Sometimes there are moments in life when two unassociated events coincidentally collide. Call them serendipity or call the God-incidences, either of which recognizes a spark of unique timing. The first “event” is the topic for this entry of our journey through the basics of faith. Specifically, the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. The second is a question which came to me through email in response to our Forgiveness Bible Study. “What is sin?” To understand the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, we also need to understand the nature and reality of sin itself.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus gives us a clear picture of the work of the Holy Spirit. We won’t print it all here, but that promise can be found in John 16:7-15. In it, Jesus lays out three main purposes for the Holy Spirit; convictions, guidance, and revealing Jesus. Of importance for this topic are verses eight and nine, “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me;” (John 16:8–9, NASB95) One work of the Holy Spirit is to convict the world (this includes us) of sin. But this sin is deeper than identifying offensive action or inaction since it goes to the very root of unbelief.
When we judge sin, we can only look at what is seen. While we’d like to really know someone’s intent, we can only assume intent based on their words and actions. If someone steals a loaf of bread they are guilty, but the actual intent is hidden. Are they stealing out of jealousy? Out of need? Because they were challenged by someone else? Or just to cause harm to the owner? Courts and legal systems try to get at intent, but only God knows for sure.
But what is sin? We have a sense of when someone offends or sins against us. Those feelings usually stem from the loss we feel. Someone wrongfully took something from us. That something could be tangible like bread or intangible like our dignity and honor. From a God’s eye view, sin is rooted in unbelief and a desire to be our own god and go our own way. God says “don’t” and we do it anyway. God says “do” and we run the other way. Sin violates God’s commands and always stems from unbelief.
Sometimes we know we’re rebellious towards God. But more often than not we think we’re doing the right thing. The first bite of the forbidden fruit is always sweet and satisfying. Our unbelief may be that God doesn’t care or that we know better than God does or if God were in our situation He’d do the same thing or God doesn’t exist, so it doesn’t matter anyway. All of humanity rationalizes their sin in some way or another.
Enter the Holy Spirit to break through our rationalization and reveal our sinful self. We often consider the moment of salvation as God’s amazing grace. But I also wonder if having our eyes opened to see our own sin isn’t also a work of grace. The self-righteous don’t see the need for repentance while sinners do see their need thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit.
Conviction is more than seeing our sin. In the word are legal overtones and consequences. A defendant is convicted when they are declared guilty. The convicting work of the Holy Spirit is more than revealing sin but also convicting of guilt. Including you and I. This may seem harsh and unloving. No one likes it when faults and sins are pointed out. But if we accept it and repent then forgiveness, grace, and mercy flow. We all want more love and more power from God, but the path is paved with more conviction of our sin and more revelation of God’s amazing grace.
Seeing our sin is never fun. It’s like turning in an essay to the teacher which we think is perfect and deserving of an A+. But after the teacher grades it. Marks up our misspellings, our run-on sentences, or faulty logic and gives it a C- we are deflated. That’s what seeing our own sin is like. But if we’ll accept the Holy Spirit’s conviction, agree with God about our sin (confession), turn away from it (repentance), ask for His forgiveness through the blood of Christ, then God will forgive us and “cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). And that does feel good.
End Note: For many years I’ve worshipped and served with those open to the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit. They’ve gone by various names; Pentecostal, charismatic, full gospel, third wave. These next words are meant mostly for those friends. We love it when the Holy Spirit shows up (so to speak). When Holy Spirit inspired words flow, gifts are employed, and we feel His presence. Yet, I think, that we who easily enter this aspect of grace often ignore or fail to embrace the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. If conviction and repentance are not happening alongside the other gifts, then we really need to step back and examine our purposes. The move of the Spirit is not to make folks feel good or to prove our faith but to draw folks closer to God.