On Eagles Wings Ministries
Conviction of Eternal Issues
In the last two sessions we considered the effects of the baptism in the Holy Spirit upon the general life and worship of a Christians congregation.
We shall now focus our attention upon the special ministry of the preacher – that is, the believer called by God to the vital ministry of preaching God’s Word. The questions we shall seek to answer are these:
- What special results are produced in the ministry of the preacher by the baptism in the Holy Spirit?
- In what main ways does the ministry of a preacher who is empowered by the Holy Spirit differ from that of one who is not?
In considering the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the ministry of the preacher, it is appropriate to begin with the words of Peter. He reminds the early church of the example and the standard set before them by the preachers who had brought the gospel message to them. He speaks of those “who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven” (1 Pet. 1:12).
These words bring out the main distinctive nature of the New Testament preachers. They did not depend primarily upon education or eloquence or natural talents; they preached by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. They reckoned and depended upon the real, personal presence and power of the Holy Spirit working in them, through them and with them. Every other means and talent they employed was kept subservient to this one controlling influence: the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
What results follow when the pre-eminence of the Holy Spirit is thus acknowledged in the ministry of the preacher?
Sin, Righteousness and Judgement
And when He [the Holy Spirit] has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgement (John 16:8).
An alternative translation for “convict” is “convince.” He “will convince the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgement.”
We might paraphrase this: “The Holy Spirit will press home upon the attention of the unbelieving world the issues of sin, righteousness and judgement in such a way that it will no longer be possible for the world to ignore or deny these issues.”
These three things – sin, righteousness and judgement – are the abiding eternal realities upon which all true religion is based.
Paul reminded the proud, intellectual, self-sufficient Athenian people of this basic issue of God’s judgement.
[God] has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31).
Judgement is a divine appointment. No one is excused; no one is exempted; no one can escape. God’s appointment is with the world, the entire human race. In this judgement God is concerned with only one issue: righteousness. God will not judge men in respect of their wealth or their cleverness or their religious profession. He is concerned only about righteousness.
The nature of this issue is simply defined: “All unrighteousness is sin” (1 John 5:17). In respect of moral conduct, there is only one alternative to righteousness, and that is sin. Sin must be defined in terms of righteousness. The negative must be defined in terms of the positive.
If we were asked to explain the word crooked, the simplest way to begin would be by demonstrating the meaning of straight. We could draw a straight line and say, “This is straight.” Then we could go on to say, “Any other line extending between the same two points that does not follow the course of this line is crooked.”
The exact extent to which the crooked line deviates from the straight is a matter of secondary importance. It may deviate by one degree, or it may deviate by many degrees. This makes no difference. Whether it deviates by little or by much, it is still crooked.
So it is with sin and righteousness. All unrighteousness is sin. Every form of moral conduct that is not righteous is sinful. God has established His divine standard of righteousness. Anything which departs from that in any degree, small or great, is sinful.
What is God’s standard of righteousness? The answer is given in the second part of the verse we have already quoted from Paul’s speech at Athens.
. . . because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead (Acts 17:31).
What is God’s standard of righteousness, here stated? It is not a moral code or a golden rule; it is not even the Ten Commandments. It is the one kind of standard perfectly suited to the human race. It is a man – that man whom God has ordained.
Who is this man? It is the man to whom God has given testimony or assurance by raising him from the dead. It is the Man Jesus Jesus. He alone is God’s standard of righteousness for the human race. To understand this standard we must study the life and character of Jesus as portrayed in the New Testament. Every aspect of human character or conduct that falls below the standard of Jesus falls below God’s standard of righteousness.
Paul presents the same truth concerning the nature of righteousness and sin, as found in Romans 3:23.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Paul does not specify any one particular type of sin. He does not specify pride or lust or murder or lies. There is only one point in which he asserts that all are alike guilty: All have come short of the glory of God; all have failed to live for God’s glory; all have failed to live up to the divine standard; all have come short; all have missed the mark.
This standard of God’s glory points us again to Jesus, both “the brightness of His [the Father’s] glory and the express image of His person” (Heb. 1:3).
Jesus Jesus alone of all men who have ever lived, lived out His entire life by this one standard and for this one purpose – the glory of God, His Father.
Here then, defined and demonstrated for all to see, are the three basic issues upon which the eternal destiny of every human soul depends – sin, righteousness and judgement.
