If we think it is important to give the gospel to people, we do well to ask the obvious question: how does the Holy Spirit relate to the world, especially those who do not know Christ.
There’s no higher authority to answer this question than Jesus Christ, who said that the Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment [John 16:7 – 11]. This could mean different things to different people. Fortunately Jesus explained exactly what he meant by these three words: sin, righteousness and judgment.
To convict is to persuade, to bring evidence. While a prosecutor in court accuses a person, the Holy Spirit persuades by providing positive evidence. Since we are called to work with the Holy Spirit, we should never be involved in accusations against individuals or society. Our task is to persuade people about what Christ has done for them.
What exactly does it mean to convict or persuade concerning sin, righteousness and judgment?
The Law of Moses convicted people concerning rules that they had broken. To them sin was transgression of the Law – a broken rule. Jesus introduced a whole new definition – sin is a broken relationship. Adam severed his relationship with God in the Garden of Eden and the prodigal son broke off relationship with his father, in the famous story told by Jesus.
Jesus said that the sin is that “they do not believe in Me”. The Holy Spirit is concerned that people do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Too many Christians erroneously think that the Holy Spirit is busy trying to expose the sins of society. Not at all! The only sin that Jesus exposed was self-righteousness among the religious leaders who tried to make it difficult for ordinary people to find God’s grace.
Christ told Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting”. There was not a hint of a suggestion that Saul had broken the 10 Commandments or any other religious rules. Jesus was concerned about their relationship – Saul was persecuting Jesus.
This is foundational and yet there’s hardly anything I’ve ever written that has brought more criticism. Religion has deeply ingrained in people’s psyche that the Holy Spirit convicts people of their individual sins, while Jesus is clear that the Holy Spirit convicts us concerning our relationship with him.
Philip preached in the city of Samaria where witchcraft was prevalent. Still, he didn’t try to persuade the people concerning the evils of witchcraft, but rather he preached Christ. Similarly in Corinth, Paul did not seek to convict the people of all the sins of the city – idolatry, prostitution, immorality, to mention just a few – but he preached Christ and his work on the cross.
Both Philip and Paul were working with the Holy Spirit, and we do well to follow their example. We don’t hammer the sinner regarding his or her sins.
Sadly, we are often known more for what we are against and what we are for. We are against abortion, same-sex marriage, other religions, certain political parties, etc. I’m not condoning same-sex marriage or abortion, I merely point out that we’re not working in sync with the Holy Spirit when we list people’s or society’s sins.
Another logical reason why not to list society’s sins is because Christ put away the sins of the world through his death and resurrection.
Just as it would be unwise for a shop-keeper to menacingly waive an already paid bill in front of a customer, asking for payment again, we need not waive the world’s sins and demand payment – we need to declare that Jesus has already made that payment.
This seems radical to many, but in fact it’s just basic gospel 101. Many evangelical leaders a hundred years ago were more aware of these truths than pastors today. One example is the founder of the Missionary Alliance denomination A.B. Simpson, who said:
The world doesn’t have a SIN problem; the world has a SON problem.
Christians ought not to be known as joy killers, fault finders and condemners. Our assignment is to bring good news to people. In a court case the prosecutor’s task is to try to make the accused look as guilty as possible. We are not “spiritual prosecutors”, but more like a court reporter who announces that the accused has gone free.