Sin, Righteous, and Judgment: Who is Right and Wrong
Cantate Sunday| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| May 2, 2010| St. John 16, 7-11
I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. St. John 16, 7-11
The Comforter is the Holy Spirit. He is the Spirit of truth. We confess him as the Lord and giver of life. He takes what belongs to Christ and reveals it to us. He opens our hearts and our minds to receive God’s gifts. He works inside of us to change us. He converts us.
He finds us unwilling. Our will is bound. We are held in spiritual bondage to the powers of darkness. We have no true peace and no genuine comfort. The Comforter makes the unwilling willing. He changes the cold and stony heart into a believing heart that joyfully receives Jesus Christ and all the treasure he has to give.
The Comforter doesn’t send himself. Jesus sends him. But before Jesus can send him Jesus must go to the cross. There is no other way.
That’s what Jesus said. He said:
I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.
Jesus has to go away. He has to depart. Where? Jesus was going to the cross. He would be betrayed and handed over to the Romans who would whip him, mock him, and crucify him. This was to be to the advantage of Jesus’ disciples and indeed of all Christians of all time. Only by going to the cross can Jesus send the Holy Spirit. That’s what Jesus said and Jesus speaks the truth.
God and the world have a difference of opinion. It is a threefold difference of opinion. They hold to different opinions about sin, about righteousness, and about judgment. It is the Holy Spirit who sets forth God’s argument. He shows us that God is right and the world is wrong.
What God says about sin is right. What the world says about sin is wrong. The world says that sin is merely the outward act you do that breaks the moral code. God says that sin is the inward desire you have that turns you away from God. The world says that sin is something sinners can overcome if they know how to do it. God says the soul that sins shall die, the wages of sin is death, and the one who sins is a slave to sin and will remain in bondage until he is set free by Jesus Christ.
The world says that sin is breaking the rules. Then the world makes rules it can obey. Inventing your own rules, attributing them to God, and claiming a reward from God for obeying them is a neat trick if you can get away with it. But you can’t. The Holy Spirit convicts you. He shows you are wrong. He exposes the lie. We cannot avoid sin by obeying rules. We cannot free ourselves from sin by following any sort of spiritual regimen or discipline. Only the sin-bearer can take sin away.
We must want what God wants. We must desire what God desires. Our will must conform to his. Love demands it. God is love. We must fear, love, and trust in him above all things. If we do not, we have not yet begun to obey him and everything we do is sin.
Jesus says, “[The Comforter] will convict the word of sin . . . because they do not believe in me.” Unbelief is the root sin and everything that grows up out of unbelief is sin no matter how holy it looks on the outside.
Universalists teach that everyone with any kind of religion can be saved and go to heaven even if they do not believe in Jesus Christ. We are often told of heroic deeds – religious deeds – done by adherents of non-Christian religions as evidence that one need not believe in Jesus to be good and to do good. But these are the arguments of the spiritually blind. They do not trust in God. They trust in their own reason. They wish to reason their way to God and to eternal life. It cannot be done.
Not believing in Jesus is sin because Jesus is God. The First Commandment says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Those who do not believe in Jesus set up a false god – a god of their own making – and replace the true God with their idol.
Not believing in Jesus is sin because only Jesus can take away sin. Unbelief is the root sin because it is only through faith in Jesus that we receive forgiveness of sins. God does not forgive sins piecemeal, as if he will forgive this sin but not that sin. God forgives sinners and if you are not forgiven of all your sins you are not forgiven of any of your sins. We are forgiven of all our sins through faith in Jesus the sin-bearer who took our sins away on the cross. Those who do not believe in Jesus do not have forgiveness for any of their sins and therefore everything they do is sin.
What God says about righteousness is right and what the world says about righteousness is wrong. The Holy Spirit shows this through the gospel. The world is wrong about righteousness, Jesus says, “Because I go to the Father and you see me no more.” What does Jesus going to the Father have to do with righteousness?
How did Jesus go to the Father? What route did he take? Did he simply ascend into heaven? Did he get on a fiery chariot like Elijah? No, he went to the Father by way of the cross. There is where true righteousness is to be found and nowhere else. It is in Jesus’ obedient suffering and death.
There is another kind of righteousness that is good enough for its purposes. It is the righteousness that works for the world. It is not the righteousness that makes you righteous before God and brings you to heaven. It’s a righteousness that makes you righteous before the world. It is a successful living kind of goodness. Do this and you’ll succeed in life. Here’s how to overcome this problem. Here’s how to avoid that pitfall. Most of what passes for Christian preaching is of this variety: common sense advice on how to live successful lives by following tried and true principles.
But it’s not true righteousness. It doesn’t pass the divine test. To stand righteous before God requires of you what you have not done and cannot do. It requires a righteousness that is flawless. It requires a perfect heart, pure motives, and a love untainted by selfishness. Only the obedience of Christ is truly righteous. In going to the Father Jesus has provided us with his righteousness.
First, he offers it to the Father. Then, he pleads it before the Father. He offered his righteousness to the Father in going to the cross. This was the ultimate act of righteousness. It was pure and holy obedience. It was love. He suffered, died, was buried, and rose on the third day. He ascended into heaven. Now he pleads his righteousness before the Father. He pleads for you and for me. He intercedes. He sets before our God and Father his righteousness as our righteousness. The Father looks at what Jesus did and he credits it to us. He reckons it to us. He imputes it to us.
We don’t see this happening. It is hidden from our sight. The outward works of the self-righteous are far more impressive looking than a righteousness that cannot even be seen. But we know that Jesus intercedes for us. We know that his obedience replaces our sin. We know that as surely as our sin became his on the cross, his righteousness is now ours. We know this through faith. God gives us Christ’s righteousness. We receive it through faith. As St. Paul declares:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” Romans 1, 16-17
True righteousness is always hidden under faith and the cross.
What God says about judgment is right. What the world says about judgment is wrong. The world judges according to the flesh. It judges according to its own self-righteousness. It judges the gospel. The gospel reveals to us the righteousness by which we are justified by God himself. This is the most precious teaching in the whole world. This is priceless knowledge. And the world passes judgment on this gospel. It is foolishness, says the world. It is an offense to human pride. It is despised, just as Christ was despised when he was suffering for us all on the cross.
But the ruler of this world has been judged. Satan’s head was crushed when Jesus’ heel was bruised because by that bruising the flawless obedience of Jesus was offered up to God to replace the sin of the world. Righteousness defeated sin and this is what cast the devil down into hell. This is what shut his mouth forever. This is what judged the accuser of the saints, silencing his lies, and setting Christians free.
The comfort of the Comforter comes from Jesus. Jesus sends him. He takes what belongs to Christ and makes it known to us. Christ is glorified as the Holy Spirit draws us to faith and sustains us in the true faith.
God and the world have a disagreement about sin, righteousness, and judgment. God is right. The world is wrong. We Christians take God’s side in his argument against the religion of the world. We need deliverance from our sin and we find it only through faith in Jesus. We need true righteousness, and nothing but Christ’s obedience and suffering will do. We need to be delivered from judgment, and we are. This is the comfort we have from the Comforter Jesus sent. Amen