It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor (or Advocate) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince (or 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 more; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:7-14)
This is part of the last recorded teaching of Jesus to his disciples in the gospel of John, which was the last of the gospels to be written. If there was ever a time to look for Jesus to bring home the most important things, it’s during this teaching. This passage is not long, but it’s loaded.
“It is to your advantage that I go away.”
So this is a big deal. Here’s Jesus, the one and only incarnation of God in the flesh – and he’s telling his disciples it’s to their advantage that He leave so that the Holy Spirit’s presence will now be a part of their life in some way that it was not before. That’s huge. It’s not that the Holy Spirit is more important that Jesus; it’s just that Jesus had done Jesus’ work, and it’s time for the Holy Spirit to do the Holy Spirit’s work. So what is this work?
- Bringing conviction or convincing to the world of humanity’s sin, Jesus’ righteousness, and the coming judgment
- Giving the inspiration for what would become known as the New Testament[i]
- Pointing toward the glory of Jesus, which seems to be a direct reference to how the written Scripture will glorify Jesus – something which John explicitly claims to be doing at the end of his gospel.[ii] (John 20:31)
I have some extra explanation for the second two points at the end of this post. My main focus is on what the Holy Spirit will do for the world.
The conviction of our sin, because we do not believe in Jesus.
The Holy Spirit convicts of sin in a way that drives us to the only one who can forgive us and save us. This requires a conviction about who Jesus is, obviously, but it also requires a conviction about the reality of sin. How can we appreciate a Savior when we have no idea we need saving?
It’s the lead here in Jesus’ teaching. If you want to know if the Holy Spirit is at work in you, you will know this because God will put the reality of your sins in front of you. We can walk away from the work of the Holy Spirit with a lot results – hope, peace, encouragement, conviction - but no one walks away from a genuine encounter with the Holy Spirit proud. “Godly sorrow brings repentance.” (2 Corinthians 7:10) Before the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, we might think we’re not that bad. We might think, “I’m doing pretty good on my own; my sin is not that big of a deal.” Not when the Holy Spirit is working in us. Charles Spurgeon wrote in a sermon:
The Holy Spirit does not come to make sinners comfortable in their sins, but to cause them to grieve over their sins. He does not help them to forget their sin, or think little of it, but He comes to convince them of the horrible enormity of their iniquity. It is no work of the Spirit to pipe to men’s dancing. He does not bring forth flute, harp, dulcimer and all kinds of music to charm the unbelieving into a good opinion of themselves, but He comes to make sin appear sin, and to let us see its fearful consequences. He comes to wound so that no human balm can heal, to kill so that no earthly power can make us live.
The flowers bedeck the meadows when the grass is green, but lo, a burning wind comes from the desert and the grass withers and the flowers fall away. What is it that makes the beauty and excellence of human righteousness to wither as the green herb? Isaiah says it is “because the Spirit of the Lord blows upon it.” There is a withering work of the Spirit of God which we must experience or we shall never know His quickening and restoring power.
The Holy Spirit convinces us that we are not just mistake-prone; we are rebels at war with a holy and righteous God. The Holy Spirit shines a light on our sins and then makes us look at them in all their ugliness. If you pray for the Holy Spirit to get to work in your life, buckle up, because you are going to end up on your knees at the foot of the cross.That’s a daunting but beautiful thing. As several testimonies highlighted the past several weeks, repentance is a gift. In the great awakening of 1860-61 in Great Britain, a high-ranking army officer described the conviction of sin in his Scottish town:
"Those of you who are ease have little conception of how terrifying a sight it is when the Holy Spirit is pleased to open a man's eyes to see the real state of heart. Men who were thought to be, and who thought themselves to be good, religious people . . . have been led to search into the foundation upon which they were resting, and have found all rotten, that they were self-satisfied, resting on their own goodness, and not upon Christ. Many turned from open sin to lives of holiness, some weeping for joy for sins forgiven." (J. Edwin Orr, The Second Evangelical Awakening in Britain) https://enduringword.com/commentary/john-16/
Godly sorrow brings repentance, and repentance is crucial not just to entering into the Kingdom of God but experiencing life within it to the fullness.
I want to be careful here. If we are crushed into hopeless despair by our sin, that’s a different thing. Satan can distort our awareness of our guilt (the debt we incur because of our sin) so that it drives us to self-destructive despair. When that happens we increasingly see us and our sin, and we just spiral downward into self-loathing.
Godly sorrow always points us to God, which means we will always have hope in the midst of our conviction. God will make us kneel before He raises us up, but he will never make us grovel and then kick us while we are down. If that’s what you are experiencing, that’s not the Holy Spirit. That’s what the Holy Spirit will free you from.
Repentance is a gift. So is the conviction that brings us the initial awareness of our guilt. This godly awareness is a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work. It is a gift of love. It’s in our awareness of our guilt that we know God has not given up on us; he is pursuing us like ‘the hound of heaven’ - relentless, close, involved. He’s not an Orwellian Big Brother, waiting to stomp a holy boot in our face and grind us under his tyranny. He’s a loving Father who wants spiritual boys and girls to grow into righteous men and women; he’s a Master Builder who never stops turning the shack of our lives into a mansion.
