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The Conviction of the Holy Spirit
By David A. DePra
Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and you see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. (John 16:7-11)
According to Jesus Christ, a fundamental work of the Holy Spirit is, "to reprove the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment." The word, "reprove," means, "to convict or convince." Thus, one purpose of the Holy Spirit is to show us our condition in sin, and to show us the solution in Christ.
More than ever before, it is important that Christians both believe and understand these words of Jesus. Today, preachers like Joel Osteen, and movements like the, "seeker-friendly church," movement, as well as the gospel of self-esteem that has filtered into many churches along many lines – all of these push aside the necessity of conviction of sin. Churches today, in an effort to fill the pews, are bypassing the teaching of the Cross, the need for repentance, and the confession of sin, and suggesting that we can obtain the things of God, "without all of that negative stuff." But the trouble is, Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit came, He would convict of sin. Thus, we see that many of these modern compromises with the Truth stand in direct opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit. They are NOT of God – but actually AGAINST everything the Holy Spirit is seeking to do.
Today, the conviction of the Holy Spirit – in many places – is considered to be an offense to one’s self-esteem and personal worth. This is the Spirit of Satan in control – not the Holy Spirit. THAT is just how important this matter is.
Nothing that Jesus said about the work of the Holy Spirit makes any sense at all unless we recognize the terrible place that natural man begins in his relationship with God. If you do not believe that you are born spiritually dead, in bondage to the realm of darkness, with a sin nature – if you do not believe that – then you are not going to understand why the Holy Spirit needs to convict you of your condition. You might limit the conviction of the Holy Spirit to God showing you that you have done wrong things, but you will never come to terms with the real problem: Without Christ, you are a WRONG PERSON.
The Bible clearly states, "In Adam all die. In Christ all are made alive." (I Cor. 15:22) Behind this verse, of course, stands the entire story of the fall of man, and the Redemption provided through Jesus Christ. I am not going to review all of that. But the point is, if you have been born into this world, you have been born IN ADAM. And that means that through natural birth you are spiritually dead.
Now, I’m not sure many of us really grasp what that means. Most of us think that what is wrong with man is that he does wrong things. Some of us may even think that what is wrong with man is that God is mad at him for doing those wrong things. But this is not the core of the problem at all. What is wrong with man is simply this: As a race, HE IS SPIRITUALLY DEAD.
And yet we need to define what it means to be SPIRITUALLY DEAD. At the risk of sounding trite, to be spiritually dead means to lack spiritual life. I am saying it that way to get at a point – to be spiritually dead really means to lack GOD HIMSELF. God Himself is LIFE. Thus, if you don’t have God, you don’t have life.
When Adam sinned against God, he did not merely do a wrong THING – the wrong THING that he did, in eating of the forbidden tree, was merely the outworking of something more. Adam made the choice to declare his independence from God and establish self-rule. That was THE SIN of Adam. And when Adam declared independence from God, independence from God was exactly what he got. But the trouble was, independence from God is independence from LIFE. And once Adam was severed from LIFE HIMSELF, he died spiritually.
Of course, when I say Adam declared independence from God, I am really saying that he declared independence AGAINST God. There is no middle ground possible. Man was made for God, and you are either for Him or against Him. When Adam declared independence against God, he was sinning directly against God AS GOD. The result was spiritual death. It is not possible to sin against God and live. The judgment God pronounced against him was therefore fully just and absolutely necessary.
Adam died spiritually. He also insured physical death. But more than this, Adam had severed the human race as a CREATURE from God. The human race does many wrong things in our continued alienation from God. But fundamentally, the human race is a wrong CREATURE. We are not the creature God created – but a dead creature – corrupt and living in darkness.
What we need to see about our condition IN ADAM is that the cause of it goes back to the fact that we are severed from God. We are born IN ADAM spiritually dead because we have NO LIFE IN US – we haven’t any of God in us. There is no way to fix this by works. There is no way to fix it by theology. The only was to remedy spiritual death is with spiritual life, and spiritual life is found only in God through Jesus Christ.
Herein we see why the Holy Spirit MUST convict us of THE SIN. We must see our dead condition in Adam or we will never even know to turn to Jesus Christ for LIFE. Thus, to preach a gospel that bypasses the essential Truth of our sin and need for repentance is to deny the very gospel of Jesus Christ.
