Who is the Holy Spirit? (Conviction)

The Holy Spirit breaks our confidence in our own righteousness first, then, establishes our confidence in Christ’s righteousness.

Some years ago I heard about a clergyman who had a friend who was an actor. The actor was drawing large crowds of people, and the clergyman was preaching to a few in the church. He said to his actor friend, “Why is it that you draw great crowds, and I have no audience at all? Your words are sheer fiction, and mine are unchangeable truth.” The actor’s reply was quite simple. “I present my fiction as though it were truth; you present your truth as though it were fiction.”


Without conviction your beliefs are nothing more to you than fiction.


#1:  Conviction (John 16:7-8)

Salvation is the great work of God, and the Spirit of God is at work with a person before they receive Christ.  Specifically here we see He does a work of conviction. John 16:7-8, “…”


The Spirit would bring this conviction on the world through the Preaching of the Apostles after the resurrection of Jesus and after the sending of the Holy Spirit.  Preaching is the means of convicting. The word of God comes from the Spirit, the preaching of that word is done in the power of the Spirit, and the effect upon men’s hearts in hearing that word is the work of the Spirit.


The conviction will be brought upon the whole world.  Jesus said Go into all the world – which meant go and preach to the whole world that the world may be convicted.  He said that when He is lifted up He will draw all men to Himself.


This word convict means to expose someone’s guilt, or, to prove to someone their fault, or, to refute, to bring out shame.  


There are two senses to it.  One is judicial, which is the legal guilt.  Legal guilt is simply being found guilty by a court of law for a crime committed.  Regardless of how the criminal offender feels this conviction refers to their actual guilt as a criminal.  It says nothing of the attitude of the criminal, only that according to the law they are actually a guilty person.  The same Greek word is used in Jude 15, “See the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones, to judge everyone and to convict all the ungodly acts they have done….”  The word “convict” seems to be used in a legal sense here:  God is coming to demonstrate the actual guilt of all the ungodly – and to punish them for it.  The same Greek word is used the same way again in James 2:9, “If you show favoritism you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”  Again notice that it is the legal sense:  the law shows that someone is guilty of being a lawbreaker.  


The second sense of the word “conviction” is not legal, but, moral.  It is the attitude of guilt within the offender. When the Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus in John 8 Jesus said to them “Whoever of you is without sin can be the first to cast a stone.”  Then He drew in the dirt with his finger and it says in verse 9, “At this, those who heard, being convicted in their conscience, began to go away one at a time, the older ones first….” It is the moral conviction of the heart.  This is the second sense of the word here. First Corinthians 14 describes the need for speaking intelligibly in a church service so that when an unbeliever comes in he “will be convinced by all that he is a sinner…”  Convinced in that verse is the exact same Greek word, and in this instance it refers to the moral guilt someone feels inside.  The offender is not only actually guilty (legal), but, appropriately, he feels shame and guilt for his offense. No self-justification, no blame-shifting, no denials.  Just humble acceptance of the fact of his moral wrongness and humble shame.


Now this is a concept that if brought up in the public arena would quite possibly be labeled “hate speech”.  Satan, who blinds the minds of unbelievers, is cultivating a culture that at every point undermines Biblical teaching.  One point under attack is that of each human beings’ personal guilt before God. How does Satan do that? By appealing to the pride in man; by indoctrinating society with a view that says we’re all basically good, and, any speech that in any way is considered offensive and a danger to that thought, a danger to one’s feelings must instantly be identified as hate speech.  And in our society there is free speech except for hate speech.  Anyone gets to define hate-speech how they want and when they pull the hate speech card they somehow, buy societies authority, get to silence the person they have judged to be committing hate speech.


Now, how are we going to be viewed when we try to share with someone like that their own personal guilt before God and their moral wrongness before Him?  How easy to see such an idea as hate speech! “How dare you say that I’m not right with God? How dare you say that I have sins and will go to Hell? How dare you say that God doesn’t approve what I’m doing?  What kind of hateful God do you believe in anyway?” How will we be faithful to the Gospel, which must be preached, when society is setting up a structure that forbids us talking about the elements of the Gospel?  The accusation used to be only a few years ago that we were intolerant and narrow minded for believing that our God was the only God and Jesus was the only salvation. That accusation is morphing quickly into its next logical phase:  we’re dangerous to society. That dangerous speech must be silenced.


This isn’t the only society that was stubbornly self-assured of their moral correctness.  In the book of Jeremiah we read page after page of God warning sinful Israel to turn from their sin.  Yet page after page demonstrates their stubborn evil.  


Jer 2:22, 35, 3:3, 5, 10, 13; 4:22; 5:12, 31; 6:10, 15-17, 7:8-11, 8:8,12


The thing is this:  the leaders and the people not only kept on sinning, but, they didn’t think they were doing anything wrong.  They didn’t think God was against them – they lived in their own little fantasy world. The lying prophets gave a false assurance, the people loved it, and everyone just kept on sinning against God.  And just like today, the man who warned them was thought to be a hater who is lying and misrepresenting God. The villians villianize the man speaking for God! The whole nation was against Jeremiah.  What a difficult place to be.  But God makes men’s faces like flint when they speak for him. 

