This Lesson is part of John’s Gospel Easy Notes Series.
Jesus said about the Holy Spirit: “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 the world now stands condemned (John 16:8—11).”
This is a passage which is not easy to understand at first reading. Yet we need to understand it because it is of great importance.
- →Convict the world of guilt in regard to sin:
If Jesus is the Son of God, as this gospel presents him to be, then the greatest sin in the world is the rejection of him. Rejection of Jesus is a deliberate act on the part of men and women who do not believe in him.
- →Convict the world of guilt in regard to righteousness:
Sin cannot be defined without a standard.
The verdict of the Bible is this (in a paragraph that Bible scholars agree to be the most important paragraph in the entire Bible):
“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:21—23).”
Jesus is the only righteous one. God accepted his life and work and placed his divine stamp of approval upon them by raising him from the dead. The return of Jesus to the Father was the ultimate proof that he is the perfect pattern or standard of righteousness.
So when people look at Jesus they see what God’s standard of holiness is. Anything that falls short of him cannot be acceptable to God.
- →Convict the world of guilt in regard to judgement:
Whenever sin and righteousness meet there must be judgement. Acceptance of Jesus as the standard of righteousness and that acceptance of God made known by his resurrection from the dead at the same time meant the rejection of the prince of this world who is the ultimate representation of all evil. In John 12:31, Jesus looking ahead to his cross said, “Now is the time for judgement on this world: now the prince of this world will be driven out.”
“The cross was the condemnation of all that the world contained—its pride, its envy, its hatred, its rebellion, its unbelief. The function of the Spirit is to apply that condemnation to the world, and to make it conscious of the reality of that judgement.” – Merrill C. Tenney
For an In-depth Understanding
What is the application of what Jesus said about convicting the world of guilt in regard to sin, righteousness and judgement? Basically, we need to understand that it is beyond human ability to convince any unbeliever of sin, righteousness or judgement.
First of all, you might be able to point out some particular sin in him or her and convince that person that it is wrong. But if you try to make a person acknowledge the fact that he or she is a sinner, full of evil at heart, and therefore deserving of punishment because he or she has not believed in Christ, is humanly impossible.
Secondly, you might be able to show someone where he or she has failed in relation to the Ten Commandments or some other moral law of conduct. But to create in a person the humiliating consciousness that his or her self-righteousness (which in the simplest terms is the thought “I am right and perfect”) is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) in comparison with the righteousness of God cannot be done by human reasoning.
It might be helpful at this point to look at Isaiah’s cry: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty (6:5).” Look also at Peter as he sees the miraculous catch of fish. He falls at Jesus’ knees saying, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man (Luke 5:8).”
What do you think created this reaction in both Isaiah and Peter? Think about it.
Thirdly, people believe in a kind of general judgement that will come on this world. But it is almost impossible to convince them that they already are under the wrath of God (John 3:36) and they are already condemned (John 3:18).
Only the power of the Holy Spirit working in human hearts can bring about conviction of guilt in regard to sin, righteousness, and judgment. Therefore preaching in human wisdom is not effective. We need to rely on the Holy Spirit to prepare the hearts of men and women to accept the preaching of the cross which is foolishness to those who are perishing but the power of God to those who are being saved (1 Corinthians 1:18).