Three people are sitting around a table at a coffee shop. One is sharing his faith with two friends. One of those friends is indifferent to the conversation and feels that the topic is entirely irrelevant to his life. He is listening only out of respect for his friend. The other is captivated. He is feeling as if he is hearing something real for the first time in his life. Questions that have haunted him for years are being answered with remarkable clarity. It is the most important conversation of his life.
What’s the difference?
This morning we are continuing our study of the Holy Spirit. Let’s review our ground rules:
Rule #1: You don’t study the Holy Spirit the Holy Spirit studies you.
Rule #2: The Holy Spirit is a person.
Last week we sat down with Jesus and the disciples at the last supper. We heard Jesus tell them that He was leaving, but that was advantageous to them. It would be better because someone else would come to take Jesus place. The Holy Spirit would come as an advocate, helper and comforter. He would dwell inside them and provide power, wisdom, comfort and anything else that they lacked.
This morning we are back in that room with Jesus and the disciples during that last dinner conversation before Jesus was arrested and crucified.
Let’s read John 16:1-15.
The disciples have been commissioned to spread the teachings of Jesus, not just in Jerusalem or Galilee, but throughout the world. According to deeply rooted Jewish tradition and sentimentalities, the crucifixion was proof that Jesus had been condemned by God. Whatever else he might have been, at some point he had gotten onto God’s bad side and paid the price for it. The idea of a crucified Messiah was a complete contradiction in terms. The idea of resurrection wouldn’t fare any better with Jewish culture. There was no precedent of or expectation of a bodily resurrection.
So here were a small number of regular people, not leaders or teachers, just regular people who were known accomplices of a convicted and condemned man. They had the job of convincing Jerusalem and the whole world that Jesus was the Messiah.
How is that going to work?
Let’s take a closer look in verse 8. When the Holy Spirit comes He will convict the world.
The Greek word which is translated as convict in our Bible means to convict or convince someone of something, to bring to light or expose something.
The word is used 18 times in the NT. Here are a few examples:
“But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done,”
“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.”
“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”
In his commentary on John, D.A. Carson summarizes the use of the word – “Arguably, in every instance the verb has to do with showing someone his sin, usually as a summons to repentance”
The Holy Spirit will come and convince the world. He is the Great Convincer.
What will He convince the world of?
Sin, Righteousness and Judgment
These are not happy little words. They are serious words.
There is nothing more serious than sin, righteousness and judgment.
These are three fundamental realities of the fallen human condition.
And they are three realities that are anything but real to our modern human understanding.
Our world no longer has the language for sin, righteousness and judgment. The world cannot understand these things.
The world does not understand that the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. The great problem of the world is not education, it is not poverty, it is not a political or social problem. It is a spiritual problem.
In the late modern world we don’t believe in sin anymore. We don’t have language to describe or put into words our experience of guilt and wrongdoing. We have experience we cannot put into words. We have anxiety, we have existential dread. We have no words for this experience.
The world doesn’t know how deep it runs in the human heart. The world doesn’t know how universal the problem of sin is in human society. The world doesn’t know how grievous sin is to a holy God. The world cannot know unless it is driven home by the Spirit of God.
Without the Spirit of God working on a person’s heart they will not understand the meaning or the weight of sin righteousness and judgment.
Why these three?
Sin and righteousness are two sides to the same coin.
To sin is to fall short. Sin is a rebellion against God and his law.
Sin does not exist in itself. It is a corruption.
Sin and righteousness together. Sin has no existence in itself. It is a corruption of something good. It is like a stain.
A couple of weeks ago a tragedy occurred in our Fellowship Hall after the service. Alex Whitesell had recently received a brand new pair of Air Jordans. They were white, the kind of glowing white that you can only find on a brand new pair of sneakers. In the commotion that always ensues in the Fellowship Hall, a cup of coffee was bumped and spilled over onto the new white Jordans. And in a matter of hours the priceless shining purity of those new sneakers was spoiled with the brown stains of coffee.