Consider the story of Athanasius, the early bishop of Alexandria.  He resolutely opposed the teachings of Arius, who declared that Christ was not the eternal Son of God, but a subordinate being. Hounded through five exiles, he was finally summoned before emperor Theodosius.  Demanding he cease his opposition to Arius, the emperor reproved him and asked, “Do you not realize that all the world is against you?” Athanasius quickly answered, “Then I am against all the world.”


This moral conviction is essential to the Biblical message.  A person is convicted legally before God, meaning they are actually guilty before God, but they must have the moral conviction in order to be saved.  They must come to the place where their hearts accept their own personal guilt. Why? This conviction of the heart leads to what is called “confession”.  First John 1:9 says “If you confess your sins…” James 5 says “Confess your sins…” Confession means “to say the same thing as”.  Conviction is seeing yourself the same way God sees you.  Confession is saying the same thing about yourself that God says. Conviction leads to confession and confession leads to pardon.


In other words, a person’s attitude is changed regarding their sins:  “they now see themselves the same way God sees them” (Phillips 303). They no longer justify and defend themselves and resist the guilt-pain within themselves.  Instead, the surrender, they submit, to what the Bible is saying: you are a guilty sinner. Now seeing themselves like God sees them, they then “say the same thing” about their sin as the Judge is saying.  They confess. Because they are convicted.


I remember one time when I was kid at my grandparents campground I was at the property line behind some trees throwing rocks at cars as they drove down the road outside the campground.  I walked back to the camper and my grandpa asked “Were you throwing rocks at cars?” I knew he knew that I was actually guilty (legally), but, in that moment I was melting with moral guilt.  Busted. I never threw rocks at cars again. Had I never felt the shame I would never have changed my ways.


King David is another example.  The man after God’s own heart fell in weakness too.  After his transgression with another man’s wife, and then killing that man, he went on acting as though nothing had happened.  Until God sent the prophet Nathan to him. In one of the most gripping moments in the Bible David’s moment of moral guilt ovewhelmed him with those famous words of Nathan:  “You are the man!” You’ll have to go read the whole story in 2 Samuel 12.


Three Areas of Conviction (John 16:9-11)

Jesus tells us that the Spirit will bring conviction to people in 3 areas:


(9) In regards to sin:  because men do not believe in Jesus.  (John 3:18; 5:40; 8:24).  People do not believe in Jesus because they believe in themselves.  They do not believe their sin is a barrier to God’s approval. They believe they can surmount the sin in their life.  They believe they are sin’s master, but, they are deluded because it is sin who is their master. But as long as self is highly regarded, as long as belief in one’s self is clung to, no belief in Jesus is possible.  The Holy Spirit works to break apart this faulty confidence in one’s self. He works to bring a person to the conviction that they in themselves have no power over sin and no power to save their own souls. He brings them to see that their only hope is to transfer their belief from themselves to Christ.  By His light a person discovers and accepts their own insufficiency and is then directed to behold the All-Sufficiency of Jesus Christ.


(10) In regards to righteousness:  because Jesus goes to the Father.  Unless you are righteous you will never go to the Father.  He is Righteous and He will only allow those who are righteous to come to Him.  But Jesus declares that He goes to the Father. Why? Because He, as the Eternal Son of God is perfect in Righteousness.  So He is accepted by God the Father. The Holy Spirit helps us see Jesus’ righteousness, which we must see. We must see His infinitely superior righteousness.  Why? Because it is that perfect righteousness of Jesus that gets credited to us when we believe in Him. In other words, if we want to go to God – the Father – we must have the righteousness of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit breaks our confidence in our own righteousness first, then, establishes our confidence in Christ’s righteousness. “What is more I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish 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 is through faith in Christ – a righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Php. 3:8-9).


Where you can see me no longer.  AH!  What an indictment!  


(11) In regards to judgment:  because Satan is now condemned.  God has judged Satan.  Satan is now condemned.  His dark rule over this earth has a terminus in the return of Jesus Christ.  His time has been determined and it is short. He will come to the end that God has sentenced for him.  If you are not a Christian you must come to see yourself as belonging to Satan – part of His kingdom. This means that you are on the wrong side of history.  His kingdom will come to an end, and everyone who is part of his kingdom will meet the same fate as him. You say “I never signed up for his kingdom.” No, you were born into it.  And the Spirit of God brings conviction to your heart that your sin makes you partners with Satan and his destiny is yours unless you go to Jesus.


What this means is that salvation is switching sides.  It’s seeing the handwriting on the wall, that you will not survive God’s judgment because you are part of Satan’s dark kingdom, and surrendering to your opponent.  


