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John 16:8–11 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
8 And when that one arrives, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.
Nisan 14, 33 C.E., the night of the Passover feast with Jesus, he told the apostles, “And when that one [the Holy Spirit] arrives, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” (John 16:8) How did the Holy Spirit do this on Pentecost? The first stage was to baptize the apostles in Holy Spirit, which means that they would have been miraculously endowed with guidance, instruction, teachings, and a remembrance of what Jesus had said. Again, looking at Jesus’ words just before His ascension, he said, “for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:5) The second stage was the work that these ones would carry out in the first century, namely, putting the world on notice (convicting them concerning their sin and righteousness), which was very similar to what the Mosaic Law had done with the Israelites. Remember the words of the apostle Paul,
Romans 5:20-21 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
20 The [Mosaic] Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
How did the Mosaic Law make sin “increase”? From Adam’s rebellion to the Mosaic Law, man was well aware of right and wrong because even in imperfection he had a sense of right and wrong. God had given Adam and Eve a conscience, an internal mechanism, to evidence the difference between right and wrong. In their perfection, they were able to sin still because even if a perfect person entertains bad thoughts, it will lead to sin and death. (James 1:14-15) Nevertheless, humankind in imperfection has a measure of that conscience that was given to Adam and Eve, meaning they have always had a sense of good and bad. However, the Mosaic Law laid our more explicitly what sin was and the different aspects of it. Therefore, the Mosaic Law caused sin to increase. On this Paul wrote,
Romans 7:7-8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
7 What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.
Like the apostle Paul, neither Jewish persons nor us today would know the full range of sin without the Mosaic Law. Paul gave us the example of coveting. The law exposed the coveting spirit that Paul would never have truly recognized in its fullest sense. This is how Paul could say, “apart from the Law sin is dead,” specifically, it would not be as recognizable, as exposed, as highlighted. The Law made people more aware of the extent of their sinful nature. We should offer a word of caution, though, the Mosaic Law did not move them toward sin or make sin more appealing, but rather it exposed sin for what it was. Sin is missing the mark of perfection. Sin is being out of harmony with the Creator, his personality, standards, and ways, which he inculcated in his creation. The Law made it possible to convict more people concerning sin. Now, the apostles, baptized in Holy Spirit were going to take this a step further with the law of Christ. Again, Jesus said to his apostles, “When that one [the Holy Spirit] arrives, he will convict the world [by way of the apostle workers] concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” (John 16:8)
What do we mean by ‘convicting the world concerning sin’? This is not a reference to sin in general, as though, the Holy Spirit would personally come upon a person who just watched a movie they should not have, or they just told a lie, or they committed any sin. When we feel this inner guilt, a groaning of our inner person, because we know we have just done wrong, this is not the Holy Spirit convicting us of that sin. It is the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God, which convicts us of sin. Sin will cause us to feel guilt, anxiety, insecurity, shame. We get a clearer understanding of this when we consider Paul’s words that “the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” (Rom 2:15) In other words, when we fall short of God’s standards as they are laid out in Scripture or our God-given conscience, we will feel an internal groaning within us, which is our conscience convicting us of wrongdoing.
We are born with the weaker version of the conscience that God had given Adam and Eve. It will prevent most humans from committing the obvious right and wrongs, even if they never read the Word of God their entire life. However, considering that almost all of the teachers and professors in the United States and Especially Europe and Canada are of a liberal progressive mindset, which is contrary to God’s standards, the conscience is greatly weakened by Satan’s world. If our conscience is ignored, it will become calloused and unfeeling, no longer warning us of our wrongdoing, because it will no longer notify us of wrongdoing in our heart and mind. On the other hand, if Scripture trains our conscience, it will not allow us to commit the wrongdoing in the first place. Returning to the being made bold by the Holy Spirit, we too can receive the Spirit in our evangelism work, but not in the same way and the same sense as the apostles and their fellow workers.
To Convict the World of Sin
(a) Not of sin in general. It is a mistaken idea that the Spirit is sent to convict a man of the sin of lying, stealing, or defrauding his neighbor personally. The above passage teaches nothing of the kind, nor does any other passage in the New Testament teach it. There is not a case in the New Testament where the Holy Spirit ever made an issue with a man to convict him personally of sin. The Spirit convicts all men of sin, but it is the Spirit working through the preaching of Spirit-filled men. “And when that one arrives, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me.” (John 16:8-9) They called him a blasphemer, they rejected him, they took him with wicked hands and crucified and slew him, and the first thrust of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost was at this sinful act of the world: “Let all the house of Israel, therefore, know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” – Acts 2:36
The righteousness of Jesus Christ
(b) “Concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer.” (John 16:10) If this passage teaches that men are individually convicted of sin, it also teaches that they are individually convicted of righteousness, and this would be a most herculean task, even for the Spirit, to perform. It is a contradiction of terms to say that the Spirit convicts a man of sin, then, in the next breath, that he convicts the same man of righteousness. And yet, the Spirit was to convict men “of righteousness;” but whose righteousness? “Concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer.” (John 16:10) When Jesus was on earth, he claimed to be the Son of God; he claimed to come down from heaven; he claimed to be God manifest in the flesh; but, at the same time, he was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” “There was no beauty that we should desire him.” On this account the Jews refused to accept him as the Son of God; they denied his claim to divinity and called him a blasphemer for making himself equal with God; they believed that he was unrighteous in making that claim, and Jesus died because his claims were not accepted by his people, but after his death, he was crowned with glory and honor at the right hand of the Majesty on high, and the Spirit came to demonstrate the righteous claims Jesus made while on earth. The Spirit came to convict men of the righteousness of Christ, and not their own righteousness.
A simple illustration will probably throw light upon this thought. Forty years ago, my father lived in a little village in the State of Illinois, midway between St. Louis and Indianapolis. One afternoon two young lads, covered with dust and dirt, came to his house and told him they were sons of an elder of a Christian Church in Indiana; that they had been robbed in St. Louis, and were making their way home on foot; they asked for something to eat. My father doubted their claims; he felt that they were impostors; but my mother, who had boys of her own out in the world, and who always believed the best of everybody, said, “We will feed them and care for them during the night.” Their wants were supplied, and they were given lodging for the night and sent on their way the next morning with a good lunch for the day. Six months afterward, I preached in Monroe County, Indiana, and, stopping with one of the elders of the church, two young lads were introduced to me as his boys. They asked me if my father lived in Illinois. I told them he did. They then recounted their experience at my father’s home, and said to me, “We would be glad when you return home if you will tell your father that you stopped at our house and that you know we were what we claimed to be when we sought his aid.” When I returned to my father’s home, I convicted him of the righteousness of those boys in the claim that they set forth, and which he had hitherto doubted. In a similar manner, the Spirit of God came down to convict the world that had rejected the claims of Jesus, of his righteousness in making those claims.
By Z. T. Sweeney Updated By Edward D. Andrews