There’s a far greater tragedy than the spoiling of sneakers. That is the spoiling of the purity of the human soul with the stains of sin. The conviction of sin and righteousness is a complementary conviction. It is the realization that there really is goodness in the world, that there really is purity and rightness in the world.
And it is followed with the heartbreaking realization that I am not a part of it. That I have missed the mark, that I am stained by sin.
It’s a terrible feeling.
The conviction of judgment is far worse. To really feel subjectively that you have been stained is an agonizing feeling.
The conviction that follows that one is the realization that this is not merely subjective.
There is an objective reality, a Holy God is there and His holiness and purity accuses and condemns my sin.
The result of that condemnation is to be cast out forever from the presence of God. Is there anything worse than that?
To learn that there is something pure, and good and true and right in this world and to realize that I have been cut off from that forever and will never experience it.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these three realities.
1. He will convict the world of sin, because they do not believe in Him.
The Bible tells us that:
- Sin is universal. (Romans 3:23)
- Sin separates. (Isaiah 59:2)
- Sin is deadly. (Romans 6:23)
Sin is the great problem of humanity. Jesus spoke to the world about sin and they did not believe. They compounded their sin by committing the greatest sin, not believing Jesus.
“Some of us do not think that it is sin at all; and tell us that man is no more responsible for his belief than he is for the colour of his hair . . .
Well, let me put a very plain question: What is it that a man turns away from when he turns away from Jesus Christ? The plainest, the loveliest, the loftiest, the perfectest revelation of God in His beauty and completeness that ever dawned, or ever will dawn upon creation. He rejects that.
Anything more? Yes! He turns away from the loveliest human life that ever was, or will be, lived. Anything more? Yes!
He turns away from a miracle of self-sacrificing love, which endured the Cross for enemies, and willingly embraced agony and shame and death for the sake of those who inflicted them upon Him. Anything more? Yes!
He turns away from hands laden with, and offering him, the most precious and needful blessings that a poor soul on earth can desire or expect.”
To reject Jesus’ teaching on sin is a tragic and deadly mistake.
“Unless you believe, you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24)
“Whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Sin.” (John 3:18)
“Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.” (1 John 5:10)
Words were not enough. Something more is needed. The Holy Spirit must come and convince the world.
2. He will convict the world of righteousness because we will no longer see Him.
Righteousness is something that has to be seen and experienced.
Take athleticism for example. You may think you are skilled in basketball because you can hold your own at the YMCA downtown, but when an NBA player walks onto the court you will gain an entirely new understanding of athleticism.
You think you are a good Christian and then you meet a missionary who has sacrificed everything to risk their lives on a daily basis to reach a remote population with the gospel. Then you will gain a new understanding.
To be with Jesus was to gain a new understanding of righteousness.
The world’s conception of righteousness is a stern, cold self-righteousness. It creates pride among those who feel successful, hypocrisy among those who don’t but want to appear successful and despair or indifference among those who have experienced the failure of human self-righteousness.
Human righteousness is a failed righteousness.
- There is no one righteous. (Romans 3:10)
- Our righteous acts are like filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6)
- Our self-righteousness is really rebellion against God. (Romans 10:3)
Most people think that if there is heaven, they will be there. Why? Because they never killed anyone. The world has no understanding of righteousness. The Holy Spirit must come into the world to convict the world and reveal true righteousness.
3. The Holy Spirit will convict the world of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
- Judgment is inevitable (Hebrews 9:27)
- Judgment is exhaustive (1 Corinthians 4:5)
- Judgment is irreversible (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
Am I taking us back to the dark ages of religion, to the time of hell fire and brimstone?
I am trying to be a faithful messenger. I am trying to open the Bible and let it speak for itself.
If a physician discovers that his patient has a devastating cancerous tumor in his body, there is only one loving thing to do in that situation. You must as quickly and clearly as possible inform your patient of the seriousness of their situation. You must make them aware of what the future will hold if they do not take steps to save themselves.
The Bible is a book of love. Would it be love and compassion and enlightenment for me to see the seriousness of sin and righteousness and judgment and withhold it from you?
