Christian Living

Paraclete

The Holy Spirit comes alongside us to bear our burdens, defend us, and give us strength and courage. Today, Barry Cooper examines a Greek word that richly illustrates our relationship with Christ and His Spirit.

Transcript

I recently e-mailed an American friend because I needed to change our plans. Naturally, I apologized for the faff.

“A faff?” he said. “What’s a faff?”

A faff, I explained patiently, is much like a kerfuffle.

“What’s a kerfuffle?” he said.

“Oh, come on,” I said. “You must have ‘kerfuffle.’ It’s like a palaver.”

“A palaver?” he said. “Is that like ‘shooting the breeze’?”

“Why don’t you speak English?” I said. “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”

There’s an important Greek word in the New Testament that is similarly tricky to translate. The word is paraclete, and it’s used by Jesus both as a name for the Holy Spirit and also for Himself.

Part of the difficulty of translating the word paraclete is that it has several different senses. The first sense is “helper.”

In John chapter 14, verse 16, Jesus says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.”

Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit there, but notice that word “another” Helper. Another Helper? Who was the first Helper?

Remarkably, the answer to that is Jesus Himself. How do you feel about being called a helper? I suspect most of us instinctively think it’s a little beneath us. But here is the second person of the Trinity describing Himself in exactly those terms—as our Helper.

As it says in Hebrews 13:6: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

The Holy Spirit—because He is, after all, Christ’s Spirit—is also a paraclete, a helper.

Literally, the Greek word paraklētos means “someone who is called to come alongside someone else.” In Greek culture, a paraclete was like a family attorney. We Brits would say a “barrister” (which is not to be confused with a “barista,” a person who works in Starbucks).

So, a paraclete was someone who came alongside people and defended them, who protected them in times of trouble. He was someone who came alongside the weak to give them strength and courage, especially in the context of being persecuted. This is what some older translations are getting at when they translate paraclete as “comforter.”

Another sense of the word paraclete is the word used to translate it in the book of 1 John. There, the word is translated “advocate”: “My little children [John writes], I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate [a paraclete] with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

In other words, we’re to think of Jesus—and by implication His Spirit—as One who pleads for us, on our behalf, if we sin.

That’s exactly the picture we get elsewhere in the New Testament. In Hebrews 7, for example, Christ is spoken of as “making intercession” for his people, and Romans 8 says that He is “at the right hand of God . . . interceding for us.”

If you are in Christ, then Christ—as your paraclete, your advocate—is able to plead, on the basis of his own blood, that you are perfectly righteous, even if you sin.

So that is the Paraclete. The One who is alongside us. The One who bears our burdens and defends us. The One who gives us strength and courage.

Antinomianism

We can get in danger of being so infatuated with the idea of our sin’s forgiveness that we start to leave obedience behind. Today, Barry Cooper points out that Christians don’t take God’s law less seriously, but more seriously.

Transcript

My hair needed cutting recently, and I tried a new place. The man cutting my hair turned out to be very chatty and very opinionated. So I listened intently, as one does when someone is holding something very sharp and pointy near one’s head.

As it turned out, my friend the barber had become a Christian only four years previously. I don’t remember exactly how it came up, but he mentioned that he’d never been baptized and had no intention of ever being baptized.

At this point, I decided to pipe up. “Doesn’t Jesus command us to be baptized in Matthew 28?” “What will happen if I don’t?” he said. “Will that mean I’m not saved?” “Not necessarily,” I said, “but if Christ commands it, don’t you think followers of Christ ought to take that seriously?”

“That sounds like you’re trying to place me under the law,” he said. “Anyone who is in Christ is no longer under the law!” (At this point, I could tell that the other customers were looking at us and thinking, wow, that British guy really chose the wrong barber to cut his hair.)

Now, I don’t know if my friend the barber falls into this category, but it sounded to me as if he was in danger of what theologians call antinomianism.

The word antinomian literally means “against law.” It describes someone who believes that a Christian is someone who is free from the demands of God’s law.

As Christians, it seems to me we’re often in danger of being so infatuated with the idea that our sin has been paid for, put away, dealt with, forgiven, that we can—without realizing it—become functional antinomians. Of course, we would never say that sin doesn’t matter, and yet we can start to live as if it really didn’t. What does it matter, we say to ourselves, if we let ourselves slide a little—the Bible tells me I’m forgiven if I’m a Christian, so what’s the big deal?

We can become like the poet Heinrich Heine, whose last words were apparently, “Of course God will forgive me; that’s His job.”

But if sin matters to us that little, what makes us think we really are Christians? Biblically speaking, the mark of a saved person is that we bear spiritual fruit. And if our spiritual “fruit” is some kind of ongoing laxity about sin, then we have no grounds for confidence that we’re saved at all.

One essential mark of a person who is truly in Christ is not that we take God’s law less seriously but that we take it more seriously. A truly changed heart loves God so much that it sincerely longs to please Him by obeying Him. That obedience won’t be perfect, of course, but we’ll seek to repent whenever we see sin in our lives.

According to Psalm 1, the blessed man is the one who takes delight in the law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night.

Psalm 1 also tells us that the person who delights in God’s law

is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

If that’s true, then why would we want to ignore God’s law? Why would you not want to prosper?

When my friend the barber said, “Anyone who is in Christ is no longer under the law,” he was, of course, quoting Romans chapter 6 verse 14. But we need to read on to the next verse, where the Apostle Paul says this: “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!”

In other words, we’ve been set free from sin, not to sin. Just because we’re no longer under the condemnation of the law doesn’t mean that the law has nothing to say about how we should now live.

The gospel says I’m justified by faith alone. And one of the essential proofs of that saving faith is a genuine delight in obeying God’s law.