Yet the human race, in its own natural, unregenerate condition, is totally unconcerned about these issues. This is because fallen man is the slave of his own carnal mind. His one normal means of contact with reality is through his fleshly nature – through his five senses. He is moved and impressed only by the aspects of reality which are revealed by his senses. He is therefore shut up in the realm of the carnal and the material. It is the things in this realm which impress him and influence him, which occupy his time, his thoughts, his energy.
Listen to people of the world talking casually together in any public place – a bus, a train or a restaurant. What is the most common topic of conversation? Without a doubt, it is money. I have proved this by personal observation, listening to people talk in many different languages and in many different lands.
After money there come a variety of other topics, all connected in some way with man’s physical and material well-being, his pleasures, his comforts, his luxuries. Among the most common of these topics we might mention sports, entertainment, politics, food, business, farming, family affairs, cars, clothing and household equipment.
These are the things which normally monopolise the thought and speech of the people of this world. Among them no place is found for the three issues of sin, righteousness and judgement.
Why is this? The answer is simple. These three things cannot be apprehended through man’s carnal senses. For the man who is shut up within the prison of his own senses and his own carnal understanding, sin, righteousness and judgement have no reality or importance whatever.
There is only one means by which these things can be made real for men and women, and that is through the working of God’s Holy Spirit. He alone can convince the world of these unseen, eternal realities. In proportion as the Holy Spirit gains access to men’s hearts and minds, they become concerned about sin, righteousness and judgement.
In Psalm 14:2-3 we are given a divinely inspired picture of the whole human race as God sees them, in their own natural, fallen condition, apart from the influence of God’s grace and the working of God’s Spirit. The psalmist here says:
The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
They have all turned aside,
They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good,
No, not one.
Notice what the psalmist here says about man’s natural condition. It is not merely that there is none who does good. Man’s spiritual depravity goes much deeper than that. There is none who understands, none who seeks God. Even the understanding of spiritual things and the desire to know God are totally absent. Until God through His Holy Spirit reaches down to man, man, left to himself, never reaches out to God or seeks after God.
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1).
Apart from the quickening influence of the Holy Spirit, man’s spiritual condition is one of death. He is dead to God and to spiritual realities. Sin, righteousness and judgement have no meaning or reality for him.
This does not mean that man in this condition is necessarily without religion. On the contrary, religion may play a great part in his life. But religion apart from the moving of the Holy Spirit can be the most deadening of all influences, lulling man into a false sense of security and into callousness and indifference concerning those vital spiritual issues upon which the destiny of his soul depends.
Paul gives a prophetic picture of the main moral features which will characterise the human race at the close of the present age.
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (2 Tim. 3:1-5).
Paul here lists eighteen major moral blemishes that will mar human life and conduct as this age draws to its close. The first two such moral blemishes in his list are “lovers of themselves” and “lovers of money.” The last in the list is “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” By the unerring insight of the Holy Spirit, Paul has pointed out three major marks of our contemporary civilisation: “love of self,” “love of money,” “love of pleasure.”
In between these are fifteen other features of moral decline, all of which have been manifested in the twentieth and twenty first centuries more openly and on a larger scale than at any previous period of world history.
Yet the most challenging aspect of this whole situation is that, in the midst of this universal moral decline, there is no absence of religion. After listing these eighteen moral blemishes, Paul adds, “. . . having a form of godliness, but denying its power.”
In other words, the people guilty of these moral sins are not people without religion. They have a form of godliness – a form of religion – but it is a religion in which there is no room for the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. As a result, there is no sensitivity to spiritual things; no awareness of basic spiritual realities; no conviction of sin, righteousness or judgement.
It follows from this that to preach the gospel without the accompanying influence of the Holy Spirit is a totally useless endeavour. It is presenting a remedy to people who have no consciousness of a need; a cure to people who have no consciousness of being sick. The only reaction this can produce is indifference or scorn.
The greatest enemy of evangelistic activity is not communism or false cults. It is materialism and indifference. The only power that can break down this barrier of materialism is the power of the Holy Spirit. “When He [the Holy Spirit] has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgement” (John 16:8).
It is not mere preaching that the world needs; it is preaching like that of the early church – preaching by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.
Wielding the Spirit’s Sword
Let us look briefly at the examples of this type of preaching recorded in the book of Acts and at the results it produced.
