The Holy Spirit Convicts the World
Easter 5 Cantate (Confirmation Sunday)| John 16:5-15| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| May 15, 2022
Jesus tells his disciples that it is to their advantage that he goes away, because if he does not go, the Helper will not come, but if he goes, he will send him to them. The Helper, as our ESV Bible translates it, perhaps better translated as Comforter, is the Holy Spirit. It is to the disciples’ advantage that the Holy Spirit come to them, because without the Holy Spirit, no one can be a Christian. No one can believe in Jesus Christ and be saved unless the Holy Spirit creates faith in that persons’ heart and causes him to be born again. If you have the Holy Spirit, you are a Christian and are saved. If you do not have the Holy Spirit, then you are not a Christian. You cannot be saved without the Holy Spirit.
Yet, how does the Holy Spirit come to you? Some mistakenly think that the Holy Spirit comes without any means. He’ll just come to you in the wind while you’re working in your garden, or while you’re pondering your thoughts in your room, or while you’re driving in your car. But that is not how the Holy Spirit comes to you. The Holy Spirit comes to you in no other way than through the Word of God. That is, the Word of God must be spoken or read in order for the Holy Spirit to create faith and keep a person in the faith.
Jesus makes this clear both by what he tells us the Holy Spirit will do and by what he calls the Holy Spirit. He tells us that the Holy Spirit will convict the world. Well, how does the Holy Spirit do this? He does this by speaking! He convinces hearts to believe in Christ by using words. Jesus also calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Truth. What is truth? Truth is conveyed through words. Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” The Spirit of Truth comes to you through Jesus’ Word, and he speaks to you Jesus’ Word.
This is why we emphasize the importance of God’s Word. A great thing happened to Hunter today (A great thing happens to baby when he’s baptized). She was baptized. God worked forgiveness of sins, rescued from death and the devil, and gave eternal salvation to her. How can we say this about a little splashing of water? Because Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word. Where there is the Word of God, you have the working of the Holy Spirit. So, no one can dare say that Baptism is nothing, because it has the Word of God and the certain promise of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
This is also why our confirmands are asked, “Do you intend to hear the Word of God and to receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully?”, to which the confirmand answers, “I do, by the grace of God.” This question plainly asks whether the confirmand intends to continue being a Christian. Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciple.” And the Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith in no other way than through the Word of God. So, if a Christian wants to continue to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, then he must continue in the Word of God.
Luther’s Small Catechism explains the Third Commandment, “We should fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching and his Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” Most don’t think they are despising God’s Word when they refuse to hear and learn it, but that is exactly what they are doing. And in so doing, they are resisting the work of the Holy Spirit. St. Stephen, in his last sermon before he was stoned to death, preached, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 7:51) How did they resist the Holy Spirit? They ignored the Scriptures and the proclamation of the prophets and apostles. Refusing to hear and learn God’s Word is to resist the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, apart from whom, you cannot be saved.
Now, some think that since the Holy Spirit spoke directly to the Apostles, he must speak to us in the same way today. Yet, the Apostles were called directly by Jesus Christ himself, who sent them and promised them that the Holy Spirit would speak through them. Jesus has not called any of us directly, nor did he promise he would do so. Rather, he left us the Holy Scriptures, which he said cannot be broken (John 10:35). The Holy Scriptures, also known as the Bible, are the writings of the Prophets and Apostles, who were carried along by the Holy Spirit, so that the Bible is rightly called God’s Word. If you want to know what the Holy Spirit has to say to you, then you need to read and hear the Bible. And if you want to find a faithful preacher, then you need a preacher who will preach what the Bible says. This is how the Holy Spirit speaks to you.
Yet, what is this Word that the Holy Spirit speaks to you? Jesus summarizes the teaching of the Holy Spirit in three points. “He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” The Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning sin, because they do not believe in Jesus. Now, you and I could name many sins besides not believing in Jesus. And the world could tack on quite a few more! Yet, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning sin, because they do not believe in Jesus. He doesn’t list any other sins. How can this be? Because Jesus bore the sins of the whole world. If Jesus bore the sins of the whole world, then the sins are no longer on the world. Jesus has taken them away. Yet, if you do not believe in Jesus, if you do not trust in his atonement for your sins, then your sins remain on you. This is what Jesus teaches in John chapter 3, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the only begotten Son of God.” (vss. 17-18)
Refusing to believe in Jesus as your Savior becomes the only sin, because Jesus has taken all sins away. You receive his forgiveness through faith. So, if you trust in Jesus for forgiveness, your sins are gone. But if you do not believe, your sins cling to you.
