Wednesday, April 13, 2016

What does the Bible mean when it says we have an advocate?

And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
I John 2:1

In commenting on this verse, I remember that oftentimes I have read an analogy made to a courtroom scene where our accuser is Satan, our attorney is Jesus, and the judge is God the Father. Satan accuses us, listing our sins, and attempting to convict us by including the horrible details of our disobedience. At last he exhausts his list of accusations, the defense attorney, Jesus, stands and makes a short but dramatic defense. All the sins, all the faults, and all the disobediences which we have done, says Jesus, were condemned in Jesus being on the cross. There is nothing, not one single charge that can be brought against us because Jesus paid it all on the cross. God the Father renders a quick verdict of innocent by reason of substitution, that Jesus took the punishment meant for us and that is the end of that—but just the beginning for us, if the Bible is to be believed.

Analogies are usually better if we are not tempted to carry them too far, and that is certainly true in this case. God the Father, while we may cast him as the judge in the analogy, yet had the mercy and foresight to provide an advocate for us, because he sovereignly chose to love us. Thus, God the Father is not quite accurately cast in the role of the judge, for it was the sovereign purpose of both the Father and the Son to extend forgiveness. Yet, there are passages aplenty where God will judge men according to their deeds, first the believers will be judged at the bema seat of Christ, and later the unbelievers will be judged. It ought to be a comfort to know that in these wicked times men will be held accountable for their every misdeed.

More of a comfort is the fact the those who have believed God are not subject to judgment, since their judgment has already happened with the cross, when God poured out his wrath upon the Son, that we might receive mercy instead. But what of an advocate? What does advocate mean? In this lifetime, now longer than it was before (and I have hopes of it being longer still), I am faulted with many imperfections, most of which stare at me from the mirror of memory in unseemly manners and all too often. But I have an Advocate. When those accusations fly—probably far more often from the Accuser than I realize—I quickly come to the place where I realize I have no place whatever to stand. I am totally and completely dependent on my Advocate, and should he fail one time in his job, I will surely perish. And, if understand my Bible, that is the precise meaning of grace—getting what we do not deserve.

Having an Advocate means that we have someone to represent us to the Father. “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24). All the prayers taught beforehand, even including what is called the Lord’s Prayer, are as nothing when compared to the access Jesus has given us to the Father. Three times in three chapters in John, Jesus solemnly declares this new access we have to the Father (Jn. 14:4, “If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.”; Jn. 15:7b, “Ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.”; Jn. 16:23b, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.”). Thus three times we are told that our Advocate has given us access to answered prayer never before conceived. Now we all can come to the Father, knowing that he will hear us, because we indeed have an Advocate.

But John does not leave it there. He reminds us that we do not need to come to Jesus, that Jesus might pray for us to an unwilling and recalcitrant Father. No, indeed, for John reminds us that the Father himself loves us because we have chosen to love Jesus, and have believed that he came out from God. Thus, the Father himself delights in hearing our prayers and is eager to provide answers because he already has loved us. Hardly the impartial judge of the above analogy. Instead, he is very partial, having been made partial to us through the very Advocate he sent us in the Son. Savor the promises of this great passage found in John: “At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God. I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father.” (v. 26-28)

Of course mixed intrinsically in these chapters together with the great promise of prayer that is heard, is the promise of the Holy Spirit who is promised to indwell every believer, and that indwelling is very much a part of the reason we have access to the Father. Thus, the Son, given as an Advocate by a Father who has already chosen to love us, is now praying for us, not that the Father might hear us, but that the Father might send another Comforter, one who will take the very place of Jesus while he is absent from us. Thus, every believer is blessed with the very presence of God, directly because Jesus died, was raised from the dead, and ascended to the Father.

We do not know what we ought to pray for, but Romans tells us that “the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (v. 26b). The advocacy of God has gone so far as to take the basic prayers that I sometimes so feebly present, and the Spirit of God takes those very prayers and translates them into powerful requests to the Father. It should not be able to be better than that, but it is! We are told that God values our prayers so much that he saves them. One day in the last times, as Christ is preparing to at last return to earth, an angel will take the very prayers of all the saints of all times, and make them a sweet offering of incense, which will ascend up before God himself.1

The Spirit himself is in us, a gift for the span of eternity. But, I notice, the gift comes with a cost. There is absolutely nothing that we can do, say, or think that is not known by God, who in fact knows things before they happen, but all the more knows what I am thinking because he has become part of me. It is all part of having an advocate, one who does indeed advocate for us, but with that advocacy also indwells us and know us.
Early in my Christian life I encountered this idea of God in us, the Holy Spirit being given to us, and I quickly realized that now I had an audience in my head. I remember a feeling of resentment which quickly passed as I reasoned my way through it all. I just wasn’t sure I wanted someone listening to all my thoughts—there were definitely times when my thoughts were not proper. But I realized that after all, God loves us enough to give us his very Spirit to be a help to us, and not to condemn us.

Reflecting on his presence, I quickly came to realize he did not just listen to what I said, but heard the very thoughts of my heart. Psalm 139:4 says, “For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.” I further realized that God could hear my unvoiced prayer as well, and that by directing my thoughts to him, I could be praying without talking.

What an exciting thought! Many years later, I began to work on the habit of “voicing” a quick prayer up for those that the Lord puts around me during the day. I see someone coming or going and begin a quick prayer of salvation for such a person. When I do that, am I not acting in a manner similar to an advocate? Am I not praying for the poor deaf soul to hear afresh the words of life? I am not sure how effective such prayers are, but I began to notice changes in me that were big. I was trying to look at others as God would see them, in their desperate need. Heretofore I had crossed the paths of many such with nary a concern, but now I was learning a bit to see others through new eyes, perhaps closer to how God actually views needy souls.

To sum up therefore, we have an advocate in Jesus, sent by the Father, who loves us also, and gifted with the Holy Spirit, who also advocates for us in prayer, translating our very words into something which the Father hears. Paul reminds us that with such an advocate, who can be against us, to which the proper answer is, of course, that no might, or force, or power is able to win out over the Advocate given to us. I do not see how it can get better than that!

1. And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.
Revelation 8: 3, 4

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