We are experts at self-justification but the Holy Spirit is an expert at convicting.  He knows how to skillfully refute our self-defenses; He knows how to prove to us that we are not as great as we’d have ourselves believe; He exposes the weaknesses of our excuses…He doesn’t let us get away with minimizations for the faults we’re willing to admit.  He shows us that we fall short of God’s glory, that we are objects of God’s wrath, that we are morally wrong before God; that we are without excuse before God and that we are helplessly immersed in sin, unable to free or clean ourselves of it. In short He breaks down all the false notions we have of how righteous we are that we use to reassure ourselves.  Like the walls of Jericho, He wants our walls of self-righteousness to come down so we stop resting in our own merit. Once we see we cannot depend on ourselves it is then that we can see the One the Spirit is leading us to: Jesus.


The one goal of everything the Holy Spirit does is to point to Christ.  In Christ we see the One who is everything we are not. He is sufficient, we are not.  He is righteous, we are not. He is perfect, we are not. He is pure, we are not. He is acceptable to God, we are not.  Why do you need to know this? Because all that Christ is becomes true for us as soon as we believe that He is everything we are not.  


The Puritans believed in the idea of the “Preparatory work of the Holy Spirit”.  A person must be brought to see their need for Christ. A person sees their need for Christ when they see their own personal ruin, their own vileness, their own unworthiness.  Like Peter who said, “Away from me Lord, I am a sinful man.” Like Isaiah who said, “Ah! I am ruined! I am a man of unclean lips and I have seen the King, the LORD Almighty!”  So many great songs reflect this essential part of a person coming to Christ: “Alas and did my Savior bleed and did my sovereign die? Would He devote that sacred head for sinners such as I?”  Or “And can it be that I should gain, An interest in the Savior’s blood? Died He for me, who caused His pain? For me, who Him to death pursued?” Or, “What Thou, my Lord, has suffered was all for sinners gain; Mine, mine was the transgression but Thine the deadly pain.  Lo, here I fall, my Savior; Tis I deserve thy Place” Or, “When I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown.” Or, “Guilty, vile and helpless we, Spotless lamb of God was He” There is an old Puritan prayer articulating the need for the Spirit to bring conviction: “Thou Blessed Spirit…Come, work repentance in my soul; Represent sin to me in its odious colors that I may hate it; Melt my heart by the majesty and mercy of God; Show my my ruined self and the help there is in Him…perceiving nothing in myself, but all in Jesus….perceiving nothing in myself, may I find in Christ wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption.”


  • If you are honest would you admit that God is not in your thoughts?  There is little if any room for Him? Your heart runs after many other things, but, does it ever run after God?  We find more delight in the things of the world than the things of God. While His mind is upon us each day we go about ignoring and neglecting Him.  You make time for everything but not for Him. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Netflix all get more of your attention. Truth be told your screen gets far more of you than your Savior.  The Creator of Time gets none of yours, you do not make the most of your time to bring the most glory to God with it as you can.
  • You admit your have faults but you don’t admit they put you under God’s wrath.  You assure yourself God is okay with them and understands your just human, like everyone else.
  • You admit your faults, but, you care not enough for righteousness to repent of them.  You care not enough to cut out what is sin and replace it with righteousness.
  • You believe that God is like you though, imagining Him to be after your own image.  You suppose He is always approving and is bothered not by your indifference to Him or even your offenses against Him.  You’ve become numb to holiness and righteousness. It’s not as important as your success, your ambitions, your dreams, or your possessions.  You put your ambitions ahead of His will, not submitting your days to Him
  • You put the word of men above His word
  • You crave the approval of others but the approval of God is not a concern
  • You always insist your rights to yourself and defy your Creator’s rights to you
  • You judge the Judge, willing to impugn His character based on the culture’s ideas of right and wrong, or based on your own ideas.  You can’t imagine God would be at odds with your way of seeing things
  • We aren’t serious, we’re playing with God.  
  • Living by our own rules, not God’s
  • Always looking for people worse than us to justify ourselves and reassure ourselves


Application:  Be sure you have accepted Christ rightly.  If you have come to Christ because you know in your soul you are a sinner and need Him to save you then you have accepted Him rightly.  You are right with Him. If, however, you have come to Him for another reason your soul is in jeopardy. How do you know you might have come to Jesus for the wrong reason?  If you always feel strange – or even put off – when talk of “sin”, and “judgment”, and “unworthiness” comes up, and it doesn’t sit well with you, and you might be offended by it, it is because you’ve never accepted your sinfulness and you’ve never accepted Jesus’ salvation of you as a sinner.  (Illustration: “DTR” = Define the Relationship. Jesus defines the relationship, not you). Be sure you have accepted Christ rightly. If you accept Him rightly then He will accept you. Come to Him as a helpless sinner and He will save you and take you as His own.


Application:  Beware of comforting yourself.  (Illustration: Whitefield p132).  The message of Jesus Christ is that we are a stench in the nose of God.  Our sin is odious to Him, infinitely offensive to Him. It is a dangerous thing to comfort ourselves with high opinions of ourselves when all the while we are under the condemnation of God.  It is dangerous to balk and mock the idea that God would condemn you because you are so sure of how good you are. Do not comfort yourself when the Spirit is working to convict you.


Now, will you turn to Jesus?  Will you be persuaded by the Spirit?  Will you humbly let go of any thought that you have anything to bring to God that would convince Him to receive you with open arms.