The Spirit’s Ministry of Conviction
By Al Stoner
“And when He (the Comforter) is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (Jn. 16:8). “And when He (the Counselor) comes, He will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (RSV). “And He (the Comforter), when He is come, will convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (ASV).
On the Spirit Striving with Men. Incidentally, on the matter of the Holy Spirit’s striving with men, it can be plainly seen that He strove with men even before the calling of Abraham and before the giving of the Law (cf. Gen. 6:3). Way back from the beginning God was clearly demonstrating that He would “have all men to be saved, and come unto the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:4).
And again, regarding the Holy Spirit’s reproving the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment, this is a great mercy from the Lord our God. He is presently summoning men to judgment in their own consciences, so that they may prepare themselves and have confidence in the Day of Judgment. O consider the blessedness of the Holy Spirit’s reproofs and His power to bring conviction to the hearts of men! The Holy Spirit will relentlessly and uncompromisingly reprove wherever men’s heart affection is not wholly set upon things that are above, “where Christ Jesus sitteth at the right hand of God”. He will do this wherever He is not quenched (I Th. 5:19), or grieved (Eph. 4:30), or resisted (Acts 7:51).
The Holy Spirit’s work upon men’s hearts is a great and mighty influence that works upon men wherever the gospel is preached. But His power and work can be resisted! The Holy Spirit also strives with men with great tenderness, seeking to draw the wandering ones back into complete submission to the Father and the Son.
But He most certainly can be grieved. Though far above the moods and emotions of men, the Holy Spirit nevertheless is affected with great sensitivity by the thoughts and actions of men, and is hurt and even grieved, wherever men are slighting, ignoring, or rejecting God’s salvation in Christ. He strives with men, and is jealous for men’s unrivaled affection. The Holy Spirit’s influence upon men’s hearts is as a fire that burns everything up in the heart’s affection that stands between God and men. But this burning is not an uncontrollable conflagration; rather it is a fire that can be quenched! In all of these things it can be seen that the Holy Spirit does not force Himself upon men, but rather that His influence and working extend only as far as men are willing and submissive to the Word of God.
Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment. There is a lot of talk in our day about the Holy Spirit, and about His leading, that is outside the parameters of sin, righteousness, judgment. “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God,” such ones would quote in defense of their earthbound views. But in the Romans 8 context where that expression appears (v. 14), the Spirit’s leading has to do with the mortifying of the (sinful) deeds of the body. His leading has to do with getting rid of personal sin, and appropriating God’s righteousness through the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Galatians 5 text, the result of His leading is that those being so led of Him are not under the law (v. 18). Those who are led by Him sense that they are accepted of God because of what Christ has done, not because of personal merit or achievement on their part. Their consciences have been purged, and they are walking in the light of the glorious gospel of Christ.
The law of Moses reproved men of sin, and righteousness, and judgment. “Sin is the transgression of the law” (I Jn. 3:4). And the law was given “that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19). Israel followed after the law of righteousness, but they did not attain unto the law of righteousness, because they sought it not by faith, but, as it were, by the works of the law (cf. Rom. 9:31-32).
But the Holy Spirit’s reproof of sin, righteousness, and judgment drives these matters home all the more to men’s consciences, wherever men will give heed to Him. He will give men no rest (so long as He is not quenched), until they are reconciled to God. “Sin, and righteousness, and judgment” are issues that men must face squarely if they are to be “accounted worthy to obtain that world” (Lk. 20:35).
In this case, the reproof is not primarily because men committed this sin or that sin, but rather because they did not believe on the only Savior. The sin of unbelief and particularly the rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ dwarf all other sins. Adultery, fornication, murder, theft, bearing false witness, coveting, as evil as these sins are, are next to nothing when compared to rejecting God’s remedy for sin in Christ Jesus. As the Savior Himself declared in another place, “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (Jn. 3:19). It is certainly true that “sin is the transgression of the law,” as John declared, and the Holy Spirit will certainly convict men at every point of the law’s transgression. But this level of conviction is in order to show men their need for the Savior (cf. Gal. 3:24-25).
A Word to the Legalists. Here is a word that we would dedicate to all legalists. The Holy Spirit is declared to be reproving men of sin, not because they failed to comply with the law, or laws, but rather because they did not believe on the Savior: because they did not receive for themselves God’s salvation in Christ Jesus! Incidentally, a legalist, (or someone that is seeking to please God or find acceptance with God by measuring up to law), is simply a religious person that has unacceptably small thoughts of Christ. Such individuals have not yet perceived with the heart the enormous cost that was paid for their redemption. In other words, these have not believed on Him with all the heart (cf. Rom. 10:10), and thus they do not adequately comprehend that which Christ has accomplished for them. In the church, wherever Jesus is not adequately seen for who He really is, and for what He has accomplished salvationally, there men will be found, seeking to climb up to Heaven some other way than that which God has appointed. Wherever men have a restricted view of the Lord Jesus Christ, without exception, they will be seeking to find acceptance with God by their own achievements. If men are not persuaded that Jesus Christ has borne their sins in His own body on the tree, and presently intercedes for them at the right hand of God, they will be driven to seek acceptance with God by their own merit and doing. "And this is the will of Him that sent Me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise Him up at the last day" (Jn. 6:40).