Our Guide Into Truth (John 16:12-15)

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There was time when truth was simple. We were taught certain things at home, in school and at church that were pretty much consistent with each other and provided us with a degree of certainty about life. In our post-modern times, however, that has all changed. We are surrounded by a wide range of different ideas about who we are, our place in the world and what life is all about. This isn’t a bad thing because it can open us up to a much fuller and richer life in a lot of ways. However, working out what is true or not becomes a lot more complicated when a wide assortment of ideas and worldviews present us with conflicting messages.

One of the tools people use to work out what is truth for them is what they experience. When different voices give different messages about what is true, then people can rely on their personal experience to help them decide which can be trusted. For example, if an advertisement for a particular type of drink is telling me that one product tastes better, but another ad is telling me that their product has more flavour, then the best way to work out who is telling the truth is to try each of them. Our experience of those products will help us decide which is truth.

John talks a lot about truth in his gospel. If you’re wrestling with questions about truth, it’s worth reading John’s gospel and listening for the times when John refers to truth or raises questions about truth. It tells us that people were struggling with what was true in Jesus’ day as well as our own. Throughout his gospel, John points to Jesus as embodying God’s truth for us. then, in John 16:12-15, Jesus promises to send the Spirit of truth who will guide his followers ‘into all truth’ (v13a NLT).

It’s important to recognise that there are different kinds of truth, so we need to understand what sort of truth Jesus was talking about. For example, mathematical truths such as 2+2=4 are different from historical truths, such as Captain James Cook discovered Australia (which was what I was taught as a child, but which we know now isn’t the whole truth). Philosophical, religious and spiritual truths are different again, so we can’t just use ‘truth’ as a blanket term for every kind of truth.

When Jesus promised that the Spirit of truth will guide us into ‘all truth’, he was talking about the truth about God, our relationship with God, and how that relationship can shape the way in which we understand ourselves, others, our world and our place in it. One of the reasons why the Bible is such a large book is because this truth can be understood in a variety of ways and from a number of different perspectives. However, the basic truth of the Bible into which the Spirit of truth guides us is the good news of Jesus.

One way this truth can be expressed is what Paul writes in Romans 5:1 – ‘since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us’ (NLT). Through Paul’s words, the Spirit of truth guides us into the truth that we have been made right, or justified, by Jesus through faith in him. What this means is that everything that was wrong or broken about us has been put right through Jesus’ death and resurrection for us. Because we are made right again through faith in Jesus, we now have peace with God. God is not angry, disappointed or unhappy with us. God isn’t ignoring us or is apathetic towards us. Instead, because of what Jesus has done for us, we are in a new relationship with our Creator who accepts us, loves us, values us and cares for us as we are. As I said, the Bible communicates this truth in lots of different ways, but it is the good news of God’s unconditional love and grace for us in Jesus which is the truth the Holy Spirit guides us into.

We need the Holy Spirit to guide us into this truth because faith in the gospel doesn’t come naturally with us. There are people I know who have been part of the church their whole lives who still live with a deep sense of guilt or fear. We all need the Spirit of truth to be guiding us into the truth of God’s grace and love so we can live free from guilt, fear, shame or regret, and find the joy, peace, love and hope that Jesus gives us through the Holy Spirit.

As the Spirit of truth guides us into the truth of the gospel, then he also begins to guide others into the truth of God’s grace through us. Earlier I talked about how our experiences help to shape our understanding of truth. As the Holy Spirit guides us in the truth of the gospel, it shapes our relationships and faith communities so people can experience the reality of grace and Christ-like love in us. Through our relationships with each other, the words we speak to and about each other, and a culture of grace in our churches, the Holy Spirit can guide people into the truth of God’s grace by giving them the experience of grace. However good my messages, the church’s worship or our programs may or may not be, if people don’t experience the reality of the gospel in their relationship with us, then it won’t be true for them. However, when people are experiencing grace in relationship and community with us, then the Spirit of truth can guide them into the truth of God’s grace through us.

This becomes especially important in our ministry with the younger people of our congregation. What the Growing Young conversation essentially is about is how we can give others, especially our younger people, an experience of the truth of God’s grace in their relationship with us and our congregation so the Spirit of truth can guide them into the truth of the gospel. In a world where our young people come into contact with so many different ideas which claim to be true, when they experience the truth of God’s grace and love in relationship with us, then the Spirit of truth can guide them into the truth of the gospel and it will become true for them in a life-changing way.

