We have heard the bad news that we are sinners who cannot save ourselves. And we have begun to hear the good news that God has made a plan to save his people from their sins and that Jesus has come to pay for sin and to save his people. But now the question arises, how does that finished work of salvation which the Father planned and which Jesus completed come to me? How is the saving work of Christ applied to my needy soul?
John 16:5-11 “Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”
Jesus was about to leave his disciples and return to his Father. The disciples of Jesus were grieved and Jesus was comforting them. He makes one of the most astonishing statements in Scripture in verse 7. “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)
What is Jesus saying? It is better for you to have the Holy Spirit, or counselor, than to have my physical presence. Why? What is the Spirit going to do? He is going to bring to the world a full and free salvation. Jesus goes on to explain that the Spirit will convict the world of guilt.
He will convince those in the world of three things: sin, righteousness and judgment.
He will convince those in the world of the sin of unbelief.
He will convince those in the world of the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
He will convince those in the world of the defeat of Satan and the forces of evilby the cross of Christ.
When a sinner is under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, three things will be true of him.
First, he will see the foolishness and the sinfulness of not believing in Jesus Christ. One commentary put it this way, “When you think of it, it is an amazing thing that men would put their trust for all eternity in a crucified Jewish criminal. What convinces men that this crucified Jew is the Son of God? That is the work of the Holy Spirit.”
Second, he will confess that he is not righteous in himself and he needs the righteousness of Jesus Christ in order to be right with God. The Holy Spirit will convince those in the world that there is only one who is righteous, and that is Jesus. Many think that they are righteous; or at least that they are better than most people and they are hoping that God will judge on a curve. Many people try to build a ladder of good works up to heaven and then climb up that ladder themselves; but all such attempts to win the favor of God by our feeble good works are impossible. Salvation depends not on our works but rather on Christ’s work. This is what the Spirit will come to convince us of. There is righteousness acceptable to God to be found only in Jesus Christ. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus,” (Romans 3:23 ) and, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Third, when the Holy Spirit convicts a man, he will confess that he is under condemnation because he belongs to the unbelieving world and the defeated devil.
“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” (Matthew 12:30) and, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” (Ephesians 2:1-3)
In short, a man under conviction will confess that he is a sinner and stands condemned for his sins before God, and that he needs Jesus to pay for his sins and to give him a righteousness that will stand before God.
Conversion, in other words, is the work of the Holy Spirit. He pulls the blinders off from our eyes that we might see our sin and shame. He strips us of all our self-righteousness and self-sufficiency and shows us our need of Jesus Christ. He finds us spiritually dead and gives us new life in Christ. “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.” (Colossians 2:13)
As the hymn writer puts it, “I know not how this saving faith to me he did impart, nor how believing in his Word wrought peace within my heart. I know not how the Spirit moves, convincing men of sin, revealing Jesus through the Word, creating faith within. But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day.” (Trinity Hymnal #705, “I Know Whom I Have Believed”, by Daniel Whittle.)
Have you been convicted of the sin of unbelief? Have you been convinced that Jesus alone is righteous? Have you been convinced of the judgment to come? Has the Holy Spirit begun his saving work on your sin-sick soul?
If you believe and rest in the work of Christ, you are a Christian. The Holy Spirit has worked a miracle within you. God the Holy Spirit has taken away your stony heart and given you a new heart. And if you are a Christian today, give thanks to God for his precious gift of salvation.