In our peace we feel God’s presence; in our hope and joy we feel His presence. We can’t forget that in our awareness of our guilt we feel His presence too. It’s a sign that God is at work in us. Spurgeon again:
“A sinner is a sacred thing: the Holy Ghost hath made him so… a man truly convinced of sin by the Spirit of God is a being to be sought after as a jewel that will adorn the crown of the Redeemer.” http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols28-30/chs1708.pdf
The conviction of Jesus’ righteousness
Righteousness is another way of saying ‘being right with God.’ We have what the Bible calls a Counselor or Advocate in Jesus. This is a legal term; we have someone who defends us in God’s court. He is the attorney for the accused – us – and on our own, we have only plea: “Guilty.” Jesus is not there to excuse or explain away what we have done; he’s not there not to argue for our awesomeness. He’s there to display His.
Jesus makes it so that His intrinsic righteousness – that is, the holy perfection of his nature in which there is not even a smudge of sin or evil – is given to us through his forgiveness and by his grace. In Jesus, we see how a God whose holiness demands that He judge sin and evil is also a God whose holiness demands that He provide a way of escape. So God did not turn a blind eye to our sin; instead, He satisfied His own demand for justice.
- “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
- “So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God's wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:21)
- “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)
- “There is, therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
- “God has united you with Christ Jesus… Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin.” (1 Corinthians 1:30)
When we are convicted of sin, we will feel the daunting weight of justice. We will be convicted of the impossibility of paying for our own sins. But this godly conviction will turn our eyes to Jesus, and we will be amazed by the goodness, holiness, and righteousness of the perfect savior who took our sins upon himself, who died that we could live.
One way you know the Holy Spirit is at work in you is that you are convicted of sin. The next way is that in the midst of that conviction there is a growing appreciation for the righteous love and provision of Jesus.
The conviction of a final judgment of evil
First, God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world (Act 17:31). Jesus singles out the ‘ruler of this world,’ another way of referring to Satan, but this includes all that has plagued the world because of Satan’s destructive work. It’s not just Satan; it’s the havoc he has unleashed on the world. All injustice, pain and suffering will one day have their reckoning.
Tim Keller likes to say that in the day of final judgment ‘all that is bad will be undone.’ The answer to the question, “What will God do about evil?” is that He will judge it. Why He waits as long as He does is not necessarily ours to know. But what He will one day do is known. God will have the final word. God wins.
So how does this impact our life today?
First, if you are not aware of your sinfulness, pray to God that the Holy Spirit convicts you. You need to be at the foot of the cross.
Second if you are aware of your sinfulness, don’t be discouraged by it. Remember that God loves you enough to convict you. If you are retreating into shame and despair, pray that the Holy Spirit’s conviction brings about a godly sorrow, one that leads you to repentance and takes your eyes off of your sin and onto Christ.
Third, pray that God uses His Spirit to increase your appreciation of Jesus. Pray that you can truly appreciate the goodness, holiness and majesty of Christ.
Finally, don’t forget that one day evil will be judged. Satan’s power will be obliterated. One day there will be a New Heaven and New Earth where God will wipe away all tears and all sorrow, and we will live in its fullness with our Savor.
[i] In verses 7-11 Jesus talked about what the Holy Spirit will do for the world; in versed 12-14, Jesus appears to shift and talk specifically now to the disciples about how the Holy Spirit will help them in their writing of Scripture (John 16: 12-14; John 15:26). As I have been studying commentaries on these verses, almost everyone is in agreement that, considering the context, this is about God’s role within the writers of Scripture so that they get the sacred text right. This particular passage was a promise to the disciples that the Holy Spirit would be present and faithful in the apostolic founding of the church so that they could record and teach all that Jesus had taught, and even inspire them on issues that Jesus had not directly addressed. Lots of good commentaries that further explain this are available at biblehub.com.
The Holy Spirit would even instruct them on “things to come,” which most likely includes two things: insight into the future as we look toward the judgment followed by the rebuilding of the New Heaven and Earth, as well as guiding the founders of the church by helping them understand how the Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and teaching will impact the newly formed church that is now inhabiting God’s spiritual kingdom here on earth.
Some commentators note two potential implications of this passage: First, an ongoing sense that the Holy Spirit leads us into truth as we study that same Scripture. In other words, the Holy Spirit inspired the writers to record truth, and the Holy Spirit also works within us so that we understand it. Second, an implication that the Holy Spirit will work from then on in all believers to lead them into truth, which typically means giving personal guidance or insight.
Both of those inferences offer truth about how the Holy Spirit works within believers. If I look at this teaching in this context, it's hard for me to see that was what Jesus intended to convey in this particular passage. However, I believe support is found elsewhere in the Bible.
[ii] “He will glorify me.” The Holy Spirit always points toward Christ. There are different ways this happens – through the convictions I mentioned earlier, through the gifts the Holy Spirit gives, or through the fruit of the Holy Spirit displayed in our lives. But in all these things, we know the Holy Spirit is at work if Jesus is glorified.
If people are glorified, or churches, or ministries obscure the glory of Jesus, that’s a problem. If events overshadow the glory of Jesus, that’s a problem. If the gifts and their manifestation point toward the people using them, or if people are inclined to seek the gifts and not the giver, that’s a problem. It doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit is not at work, but if anything or anyone increases while Christ decreases, something has gone wrong.