15789_Holy_Spirit.When the Spirit comes He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgement…” John 16:8

The words quoted above were spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ to His disciples on the eve of His arrest, trial and execution by the Roman authorities. They are words which in their context in John’s gospel looked forward to an event which lay in the future, the giving of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. They are important words and surprising words for they speak about the work of the Holy Spirit, not within the Church, but within the world at large. They are words which were intended for the disciples, words designed to assuage their grief at the news that Jesus was about to die, words intended to build their faith and strengthen their resolve to keep standing for Christ in a hostile world and to keep witnessing for Christ to a lost world.

Notice firstly that Jesus spoke these words as part of His promise to send the Holy Spirit to the disciples and thus to His church. Having told them that it is for their benefit that He returns to His Father, Jesus assures His disciples that His departure is for their good (John 16:7). He then goes on to explain this remarkable statement by teaching them that the Holy Spirit can only come to them, if He goes away. And the reason for this is quite clear, for in John 14-16 it is both Jesus and the Father who send the Holy Spirit. Thus in John 14:16 the Father sends the Spirit at the request of the Son so that the Spirit is sent ‘in the name of Jesus’ (14:26). And in John 15:26 and 16:7 it is Jesus who sends the Spirit ‘from the Father…to His disciples’. Thus it follows that the Spirit can only be sent by the Father and by Jesus once Jesus has returned to the Father to make His request and to take up the position of authority on the basis of which He can send the Spirit.

Notice secondly that when the Spirit comes to the disciples and the church He (the Spirit) will convict the world (16:8)! This as we noted above is an extraordinary statement and one that requires some careful thought on our part. How can the Spirit given by Jesus to his disciples convict the world? The answer must surely lie in the fact that in John 14-16 the Holy Spirit is pre-eminently called ‘the Spirit of Truth’ (14:17; 15:26; 16:13). Thus the coming of the Spirit to the disciples will not only guide them into the truth (16:13) and enable them the record the truth (i.e. the teaching of Jesus – 14:26). He will also enable and empower them to declare the truth to the world. And it is through this declaration of gospel truth that the Spirit will convict and convince the world (16:8).

Notice thirdly of what the Spirit will convict the world through the proclamation of the truth. Jesus says that the Spirit will ‘convict the world of guilt’ (vs8). Although this clause could be interpreted as ‘expose the shame of the world’ or ‘expose the legal guilt of the world’ it most likely refers to that inner conviction which leads to a sense of being in the wrong and thus of the need for repentance. In particular there are three areas in which the world is in the wrong and of which the Spirit will convict people by the proclamation of the gospel.

First, the world is guilty of the sin of unbelief with respect to Jesus and thus in the wrong in its rejection of Jesus. Second, the world is guilty in that its own view of what is right (righteousness) is completely different from that of God’s righteousness. People naturally believe that they are in the right and their own sense of righteousness leads them to see Jesus as just another man whose particular saving work they do not need. But Jesus’ resurrection and ascension (His return to the Father – vs 10) show that it is He who is righteous not the world. Finally the world is guilty because its judgement of Jesus is false. The world passes judgement on Jesus and fails to see that in His death Jesus is in fact judging the world. The world is blinded by the evil one and thus is blind to the fact that in the death of Jesus the evil one is condemned. The world is thus in grave danger of sharing the fate of evil one whose views of Jesus it shares.

Given the sin, the self righteousness and the false judgement of the world with regard to Jesus, what hope is there that people within the world can indeed be brought to faith in Christ? The answer is that the only hope for the world lies in the powerful work of God’s Holy Spirit through the truth of the gospel. And in this regard, what a great promise Jesus has given to His people. For He has promised that as we, for all our own weakness, seek to speak gospel truth about Him, the Holy Spirit which He and the Father have sent will convict the world of its guilt and lead it to repentance and faith.


Written by Mervyn Eloff