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.
– John 16:8-11, NAU
The gospel commands us to be witnesses at home and abroad, nearby and far away. We know this, but we are sometimes stymied by a problem. We want to win people to Christ, but we seem to be unable to speak persuasively to them. At times, perhaps, we feel inadequate, if not helpless.
Our problem is made worse because the world is filled with many religions and worldviews. Because of the movement of people and the vast increase in communication, many people are seeking to make their views known throughout the world. The battle for the minds of men is raging as never before.
Well, we have good news in the words of Jesus. The disciples were faced with presenting Christ to their world. Then, as now, it was not an easy task. The early church began by reaching out to the Jewish people who were convinced of the rightness of their views. Then the church expanded to the Gentile world where many religions abounded.
Jesus knew that the disciples would face difficulty and even persecution. He said (John 16:2), “‘They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.'” Not only would others persecute them, but they would think themselves righteous in so doing.
Our Lord was conscious of the disciples’ need, and He is conscious of ours. He told the disciples He was going away, but he promised to send the Paraclete (John 16:7) to be with them. The title Paraclete may mean legal assistant, advocate, helper, or simply friend. I like the word Helper (NAS, v. 7) because it includes all the other meanings. The Helper would lead them in dealing with the world.
Convict the World
The Paraclete “will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” We know (Mark 13:9-13) that the Holy Spirit is an advocate, a defender in the time of need, but here He “convicts” the world. The Holy Spirit moves from the defense of the disciples to offensively confronting the world. An analysis of the world “convict” reveals that He confronts the world as prosecutor, judge, and persuader.
1. Convict. “Convict” is an English translation of the Greek word elegxei. Both the English and the Greek words can have several related meanings. Among other things, these words can mean “to find a person guilty,” “to awaken a consciousness of guilt,” “to reprove someone of wrong doing,” and “to expose what is wrong,” and “to convince.” According to Wescott (p. 228): “Whatever the final issue may be, he who ‘convicts’ another places the truth of the case in dispute in a clear light before him, so that it must be seen and acknowledged as truth.” Through the presentation of truth, the Spirit does all the things suggested by the word elegxei.
2. Convince. The Holy Spirit is a powerful persuader. He seeks not just to make men guilty, but to turn them to Christ. This is why the translation “convince” especially is relevant to this passage. In I Corinthians 14:24-25 the term elegchetai clearly is used in the sense of convince. The Paraclete persuasively presents the truth to all unbelievers. The powerful persuader helps us as we witness to others.
Concerning Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment
The Paraclete convicts the world “concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment.” Jesus explains this with the three clauses introduced by the conjunction hoti. The Greek word hoti can be translated “because” or “inasmuch as.” When we use the word “because,” we will give a reason why the Spirit convicts. When we use the phrase “inasmuch as,” we will express some truths that the Spirit uses, or points He is making, to bring about the conviction. With regard to each of the three topics, we will examine why the Spirit convicted and some powerful related truths.
Concerning Sin: Verse 9
1. Reason Why. Jesus said, the Helper will convict the world “‘concerning (peri) sin, because (hoti) they do not believe in Me.'” The world does not believe the words of Jesus about Himself nor words about Jesus. Thus, the persuasive work of the Spirit is needed. The Spirit convicts because men do not believe.
We must remember, of course, that there is as strong connection between the words of Jesus and the Spirit. Jesus said (John 6:63), “‘the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.'” The words of Jesus are infused with the Holy Spirit and the Life of the Son. His words are the means the Spirit uses to persuade us and to give life to us.
2. Truths. In as sense, the clause about sin defines what sin ultimately is. Jesus is the Son of God and the unique Savior of the world. Faith in Christ is the only way to be freed from sin. The ultimate sin, the one which will keep us from salvation, is unbelief. All other sins culminate in this sin. The Spirit convicts inasmuch as sin is unbelief.
The world has difficulty accepting that they must be saved through faith. Early in His earthly ministry, when speaking to Nicodemus, Jesus made this plain. He (John 3:18) said:
He who believes in Him [Christ] 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.
The Spirit powerfully presents this truth to the lost. In so doing, He persuades them to believe in Christ. All other sins are forgiven when one comes to Christ. When people believe, they are saved.
3. Millions of people are locked in spiritual darkness. Many have never heard the truth. Others are blinded by Satan and do not accept the truth. Our responsibility is to tell them the truth. As we do, the Spirit will persuade them.
Let us testify to the reality of Christ in our lives. He is alive! He has delivered us from sin and forgiven us! He has changed us! The Spirit will use our testimony to persuade others to come to Christ.
Concerning Righteousness: Verse 10
1. Reason Why. The Helper, Jesus said, will convict the world “‘concerning (peri) righteousness, because (hoti) I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me.'”
Here, Jesus is talking about His righteousness. When He was on earth, Jesus lived a perfectly righteous life. He was without sin. When He went away, men no longer had this visible example. Because Jesus has gone away, the Spirit now persuades men of the righteousness of Christ.