Now, this is wonderful news to those who mourn their sins and suffer from a guilty conscience. Through faith in Jesus, apart from your works, God does not count your sins or remember them! How grand! Yet, most people find this message offensive. “You mean, if I’m a good person, but I don’t believe in your Jesus, then I’m still a sinner?” Well, yes, except there is no good person apart from Jesus. Jesus says, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) If you do not have faith in Jesus, then you have not been born again. And if you are not born again, then you cannot do any good works. That which is born of flesh is flesh, but that which is born of Spirit is spirit. (John 3:6) If you are not born again of the Spirit, if you do not have faith in Jesus Christ, all you can do is sin. It is impossible to please God apart from faith in Christ. (Hebrews 11:6; Romans 14:23)
And so, the comforting message for us Christians is the most offensive message to unbelievers. The Holy Spirit comforts us by saying that our sins are put on Jesus and we are forgiven. The unbelievers are offended that what they think are good works are called sin. This brings us to Jesus’ next point, which the Holy Spirit will teach. The Holy Spirit will convict the world of righteousness, because Jesus goes to the Father. This goes against the rationale of the sinful world. Righteousness is doing what is right. You are righteous if your works are good. So, how can the world be convicted of righteousness for something it does not do, but rather something Jesus does? Jesus goes to the Father by way of the cross. He suffers and dies for all sins and then he rises from the dead, having justified the whole world. The world is declared righteous for what Jesus has done. Yet, the unbelieving world rejects this righteousness. She would rather have her own righteousness.
But the righteousness of the world is but filthy rags. All the works of sinful man are tainted with sin. No one does what is right, no not one. We are totally corrupted with sin. The only way we can be declared righteous is if we receive the righteousness of another as a gift. This is done only when you believe in Jesus as your righteousness. In this way, you say to God, “Yes, I know I am a sinner. I have broken your commandments. I have not loved you with my whole heart. I have not loved my neighbor as myself. I have been lazy, hateful, greedy, and impure. For this I am ashamed. Yet, Jesus my God and Lord has fulfilled the Law. He was perfectly obedient. And he has paid for my sins on the cross. I point to Jesus and say, ‘There is my righteousness.’” And God says, “Amen.”
Finally, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. The ruler of this world is Satan. He is judged and condemned by Christ, because Christ has taken away all our sin. We are freed from Satan’s clutches. Jesus teaches us that hell, the place of eternal punishment, was not made for people, but it was prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). Yet, people do go to hell with the ruler of this world. They go to hell for rejecting the Gospel preached by the Holy Spirit. Jesus promises us, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24) But to those who do not believe, Jesus says, “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” So, those who refuse the Gospel will be judged by the Gospel, that is, they will be judged for not believing in the Savior, who came to save them.
This is why it is so important that we hear and learn the Word of God from the Holy Spirit. It is a matter of eternal life or eternal damnation. The reason it is so tragic that confirmands will stop going to church after they get confirmed, is not simply that they made a public confession before God and the Church that they will continue to go to church, and therefore are lying and taking God’s name in vain when they refuse to do as they promised. The reason it is so tragic is because outside of faith in Christ, there is only condemnation, eternal punishment. To fall away from the faith is the worst thing you can do. It is to receive the judgment prepared for the devil and to be convicted of sin. But, to continue in the Gospel of Christ is righteousness and eternal life.
The Holy Spirit has nothing to give you unless Christ went to the Father through the cross. The Holy Spirit takes what is Jesus’ and declares it to you through the Gospel. So, if the message is not centered in the cross of Christ, it is not the message of the Holy Spirit. But when you hear that Jesus has taken away all your sins through his suffering and death and that you are declared righteous for Christ’s sake, you are hearing the sweet voice of the Holy Spirit, your Lord and the giver of eternal life. And it is to your eternal advantage that you believe what he says. Amen.