THE CONVICTING WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT: Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment
When [the Holy Spirit] comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in Me; 10 in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned” (John 16:8-11).
Jesus prophesied the Holy Spirit would be the Counselor and Teacher who is the Spirit of Truth in the age of the church. The truth is all people who have not confessed Jesus as the Son of God are living in the independence that is rebellion against God. It is the role of the Holy Spirit to convict and convince them they are on the wrong path.
The Apostle Paul asked:
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15; Isaiah 52:7).
The apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers of the New Covenant have leadership roles in telling the story, including inviting all believers to join them in sharing it. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convince people Jesus is the Son of God and their Savior. Then, if they recognize who Jesus is and repent, it is God’s nature to forgive their independent spirit that so routinely rejects God’s Son. Jesus will extend saving grace.
All people have a conscience, a moral sense of right and wrong with roots going back to Adam’s sin in Eden (Genesis 3:7-11; Romans 2:15). It is the work of the Holy Spirit to work in the conscience of people to prosecute, get a guilty verdict, and announce in advance the sentence of the judgment to come for their failure to accept Jesus Christ as God’s Son and their Savior.
If people recognize who Jesus is and repent, it is God’s nature to forgive their independent spirit that so routinely rejects God’s Son. Jesus will extend saving grace. “He that cometh to Me,” Jesus taught, “I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37; see John 3:16; Revelation 3:19-20). This is the essence of the New Birth (John 3:3-4; 2 Corinthians 5:17).The Apostle John expressed the Lord’s intent this way: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 KJV).
THINK ABOUT IT: Whole populations of people, yes even in the twenty-first century, angrily reject Jesus’ diagnosis of man’s separation from the God who loved them enough to die in their place. Holding on to their own self-righteous religious systems, entire ethnic groups choose to live independently of God and actually become enemies of the gospel.
This wooing of the Spirit embraces a three-fold indictment.
The first indictment reads, “[They] do not believe in Me.” The Spirit convicts people for their sin of unbelief, motivating them to admit their guilt before God.
The Lord is talking here about “sin” as the predisposition in the heart of all people anywhere to reject the identity and Lordship of Jesus as the Son of God and live independently of God as He is revealed by His Son. Sins spring out of this inclination in the heart of each person who refuses to believe all of the evidence Jesus provided for His divine identity. An abundance of eyewitness testimony exists that confirms Jesus was indeed raised from the dead. Jesus is exactly who He said He is.
It is the role of the Holy Spirit to serve as the great evangelist in the era of the church who makes people feel remorse because they have not received Jesus. When the gospel is proclaimed effectively so that people can see Jesus on His cross they begin to comprehend the price Jesus paid for their redemption. It is normal for heavy condemnation to follow. The Spirit’s goal is to motivate unbelievers to realize with Godly sorrow how deeply their sins have hurt the heart of God and defamed His good name (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Achieving this goal is the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. Without this convicting power of the Spirit, people will not feel their guilt and there will be no evangelism in the church. A pastor who does not regularly teach his people to expect the Holy Spirit to bring this conviction to bear on the conscience of unbelievers will see very few, if any, new people born again.
How important for every congregation to celebrate Jesus as the great Shepherd of the church, and the Holy Spirit as the great Evangelist. This convicting work of the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential to the ongoing success of the church.
I said I’ll go down and peep in at the door;
And the devil said don’t you go in.
I said it won’t hurt me I’ll just step inside
And sit as far back as I can.
But something got a hold of me, praise God!
Yes something got a hold of me!
I went there to fight but oh my, that night,
God surely got a hold of me!
Writer unknown to me
THINK ABOUT IT: When have you last heard a sermon on Holy Spirit “conviction?”
The second indictment that proceeds from the convicting work of the Holy Spirit stems from people rejecting Jesus as the standard for righteousness. The Holy Spirit works to stir up guilt that brings people to the point they admit Jesus is the model, the yardstick for what is right. Jesus is the personification of truth (John 14:6).
The ultimate evidence Jesus is the sole standard for right, and the perfect example of holiness is embraced in Jesus’ statement: “I go to My Father and you see me no more.” The heavenly Father would have never received Jesus in exaltation at the throne of God and seated Him at His right hand if any disobedience had been found in His life during His incarnation. To that end Jesus challenged the Pharisees while teaching in the temple on one of His visits to Jerusalem:
“Which of you can truthfully accuse Me of one single sin? [No one!] And since I am telling you the truth, why don’t you believe Me? Anyone whose Father is God listens gladly to the words of God. Since you don’t, it proves you aren’t His children” (John 8:46-47 TLB; I Peter 2:22).
Israel’s religious officials could not pin a single sin on Jesus, so they responded to this challenge by resorting to an age-old tactic. When you are embarrassed for losing the debate, switch quickly to name calling, demeaning, and snickering. They certainly did it against Jesus: “You Samaritan! Foreigner! Devil!” the Jewish leaders snarled. “Didn’t we say all along you were possessed by a demon?” (John 8:48 TLB).
The Holy Spirit leads people to accept all of the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. This includes embracing Jesus’ character, teaching, and example. Said another way, the Spirit works to bring people to accept Jesus as the Son of God who is the sole pattern and yardstick for righteousness.
