The Conviction of the Holy Spirit–Cantate 2015
Cantate—The Fifth Sunday of Easter
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 16:5-15
May 3, 2015
“The Conviction of the Holy Spirit”
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The disciples were afraid when Jesus told them he was going away and they would have to bear witness to Him and the world would hate them. They aren’t the only ones who are afraid. We are also often afraid of carrying out the mission Christ has given to us. Our mission is to bear witness to Christ, to testify to Him in this world. We are afraid that we will mess up, that we will do it wrong. We are afraid that no one will listen to us and we will fail.
Today Jesus gives His Church comfort and courage as we go forth into the mission of testifying to Him in the world. He gives us courage even though He is no longer going to be visibly present with His Church on earth. He says, “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. And when He comes He will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment.” Jesus says we are not going to be alone in witnessing to Him. He will send us the Helper, that is, an advocate who speaks for us. And this Helper is so great that it is even to our advantage that Jesus goes away.
It’s hard to imagine anything so great that it could replace Jesus’ visible presence with us, but Jesus tells us that is what will happen. Who is this Helper? It is “the Spirit of truth,” the Holy Spirit. He is the third person of the godhead, equal in majesty and power to the Father and the Son. He will not only live in the midst of us, as Jesus visibly lived with His disciples. He will live and dwell in us. He will rest upon us the way the Spirit of God rested upon the prophets like Moses in the Old Testament. And He will be in us and with us to convict the world.
This means the Church will have mighty force and authority. That seemed totally impossible to those disciples who were gathered around Jesus in the upper room. How could that little band of twelve men convict the world and all that was mighty and great in it of “sin and righteousness and judgment”? How could they do that without Jesus’ visible presence with them? And we feel the same way about the Church today. How can this little band of ordinary people we call “church”—“St. Peter Lutheran Church”—convict the world? “Convict” means “to prove guilty” or “to awaken a sense of sin.” How are we going to do that?
We won’t. Jesus says the Holy Spirit will convict the world. How will He convict the world? Jesus says, “Of sin, and righteousness, and judgment—of sin, that they do not believe in Me, of righteousness, that I go to the Father, and you will see Me no longer; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”
First of all the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin.
We live in an age that rejects the idea that there is such a thing as sin—that is, transgression against God. People today are concerned about whether they are considered to be decent people before others, but the term “sin” is hardly ever used anymore. People make mistakes, bad choices, but they don’t commit sins. Much less does our society believe that there is such a thing as original sin, that we are born guilty and corrupt before God and are unable to escape from His righteous anger. Against all of this explaining sin away and excusing it, the Holy Spirit calls the world to account and convicts it that it is all, from top to bottom, corrupted by sin. It’s not just the obvious vices that are sins against God, such as our society’s rampant sexual immorality or its killing of the unborn. The Holy Spirit convicts the world that even its best works are corrupted by sin—its humanitarian work, its moral and religious leaders, its upstanding citizens. All are sinners. They are not merely people who make bad choices, but transgressors against God, even when they have made “good choices.”
Why does the Holy Spirit convict the whole world of sin? Jesus says, “Because they do not believe in Me.” Jesus is “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He is the One who takes away our offenses against God. Our offenses against God are our real trouble, not just the moral lapses and failures that make us look bad in front of other people. And we have offended God not merely with our actions, but also with our words and thoughts that are against His commandments. But all of these offenses Jesus came to remove. Thus there is really only one sin in the world. That is not to believe in Jesus. If a person believes in Jesus, that He is true God and true man, and that He paid for our offenses on the cross, none of his sins are counted to him. Your sins are forgiven if you believe that on account of Jesus’ suffering and death God is pleased with you.
