“And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:8-11).
The third major section of John’s gospel shows Jesus ministering to his disciples on the night before his death (John 13:1-17-26). In chapter 16, Jesus tells them that in his place he will send the Spirit, who will not only comfort them, but also help them to receive the very life that he has come to give. Jesus tells us here that part of the work of God’s Spirit is to bring conviction (see 1 Thess. 1.5). We seem to hear very little these days about the convicting work of the Spirit. Without it, a person cannot be convinced of their spiritual state before God. When the Spirit is at work, there will be an unmistakable movement in us regarding God’s truth. What was once cold, objective fact suddenly becomes intensely personal. God is no longer just talking; he is communicating with us personally. No longer is just our mind engaged, but our will and emotions too. We can no longer be content to respond carelessly, casually, or superficially. When God’s Spirit convicts us, the truth will grab us and lay hold of us and will pierce our heart (see Acts 2.37). And at that point, we must make a choice to either embrace what the Spirit has shown us or to walk away from it. I tend to think that we do a lot of the latter. The convicting power of the Spirit will always move us out of our comfort zone.
Mel Gibson’s latest film, Hacksaw Ridge, is a compelling account of deep conviction. It depicts the true story of Desmond Doss, who voluntarily enlisted as an Army medic during WWII and eventually received the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroic acts. Doss is portrayed in the film as a conscientious objector, whose convictions lead him into great abuse by those around him and over him in the military. Facing a court martial for his beliefs, he states, “I don’t know how I can live with myself if I don’t stay true to what I believe…the man I want to be.” The charges are ultimately dropped and he enters the war without a gun and becomes a hero rescuing a great number of his fellow soldiers on the battlefield.
Chaplain J. Ammon Larsen of the 82nd Training Wing Chaplains observes that, “Hacksaw Ridge might best be described as a tale of the value of winning the battlefield of the heart. We often see movies portraying acts of great valor in the face of the enemy at great personal risk; this story not only has these elements but also centers on the sacrifices and challenges in living one’s deepest, life-shaping convictions even in the face of fierce opposition. The first fight must take place within oneself. Once that is won – the rest of the battle is much easier.”
As I read these verses here in John’s gospel, I am reminded that we too must have conviction. But the conviction brought by the Spirit does not come from a guilty conscience, anxiety at the thought of judgment, or an academic awareness of hell. So, what is real conviction, the kind the Bible speaks of? It is the basis for the gospel and of our very life in Christ. It is the first work of the Holy Spirit in an individual’s soul.
The word convict here means “to convince someone of the truth; to reprove; to accuse, refute, or cross-examine a witness.” It is a legal term. The Holy Spirit acts as a prosecuting attorney who exposes evil, reproves evildoers, and convinces people that they need a Savior. Before we can truly follow Christ, we must be convinced about three things: the nature of our own sin, the need for Christ’s righteousness, and the nearness of coming judgment.
Has the Spirit of God convinced you of your own sin? Do you know of Christ’s absolute righteousness to cover it? Are you living in light of a soon coming judgment for those who reject him? Being convinced of these things will drive us to believe God at all costs and to tell others of this Savior. It will cause us to be people of extraordinary faith. Be around a person with conviction very long and you are sure to sense the power of a life totally devoted to Christ.