When a person’s guilt motivates him to accept Jesus for who He is – blessed truth this – repentance follows and forgiveness flows out of the righteousness in the heart of God. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 KJV).
THINK ABOUT IT: The Holy Spirit delights to pour saving faith into any repentant person’s heart. Saving faith is the confidence to believe Jesus will forgive all of my sins, even mine. And yours too.
This convicting work of the Holy Spirit reaches worldwide, even to the people in the isolated villages of the world hidden in the deep valleys of tall mountain ranges (John 3:3-8; 6:44; Romans 5:10; Jeremiah 17:9; 1 Corinthians 2:14).
Many people stumble here as they choose to believe other paths lead to God and that Jesus cannot be the ultimate and final standard for defining what is right, or righteous. But the gospel leaves no wiggle room. Jesus claimed, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). All other so called paths grow out of man’s self-righteous independence and produce false confidence and arrogant pride. Many people have convinced themselves they can frame a better plan of salvation than Jesus did.
The Apostle Paul was very specific: “If a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law” (Galatians 3:21-22). The law can judge, assess fines, and punish with jail time, or even execute. But no one has ever been able to write a law that will duplicate the New Birth and yield righteousness in God’s sight.
The wonderful-beyond-expression-truth of the gospel is that we receive our righteousness because of Jesus Christ. This righteousness is based not on law (that defines the punishment we deserve) but on grace (that defines the forgiveness we will receive even though we do not deserve it).
When the Apostle Paul pictured Jesus on His cross he received the revelation of “credited righteousness” and realized it was illustrated in the life of Abraham. “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:5-8). Hence, Paul taught when a person believes in God, his faith too is “credited as righteousness.”
This understanding was also celebrated by King David who said “the same thing when he spoke of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him’” (Romans 4:5-8; Psalm 32:1-2).
If this kind of grace sounds too good to be true, then be assured that it is true. God keeps His promises; indeed, He cannot lie (Psalm 145:13; 2 Corinthians 1:20; 2 Peter 1:4; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18).
What peace follows when we comprehend that we are saved by grace through faith as Jesus credits His personal righteousness to each of our accounts!
THINK ABOUT IT: When have you last heard a sermon defending Jesus as the standard for “right” and “righteousness?” (Galatians 5:18).
I must needs go home by the way of the cross,
There’s no other way but this;
I shall ne’er get sight of the gates of light,
If the way of the cross I miss.
The way of the cross leads home,
The way of the cross leads home,
It is sweet to know as I onward go,
The way of the cross leads home.
By: Jesse P. Pounds
The third indictment that proceeds from the convicting work of the Holy Spirit is that people deny a judgment day is coming. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to compound the guilt that motivates people to acknowledge they will stand one day before the judge of all the earth. The cornerstone proof by which the Spirit “convinces the world” that a great judgment day is coming is that “the ruler of this world has been judged” (John 16:11 GW). Satan threw everything in his arsenal at Jesus when He was arrested, and the capstone of his evil was nailing Him to a cross.
THINK ABOUT IT: Did the devil think he had won the victory when Jesus died? Perhaps. But I doubt it. Is it not reasonable that Lucifer knew when it was clear Jesus would not come down from the cross that Jesus had won? Are we to believe Satan did not know Jesus would walk out of His tomb? The minions, the demons in hell might have celebrated some, but I think it was a shallow party that lacked greatly in enthusiasm.
Satan had to know Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, and if Lazarus could be raised, the heavenly Father could resurrect His Son too. Satan’s last and best chance was to make the cross so brutal Jesus would stop the sacrifice by overriding the guidance of His Father and the Holy Spirit. But coming down from the cross would have meant Jesus would not have succeeded as our Passover Lamb. Then Jesus’ righteous character would have been successfully impeached and the bond between Him and His Father broken. The consequences for failure would have been far, far worse than the excruciatingly painful price for success.
Jesus did stay on the cross until His death. That achievement meant Satan was “weighed in the balances, and found wanting,” and the devil knows it (Daniel 5:27).
The proof, therefore, of the coming judgment is the fact that “the ruler of this world has been judged” (John 16:11 GW). Since God judged Satan at Calvary and did not spare him, is it not obvious He will judge all people who reject His Son’s death for their salvation? The Apostle John said the reason Jesus came was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). Satan’s defeat at Calvary should convince everyone that a worldwide judgment day is coming.
THINK ABOUT IT: “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Hebrews 9:27-28 KJV).
No one should take for granted the coming day of reckoning on the great judgment day. “Be sure your sins will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). God “has set a day when He will judge the inhabited world, and do it justly, by means of a man whom He has designated. And He has given public proof of it by resurrecting this man from the dead” (Acts 17:31 Complete Jewish Bible).
THINK ABOUT IT: When is the last time you listened to a sermon on the judgment to come?
Yes, the great price Jesus paid to redeem mankind guarantees a Judgment Day is ahead. ‘“As I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:11-12 KJV; Revelation 6:15-17).
I dreamed that the great judgment morning Had dawned,
and the trumpet had blown;
I dreamed that the nations had gathered
To judgment before the White Throne.
From the throne came a bright, shining angel,
And he stood on the land and the sea.
And he swore with his hand raised to Heaven
That time was no longer to be.
And, oh, what a weeping and wailing,
As the lost were told of their fate.
They cried for the rocks and the mountains.
By: Bertram H. Shadduck