Human beings commit many SINS. We do many things that violate God’s holy law. But all of these are really the outcome of THE SIN. THE SIN is that we violate God Himself. We do this by continuing to live life on our own terms. We live independently of God. This is THE SIN. The Bible calls this, "unbelief."
Unbelief is the opposite of belief, or faith. So it is important to first understand what God means by the term, "faith, or belief."
When we hear the word BELIEF, we tend to think of believing THINGS. To us, belief is limited to things that we consider to be true. But in the Bible, the word BELIEF means much more than that. "Belief," in the Bible means to, "have faith." And FAITH in the Bible carries more than just intellectual assent that something is true. Rather, "faith," includes a full surrender to God.
To put my faith in God through Jesus Christ means that I rest my whole self upon Him. But note that this really means unconditional surrender. Too many Christians think that faith in God means that we trust Him to do what we ask. No. Faith means that I put my whole self in His hand for HIS WILL. In short, faith means I give MYSELF to God.
Now notice: Adam was created one with God. That meant he was spiritually alive. But Adam sinned against God by declaring independence from God. That resulted in spiritual death. That was THE SIN. It was THE SIN OF UNBELIEF – unbelief being a refusal to surrender to God. And it resulted in DEATH. But now, through Christ, faith is surrender back to God. The result is that I am delivered from spiritual death, and once again come alive through Jesus Christ.
What we see here is that faith is NOT a force we generate. Faith is not merely a, "belief system." No. Faith is a relationship word. Faith denotes a relationship of trust, dependence, but more, a relationship of full surrender to God. Faith means I belong to God.
So now we have a better idea of what God means by FAITH and UNBELIEF. Faith is a trust, dependence, and SURRENDER to God. The result is LIFE. Unbelief is a refusal, neglect, or surrender to God – or to put it another way – unbelief is independence against God. The result is DEATH.
Born in Adam
Unbelief is the sin of the human race. It is the word that best describes the condition of our relationship with God through natural birth in Adam. We are born in Adam – spiritually death. We are guilty of unbelief as long as we remain that way. We are living independent of God, rather than in faith. This is THE SIN.
Now, we do need to be clear about something: You and I are NOT responsible for being born IN ADAM. We did not choose that. No. I am born in Adam because of the sin of Adam against God. He ruined man’s relationship with God for all of us. Thus, God never blames us for being born spiritually dead.
But at what point are we accountable to God for being born in Adam? Well, we are responsible once we see are WRONG with God through natural birth – and once we see that in Christ we can be made RIGHT. In short, we are not to blame for being born in Adam. But once God brings us the Truth, we are responsible for relinquishing all that we are in Adam to God by faith. We are responsible for coming to Jesus Christ for new life.
It is a fact that some people commit acts of sin that are worse and more harmful than others. And some people never really do anything very bad. This is a snare because it might make us feel as if we could not possibly be wrong with God – especially if we have been raised in a Christian family.
But by birth we are wrong with God. We may never have stood in direct rebellion against Him. Perhaps we have always had a sense of reverence for Him. But in Adam our nature is WRONG – in Adam we are wrong with God by birth. Indeed, the Bible says that the carnal mind is at enmity against God – and in Adam we all have a carnal mind.
So even though some people may not have a lot of sins to repent of, the conviction of the Holy Spirit will nevertheless show them that they are hopeless and without life without Christ. The Holy Spirit will show us all, not only the wrong things we have done, but He will show us the wrong creature that we are – and offer deliverance through Christ. He will show us that we have been guilty of unbelief by neglecting to surrender ourselves to Christ.
Even though matters pertaining to getting saved pertain to unbelievers, all of the same principles do apply to those who are born again as it pertains to our ongoing need to get free from the presence of sin.
It is a fact that none of us can birth ourselves anew. We cannot take the initiative for our own salvation. Jesus said, "No one can come to Me except the Father who sent Me draw him." (John 6:44) But once God does draw us – and the first step will be to convict us of our alienation from God – then we CAN COME. God must take the initiative to first draw us. But once He does, Jesus said we must COME.
There is nothing that a spiritually dead person can do to make himself alive. But once God brings conviction as to our true condition, a spiritually dead person must bring his spiritually dead self to the Cross. And that is something that a spiritually dead person CAN do – once God brings him light.
Never think that the definition of spiritual death means we have no free will. No. Man never completely lost his free will – what man lost was LIFE and TRUTH. If you look at the most hardened person you know, you will see free will in that person. Sure, we are in bondage to sin and to the realm of darkness, but we do retain a certain amount of free will.
