Why the Spirit Inside You is Better than Jesus Beside You (Part Three)1
We noted in yesterday’s article that in John 16:8-11 Jesus refers to three things the Spirit will do when he comes to indwell and empower the witness of the Church, us! Continue reading . . .
We noted in yesterday’s article that in John 16:8-11 Jesus refers to three things the Spirit will do when he comes to indwell and empower the witness of the Church, us!
We saw in v. 8 that he will “convict” the world. This word translated “convict” has been rendered in other ways in other versions of the Bible. Some translate it with the English word “convince,” as if to say that the Spirit will persuade the world by arguments and proofs of the true meaning of sin, righteousness, and judgment. But I don’t think that is correct. The NIV translates this one word with the phrase: “he will prove the world to be in the wrong.”
More than likely, to “convict” means to show someone their sin in order to call them to repentance. It can also carry the sense of “expose” in the sense that a person is awakened to their guilt and shame. The idea is that our presence in the world and our witness to the world through the indwelling presence and power of the Spirit has the goal and effect of shaming the world and convincing it/them of its own guilt and calling them to repentance.
My guess is that many of you have experienced this and you might have felt badly because of it. I have in mind those occasions when your presence at a party cast something of a wet blanket over the atmosphere. Someone may well have said to you: “You know, we were having a good time until you got here. But everyone knows you’re a Christian and you refuse to listen to our dirty jokes and you never get drunk and you never try to put moves on a girl/guy to whom you’re not married, and you always decline our offer of whatever drug we’re into at the time. You make everyone feel guilty. Please leave.”
“You make everyone feel guilty.” Have you ever heard that? I have. Even if you’ve never heard someone speak those precise words you’ve felt the energy of it coming in your direction. Now, I’m not suggesting that you go out of your way to be a downer or a party-pooper or that you parade your Christian faith in a self-righteous and holier-than-thou attitude. The mere presence of the Holy Spirit in you will make non-Christians feel uncomfortable. They are “convicted” or made painfully aware of their own sins, perhaps only because they know about you’re devotion to Jesus Christ. That is the sort of thing that Jesus is talking about here.
As Gary Burge has noted, “The Spirit is . . . engaged in the prosecution of the world” (450). The Spirit will empower and energize the testimony of Christians, of you and me, taking our words and witness and using them to make a powerful statement, an incisive, articulate, clear and unmistakable indictment of the world. Our testimony incriminates the moral and spiritual bankruptcy of the unbelieving world around us. Jesus had already forced a division in the world by showing that what it does is evil. In John 7:7 Jesus said this: the world “hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.” Likewise, the Holy Spirit does this through our witness to it and by means of the lives we live.
If this has never happened to you, if you do not testify in such a way that the world is genuinely convicted, it may be because you have so adapted your life and accommodated your beliefs to those of the world that the two are often indistinguishable.
So here Jesus says that the Spirit’s role, working primarily through the Church, is to show the world that it is guilty of (“concerning”) its sin, its righteousness, and its judgment. Let’s look at each of these three in turn.
First, the Holy Spirit, working through the visual lives and verbal witness of Christians like you and me, will expose and convict the world of its “sin”. The reason for this “sin” is that “they do not believe in me” (v. 9).
The “sin” of the world, of which it is convicted, is the failure or refusal to believe in Jesus (v. 9). The world typically does not even perceive it needs life. The convicting work of the Spirit through us is gracious and merciful: it is designed to bring people in the world to recognize their need and in doing so to turn to Jesus.
What is it about Jesus that they don’t believe? (1) That he is God in human flesh. (2) That his words are ultimate and absolute truth. (3) That his life given on the cross is our only hope for reconciliation with God. But unbelief is more than simply not embracing certain theological truths about who Jesus is and what he’s done. It is the stubborn and idolatrous refusal to treasure him as altogether beautiful and majestic.
The problem today is that if you ask virtually anyone if they “believe” in Jesus, there is a high probability they will say Yes. What we need is a deeper and more robust definition of what saving belief in Jesus really is. For this we turn our attention to 2 Corinthians 4.
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:3-6)
Unbelief is here defined by Paul as the failure to see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” Therefore, belief is a beholding of the beauty of the light of God’s glory revealed in Jesus. Belief is not mere intellectual acknowledgment. It is heartfelt adoration; an awakening of a new sense in the soul in which we relish and revel and rest in all that God is for us in Jesus. To believe Jesus is to treasure him above all else.
