the Bible teaches that Jesus while on earth, while being fully God was also so completely man that he abided in the Father by the Holy Spirit in the same way that he teaches us to abide in the Father and himself by the Holy Spirit. I believe this is absolutely critical for understanding what Jesus says to us in John about the role of the Holy Spirit. Gerald F. Hawthorne has written an entire book showing how Jesus, both completely God and human, ministered on earth entirely by the enablement of the Holy Spirit. Hawthorne states about this God/ man who was so completely like us that he was tempted in every way we that we are (Hebr. 2:18; 4:15):
Although I wish to affirm that Jesus was uniquely the Son of God and that he differs from all others of us in kind, yet is it not possible to imagine that in the process of becoming human, in that great act called the incarnation, he placed himself so fully alongside us that, like us, he too relied upon the Spirit to inform him of who he really was by nature, of what his true relationship was to the Father? (7)
Hawthorne presents his perspective of what Christ’s self emptying/ kenosis (Php. 2:5-11) actually involved.
The particular view of the person of Christ which seems to me most able to do this and which seems most in harmony with the whole of the teaching of the New Testament is the view that, in becoming a human being, the Son of God willed to renounce the exercise of his divine powers, attributes, prerogatives, so that he might live fully within those limitations which inhere in being truly human. Divine attributes, including those of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence, are not to be thought of as being laid aside when the eternal Son became human but rather thought of as becoming potential or latent within this incarnate One— present in Jesus in all their fulness, but no longer in exercise. Knowledge of who he was and of what his mission in life was to be were given to him as he developed by revelation and intuition, especially at times of crisis in his life, and during times of prayer and communion with his Heavenly Father. Such experiences as these were remembered, brought frequently to mind, and ‘formed the undertone of His life and ministry.’ But they were not always so central in his thinking, so uppermost in his understanding, so firmly fixed in his mind, so overwhelmingly convincing to him that this eliminated any possibility of his really experiencing those temptations, testings, frustrations, and disappointments that belong to a truly human life. (8)
Leon Morris says:
There is certainly evidence that John saw Jesus as subject to human limitation. For example, he had to “find” the man he had cured of blindness (9:35) after he had heard that he had been put out of the synagogue (he also “found”the man he cured of lameness, 5:14). After the feeding of the multitude, Jesus “came to know” (gnous) that the mob wanted to make a king out of him— apparently he did not know it intuitively. To avoid this he withdrew to the mountain: he did not perform some miracle. He did not know where the tomb of Lazarus was and asked a question to find out (11:34). Indeed, in this Gospel Jesus constantly asks questions (see 1:50; 3:10, 12; 5:6, 47; 6:5, 67; 7:19, 23; 8:43, 46; 11:34; 16:31; 18:4, 7, 21, 23, 34). Some of these prove nothing, being the kind of questions asked when one knows the answer…. But other questions are different…. It is plain that in some matters Jesus was ignorant just as in others he had unusual knowledge. (9)
Prophets in the Old Testament prophesied that Jesus would operate by the empowering of the Holy Spirit (Ps. 2:2; Isa. 11:1-5 ; 42:1,7; 61:1-3). The New Testament also witnesses to the fact that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35), led by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 4:1, Mark. 1:12, Luke. 4:1), empowered to preach, cast out demons, and heal the sick by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:28; Luke 4:14, 18, 19; 11:20), and resurrected by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:11; 1 Pet. 3:18,19).
How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him (Acts 10:38).
John speaks of how the Holy Spirit came down from heaven and remained upon Jesus:
John 1:32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him (also Mt. 3:16, Mk. 1:10, Lk. 3:22).
And how Jesus saw and heard, and therefore spoke what he had seen and heard because God had given him the Spirit without limit:
John 3:32,34 He [Jesus] testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony…. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.
Numerous scriptures use similar terminology to show how believers were and are to be similarly empowered. (10)
I would like to look at John’s texts with this in mind. The thing John emphasizes is not the miracles themselves but having a pure connection with the Father and the Son by the Holy Spirit. Jesus made it very clear in the Gospels what is to be emphasized hermeneutically: the greatest commandments are to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt 22:38-39; Mark 12:33; John 13:34; 15:12, 17; 1 John 3:23; 4:21; 2 John 5,6). John, especially in his farewell discourse and final prayer (John 14-17) and throughout John’s first epistle clearly emphasizes these relationships over anything else.
I would like to speak of these two commandments in John and how the Holy Spirit’s role is viewed. Jesus own example is extremely important, and he often uses words to show that in the same way he had an intimate relationship to the Father we are to have an intimate relationship to him and the Father. He shows that his life is to be a model for our own.
Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you…. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them (John 13:14-17).
The question is how much does Jesus expect us to be like himself in our relationships to the Father and all others? The text seems very clear in John that Jesus calls us to walk in submission to the Father in the same way he did, to the degree that we produce the same fruit.
Jesus demonstrated by example the importance of taking much time to communicate with his father— “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16).John’s Gospel says that Jesus:
…withdrew again to a mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them (6:15-17).
Jesus didn’t again join them until the fourth watch of the night (Matt. 14:25). This is a picture of Jesus in extended prayer with his father, for it is highly improbable that Jesus carried scrolls of Moses and the prophets or their extensive commentaries with him. Rather, it is likely that Jesus is having two way communication (seeing, listening, and speaking) with only his Father by the Holy Spirit. He demonstrates to the disciples and us what he later teaches in John 15— the necessity to abide in the vine. Jesus said, “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me (John 5:30). Here it is clear that Jesus had a will of his own apart from his father’s, but he always chose not to please himself but what his father told him. (11) Jesus spent much time finding out what the Father wanted him to do, and he did what he saw.
I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these (John 5:19,20).
For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say (John 12:49,50).”
Jesus had absolute trust and confidence that whatever the Father told him to say and do would bring him and others life no matter how hard this task seemed; therefore, he always totally obeyed what he heard or saw. “I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me” (John 14:31). Hence, he was entrusted to have the Spirit without limit— “for the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit” (John 3:34). Jesus taught the disciples that as they would be careful to abide in the Father and the Son, and as they heard they would obey and miracles would occur— which glorify the Father. “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples…. Now remain in my love” (John 15:8,9). This is to our Father’s glory: if we obey his commands and do what pleases him, we have confidence before God and only then can we receive from him anything we ask.
Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him (1John 3:21,22).
John does not teach a cessationist Gospel. For him, it is normal that we desire to glorify the Father as much as is possible, living not just in the Bible but in God himself, thus showing ourselves to be God’s disciples.
I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it (John 14:12-14).
Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father (John 10:37,38).
Miracles were proof or evidence that the Father was in Jesus and that Jesus was to be believed. They were an essential part of Jesus’ ministry and in no way does John indicate that miracles are not to be an essential part of the church’s ministry as well in reaching the lost. Miracles separate Christianity from being just another philosophy. The above text shows that miracles are evidence to the world that those who worship in spirit and in truth are in the Father and of him and that what they say should be believed.
It can be argued that Jesus being 100% God did things that we cannot do indicating that his life is not to be fully seen as a model. I don’t have space to address this exhaustively, but a few examples are Jesus forgiving sins and walking on the water. Do Christians have the power to forgive sins? Jesus commissioned the disciples to forgive sins.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (John 20:21-23).
There is uncertainty as to what this exactly means, but it is clear that at least in this instance the indwelling Holy Spirit gave the ability to humans to do what Jesus did. Certainly this is not playing God, decreeing the way he alone can. But I would suggest that if a person is one with the Father as Jesus was one with the Father, the Father could give incredible insight as to what the actual state of a person is. I believe the text supports this: “If I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me” (John 8:16). Also:
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, `Get up, take your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .” He said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home” (Mk. 2:5-11). (12)
Immediately, Jesus was illuminated by the Holy Spirit as to what the Pharisees were thinking. “He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man” (John 2:25). And it was only when Jesus saw their faith did he say their sins were forgiven. This was most likely an inward witness as well.
The Bible also has information as to what occurred when Peter walked on the water as did Christ (John 6:16-21). First, this was probably only a one time occurrence and not a common everyday thing for Jesus, for the disciples were didn’t think it was Jesus. They were struck with fear thinking Jesus was a ghost (Mt. 14:26). Jesus had to say, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (14:27).
Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt” (Matt. 14:29-31)?
Jesus rebuked Peter not for his desire to walk on the water, but because of his lack of faith. Peter believed in what he saw with his natural vision— the wind— over and above what was to be seen in the spiritual. (13) But even though it was only for a short time, the fact is that the disciple who boldly stepped out at Pentecost actually did walk on the water as did Christ..
John 6:45: It is written in the Prophets: `They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.
Although knowing the Scriptures is vitally important, John’s emphasis is not in knowing the Book itself but in directly knowing the Author of the Book. He blasted the Jews for thinking that studying the Scriptures alone gave them life.
And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life (John 5:37-40).
John doesn’t speak against the Scriptures here for they testify about me, but John’s focus is clearly on knowing Jesus himself in an intimate trusting way, so intimate that when Jesus goes on ahead the sheep follow, because they know his voice. They obey just as Jesus: “the Son … can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19).
The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…. he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” … My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me (John 10:3-5, 27).