In fact, it is a testimony to man’s true condition that the Holy Spirit is able to, "convict the world of sin." Note that: The WORLD. The world is never saved people. Jesus is saying that the Holy Spirit will convict an unsaved person of his true sin against God – while that unsaved person is still unsaved. In other words, God will bring LIGHT into the dark world of the unsaved. This will give that unsaved person a choice. It will make it possible for that person to choose either light or darkness. God is drawing that person to Christ. But that person must come.
If you have a SELF then you can surrender that SELF to God. Or refuse to surrender that SELF. That is one thing all can do – once God brings light. You cannot change yourself, save yourself, or take the initiative towards God. But once the Holy Spirit shows you the real condition of self, and shows you that you need to surrender to Christ, you CAN DO THIS. If you have a free will you can simply turn to Christ. That is all you can do – bring your spiritually dead SELF to Christ. And it is the one thing that you must do in order to be saved.
The error of Calvinism teaches that a person must first be born again BEFORE they can come to Christ by faith, repent, and be convicted of sin. Calvinism claims that spiritual death makes it impossible to choose Christ, and so God must first regenerate a person SO THAT they can come to Christ. This is grave error for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that if you must be born again before you believe, then what you have is a born again UNBELIEVER. You have born again people who have been raised with Christ, but who have never brought themselves to the Cross. This would be the case even if the new birth preceded faith in Christ by one second. Calvinism is actually a denial of the Cross of Jesus Christ. And it denies that the Holy Spirit convicts the WORLD of sin – for how can an unsaved person be convicted of anything if he must first be born again before he can believe?
No. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would convict the world of the sin of unbelief. If this were nothing but a matter of seeing theology, or deciding to adopt Christianity as my religion or lifestyle, then it would be meaningless. But this is the Holy Spirit penetrating the darkness of an unsaved person’s heart – and bringing them to the place where they KNOW they are wrong with God, and to where they see salvation in Christ. This is the power of God Himself bringing conviction to an unsaved person. God MAKES them to know enough Truth so that they can turn to Christ.
The idea that God Almighty cannot convict an unsaved person of their sin, such that the unsaved person can then choose, is utter nonsense. We are all born IN ADAM, but once God shows us the Truth about this, we can bring our Adam to the Cross, and be born again in Christ. This is the fundamental choice to which the conviction of the Holy Spirit brings us.
Repent and Believe
The good news of Jesus Christ has as its announcement this one phrase: "Repent and Believe." Now we are able to see a little better what this really means. We are to REPENT of THE SIN of unbelief – of not believing. And if we repent of not believing, then we will believe! Thus, the phrase, "repent and believe," is really describing ONE turning to God.
If THE SIN of the human race is the sin of unbelief, then it is the sin of which we must repent. Thus, we repent of unbelief BY believing. And we believe by repenting of unbelief. In this we see both the relinquishment of the old life of unbelief, and the embracing of Jesus Christ by faith. We go from independence against God over to surrender to Him. We pass from DEATH to LIFE.
But what IS, "repentance?" Repentance means, "a change of mind." But don’t think of this as a change of BRAINS. No. It is a change of intent, motivation – really, repentance is a change IN ME of my attitude and relationship towards God Himself.
Just as faith is a relationship word, so is repentance – it signals a change of relationship – from independence against God over to surrender to Him.
Repentance is not, "a change of mind," as a thing unto itself. Repentance doesn’t merely happen inside of my head. No. It is between myself and God. In other words, repentance is my change of mind, heart, and intent towards GOD HIMSELF.
This makes repentance MORAL in nature. Instead of living life on my own terms, I forsake that, and change over to full accountability to God.
Now, as mentioned, you cannot REPENT of the sin of unbelief unless it results in belief, or faith. And you cannot just start believing unless you have repented of unbelief – for as we have seen, unbelief is where we all begin IN ADAM. Thus, repentance is always UNTO faith in God. We repent by believing, and we believe by first repenting of unbelief.
This may all sound a bit technical, but it is nothing more complicated than TURNING TO GOD from my old life. The Holy Spirit makes this possible by bringing me LIGHT.
Now we can see what we must repent in order to be saved. Repentance is a turning away from the old life of unbelief to Christ. You cannot, "just believe," and by pass repentance. If you try, you really aren’t believing. You are trying to embrace the new life without repenting of the old. This is why anyone who refuses to preach the need to repent is preaching a false gospel. The gospel is, "repent AND believe."