Not to believe is worse than simply saying “I don’t think he is who he claims to be.” It is to deny the undeniable, to prefer something more than the one who is eternally preferable. Unbelief is more than a function of the intellect. It is an expression of one’s will. Not to believe is to willfully repudiate and reject. It is more than simply not being convinced of a claim. It entails willful repudiation.
In other words, unbelief is idolatry. Some mistakenly think that not to believe leaves a vacuum. It is solely a matter of not embracing a claim intellectually. No. Unbelief in Jesus is not the same as when I say I don’t believe in unicorns or Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. Unbelief in Jesus is idolatry because it is always a reflection of belief or trust in something other than Jesus. It is the worship of someone other than Jesus. And that is idolatry.
Second, the Holy Spirit, working through the visual lives and verbal witness of Christians like you and me, will expose and convict the world of its “righteousness” because Jesus goes to the Father (v. 10).
Now what does that mean? How can we speak of the world’s “righteousness”? I think Jesus is saying that the world believes it is “righteous” but the verdict of God is otherwise. Isaiah said it best when he described our “ways” and “all our righteous deeds” as being little more than a “polluted garment” or “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:5-6). The Jewish leaders believed that the temple was the locus of righteousness, but Jesus found it necessary to cleanse and judge it. Their Sabbath observance was considered “righteous” but they then condemned Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath who had been paralyzed for 38 years (John 5:16). The people slavishly observed the Mosaic commandments, thinking that in doing so they established a righteousness before God that he was obligated to recognize and honor.
Non-Christians today are deluded and deceived into thinking that the so-called “righteousness” of their lives is adequate to put them in good standing with God. They don’t commit adultery. They pay their taxes. They have never committed murder. The world has been lulled by Satan into a false sense of security. They think their “righteousness” is enough. They believe that so long as they avoid overtly scandalous sins that harm other people, their lives are “good enough” for acceptance by whatever “god” there may be.
But the Holy Spirit convicts the world that its so-called “righteousness” is far from it; that it is in fact filthy rags, and is in fact far short of what God requires. Paul described Christian conversion in these terms: “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
Paul’s own personal testimony is very similar. He describes himself in this way:
“as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil. 3:6-6).
While Jesus was on the earth he performed this task. His life and words and ministry exposed the so-called “righteousness” of the people. By the light of his own life and ministry he exposed the darkness in which the world was living (John 3:19-21; 7:7; 15:22,24). But now he is going to the Father and won’t be present in person to do this any longer. So when the Holy Spirit comes he will continue this ministry through the testimony and lives of the followers of Jesus. Jesus will no longer be present to discharge the task, so it now falls on us, through his Spirit, to do it.
Third, the Holy Spirit, working through the visual lives and verbal witness of Christians like you and me, will expose and convict the world of its “judgment” because “the ruler of this world is judged” (v. 11).
The first thing to remember here is that the world does not believe there is judgement to come. Or if they do believe it, they’re convinced that God will grade on the curve. Virtually everyone in the world is a universalist. They are persuaded that everyone who dies, regardless of their relationship to Jesus, will be in heaven, “up there, looking down on us.” A few might suggest that the worst and most perverted of sinners will be judged, but if there is one thing in which virtually all non-Christians are united it is the belief that so long as they are sincere and don’t hurt others, they will never enter into judgment.
But Jesus says that the Holy Spirit, through God’s people, convicts the world of its impending judgment because the prince of the world, Satan, whose children they are, already stands judged and condemned by the death and resurrection of Jesus. If you’re wondering why Jesus mentions the judgment of Satan, it is because “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). The systems of this world and its values and the behavior of those who occupy it are under the influence and authority of Satan himself. But in the death and resurrection of Jesus Satan is exposed, judged, and sentenced to eternal damnation.
The “world” is made up of Satan’s children. If you think that is a harsh judgment, may I remind you that Jesus is the one who made it. Jesus was speaking to the religious leaders who trusted in their own “righteousness” and said: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:44). Thus, if Satan stands condemned by the cross, so too will those who align with him against Christ and his kingdom.
As we conclude, let’s not forget the primary point of the Spirit’s presence with us. It isn’t so that we can stand by idly and silently and trust that whatever work needs to be done in the hearts of non-Christian men and women of the world will be done by the Holy Spirit alone. No, and again No. The Spirit has come to indwell and empower you and me to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And it is through that witness, both visible and vocal, that the world is convicted of its sin, its false conception of what real righteousness is, and of the reality and certainty of the judgment that will come upon all who do not know and trust and treasure and prize Jesus above all.