Have you ever felt alone, isolated, without someone to get your back? I’ve had stretches where I thought no one understood what I was going through. Hard times hit, family moves, friends desert you, and the feeling of abandonment sets in. What do you want more than anything in those moments? A friend who never leaves. A companion who will stick with you through thick and thin. Someone who will walk with you through anything. The Holy Spirit is that kind of person. In fact, Jesus said it was better for him to go away so that he could send the Helper to us (Jn 16:7).
“Helper” is easier to relate to than “Spirit.” It puts a face on the Holy Ghost. But what exactly did Jesus mean by “Helper”? The Greek word parakletos can be translated various ways—helper, comforter, advocate—but is essentially “one who is called to someone’s aid.” The Spirit is someone who gets your back. Jesus explains, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me” (Jn 15:26).
One way the Helper helps is by bearing witness to Jesus. When we’re down, or feel like the world is against us, the Helper knows just what to do. He doesn’t fluff our ego by telling us we’re awesome and everyone else is dumb. He doesn’t offer false hope by whispering sweet nothings in our ear. He tells us the truth because he is the “Spirit of truth.” In moments of temptation and seasons of despair, he whispers the promises of God and words of comfort. He reminds us what is true.
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A Helper to the Hated
Jesus’ description of the Spirit as Helper occurs right after telling his disciples they will be hated by the world (Jn 15:18‑25). Hate is a strong word. Whenever I hear one of my kids say, “I hate you,” I quickly respond, “We don’t use that word. Can you think of a different word?” Should Jesus be using a different word? Are we really hated by the world?
Over a million Christians were killed for their faith in the decade between 2000 and 2010. That’s one hundred thousand martyrs a year. I’d say they qualify for being hated by the world. We know the Helper is certainly there for them, helping them hold fast to Christ when lined up in orange jumpsuits on a sandy beach and killed execution style. But what about the rest of us?
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"This world-system hate is sometimes in your face, but often it’s an understated snub."
Up to this point, the disciples’ experience of hatred hadn’t really been physical. Not a drop of blood had been shed. They had been snubbed by friends and family, some put out of the synagogue, others mocked and sharply debated by the religious establishment. They experienced a kind of social hatred, marginalizing them within their own culture. For them being hated by the world was mainstream society saying, “You’re not welcome here. Your views aren’t valid. We reject your Messiah.” So when Jesus says the world hates you, he’s primarily referring to the world system, its way of seeing and shaping things, a viewpoint that privileges other ideologies and values over the gospel. This world-system hate is sometimes in your face, but often it’s an understated snub.
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A Helper to Walk With
I was meeting a friend with secular commitments for lunch when she asked me if I was writing another book. I eagerly told her I was, and she thoughtfully inquired what it was about. I said, “I don’t have my elevator pitch down yet, but its essential message is that instead of finding our identity in a disembodied state of what others think of us, online or at work or whatever (being there in spirit), our true identity is found here in the present through faith in Jesus (being here in Spirit). It’s about how walking with the Spirit of God affects everything from the culture we make to the God we worship.”
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"...with a warm smile and a well-intentioned kindness ..."
She responded, “Yeah, we need to hear that message about being more present in the moment.” Using her own worldview to redefine and reinterpret my explanation, she coopted my thesis and lopped off half of the book! She excised what she hated—the exclusive claim of Jesus as the best identity-giver through his Spirit—with a warm smile and a well-intentioned kindness, but it was an expression of the world’s hate.
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A Witness to the Truth
Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience or heard something like this in a conversation: “You don’t believe that, do you?” “Do you take the Bible literally?” How does the Helper assist us in these kinds of situations? With Jesus gone, we need help from outside the system. We need an independent witness to the truth who can see things the way they really are. The Spirit bears witness, or testifies, to that reality. In the moment of hatred, the Spirit gives us faith to stand.
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"...winsomely absorb the blow while moving the conversation toward the truth."
One way to respond to these jabs is to ask a simple question: “Why do you believe differently?” “What do you mean by literally?” This allows us to winsomely absorb the blow while moving the conversation toward the truth. When my friend changed the meaning of my words, I did not back off my thesis. Instead, the Holy Spirit prompted me to continue talking with her and to pray for her. After we left, the Spirit also prompted a friend who was with me to comment on her reaction. It was nice to know I wasn’t the only one who witnessed the minor offense.
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A Helper to the Heartbroken
Sometimes standing up for the truth is more painful. Several women in our church come to mind, women who have lovingly called their friends to repentance over gossip, sexual sin, and divisiveness, only to lose the friendship altogether. One woman in particular sought reconciliation with a friend after they had parted ways for over a year. She heard her friend’s father died in a tragic car accident, so she reached out to express empathy and ask if she could attend the funeral. She was abruptly shut down and not permitted to attend. The loss of friendship was almost unbearable.
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“Jesus is worth it. Jesus is better. Jesus is supreme.”
In the season of isolation, in the temptation to weaken in faith, the Spirit announces in the chamber of our souls, “Jesus is worth it. Jesus is better. Jesus is supreme.” His acceptance is more enduring than that of friends, his love purer than a spouse’s, and his gospel truer than ideologies peddled by this world.
If the Spirit doesn’t stand up in my heart for that truth, for the superiority, beauty, and utter uniqueness of Jesus, I’ll cave into the hatred. I won’t stand up and love the world by insisting that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. I’ll let their response roll over me unchecked, and I’ll slowly believe bits of their worldview. We’ll begin to think avoiding gospel conversations is a sure path to true acceptance, or sleeping with a non-Christian boyfriend is better than resting in what Jesus offers, or that more convenience and ease is what brings real happiness.
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A Witness to Jesus
When we are walking in the Spirit, we will hear his silent witness to Jesus in our hearts, and in turn we will witness to others. When we receive the help of the Spirit, we are emboldened to help others. You see, the Spirit is more than a helping hand or an infinite force. He’s the one who always gets our back. He is the companion who always tells the truth, the friend who never fails.
Taken from Here in Spirit by Jonathan K. Dodson. Copyright (c) 2018 by Jonathan K. Dodson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Jonathan K. Dodson (MDiv, ThM) is the founding pastor of City Life Church in Austin, Texas, which he started with his wife, Robie, and a small group of people. He is also the founder of Gospel-Centered Discipleship and author of Gospel-Centered Discipleship, The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing and Raised? Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection. He enjoys listening to M. Ward, smoking his pipe, watching sci-fi, and following Jesus.
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