“The world’s unbelief not only ensures that it will not receive life, it ensures that it cannot perceive that it walks in death and needs life. The Holy Spirit presses home the world’s sin despite the world’s unbelief; he convicts the world of sin because they do not believe in Jesus. This convicting work of the Paraclete is therefore gracious: it is designed to bring men and women of the world to recognize their need, and so turn to Jesus, and thus stop being ‘the world.’”
God sends the Holy Spirit to convict the world out of love for the world.
How does it work? What does that conviction look like?
The first example we see is at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descends on the first Christians. They were in a home, praying and waiting when the Spirit suddenly and powerfully manifested Himself in their midst. They were overcome with a sense of God’s presence and His glory. They began to shout and sing. A crowd gathered to see the spectacle and make fun of them. Then they noticed something spectacular, travelers who had come to Jerusalem from all over the world heard the praises of God in their own languages. How is this happening?
Peter stood up to explain it. He preached to them about sin and righteousness and judgment.
Acts 2:37 – When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” That day 3,000 people who never met Jesus were baptized as his followers. The Holy Spirit convinced them.
Yes, but that is the Bible. What is the relevance for me today?
The supernatural conviction of sin, righteous and judgment is not limited to the Bible’s history.
John Oxtoby was a Methodist preacher who heard about a town that was cold and hostile toward Christianity. The Methodists were unable to establish a church in that town. Oxtoby, who was not a particularly gifted speaker, but was deeply spiritual, asked to be assigned to the town.
He traveled there and pulled up on a hillside overlooking the town. He prayed for hours until he had a sense that God was answering his prayer.
He went into the town square and began to preach. A crowd gathered. The same men who had mocked and ridiculed preachers were there. But this time, something changed. Hardened men began to weep, many of them falling to their knees and crying out, “God save us.” Many people in that town became followers of Jesus.
What happened? The Holy Spirit convinced them of sin, righteousness and judgment.
When I talk of sin we may all feel a general sort of conviction. But the Holy Spirit takes that conviction and he puts a sharp focus on it. He makes it personal. He puts a spotlight on specific sin. He pushes on the pressure points of our conscience. He makes us feel the terrible wrongness of sin and the rightness of judgment for our sin.
“Those of you who are at ease have little idea of how terrifying a sight it is when the Holy Spirit is pleased to open a man’s eyes to see the real state of his heart… Men who were thought to be, and who thought themselves to be good, religious people… have been led to search into the foundation upon which they were resting, and have found all rotten,”
Scottish man on awakening in his town.
Years ago I was preaching at a service for college students. A young man came to the service and afterwards came up to tell me how much he hated the service. The music was terrible. The disagreed with everything I said. He was not coming back. I thought, “wow, thanks. You didn’t have to tell me that, you could have just left.”
A month or two later, he came back. He quickly left after the service ended.
A couple of days later he showed up unexpectedly at our church office. He told me that something happened to him at that weekends service. He was haunted by God and tried to run away from Him. He got into his truck and drove for many hours trying to escape God. Eventually he surrendered. He came straight to the church to ask us what he should do.
The Holy Spirit convinced Him.
What should we do if this is true?
First of all, if you have not yet believed in Jesus, there is nothing more important than to turn from your sins, abandon all trust in your own righteousness and receive the grace of God.
The good news is that Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world but to save it. He is ready to take away your sin. He is ready to share his righteousness with you.
There is nothing more important you can do.
For those of you who have done that, here is the good news for you: you don’t have to convince the world.
You don’t have to convince the world about sin, righteousness and judgment, because the Holy Spirit is here and that’s His job.
You simply have to speak the truth in love and let Him do the work.
There is a vital application for us in the late modern world.
If the Holy Spirit is going to work in us to convince the world about sin, righteousness and judgment, we have to tell the world about sin, righteousness and judgment.
And if we are going to speak about sin and righteousness and judgment, we might have to yield to the Spirit’s great convicting work in our own souls first.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown