by Al Maxey
Issue #753 -------
July 30, 2018
The world will not hear such preaching: that they are
all sinners before God, that their pious works have
no value before Him, but that they rather through
this crucified Christ obtain mercy and salvation.
Martin Luther [1483-1546]
The great German theologian, author, and reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546), in his work titled "Convicted by the Spirit," tackled one of the great NT passages dealing with the impact of the Holy Spirit on the life of devoted followers of Christ Jesus. That passage is John 16:8, where we find Jesus telling His disciples just hours before His arrest that it is to their advantage that He must soon return to the Father, for when He does He will send forth the promised Holy Spirit. "And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment." Here we learn of the task given to the Spirit: to convict men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. That's a tall order, isn't it?! It has also led to a considerable amount of speculation as to precisely what this means. Luther believed that "the work of the Spirit is all-encompassing in the life of the Christian. Specifically, the work of the Spirit is to convict the Christian of his sin, his righteousness in Christ, and the judgment of Satan. Far from being simplistic ideas of salvation history, however, Luther demonstrates that the continual conviction of the veracity of all three is fundamental to the life of the Christian in the here and now" [a brief excerpt from a review of Martin Luther's book "Convicted by the Spirit" by the Lutheran Press]. As noted in the quote at the top of this article, Luther understood that the world around us has never displayed much interest in hearing that they are sinners, that their good deeds can never save them, and that the abundant life here and hereafter is only secured by God's grace through faith. The divine task of the Spirit is to change this perception: to convict our hearts with regard to sin, and the potential for receiving the righteousness of Christ, and the certainty of judgment for those who refuse God's gracious gift.
Sin - Righteousness - Judgment. Three great themes that have tremendous relevance for each of us; so important, in fact, that Jesus, upon His return to the Father, immediately, as promised, sent forth the Holy Spirit tasked with the enormous responsibility of going to work on the hearts and minds of the world to convict them of the spiritual significance of each of these three realities. Has the world, over the past two millennia, responded favorably to this effort by the Spirit to convict them? Sadly, no. Many have, thankfully, but the vast majority of those dwelling in the world rejected, and those living today continue to reject, all His efforts to bring about their enlightenment, preferring instead to remain in the darkness, ignorant and indifferent to these eternal truths. This grieves the Spirit, and it should grieve each of us who are Spirit-filled and Spirit-led. Bringing the world to the point of sincere conviction about these "three great categories of thought, custom, and conduct" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 17 - John, pt. 2, p. 301] is "the most needed task today for our complacent age" [Dr. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, e-Sword]. It should be noted that "by 'the world' we understand humanity at large" [The Pulpit Commentary, p. 317].
Within this brief statement by Jesus to His close associates just prior to His arrest we find our Lord's insight into one of the key functions and purposes of the Holy Spirit in the Christian dispensation. "This is one of the passages most pregnant with thought in the profound discourses of Christ; with a few great strokes depicting all and every part of the ministry of the Holy Ghost in the world - His operation with reference to individuals as well as the mass, on believers and unbelievers alike" [Drs. Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 1063]. Dr. Albert Barnes (1798-1870) declares, "In these verses we have a condensed and most striking view of the work of the Holy Spirit. These three things comprise the whole of His agency in the conversion of sinful men; and in the accomplishment of this work He still awakens, convinces, and renews" [Barnes' Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. "He, when He comes, will convict the world..." (John 16:8a). The Greek word here translated "convict" is "elegcho," which, according to Dr. W. E. Vine, means "to convict, convince; usually with the suggestion of putting the convicted person to shame" [Expository Dictionary of OT and NT Words, p. 239]. "To 'convict' is to convince with evidence which includes refutation, instruction and persuasion" [Guy N. Woods, A Commentary on the Gospel According to John, p. 340]. "This word means to rebuke another with the truth so that the person confesses, or at least is convicted of his sin. Although convicted, he may not be convinced. The world will be convicted by the Holy Spirit (John 16:8), but not all will change" [The New Strong's Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words, p. 1074]. There are three areas where the Holy Spirit seeks to bring mankind to a point of conviction, each of which Jesus elaborates upon for His disciples in John 16:9-11. Notice the commentary of Jesus on the particulars of the Spirit's task:
The Spirit will convict the world "concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me" (Romans 16:9). Sin, all sin, is "missing the mark" of God's nature and His expectation for mankind to reflect that nature in his/her daily attitudes and actions. It is a falling short of His glory. It is this sense of one's own sinfulness, of one's sinful nature in comparison to God's holiness, that the Spirit seeks to imprint upon our hearts and minds in order to bring about a change in our life-journey that directs us toward God rather than away from Him. This mission of the Spirit is necessary for the simple reason that the vast majority of the world did not, and still does not, believe in Jesus Christ, and such lack of belief can only result in separation from God, rather than a drawing near unto Him. The world does not convict one of such spiritual estrangement and faithless pursuits; indeed, it encourages them. "Some scientists and psychologists (Freudians and behaviorists) seem bent on destroying man's sense of sin" [Dr. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the NT, e-Sword]. Jesus sent the Spirit, therefore, in order to counter that worldly indifference, and to center our focus on that which is above. "Conviction of sin demands a standard," writes Larry Deason, and that Standard in this dispensation is established and exemplified in Jesus Christ [The Gospel of John: "That You May Have Life", p. 332]. God has shown us what His holiness looks and acts like "with skin on." It is presented to our view in Jesus Christ. We may believe and live, or we may disbelieve and die. The Spirit seeks to convict us that choosing the latter course will never work in our favor; only the former course -- belief/faith -- leads to life eternal. "It has often been said that the great question between God and man today is not so much the sin question as the Son question. It is not so much what we have done as sinners, but how we respond to the fact that Christ has died as a ransom for sinners" [Dr. H. A. Ironside, Addresses on the Gospel of John, p. 693]. Until we become convicted of sin in our lives, and of the disbelief that underscores it, it will be hard to perceive the need for rescue and for a Rescuer.
Once we have become genuinely convinced and convicted of sin, and its hold upon us, the hope of the Lord is that we will desire to depart from the darkness and turn to the light; that we will flee unrighteous living and earnestly desire to be regarded as righteous by the Father. Jesus, while He walked the earth, was that visible example and pattern of that righteousness from above. Jesus was about to depart, however; thus, He pledges to send forth His Spirit who will convict the world "concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will no longer behold Me" (John 16:10). We must not only be convicted of the sinfulness of sin, but we must also be convicted of the righteousness of the Righteous One, and that we may share in that righteousness through belief/faith. The righteousness being spoken of here is not that of man (after all, there are none who are righteous, not even one! - Romans 3:10), but rather the righteousness of Jesus Christ Himself: a righteousness that can be counted as our own by faith. The apostle Paul's great desire was to be "found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from law, but that which is through faith of Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith" (Philippians 3:9). "Hence the Spirit of God proceeds to convince men of the glory, excellency, fullness, and suitableness of the righteousness of Christ" [Dr. John Gill, Exposition of the Entire Bible, e-Sword]. Some, sadly, have grossly misunderstood this truth, and they declare instead that Jesus is teaching that "righteousness is obtainable through the keeping of the commandments" [Guy N. Woods, A Commentary on the Gospel According to John, p. 341]. This is absolutely false. Read Romans 3-4. In these chapters we find Paul forever refuting the notion that a person can be justified by law and law-keeping. Quite the opposite, says Paul: we are justified, and we receive the gift of the righteousness of Christ, by faith ... apart from works of law (i.e., obedience to commands).
"The world everlastingly seeks 'righteousness' ... Thus, men evolve their own schemes for appearing righteous. They may think that their good deeds outweigh or atone for their evil deeds; or they accept religions which teach work-righteousness as the true way to heaven. Always the world seeks to find and to secure righteousness for itself by efforts of its own" [Dr. R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John's Gospel, p. 1084]. "The Spirit's work is to convict the sinners in this world of the fact that true righteousness is available for them only in Him who has passed from the cross to His Father's side" [ibid, p. 1085]. "The world wants nothing of Christ's blood and righteousness, preferring its own self-righteousness" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: the NT, vol. 1, p. 499]. The Holy Spirit seeks, therefore, to convict and convince the world that "righteousness is not founded on a legal system nor in the best of moral men. True righteousness is found in and established on a person, Jesus Christ, and is exemplified in His words and way of life" [Larry Deason, p. 332]. The righteousness we need is a righteousness that we can never provide for ourselves. "There is an infinite gap between the righteousness of God and the sinful state of man that man himself cannot bridge. ... Whereas righteousness had previously been defined by precepts, it now has been revealed in the incarnate Son, who exemplified it perfectly in all His relationships" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 157]. "Beyond doubt, it is Christ's personal righteousness which the Spirit was to bring home to the sinner's heart" [Drs. Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 1063]. Believers and disciples even to this day are in need of grasping this message of grace! We can never, ever be regarded by God as "righteous" based on anything we ourselves might have to offer. Righteousness that is approved by God is the righteousness of His Son, and that righteousness can be imparted to us only by faith! The legalistic patternists are certain that if they can "search the Scriptures" well enough to deduce the many precepts and patterns that must be followed to the letter of the law and imposed upon all others (most of which pertain to the so-called Sunday "worship service"), then they can be declared "righteous" and "saved" via their obedience. Satan is never more pleased than when he sees people militantly promoting such falsehood.
Lastly, Jesus tells His disciples that the Holy Spirit will convict the world "concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged" (John 16:11). When man's sinfulness is confronted by Christ's righteousness, and when the two are compared with one another, the truth is obvious: the former is forever condemned by the latter. There is nothing in my life, or within me as a person, that could ever cause me to stand confidently before the Righteous One. Yet, His righteousness may become mine by virtue of His grace and my faith. I can be counted as righteous, and in that state I do not come under either judgment or condemnation. If, however, I choose not to accept this gracious gift of faith by faith, then my rejection of it will cause me to experience the same eternal fate as the ruler of this world (Satan). The Spirit convicts the world of this truth as well. If you follow the ruler of this world, you will suffer great loss; if you follow the Ruler of the universe, you will experience great gain. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for sending forth the Holy Spirit. By His continuing ministry, many have perceived the sinfulness of sin, and the weakness of their own human nature, and have instead sought out the righteousness of Jesus. Now these devoted believers are in relationship with Him by faith, and are counted as righteous, for they are fully covered by His righteousness rather than their own, and thus they no longer fall under judgment and condemnation. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for these realities you have imparted to us, and the blessed assurance they bring! What an awesome Father we have, for it is He who loved us so much that He made this all possible, even though none of us deserved such mercy! My prayer for you is: May "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all" (2 Corinthians 13:14). Amen!
From a Reader in Arkansas:
Hello Bro. Maxey. I would like to ask you about the eternal fate of legalists. We understand from the Scriptures that they are wrong, but we also understand that we all are wrong in varying degrees, for we all fall short and are thus in need of God's grace and mercy. I imagine you would agree with my perception that ignorance is not the issue here (we are all ignorant, after all), but rather willful ignorance. I wrote something in the past that I think accurately describes the state of those who are not willfully ignorant: "If there is any 'stretching' of God's grace that needs to be done, it is for the honestly mistaken who condemn the honestly mistaken." I believe those characterized by the above statement are perhaps the most miserable of believers because of their basic, fundamental perception that they are hanging on by a thread and God is just waiting for them to make a mistake so He can cut the thread and send them plummeting into Hell. They cannot ever be sure of their salvation. How many times have we heard them lament, "I hope I'm saved!" Though their state is a pitiful one, to be sure, I do believe that they have God's saving grace, for they are sincerely doing their best to understand, and they are not willfully rebelling against growing in knowledge, and they are willing to change to adjust to greater understanding. What do you think? Thank you for your ongoing, wonderful service!
It goes without saying that none of us have achieved, or ever will achieve, perfect understanding and application of ultimate Truth. Each of us are at different points on that path of spiritual maturity, some more enlightened than others, but not a single one of us has "arrived." Thus, we all are lacking in our understanding, and we all are imperfect in our attitudes and actions. If eternal salvation is knowledge and performance based, then none will be saved, for we ALL fall miserably short of the mark of divine expectation. Salvation, however, is by grace through faith, and it is NOT, thank God, based on anything we have or haven't done, or ever could or couldn't do. Life is a free gift, and we receive it solely and simply by faith. Sadly, many of our fellow disciples have failed to perceive this glorious Good News, and they have been duped into believing that it is by their own knowledge, obedience, good works, etc. that they will ultimately be judged one day as "fit for the kingdom." Thus, they live in uncertainty and fear that they haven't done enough or been good enough to earn a passing grade. I truly pity these people, for they lead a miserable existence filled with fear. Let's face it: they are woefully ignorant of Truth, and they daily suffer the effects of that ignorance. BUT, there is ignorance ... and then there is willful, militant ignorance!! I firmly believe God will be merciful to the former group (after all, we are ALL ignorant; legalism is just one of many forms of ignorance); the latter group, however, is another matter altogether. Jesus showed great patience with those who were the victims of the teaching of the hardened religionists of His day, but He had little patience with, and some very harsh words for (Matthew 23, for example), those who were militantly promoting such views. Our battle for the Lord is not with those who have been enslaved by such rigid legalistic teaching, but rather with those who are enslaving them and lashing out at all who make an effort to free them from their bondage. I have written extensively on this in my Reflections, and, in fact, it is one of the primary purposes of this ministry. -- Al Maxey
From an Author in Arizona:
Brother Al, Romans 8:19 ("For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God") has always been an intriguing passage of Scripture for me. Even creation, which is "alive" in one form or another, although subjected to deterioration, as we all are, is said to be anxiously awaiting the "revealing of the sons of God" (whatever meaning we might ascribe to that expression). It could possibly mean, and I should emphasize "possibly," that the terrestrial creation will somehow, in some way, be part of our "heavenly" abode when we exit planet Earth. P.S. - I have not been on the computer very much lately because of other activities, but I am still managing to get around to reading you!!
It is my very strong conviction that this "terrestrial creation" will indeed be part of our "eternal abode." I have dealt with this teaching (and the referenced passage from Paul's epistle to the Romans) in my book From Ruin to Resurrection, as well as in the following: "Restoring Paradise: New Heavens and New Earth" (Reflections #310) and "Rising to Meet the Lord: A Study of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18" (Reflections #41). -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Georgia:
Al, I just read the guest article by your friend Dr. Barry Perryman titled "We're Not Broken, Only Chipped" (Reflections #752). I couldn't agree more!! But, the arrows are surely going to be flung your way and his on this one!! (LOL)
From a Minister in New Zealand:
Great article by your guest writer! I don't know how many times I have taught from, or referred to, Romans 3:21 - 5:21, and yet people just don't get it! "It can't be that simple," they say. "There's nothing about me in it; nothing about me making myself right with God." Justification is God's work (Romans 3:24-26), and Romans 6 is about sanctification, which is what follows after we have been justified. Jesus died for us, making void the power and penalty of sin (something we couldn't do). We then seek to die daily, in practice (which is our part, with the Spirit's help), to sin. Thanks again for sharing this article from Dr. Perryman.
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