2. Truths. Several truths stand out in connection with this verse. As background for these truths, Jesus said (v. 7) “‘But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.'” As Robertson states (p. 266), “The Holy Spirit was, of course, already at work in the hearts of men, but not in the sense of witnessing as paraclete which could only take place after Jesus had gone back to the Father.”
The Spirit convicts concerning righteousness inasmuch as the following truths prevail.
• Completion of His Work. We have the example of the righteousness of Christ on earth, but His righteousness was even more fully revealed through His death burial and resurrection. Only Christ was sinless. Only He could atone for all others. Only He could pay the penalty.
• Availability of Christ’s righteousness. It was through Christ’s completed work of atonement that His righteousness was made available to all believing men. When we believe in Christ, we participate in His righteousness.
• Vindication of Christ’s Righteousness. The personal righteousness of Christ was vindicated by His ascension to the right hand of God. The Spirit had a part in the resurrection (Romans 1:4), the ascension (Hebrews 9:14), and the vindication. Paul wrote (I Timothy 3:16):
He who was revealed in the flesh,
Was vindicated in (by) the Spirit,
Beheld by angels,
Proclaimed among the nations,
Believed on in the world,
Taken up in glory.
The Paraclete uses all these truths to persuade men to believe. His persuasion is based upon the completed work of Christ. He is well armed with truth to persuade men of Christ’s righteousness.
3. Today, we live in a world of pluralistic values. Although some of the values are acceptable. Others are not. Even when they are, the failure of men to live up to those values is commonly known. Man, by himself, is incapable of living up to the ideals he himself holds.
Let us believe in Christ, accept His righteousness, and begin to live as Jesus would. Our testimony to the righteousness of Christ will be stronger as we live by His precepts. When others see Christ in us, our witness will be strong.
Concerning Judgment: Verse 11
1. Reason Why. Jesus said, the Helper will convict the world “‘concerning (peri) judgment, because (hoti) the ruler of this world has been judged.'” At the cross (Colossians 2:15), the devil was judged and defeated. Because the prince of the world, who is the devil, has been judged, the Holy Spirit will speak convincingly about judgment.
2. Truths. The judgment suffered by Satan is an illustration of the judgment that will be meted out to his followers. Inasmuch as Satan has been judged, His followers will be too.
Concerning unbelievers, Jesus said (John 8:44), “‘You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father.'” There is a certain solidarity between the devil and his followers. The followers of Satan will be judged because of their evil deeds. The result of that judgment is clear. Concerning that result, John (Revelation 20:15) writes, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Although the devil has been judged, he still has power. He is still the god of this age (II Corinthians 4:4), but ultimately he will be put away. For Satan there is no way out of his predicament. However, for the unbelievers there is, through Christ, a way of escape. It is the work of the Spirit to point men to Christ who will deliver them from the judgment.
The situation is summarized by the writer of Hebrews (9:27-28) who said: “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.”
3. The hearts of millions of people who have been oppressed cry out for justice. How often we bereaved people say, “justice must be served.” Very often real justice is not obtained in this life. All of this virtually demand a future judgment. That judgment is coming. It will be judgment by God Himself, who alone is fully just.
Let us rejoice that we are in Christ! Let us rejoice that we are forgiven! We will not suffer the judgment meted out to the devil. Then, let us sense the urgency of offering this same privilege to others.
The Holy Spirit is a powerful persuader. He confronts men with the truth and convicts them concerning their sin, Christ’s righteousness, and the judgment of Satan and his followers. But the Spirit works through the Word and through us. Our mission is necessary. He will help us as we obey Him.
When the Spirit presents truth, it is indeed persuasive. Nevertheless, the Spirit may be resisted. Stephen declared (Acts 7:51), “‘You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.'” Those who do not respond will be lost.
We must present the Word in the power of the Spirit. Paul said (I Corinthians 2:4-5):
4 My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,
5 that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
Let us open our hearts to the empowerment of the Spirit. He will enable us to be His witnesses. Then, we will persuasively and effectively present His Word! Men and women will come to Christ in faith.
For Further Study
Barrett, C. K. The Gospel According to St. John. Philadelphia: TheWestminister Press, 1978.
Burge, Gary M. The Anointed Community: The Holy Spirit in the Johannine Tradition. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987.
Dunn, James D. G. Baptism in the Holy Spirit. London: SCM Press Ltd. 1970.
Hendriksen, William. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1961.
Keener, Craig. S. The Gospel of John, Vol. 2. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003.
Lenski, R. C. H. St. John’s Gospel. Columbus: The Wartburg Press, 1942.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1971.
Pentecost, J. Dwight. The Divine Comforter. Chicago: Moody Press, 1963.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
Swete, Henry Barclay. The Holy Spirit in the New Testament. London: Macmillan and Company, 1910.
Wescott, B. F. The Gospel According to St. John. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971.
Copyright © 2004 By George M. Flattery