The Convicting Work of the Holy Spirit

In John’s theology, a clear distinction exists between the world under the sway of the evil one and demonic spirits and those who belong to God through the indwelling Spirit of God.

We know that we are of God, and the whole world is under the sway of the evil one (1 John 5:19).

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. But every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist; you have heard that he is coming, and he is already in the world now. You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:1-4).

Man’s relationship to Satan is that of a slave under the prince of this world, but from whose power he can be set free, for this prince has been defeated at the Cross.

Consequently, Jesus foretold the Holy Spirit’s operation with reference to individuals as well as the masses, on believers and unbelievers alike in the world.

Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in Me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see Me; and about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged (John 16:7-11).

The ministry of the Spirit in this present age is not confined to believers and the Church. The indwelling Spirit ministers to believers the riches of Christ; to the unbeliever His ministry is a threefold conviction or reproof:

1. The history of past sin
2. The present demand for righteousness
3. The fear of future judgment

“Convict” comes from the Greek elegcw (elegcho), which can be translated either “convict” (“convince”) or “reprove” (“rebuke”). The context determines the translation. If “convict” is meant, the idea is convincing the world of something not previously known or realized; hence, salvation is the goal. If “reprove” is meant, the world is being rebuked for opposing God, and the rebuke is without any thought of salvation. Either or both ideas might be present in the Spirit’s ministry in the world.

If conviction is meant, the Spirit reasons and woos the unbeliever to come to Christ to receive forgiveness of sin, imputed and imparted righteousness, and deliverance from judgment. Concerning sin, people seek to excuse themselves, try to evade the facts; but the Spirit convicts them of their sin, God’s righteousness, and His judgment that results from both.

If rebuke is meant, the Good News is that the believer has the Paraclete, as an Advocate, to dismiss all rebukes on Judgment Day. However, the unbeliever is left defenseless on Judgment Day for the Holy Spirit will be his or her Prosecutor!

Undoubtedly, the Holy Spirit brings home to the conscience of the unbeliever and to the believer’s conscience in a greater degree, conviction or reproof of sin, righteousness and judgment. An illustration of this ministry of the Spirit took place on Pentecost, when Peter filled with the Spirit preached.

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah!” When they heard this, they were pierced to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: “Brothers, what must we do?” “Repent,” Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your
sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:36-39).

Relatively few, who heard Peter’s solution, accepted his message as he pleaded with them. That day about three thousand were added to the number of disciples (Acts 2:40-41).

The sin of which the Holy Spirit convicts men is the sin of unbelief. Jesus said, “of sin, because they believe not on me.” Hence, it is not the sin of adultery, drunkenness, pride, murder, covetousness, etc, but the sin of refusing to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Apart from Christ and the Holy Spirit, none of us has any understanding of God’s righteousness. We think of righteousness in terms of human goodness. The Spirit’s task is to make us aware of our depravity and the need of God’s righteousness in Christ.

The ministry of the Holy Spirit under the New Covenant is different from the Old Covenant for Jesus said, “And about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.” Satan stands condemned. The sinful world is in Satan’s grip, but he will be cast out (John 12:31; Revelation 20:1-3). Christ won the victory at the Cross.

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him (Colossians 2:15).

Christ by his death, overcame the dominion of darkness, and seized upon what its powers had captured, as a conqueror seizes upon his prey. Satan and his legions had invaded the earth, drawing its inhabitants into captivity, and subjecting them to their evil reign. Christ, by his death, subdues the invaders, and recaptures those whom they had subdued through the ministry of the Spirit. This ministry is done through human channels. Every conversion, recorded in the book of Acts, is through the agency of someone who was already saved. The power of the Holy Spirit works through human channels. Every believer is called to be holy, to be a cleansed and unobstructed channel of God’s grace.

Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33); yet those who reject the deliverance offered them will remain slaves of Satan. The prince of this world will continue to rule the dominion of darkness until Christ returns and establishes His kingdom over this world (Revelation 20). In the meantime, it is the ministry of the Holy Spirit, working through the saved, to rescue the captives held by Satan.

So that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light. He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves (Colossians 1:10-13).


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