Conviction is not CONDEMNATION. No. Rather, conviction is ILLUMINATION. Thus, when the Holy Spirit brings conviction, it is UNTO LIFE. The gospel is the GOOD NEWS unto those – and only those – who believe.
Conviction is a revelation of the Truth to a person – both about themselves and about Jesus Christ. Conviction will always carry BOTH. In fact, the real essence of conviction is that a person sees their unbelief – in the light of seeing Jesus Christ as their Savior.
If I saw only my sin it would result in condemnation – there would be no redemption in Christ to turn to. But if I saw only Christ and not my sin – there would be no repentance. And actually, it isn’t possible to see Christ but not my sin. If I think that is what I’m seeing – Christ, and not my sin – I’m deceived.
What does conviction feel like? Well, it comes with a great sense of freedom. There is no exalting of myself – no excuses, no promise made, no deals cut with God, and no justification of myself. But there is no condemnation – no sense of hopelessness. Rather, conviction carries a sense of reverent sobriety – of great guilt – but one where I know Christ has paid the price for me, and that I am now getting free. Conviction is the realization of the Truth – and the Truth is, I AM guilty. But Christ has saved me. Conviction carries an overall sense of great reverence for God, and great worship because I know I have been set free by Him.
Think of conviction as meeting Jesus Christ – of actually experiencing Him. It really is that. Conviction isn’t merely a doctrine. It is the Holy Spirit revealing to me Jesus.
Conviction does not only apply to unbelievers. God convicts Christians of sin all the time – even of acts of sin. But this does bring us back to a fundamental Truth about conviction of sin for unbelievers. Do we know that ONE sin that we must repent of in order to be saved?
The one sin we must repent of in order to be saved is the sin of refusing or neglecting to repent. Or, to put it another way, the one sin we must repent of in order to come to Jesus is the sin of not coming to Jesus. Unbelief. But what we see here is that in order to be saved, we don’t have to list out all the bad things we have DONE. How could we be sure we cover them all? No. We repent of running our own lives and surrender to Christ. We are then saved. Then, as saved people, God has access to us to show us all of our acts of sin.
What we see in this is that good works and practical freedom from sin is the OUTCOME of faith in Jesus Christ. It is not the means thereunto. In other words, you are not first saved by doing works or getting free from sin. Rather, you are saved by grace through faith – you repent of self-ownership and give yourself to Christ. Then, the RESULT or OUTCOME of this is that the Holy Spirit begins to show you correction to your living. You are able to forsake sins.
This bring us full circle. The ONE sin of which we must repent is the sin of unbelief – of running our own lives. We must repent of running our own lives and of not coming to Christ. Then, if we do, we WILL come to Christ – by grace through faith -- and then begin getting free from all of the other aspects of the flesh.
For godly sorrow works repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world works death. (2 Cor. 7:10)
There is a fake repentance that is nothing more than a worldly sorrow. Worldly sorrow is not sorrow because I have sinned against God. Rather, it is sorrow because my sin has brought upon me consequences, or the fact I have sinned has hurt my opinion of myself, i.e., my pride. In short, godly sorrow isn’t really repentance or a recognition of accountability towards God. It is sorrow as a thing unto itself – it is really an indulgence of the flesh, even if that indulgence is nothing more than an appeasement of my own guilt.
Godly sorrow, however, is an attitude of reverence towards God. I know I have sinned against Him and don’t want to sin any longer. Godly sorrow, unlike worldly sorrow, works toward repentance – in other words, I don’t want to live like this any longer. I want to belong to God.
There are a couple of other Truths built into this verse worth noting. First of all, notice the ORDER that is given as to conversion in this verse. We don’t have, as Calvinism claims, salvation working a repentance or Godly sorrow. Rather, Godly sorrow is unto repentance which is unto salvation. In short, you must FIRST repent to be saved, or born again.
We also have in this verse one of many proofs of eternal security. According to Paul, if repentance is REAL – and that is the big IF – then it will result in salvation, "not to be repented of." Because my repentance is an eternal, permanent CHANGE in my relationship with God, my salvation is permanent.
If salvation were a doctrine only, or simply a matter of believing a bunch of stuff, this would not be true. But salvation is the result of God Himself bringing a person to surrender. It is a NEW BIRTH as a NEW CREATION. You cannot be born again backwards, i.e., lose your salvation. No. You have permanently passed from death to life in Christ.