Talking about truth is hard because there are any different kinds of truths and everyone thinks their version of the truth is the right one. I’m really thankful that Jesus promised to send his Spirit of truth to us to guide us into the truth of God’s grace and love for us in Jesus. As the Holy Spirit guides us into the truth of the gospel, the Spirit of truth will also grow and equip us so that he can guide other people, our young people especially, into the truth of the gospel.

More to think about:

  • How do you generally understand ‘truth’? Do you see truth in a simple way or as a more complex idea? Can you give an example of that?
  • To what degree do your experiences shape your understanding of truth? Are there times when your understanding of truth has depended on something you experienced? Have you ever believed that something was true even though your experiences gave you a different message?
  • In what ways have your experiences in the church or in life shaped your views on the truth of the Bible? In what ways have they been good or helpful? How might they have not been good or helpful?
  • How do you understand ‘the truth of the Bible’? What does that mean to you?
  • What is your view on thinking about the ‘truth of the Bible’ as specifically the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us? Is that too narrow? How can it help you understand the rest of the story of the Bible?
  • Do you find it easy or difficult to believe in the good news of Jesus? Can you explain why?
  • Have you ever asked the Holy Spirit to guide you into God’s truth? If you have, what happened? If you haven’t, would you be willing to try it?
  • How can you help someone experience the truth of God’s grace and love by showing them grace and Christ-like love today?
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Dancing with the Divine (Romans 8:12-17)

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One of the more creative ways I have come across to illustrate the Trinity is three distinct persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all dancing together in perfect unity. This isn’t a ‘do you own thing’ style of dancing that you might see at a night club or rock concert. Instead, we can illustrate the relationship that exists within the Triune God as three distinct persons who are in perfect harmony with each other as they gracefully sweep across a dance floor in flawless unison.

Older Australian Lutherans might remember a time when more conservative elements of the church disapproved of any kind of dancing, so I can understand why some people might not relate to this picture of the Trinity, or even think it is biblical. However, I think it paints a captivating image of the Three-in-One God. It can be hard enough to move in step with one other person in this style of dancing, but when it works, the dancers share in the rhythm of the dance. In the same way, we can think of the Triune God as moving together in such perfect harmony with each other that they move as one, even though they are three distinct persons. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one in every way, and so they move together throughout time and eternity in perfect unity and community.

What amazes me about the grace of God is that the Trinity then invites us to participate with them in this divine dance. Jesus gives us his Spirit to bring us back into relationship with the Father through faith in him. The Trinity extends their perfect community with each other to us by inviting us to participate in community with them through faith in Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Faith isn’t just understanding that Jesus died and is risen again for us. It is taking the outreached hand of the Triune God and being welcomed into their grace-filled dance as the Trinity embraces us in love and sweeps us into a new way of being.

This is hard for us because we like to march to the beat of our own drum and dance in ways that we choose. Our lives often resemble a chaotic dance floor where everyone is doing their own thing. We value this independence in our culture and react against any thought or notion of conformity. However, the Trinity does not invite us in to relationship to impose a conformity or mindless obedience on us. Instead, the Triune God wants us to find grace, joy and peace in an eternal dance full of faith, hope and love.

This gives the idea of being led by the Spirit (v14) a very different perspective. Sometimes we can think of being led by the Spirit in a linear way – we are here, God wants us to go in that direction, so the Spirit leads us to a certain place in life. If we think of being led by the Spirit in the sense of a dance, then life becomes less about moving in a particular direction and more about entering into the flow of grace and love which involves our whole lives. When the Spirit of God is leading us like a dance partner, then everything we do will be caught up in the rhythm of grace and peace which comes from God and which gently manoeuvres us through everything we do.

I’ve never been much of a dancer, so the idea of the Trinity being three persons moving in perfect unity took me a while to get my head around. The more I think about it, though, the more I like it. The picture of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit dancing together in perfect relationship with each other and as ideal community in flawless unity is a creative way to think about a dynamic relationship which is beyond what we can understand. It might be an unorthodox way of thinking about God who is Three-in-One, but it helps the Trinity become less of a theological point to argue and more of a relationship in which we participate. And that’s what faith is – participating in the dance of the divine as our lives are caught up in the eternal rhythm of God’s grace, peace and love