But the world does not believe in Jesus. It believes that Jesus was a good man, a teacher. Some of the world even believes that Jesus is God. But the world does not believe that simply on account of Him and His suffering on the cross God receives us as righteous and forgives our sins. The world trusts in other ways to get right with God besides Jesus and what He has done. The world believes that everyone goes to heaven not because of what Jesus has done but simply because God overlooks sin and is satisfied with less than perfect obedience to His law. The world believes that it is basically good and therefore God is already pleased with us. The world doesn’t believe that God is angry with it because of sin. Therefore the Holy Spirit corrects this false belief and convicts the world of sin. Apart from Jesus God is angry with you, says the Holy Spirit, for you have not loved God with all your heart. You have misused His name, failed to pray, ignored His Word, disobeyed your parents, been hateful and vengeful and lustful, that is, committed murder and adultery. You have stolen and wasted the property and time God has given you. You have spoken evil of your neighbor, coveted his property and his wife, family, and workers. You are guilty and displeasing to God and bound for hell because of your sins, says the Holy Spirit. Why does He convict the world this way? Because the world does not believe in Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners. It must first be convicted that it is sinful before it can believe in Jesus the Savior of sinners.
What is true of the whole world is also true of individuals, even individuals who go to church. The Holy Spirit must convict us that we are sinners under God’s wrath apart from Jesus. And He must go on convicting us of this so that we flee from our fleshly false security and our self-righteousness to Jesus who alone takes away and covers our sins.
Second, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of “righteousness, that I go to the Father, and you will see Me no longer.” What does Jesus going to the Father have to do with righteousness? That’s not the way the world thinks about righteousness. The word “righteousness” is as seldom used in our society as the word “sin.” When we think of righteousness, we always think about works—maybe Mother Theresa caring for orphans in India. Some people probably think of the Dalai Lama with his peaceful, enlightened attitude. Others think of Martin Luther King or Gandhi, crusading for justice. The Holy Spirit convicts the world that none of these men and women have one enough for God to regard them as righteous, however impressive their deeds may be to us. Instead the Holy Spirit convicts the world that righteousness is this—Jesus going to the Father.
How is that righteousness? It is the righteousness that God accomplished so that sinners could be accounted righteous before God. For since the world is convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit, it follows that no one can become righteous before God by his deeds, no matter how good that person is. To be righteous before God a person would have to keep the ten commandments in thoughts and emotions as well as deeds. He would have to have a pure heart. But the Scripture teaches us that no one has a clean heart. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,” says Psalm 51. God has to create a clean heart in us because by nature our hearts are full of rebellion against God, unbelief, idolatry, anger, lust, and all other kinds of sin. With hearts like these, how can God regard us as righteous?
That is what the Holy Spirit convicts the world about. “Of righteousness,” says Jesus, “that I go to the Father.” How does Jesus go to the Father? He goes offering Himself up as a sacrifice to atone for our sins. He goes to the Father offering Himself as the spotless lamb, whose sinless life is given as an offering to turn away God’s displeasure at all our sins. Jesus goes to the cross as the propitiation for our sins, the sacrifice that atones for all our uncleanness, that turns away the Father’s wrath and turns His face toward us in love. Jesus’ suffering and death under God’s wrath is the righteousness God provides for sinners that they may take hold of it by faith and wrap themselves up in it. He goes to the Father on the cross to make satisfaction for our sins. Then He rises from the dead and ascends to the Father, where He forever stands to make intercession for us. If the Father ever could forget that we have been justified, counted righteous, and that His anger toward us had been turned away, He would only have to look to His right hand and see Jesus standing there in the same flesh and blood that we have. And Jesus would remind the Father, “See, You have declared them to be righteous on My account, because I paid for all their sins with my suffering and death.”
See, the Holy Spirit convicts the world not only of sin, but that righteousness has been accomplished for it by Jesus. He brought our sins before the Father on His own head. He received the just judgment of God for them in our place. Then He rose from the dead and ascended to the Father as our forerunner. He lives at God’s right hand to pray for us, to stand in our defense. The Holy Spirit convicts us and the world that this is so. For us it is our great comfort. We are often convicted in our conscience of our sins and we struggle to believe that God is pleased with us when we still have so much sin. But through the preaching of the Gospel the Holy Spirit convicts us of righteousness—He convicts us that we are righteous in God’s sight because by offering Himself for our sins Jesus brought our sins to an end. In His resurrection God declared all men righteous.