This doesn’t insure that you will become, as a new born creation in Christ Jesus, what God wants you to become. You can choose to walk in deception or even disobedience. But if you are saved, YOU GOT THAT WAY by repenting of rebellion against God. And if your salvation is real, then your repentance, or change of mind, FROM rebellion TO surrender is real. And the life within you is real. And it is permanent. It is a salvation that you will not, "repent of."
The sorrow of the world works death because it is a religious or psychological gimmick that we use to actually try to cover our true condition. It is entirely possible to continually confess the wrong you do – all because you won’t face the wrong you are. It is even possible to even confess how wrong you ARE – but for it to be of no profit. Why? Because being sorry, and even confessing sin, is worthless unless you turn to Christ. I can talk about sin all I want, and regret it, and even want to be free, but I have to hand myself over to Jesus Christ. Godly sorrow always leads to this. Any sense of sorrow that doesn’t lead me as a hopeless case into the hands of Jesus Christ isn’t Godly sorrow. It is worldly sorrow.
Again – can we see that conviction of sin, leading to repentance of sin against God is the FIRST step to salvation? You cannot be saved otherwise. What can be said then about those today who boast about the fact that they never talk about sin and repentance? What can be said about churches that call sin and repentance a negative message? What can be said about preaching that does not show people their accountability to God? What can be said is that it is NOT of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin. Thus, if we are of the Holy Spirit, we ought to preach the same.
Sin and repentance is NOT a negative message. It is the Truth about us, and what we need to do to be saved. What could be more POSITIVE? The Truth is all unto LIFE.
The Goodness of God
Do you think little of the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leads thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasures up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; (Rom. 2:3-5)
The goodness of God leads us to repentance. I’ve heard that quoted and pulled out of context to show that we don’t need to acknowledge our sin – but only need to talk about God’s goodness. But read the entire passage. You can see that that if our hearts are hard towards God that we are going to be judged accordingly. Thus, we do need to repent.
Actually, it is the goodness of God to convict us of our sin, and bring a godly sorrow that leads us to repentance unto salvation. In short, once we see the goodness of God, we are going to see our badness. And that IS conviction of sin. And guess what? This is all good news. It is all the goodness of God to bring us to that point!
But if you and I don’t think that we are really all that bad, we are not going to see any need for true repentance. We WILL view the message of the gospel as negative. And I have to tell you, this is exactly what the false gospel of self-esteem, and of avoiding the issue of sin, is being followed today. People are deceived. And they like being told that the goodness of God is possible to experience whether we repent or not.
The goodness of God is NOT possible to experience by people that remain bad – but think that they are good. If you do not repent of running your own life, Jesus Christ cannot run your life. If you continue to belong to yourself, you cannot belong to God. If you won’t repent of unbelief, you aren’t believing – you can’t be believing. It is impossible morally, logically, and practically. You must choose Christ or reject Him. It comes down to that from start to finish. And you cannot choose Him unless you do so by repenting.
It is an abomination to tell people that they can choose Christ – but bypass repenting of their sin against Him. To do so is actually suggesting that Christ Himself sanctions our sin.
The conviction of the Holy Spirit is God’s love for us to deliver us from our blindness, so that we might turn to Christ and be saved. Or that we might turn to Christ and be delivered from bondage to sin. It is all positive – but to get there we must face the cold hard facts about ourselves.
As mentioned earlier, conviction is never condemnation. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1) Thus, when God convicts one born again, or even chastises us, it is never in condemnation. It is to illuminate and set us free.
So when does condemnation come into the picture? When an unbeliever refuses conviction. If God shows me I am a lost sinner, and that Jesus is my Savior, and I refuse, then the same conviction that God intends to be for my freedom will judge me. In short, I have seen light. I cannot ever say I did not see.
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hates the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. (John 3:19-21)
This is God’s definition of condemnation – that light has come into my world, but I chose to love darkness rather than light, because I did not want to be exposed as a sinner. This is certainly possible for an unbeliever – there are going to be people who go to hell. But for Christians, it is certainly possible to do this on a lower level as it pertains to accountability to God on some specific matter. And if I do, I won’t lose salvation. But God will have to judge and chastise me.
God wants to condemn NO ONE. He desires that all be saved and come into the knowledge of the Truth. Thus, He seeks all to come under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. It is unto freedom and salvation. But make no question about it, you can refuse God. And if you do, condemnation is the only other option for an unbeliever.
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