I love God’s word, but it’s not always arranged in the way I’d like it. I love systematic theology: setting out what you believe in an orderly fashion. With a few exceptions, the Bible doesn’t have that. If you want to know what God has to say about, say, money, then you need a concordance and use it to look up verses which are scattered here and there. The main exception I can think of is the book of Romans, which—not coincidentally—is my favorite book of the Bible. It’s not styled like a letter so much as a theological treatise.
That’s why I’ve needed to skip around a bit in discussing the nature and work of the Holy Spirit. There are no sections of the Bible to which you can point and say “This is what the Bible says about him.” However, John 14-16 is the closest thing you’ll find in the Scriptures to it. It contains more information and teaching about his work than any other section.
In today’s reading, Jesus is trying to comfort his disciples about his imminent departure, and he reveals to them that it’s absolutely necessary for him to return to the Father. It’s all one seamless plan, and if one part isn’t completed, then everything else falls apart. He’s about to return to the Father’s side, and when he does, he’s going to send another “Helper,” obviously the Spirit. Then he reveals some things regarding the Spirit’s activity to come.
You might've noticed that I didn't use the NIV for today's reading. The reason is because I disagree with them about the translation of a certain phrase. In the NASB the word is "convict," which other translations (e.g. NIV) render it as "prove wrong." John MacArthur says "This word has two meanings: 1) the judicial act of conviction with a view toward sentencing (i.e., a courtroom term-conviction of sin) or 2) the act of convincing. Here the second idea is best, since the purpose of the Holy Spirit is not condemnation but conviction of the need for the Savior. The Son does the judgment, with the Father ( 5:22, 27, 30). In v. 14, it is said that He will reveal the glories of Christ to His people. He will also inspire the writing of the NT, guiding the apostles to write it (v. 13), and He will reveal "things to come," through the NT prophecies (v. 13)."
What does the Spirit convince the world of? He reveals to them three things. He shows them their sin, Jesus’ righteousness, and the judgment to come. The interesting thing is that Jesus doesn’t just leave it at that. He’s very specific about further details.
The sin the Spirit convicts people of is not just any sin, like murder or adultery or theft. The sin that the Spirit reveals is that of not believing in Christ. In a sense, any sin will keep you out of heaven, since all of it is worthy of eternal condemnation. But there’s another sense in which there’s only one sin which is a complete "deal breaker": failure to put your trust in Christ. I firmly believe that if today someone can actually commit the “unpardonable sin,” then this is the only way to do it. There will be murderers in heaven (David and Paul, just off the top of my head), and there will be adulterers (ditto on David).
The righteousness which the Spirit reveals to us is not (at least in this context) just whatever Jesus did which was righteous. There was a specific sign that Jesus had perfectly obeyed the Father and had fulfilled everything he had come to do in order to save us. When Jesus returned to the Father’s side, that was the final “stamp of approval” on who Christ is and what he did.
The judgment to come refers to the fact that the “Prince of this world” now stands condemned. Not just in the future, although that will be the complete fulfillment of his condemnation when he’s thrown into the Lake of Fire. But he’s condemned now. You ever hear the term “dead man walking”? It was popularized in The Green Mile, a movie about prisoners on death row. As they were walking the last “Green Mile” to the electric chair, they were considered dead men, even though they were still technically alive. It’s the same with Satan’s kingdom. His authority was on its way out even as Christ was about to be arrested, tortured, convicted, and executed.
And why does the Spirit point this out to the world of lost souls? Because if you don’t belong to Christ, you share in that condemnation. You’re a part of his system. You’re a citizen of the Third Reich as the bombs are falling on Berlin. The Spirit is telling you that you desperately need to hoist the white flag and openly switch allegiances.
So what’s the application here? There’s one thing that sticks out to me: Quit trying to be an amateur Holy Spirit. It’s his job to convince people to follow Christ. Your job is to be a witness for Christ. Your job is to present the claims of Christ and live a Christ-like life as much as possible before the world. As someone once said, Jesus isn't issuing any general call for defenders. He's calling for witnesses.
Here's another application: If you’re scared to death about telling people about your faith, relax. It’s not your job to convince anyone of anything. Learn how to share the Good News as effectively as you can, and leave the results up to him. Isn’t that a relief?
Lord Jesus, I confess that sometimes my mouth and actions don’t mesh. I’m a pretty sorry witness for you sometimes. Please change me, shine through me, and let there be a LOT more of you and a LOT less of me in front of the world.