Finally, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of judgment. This is an amazing work since the world is so dead-set on asserting that it is righteous by itself. The Holy Spirit convicts the world that God’s judgment is upon it because tis ruler is already judged. This is a terrifying conviction. But you can see that the Holy Spirit has done this work and is still doing it. It’s hard to understand any earthly reason why the powerful people of the world should have such hostility toward Christians. The powerful and influential of the world consider Christians to be hillbillies and know-nothings. And yet they have such hostility against Christians that every last remaining scrap of Christian influence has to be purged from our society. If a Christian doesn’t want to make a cake for a homosexual legal union, they have to be hounded out of business. Why is there this level of hostility against a group of know-nothing hillbillies? Because the world is convinced that judgment is upon it. Its ruler has already been judged.
Satan was judged when Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead. There all his power was torn from him. Before Jesus died Satan could reign over men as their god and king. He could keep human beings on a treadmill of trying to save themselves by their good works. Satan could lie and say, “Just keep on trying to keep God’s commandments and maybe one day you will have some assurance that your sins are forgiven and you have eternal life.” He could torment those who believed God’s promise of a Savior with the requirements and threats of God’s law. But on the cross Satan was judged. He lost all power to condemn and enslave human beings. He lost all power to condemn and enslave you. Because once and for all on the cross all your sin was atoned for. Once and for all God’s wrath was turned away and the human race was justified, and you with it. And Satan was cast down. He has no power to threaten us with the wrath of God and death. He was judged when Jesus died and rose again.
And now in the preaching of the Gospel the Holy Spirit convicts the world of this judgment. The ruler of this world, Satan, stands condemned. This overturns the whole order of the world. All of Satan’s lies are unmasked. We don’t enter into paradise or escape death by gaining the whole world or by striving to do good works. Eternal life and paradise is the free gift of God through the death of Jesus Christ His Son alone. The Holy Spirit convicts the world of this through the preaching of the Gospel. He convicts us that Satan is judged and has no right to condemn us. He convicts us that this age and its pleasures and glories are passing away. For Christians this results in joy and hope, because the day is coming soon when persecution, suffering, sin and death will be finished forever.
For the world, this conviction results in misery and terror, because the world is convicted that it and the present order of things will soon be ending. Soon the world’s pomp and pride and power and wealth and everything it gloried in will all be gone. Soon it will have no power to inflict pain on Christ’s Church. Soon the world will no longer even have power over our bodies, because the old order of things will have passed away. It is already passing away, because the ruler of this world is judged. He is not the lord and god of this world as he pretends to be. He is vanquished by the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. And the Holy Spirit convicts the world that this is so, even though the devil and the world rage and do their utmost to silence the Holy Spirit and kill believers in Christ or make them fall away from their Lord. But the devil and the world will not succeed. The Holy Spirit will convict the world and lead the Church in all truth. He will do this by preaching Jesus’ death and resurrection, and even if Satan closes down one church and kills all the members of another, the Holy Spirit will raise up other witnesses in their place, until Jesus returns and pronounces final judgment on the world.
So we do not need to be afraid as we bear witness to our Lord Jesus Christ. He has given us the Helper who speaks on our behalf, the Holy Spirit, who convicts the world. Jesus alone has ended our sins and our alienation from God by His death on the cross, and the Holy Spirit bears witness through us. He testifies to the world’s helplessness in sin, to the righteousness God has accomplished for sinners by the death and resurrection of Jesus, and to the judgment of this world’s ruler, the devil. We rely on this conviction of the Holy Spirit to uphold our faith and to bring sinners to repentance and faith in Christ. And we will not be put to shame in our reliance on the Holy Spirit. He will keep the Church alive by His testimony to Jesus Christ our Lord.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Soli Deo Gloria