‘Convict’ -to decide officially in a law court that someone is guilty of a crime: Cambridge Dictionary
The term convict for the modern reader carries with it legal overtones. We called those sent to other countries to serve their prison sentence convicts. If someone is convicted we think there has been sufficient evidence brought to court to deem someone worthy of a negative judgement. There are three elements that go along with the word convict. Firstly, wrong has been done, secondly for this judgement to be made there must be a standard for good against which the wrong judgement is made. Thirdly there is a price that must be paid for the wrong that has been done. To grasp the rounded sense of the word convict in the passage it is also to be understood in terms of a strong opinion or belief or a feeling of being certain about something which are definitions of conviction in the Cambridge dictionary.
We get then two perspectives when Jesus says the Spirit will come, ‘to convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement.’ v8 From the individual’s perspective the Spirit will impact their strong feeling and belief about their own conduct and motivations. From God’s perspective the Spirit will make clear to them what God’s judgement is. The common position in the modern west is that what is important is what I think about my life is what matters. Otherwise I cannot fulfil myself. However, the Spirit brings an understanding that there is an objective standard outside of oneself about right and wrong and we will face accountability to God against that standard.
Why was Jesus making this clear to the disciples now? It was because he was equipping them for their gospel work, evangelism. Whilst they were to take the message to the people it is the Holy Spirit that persuades and changes the listeners deeply held beliefs. It is interesting that when Jesus describes the reason for sin he addresses lack of faith in him. v9 This refers back to the first commandment, ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’ Exodus 20.3 All sin originates in a rejection of God. The gospel message is that righteousness comes from faith in Jesus as well. Through faith the Christian receives the righteousness of Jesus in the eyes of the Father. ‘For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ 2Corinthians 5.21
There is a judgement and a decision to be made. If we align with the values of the world we will receive the judgement along with the ruler of the world. If we align and believe in Christ we receive the judgement reflecting Christ’s righteousness. A first step in believing in Christ is an awareness of our own need. The Spirit convicts people of their need so that they can respond to the gospel. There are highly important aspects of the Spirit’s role in convicting one of sin as one progresses in the Christian life however in the context of this passage Jesus is preparing them for his own death, resurrection and ascension and their subsequent role in taking the gospel to the world.
This directly relates to the church’s core current role of continuing to share the gospel. The Spirit continues to be the one who convicts people of their need and who Jesus is. That does not detract from the church’s and individual Christians responsibility to share their faith. Neither does it mean that we should not communicate the message in the most effective way we can. However, a spiritual work needs to be done and only the Holy Spirit can do that. We live and work in a divinely arranged partnership having received God’s mercy ourselves.
Do we specifically pray that the Spirit will convict people we are sharing the gospel with of sin, righteousness and judgement?
Mighty to save