By Richard Allen – October 3, 2022
For serious Christians, the Advent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost almost two millennia ago ranks as a “water-shed” moment in history! In fact, other than the birth of Christ at Bethlehem, no other event has altered the course of human affairs quite as much as the giving of the Holy Spirit and the bringing in of the Age of the Spirit. His presence in the Church is the power behind our witness, and the Gospel call for the new world to come!
Major denominations in Christianity offer us differing perspectives on what the coming of the Holy Spirit means and what it has accomplished. For some, the emphasis is on His power to witness. For others it’s the Spirit’s filling and giving of diverse gifts to the Church. And for others still, they see the “Age of the Spirit” as a drastic re-orientation of all creation away from the experience of the “first Adam” who was a “living being,” and toward “the last Adam, Jesus,” who was a “life-giving-spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45)! The Apostle John’s writings provide reasons for the Spirit’s coming, describing His impact in at least five different ways. According to the “Center for Biblical Studies” at Midwestern Seminary, The Holy Spirit’s coming: [https://cbs.mbts.edu/2020/06/11/the-holy-spirit-in-johns-gospel-the-book-of-exaltation/]
Would bring to remembrance all that Jesus taught them (14:26).
Together with Jesus’ followers, would testify regarding Jesus (15:26).
Would through Jesus’ followers, convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment to come (16:8–11).
Would guide Jesus’ followers into all truth and disclose what is to come (16:13).
Would empower the Apostles to “bind and loose” men into the kingdom of God (John 20:22).
My Blog this week will be about #3, that famous passage from John 16:8-11 where Jesus says of the Spirit:
“And when he (the Spirit) comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”
This passage has fascinated me, along with many other lovers of Scripture for many years. I first became interested back in the late 1970’s when I discovered that the word for “convict” can also rightly be translated “indict.” Agreeing with that great preacher Charles H. Spurgeon and many others, I was sure that these verses were describing the work of the Spirit in convicting men of sin, righteousness and judgment – specifically through preaching. Let me say at the outset, that this standard interpretation may also be what is meant by John here in chapter 16 of his gospel. But I think we may be missing something else. Jesus isn’t describing what the Holy Spirit will do through the preaching of the gospel, but rather – describing what the impact of His very Presence in the world would be! I believe John is telling us that the Spirit’s presence in the place of Christ, after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, is a three-fold “Indictment” of the world.
Part of my rationale here is that John’s description of the Spirit’s three functions is not personalized by His actions upon sinful men under the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. If In fact John were solely describing that aspect of the Spirit’s work in sinful men and women, it would sound something like this:
“And when he (the Spirit) comes, he will convict men and women concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: Concerning sin, because they have broken God’s Law; concerning righteousness because I, Jesus lived a perfect life, and met the righteousness standard that God has required, and concerning judgment, because there will be a coming judgment for all men.”
The language that John uses just doesn’t fit what we try to make it say. I believe this is, because John was trying to tell us something else in the context immediately before in chapter 16 verses 1-7:
I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.
Wow, I immediately have to ask: “How does Jesus going away allow the Spirit to come to us?” And, “Why does the Spirit’s very presence among us “indict” the world for: 1.) Sin? 2.) Righteousness? and 3.) Judgment? While this may seem like a rabbit trail wiser men would not follow, by God’s grace let me attempt to share what I see in this passage and the rest of Scripture. First, many of us have the mistaken understanding that preaching the gospel is only meant to bring salvation to sinners. Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 tells us something different:
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us (Apostles and preachers) reveals the fragrance of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing: to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life.”
Again, what an amazing passage. The preaching of the gospel not only brings the “fragrance of God’s knowledge among those who are being saved,” but this proclamation is also “a fragrance of Christ to those who are perishing.” Christ’s life, death and resurrection is the great dividing line for all mankind. Jesus’ finished work repudiates all of man’s so-called righteousness and excuses, and confirms unbelieving men under just condemnation. This is why John tells us three amazing things that the Spirit, just by His coming, has accomplished:
His coming has unmasked unbelief forever and shows it to be the very foundation of all sin! John says that men are indicted for sin “because they don’t believe in Jesus.” There’s no more cover where the “sins done during the times of ignorance” (Acts 17:30) are winked at. There is no refuge or excuse to shield Adam’s fallen posterity. Not believing in Christ is “Exhibit #1” in their Indictment for Sin! Unbelief is the essence of all sin (Genesis 3:1).
Jesus completely “established righteousness by “going to the Father.” Even more, the Spirit’s very presence Indicts the world while telling us two things: First, that Christ’s perfect life and obedience has been accepted by the Father, “vindicating Christ by raising Him from the dead!” (Romans 4:25). And second, “having been exalted by the Father, and ascended on high -- Jesus has now poured out the Spirit upon all those who believe (Acts 2:33; Ephesians 4:8). The Spirit could not be given before atonement was made.
And finally, the Spirit’s presence Indicts the world – showing men that the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:1-3; John 12:31; Revelation 12:10), that is the evil one they’ve followed has been overthrown. The devil, that is the usurper – an illegitimate ruler was forever judged at the cross. But even more -- after Christ’s triumphal resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand, has now been cast down (Colossians 2:15). He’s now awaiting judgment, knowing he has but little time (Revelation 12:12).
It’s amazing, but I’ve heard many good and godly men quote these verses from John 16 -- saying that through the preaching of the gospel, the Holy Spirit takes the word and convicts men of their sin, Christ’s righteousness and the judgment to come. This is true, except it’s not what John is saying. It’s this last point that doesn’t quite fit. Yes, you could say, because the ruler of this fallen world has been judged, it forebodes the judgment to come. But this would be an awkward way for Jesus to explain. The Spirit’s presence does signify that God has fully accepted Christ’s atonement, and by our faith in Christ “the world is now crucified unto each of us, and each of us to the world” (Galatians 6:14). The Spirit’s coming confirms that Christ’s work has been accepted, and that God the Father has forever changed His relationship to the creation – including unbelieving mankind and the ruler of this world.
The Indictments are in, the world is now awaiting the final judgment and sentencing by the Son on His glorious throne (Matthew 25:31-46). The Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment unto the Son (John 5:22). And quite to the contrary, the Spirit’s very presence confirms the down payment, showing that Jesus’ Church is now His purchased possession. For those in Christ there is no Indictment and No Condemnation (Ephesians 1:14; Romans 8:1), only the blessed promise of “welcome home, thou good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23).
Soli Deo Gloria!