Monday, October 13, 2008

He Will Convict the World (John 16:5-11)

Icon of the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost

5 “But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. 8 And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 of sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; 11 of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged."

It is only natural that the disciples should feel sorrow, given that Jesus is about to leave them. Still, Jesus wants them to think about more than their own sorrow. As Fr. Farley writes, “Their concern is only for their own grief at His absence and their panic at being abandoned. Sorrow has filled their hearts and left no room in it for curiosity about Christ’s future plans” (280). The one exception is Peter, who with characteristic boldness did ask Jesus where he was going a little earlier (13:36). Jesus is trying to keep their minds focused on the near future and the traumatic events that are about to come.

Certainly, Jesus’ departure would be extremely traumatic for the disciples. Still, it was absolutely essential, for a variety of reasons. In fact, Jesus’ leaving the earth was actually to their advantage, for only if Jesus were to go to the Father and be exalted at his right hand could the Holy Spirit come and dwell permanently in the Church. This is now the fourth time in this discourse that Jesus has foretold the coming of the Spirit. Here, he mentions yet another thing that the Spirit will bring: conviction.

Note that verse 8 is the only place in Scripture where the Holy Spirit is said to have a ministry to the world. Everywhere else, his ministry is reserved for believers (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, 697). The Greek word for “convict” (elegchein), which Fr. Farley translates as “reprove,” carries a legal flavor, as does the word parakletos, which, as we have seen, is the name that Jesus uses for the Holy Spirit. But whereas parakletos means an advocate, one who pleads on our behalf, elegchein implies one who prosecutes. So while the Spirit’s main ministry to believers is to stand along side them and support them, his activity in the unbelieving world is to convict it, with a view toward bringing people to salvation.

In this verse, Jesus lists three types of conviction that the Holy Spirit brings to the world, and then he elaborates on each type of conviction in the following verses.

The first conviction is conviction about sin. Without the Holy Spirit’s work in the world, no one would be completely cognizant of right and wrong. And, of course, the greatest sin is rejecting Jesus, or not believing in Him. As Fr. Farley points out; “Israel has disowned him, thinking that they are doing the will of God. By the working of the Spirit, they will be cut to the heart and see that this is sin…” (280)

Secondly, the Spirit will convict the world about righteousness. The reason for this is “because I am going to the Father.” This statement seems a little puzzling, perhaps even a non sequitur at first. Fr. Farley explains it thus: “That is, [Jesus] is to be raised to God’s right hand, and thus be vindicated by God for His righteousness. Israel thought Jesus an unrighteous Law-breaker. By the working of the Spirit, they will see what true righteousness really is as they see Christ exonerated and glorified by the Father” (280). In other words, the Resurrection will show that Christ is truly righteous, or even more accurately, that he IS true righteousness.

Thirdly, the Spirit will convict the world about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. Again, Fr. Farley’s words are helpful: “…Satan and his instruments in the world (such as the Sanhedrin) have been judged and condemned by God. Their time of ascendancy is over; now is the time for Christ’s victory. By the working of the Spirit, they will see that the time of lies is now over; now is the time to repent” (280).


charlene said...

Fr. James,
This one verse that tells us the Holy Spirit is ouut in the world as well as among believers is really important, isn't it? It would seem proof that God continues to reach out to mankind, even when they turn their backs to Him. Even though the Holy Spirit comes to convict and not to comfort, He does come. Could I further infer that if the hardened heart of man softens at this conviction, the Holy Spirit would be there with support?

Fr. James Early said...

Well spoken, Charlene. I couldn't agree more.