On the day of Pentecost, before the coming of the Holy Spirit, the 120 believers in the upper room in Jerusalem were an unimpressive, uninfluential minority. But after they had been filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter stood up and preached a sermon to a crowd of several thousand Jewish people who had gathered. What were the results of this one sermon?
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).
Notice the phrase “they were cut to the heart.” This cutting to the heart is the operation of the Holy Spirit which Jesus foretold:
When He [the Holy Spirit] has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgement (John 16:8).
As a result of this conviction, before the day closed three thousand unbelieving Jews had repented, acknowledged Jesus as Lord and Saviour and been baptised.
However, it is important to emphasise that these results were not achieved by the supernatural manifestation of the Holy Spirit alone, but by this manifestation followed by the preaching of God’s Word.
It pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe (1 Cor. 1:21).
God has never ordained that men should be saved through witnessing miracles or through hearing prophetic utterances. These supernatural manifestations serve to arrest men’s attention and to open their hearts to the truth. But it is only through the preaching of God’s Word that men are actually saved.
This confirms Paul’s statement that “the sword of the Spirit . . . is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17).
If Peter had not stood up on the day of Pentecost and preached a message from God’s Word, the Holy Spirit would still have been mightily present with the disciples. But He would have been left without any sword to wield. There would still have been awe and amazement on the part of the unbelievers, but there would have been no conversions. It was the sharp, two-edged sword of God’s Word, wielded by the Holy Spirit through the lips of Peter, that cut these unbelievers right to their hearts and brought them under such deep conviction.
Almost half of Peter’s sermon consists of quotations from the Old Testament. So great is the impact of God’s written Word when it is pressed home to the human heart by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In Acts chapters 6 and 7 we read how Stephen was accused of blasphemy and arraigned before the Jewish council in Jerusalem. At the opening of the trial scene Stephen is accused, and the members of the council are the accusers. But before the trial closes these roles have been reversed.
As Stephen, under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, expounds to the council the Old Testament Scriptures relating to Israel and the Messiah, it is Stephen who becomes the accuser and the members of the council who are accused.
When they heard these things they [the council] were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth (Acts 7:54).
Notice the same phrase again: “cut to the heart.” Once more we see that the sword of God’s Word, wielded by the Holy Spirit, reached into the hearts of those unbelievers and wounded them there most deeply.
One of the witnesses of Stephen’s trial and martyrdom was a young man named Saul of Tarsus. This incident evidently had an effect on Saul, for when Jesus appeared to him later on the Damascus road, He said:
It is hard for you to kick against the goads (Acts 9:5).
What were these goads from which Saul was seeking vainly to escape? They were the sharp goads of God’s Word, which had been pressed home to his heart by the Holy Spirit through the lips of Stephen.
Acts 24 describes another trial in which Paul was now the accused, arraigned concerning his faith in Jesus, and the Roman governor Felix was the judge. In this trial, once again, the Holy Spirit reversed the roles of accuser and accused, for as Paul “reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgement to come, Felix was afraid” (Acts 24:25). The Holy Spirit, through Paul, pressed home to the heart of Felix these truths of righteousness and judgement. The proud Roman governor, accustomed to having prisoners tremble before him, found himself trembling in the presence of an unseen judge and hastily dismissed the court without any judgement being pronounced.
These examples from the book of Acts illustrate the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to convict men of sin, righteousness and judgement. But they also show that conviction is not the same as conversion, nor does it necessarily lead to conversion. There is one thing, however, that the Holy Spirit, by His convicting power, most surely does: He leaves no further room for neutrality. Jesus says:
He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad (Matt. 12:30).
Where the convicting power of the Holy Spirit is manifested, every person who comes under the influence of that power is compelled to take a definite stand – either with Jesus or against Him; either gathering or scattering. Compromise or neutrality are no longer possible.
Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to “set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Matt. 10:34-35).
The sword of which Jesus here speaks is the sword of God’s Word. As this Word is ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit, it is so sharp and so penetrating that it leaves no place anymore for neutrality or compromise. It divides even among members of the same family, compelling each one individually to take a stand, either with Jesus or against Him.
We live in a civilisation marked by materialism, indifference, compromise and moral and spiritual decline. Is there anything that can arrest the course of this decline and turn our generation back to God?
Yes, there is one thing that can do this, and only one: the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God, convincing the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgement.