We are working through Systematic Theology III, and specifically, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. We’re now talking about the role of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.
So far, we’ve talked about the Holy Spirit with John the Baptist, with Jesus, and, then last time, Pentecost.
So what we’re going to do instead is talk about the next issue: which are the ministries of the Holy Spirit in (1) the lives of non-Christians (2) as non-Christians become Christians (3) the lives of Christians.
This will take a few episodes, but today we’ll focus, in particular, on the role of the Spirit in the lives of non-Christians.
There is much talk and understanding about the role of the Spirit in the lives and Christians, and even as an unbeliever is converted, but many don’t know much about the work of the Spirit in the unbelieving world.
So, today, we’ll do a short episode taking a look at this very important job of the Spirit.), but the Spirit is very much present (and very much at work), in the world at large. SHe plays a very important role.
So today, we’ll do a short episode taking a look at this very important job of the Spirit.
The ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of non-Christians
A key passage for this concept is John 16:8-11.
“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.”
When it comes to the writings of John (both his gospel and letters), it is critical to understand how he uses the term “world (kosmos).” To misunderstand him on this, is to get much of his writings wrong because it is a technical word. And so, it is important to understand that whenever he employs the use of the term, “world (kosmos)” John always has in mind a system that is hostile toward God.
In other words, “the world” is not in a neutral position.
It speaks of a system that is utterly corrupt by sin, and therefore, actively hostile/opposed to God.
Thus, it is this world to whom the Father sends the Son.
In this passage, John records Jesus’ teaching that when the Spirit comes, His job will be to convict the world. And He will convict the world of 3 things (namely, sin, righteousness, and judgment).
Note: What does it mean that the Spirit will “convict?” What does it mean to convict in this context?
First of all, it is a legal term. And so, this is not speaking of “feeling convicted” to do something (e.g., pursue a career, help a neighbor, etc.). Rather, this is judicial language.
In fact, the NIV renders it, “He will prove the world to be in the wrong.”
In the context, the point is that He will convince those who are hostile toward God (i.e., “the world”) of their error and sinfulness.
So the governing verb here is “to convict.” The emphasis is on the Spirit’s actions toward “the world” in which He will prove them to be in the wrong from a legal perspective.
This is primarily an objective work, not merely subjective.
Now again, there are 3 categories of conviction that the Spirit will bring (e.g., sin, righteousness, and judgment). Now the interpretational question is: so what does that mean? What does it mean to convict regarding these 3 categories?
Well some people will interpret the passage to mean that the Spirit will convict people of their sin, then encourage them to pursue righteousness, and all of this in light of God’s coming judgment.
But, that is not correct. That is a great error that many commit, and simply due to not understanding the grammar.
Remember, the governing verb is “to convict,” which means, then, that the Spirit is bringing a conviction (which, again, is a negative term, where you prove someone to be in the wrong).
Therefore, this governing verb of “convict,” governs all 3 categories.
In other words, the job of the Spirit is to prove to the world that they are in the wrong, but regarding all 3 of these categories.
So He is going to prove them to bring wrong regarding:
- Their understanding of their own sin.
- What they regard as righteousness.
- Then, finally, their own sense of judgment.
In other words, He will convict them regarding their sin, their own self-righteousness, and then, their worldly judgments.
A closer look at the categories:
Sin -- in particular, the focus is on unbelief (v. 9).
John 16:8-9 “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me…”
The first job of the Spirit is to convict of unbelief. He will show the world that they are unbelieving-- that is, proving them not to be trusting in the true God, and specifically, the true God identified as Jesus.
In fact, this fits well with the theme of John’s Gospel.
John 20:31 – “but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” [This is John’s stated purpose for writing His Gospel]
John 3:18 – “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
So the first job of the Spirit is to convict the world (again, that system that is hostile toward God) of their own sin. And the specific sin in mind, is not believing that Jesus is Who He said he was-- namely, the Son of God. That is what is being spoken of, here.
Second, the Spirit will convict the world of righteousness. And here, it should be understood as “self-righteousness” (another theme of John’s Gospel).
Jesus chastised the Jews for this all throughout the Gospels.
In Jesus’ conext, it was Jews who prided themselves on frequenting the temple-- which is why He cleansed the temple.
It was also the Jews who found their righteousness in Torah faithfulness.
Self-righteousness needs to be exposed in order for a person to understand they need an alien righteousness to achieve a right standing before God. Once Jesus ascends to the Father, the H.S. takes over this role and provides this ministry to the entire world (v. 10).
John 16:10 - “...concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me…”
So remember, Jesus used to be the one exposing self-righteousness-- which was a major component of His 3 year ministry. But now He has gone to the Father.
As a result, the Spirit will now prove the entire world to be in the wrong concerning their approach to righteousness.
Third, the Spirit will convict the world of worldly (or false) judgment (another theme of John’s Gospel).
John 7:24 – "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”
John 8:15-16 "You judge according to the flesh; I am not judging anyone. 16 "But even if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone in it, but I and the Father who sent Me.”
By nature, the world’s judgments are skewed, corrupt, and sinful.
This system of “the world” judges according to the flesh and appearance.
Now, in Jesus’ day, this would have been the external law-keeping that was unable to make a true assessment of the heart and nature of a person.
In our day, attempts to look holy-- (or even our attempts to not look holy, because we don’t want to appear as though we are actually seeking holiness in a twisted form of humility).
In a secular sense, we see this in politics:
Many moral claims are made about wickedness, evil, and corruption. Yet these judgments come from those who do not fear God, nor have God’s perspective of truth and justice. It is all worldly judgment, and will be proven to be wrong.
(Additionally, this strikes a blow to the current social justice movement, which is born and bred within this system of worldly judgments.
They are determining justice and righteousness from a false perspective. It is a shame that the church has bought into it. In fact, I would argue, this is a great example of how we can quench the Spirit.
We are not having the Spirit, nor the Spirit-inspired scriptures determine our understanding of justice, but the worldly system-- or these worldly judgments.)
Not surprisingly, then, v.11 makes it clear that all false judgment is ultimately connected to Satan.
John 16:11 - “...concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.”
Simply put, Satan is the god, the ruler, and the father of this age.
He has already been judged, and so Jesus makes it clear that all those who follow him (or operate in step with his worldly system) have been judged as well.
Satan is a master of delusion.
So those who follow Him (and judge as he judges) don’t even know they have him as their ruler. Yet he is still their father, and they are curled up comfortably in his lap (according to 1Jn. 5:19).
In the end, this convicting work of the Spirit will serve two purposes:
- In the case of the one who will become a believer, it will be used by the Spirit to convert a dead heart.
- In the case of the one who rejects, and remains an unbeliever, it will function as the evidence on the day of judgement for why the rejector will be without excuse.
Remember, this conviction is not primarily a subjective “feeling” of conviction.
Rather, it is first and foremost, an objective judicial conviction.
He is the Spirit of truth, and all truth will come to light in the judgment.
There are other passages we could look at, but this is one of the most explicit ones, regarding the role of the Spirit and unbelievers.
Next time we will take a look at the ministry of the Holy Spirit as a non-Christain becomes a Christian. In other words, we’ll look at the role of the Spirit in the conversion experience.