This is a beautiful illustration of Jesus’ church led by his Spirit, which John explains further by showing the Holy Spirit as the ever present, ever able teacher.
But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you (John 14:26).
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you (John 16:13,14).
But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth…. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit –just as it has taught you, remain in him (1 John 2:20,27).
When we abide in the Father and the Son just as Jesus abided in the Father, we can trust the Spirit of truth to guide us into all truth and teach us about all things, since the anointing Jesus sent is real, not counterfeit. John clearly shows that Jesus desires his church to be intimately led by himself. He didn’t leave us as orphans without a father but as sheep with a shepherd who can guide us into all truth and teach us all things.
Just as you drank on my holy hill, so all the nations will drink continually; they will drink and drink and be as if they had never been. But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy, and the house of Jacob will possess its inheritance (Obad. 16,17).
This prophetic text could have other meanings as well, but I believe it’s a vivid illustration of John 15: the church connected to and drinking from the Vine— only as we drink and drink from the living well of the Holy Spirit of truth do we have the sap by which true fruit can be grown.
I believe John emphasizes holiness so often because without holiness we can’t abide in or know God. “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1John 4:8). Holiness is a prerequisite to be able to remain in him. Just a few examples are:
“See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (John 5:14).
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks (John 4:23).
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth [not worshiping in spirit and in truth]. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:5-7).
My dear children, I write this so that you will not sin (1 John 2:1).
1John 2:5 But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
Whoever claims to live in him is equivalent to the language used in John 15— abide in the vine, remain in me— and word here is not meant to be the Bible only because the prerequisite in verse 6 is being one with the Father, walking as Jesus did, and the result in verse 5 is God’s love truly being made complete in us.
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble (1 John 2:9,10).
Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure (1John 3:3).
He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous (1 John 3:7).
Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence (faith) before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him (1John 3:21,22).
The result of truly remaining, abiding in Jesus will be confidence or faith, then Jesus said, “ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15:7). This type of abiding is very deep and can only occur from a life totally dependent upon the Father and the Son. Forgiveness is a must for us to be intimate with the Father and the Son being illuminated by the Holy Spirit, for “whoever hates his brother is in the darkness” (1 John 2:11). Jesus in John calls the church to become holy so we can truly see and be full of him, then the nations will be drawn to the God they see shining through us.
1) D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, and Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 473. Carson shows this phrase most likely refers to John himself— John 13:23; 21:7; 21:20.
2) Christianity According to John (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975), 79.
3) John 14:12 “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” The terminology here indicates that this applies to all Christians, not just the disciples.
4) 1 John 2:27— spoken to Christians; John 16:13; 15:26; 14:26— spoken to the disciples.
5) Leon Morris, Reflections on the Gospel of John vol 3 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), 531, 532.
6) John 14:27; 20:21,22— also included in Paul’s fruit of the spirit list— Gal. 5:22, 23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
7) Gerald F. Hawthorne, The Presence and the Power: The Significance of the Holy Spirit in the Life and Ministry of Jesus (Dallas: Word, 1991) 216, 217.
8 ) Ibid., 208, 209.
9) Jesus is the Christ: Studies in the Theology of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989) 50.
10) Excluding John: Isa. 32:15-19; 44:3,4; Ezek. 39:29; Joel 2:28-29; Luke 24:49; Acts 2:4; 4:8; 4:31; 6:3; 7:55; 9:17; 9:31; 11:24; 13:4; 13:9; 16:6; 20:22; Rom. 2:29; 5:5; 8:6; 8:9; 8:13,14; 15:16; 1Cor. 2:13; 6:11; 12:3; Gal. 5:16; 5:18; 5:25; Eph. 3:5; Eph. 5:18; Phil. 3:3; 1Ths. 1:6; Titus 3:5; 1Pet. 1:12; 1John 2:27; 1John 3:24; Rom. 8:11.
11) “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
12) Mt. 9:2-6; Lk. 5:20-24. Luke 7:47-50 also applies: “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven —for she loved much….” (v. 47).
13) A close friend of mine who I’ve known for ten years, Joe ______, an evangelist at Anchorage Christian Center (Alaska) [at the time of writing] had such an experience in 1975. His sister was caught between rocks and drowning in the Delaware River. Praying the entire time, Joe walked on the water for at least fifty feet before he realized he was not walking on rocks but on top of about five feet of water. Like Peter, fear hit him and he immediately sunk up to his chest in the fast moving water. Another totally necessary and obvious miracle occurred which then rescued her.
© 2007 Jeff Fenske
[permission granted to use all or in part as long as attribution is made to the author]
Hearing God’s Voice: Brief Repeat Phrases