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What Is the Holy Spirit?

In this week’s Gospel reading from John, Jesus gets specific: It’s not just a “spirit of niceness” or a “spirit of kindness” or a “spirit that will make you feel warm and fuzzy.”

What Jesus says about this wonderful entity that will be “our Advocate… forever” is that this entity is “the Spirit of truth [my emphasis added].” This is a repeated theme in John, not only in this 14th Chapter but, for instance, in Chapter 4, where John tells us we “must worship in spirit and truth.”

Indeed, as I have written here before, this is a crucial theme, perhaps the crucial theme, that John sets up from the very beginning of his Gospel. When John writes that “in the beginning, there was the Word,” he was using (for “the Word”) the Greek “logos,” in what I explained was “the common Greek understandings of ‘logos’ to mean ‘right reason’ or ‘knowledge’ – or something that is rightly or logically in order (rather than disorder). Or, put another way, ‘logos’ means wisdom, a concept usually connected with deep and utter truth.”

A few verses after that, John repeated the theme: “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

And, of course and most famously, John recorded Jesus saying that He is “the way, the truth and the life.”

Why this emphasis on truth, and what are its deeper meanings?

The context is important. Throughout this week’s passage, Jesus is talking about the Spirit/truth abiding with and in (or, in combination, within) all avid believers. This same idea is in this week’s other readings, as in Paul saying that “in Him we live and move and have our being,” and also (somewhat similarly) in 1 Peter’s assurance that “good conduct in Christ” and “the hope that is in you” is related to a “good conscience” that comes from God “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

What John is emphasizing, entirely consistent with (even if more emphatically than) other parts of Scripture, is the idea of God’s love and Spirit creating an integrity, a wholeness, a genuine and uncorrupted state, of one’s soul. And this integrity, this truth, this wholeness within us, is part and parcel of our integration (note the same word root) with the very love and Spirit of God.

To achieve this integration with the Spirit, and to fully inhabit a state of integrity, we must respond to and accept God’s will. Note that in our reading, John does not merely say that God, without any predicate, will give us the eternal advocate of the Spirit. There is a clause before that offer and promise. The passage starts like this:

If you love me, you will keep my commandments, and [in return, by inference], I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate….”

Likewise, this particular passage ends, by way of emphasis, with the same message: “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father,” etcetera.

In other words, the Spirit enters us and joins us only if we make room for Him by joining our own wills with the will of God – not by directing His will, but by being directed by it.

This is what truth means, in this context: not merely being “factual,” not just being somehow technically accurate about something, but being in full and whole and wise and loving unity or integration with God’s Spirit.

The Spirit is one of truth, and truth is part and parcel of the Spirit. And, enveloped in and throughout that unity, is the unfathomable love of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To all those who enter this state, Jesus said, “I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

That is the wondrous promise, and that is the truth.

Quin Hillyer is a veteran conservative columnist with a degree in theology. His faith-themed satirical novel, Mad Jones: Heretic, is due for publication this summer by Liberty Island Media.