And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin….
— John 16:8
Do you remember the first time you were convicted that you were a sinner? The first time I really knew I was a sinner is etched in my mind forever. For me, it was when a guest evangelist came to preach a week of meetings at our church. On one of those nights, he delivered a riveting message about hell. Although I was only five years old at the time, it shook me to my bones. By the time he finished preaching, the Holy Spirit had caused me to know that I was born a sinner and that if I didn’t receive Christ, I would spend an eternity in hell.
My five young years had been spent largely in the church. From the time I was eight days old, I was in church. I remember the church nursery, graduating to the next little Sunday school room, and so on. From the earliest age, my parents were teaching me that Jesus and church should be the center of my life — and for that, I am forever thankful.
*[If you started reading this from your email, begin reading here.]
Although I attended Sunday school where my teachers taught me about Jesus, it was when that guest evangelist delivered his message about hell that the Holy Spirit reached deep into my five-year-old heart and convicted me that I was born a sinner and that I would spend an eternity in hell if I didn’t repent and commit my life to Christ. I occasionally hear people say children are too young to comprehend such things. But I assure you that at the age of five, I knew I was a sinner and that if I didn’t repent and make Jesus the Lord of my life, I would be eternally lost. It wasn’t the horrible sins I had committed that condemned me; I was too young to have committed horrible sins. Nevertheless, I understood that I was born a sinner and my condition separated me from God.
I wanted to walk the aisle to repent, but my parents were concerned that I was too young to really understand what I was doing. They didn’t want me to simply fill out a card at the altar without truly coming to Christ. But from that day on, every night when it was time to go to bed, I would tremble with fear that if I died in the middle of my sleep, I would slip into an eternity without God. Each night as I fell asleep, my mother would lay at my side and speak to me about salvation to determine if I really understood sin, its consequences, and repentance. But the Holy Spirit had used that evangelist’s message to drive truth into my heart, and I was utterly convicted that I was lost. Although I was young, I understood, and therefore I became accountable to God for that knowledge.
In John 16:8, Jesus explained that one of the works of the Holy Spirit is to convict the lost of sin. Jesus said, “And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin….” According to Jesus, a significant part of the Holy Spirit’s work is to reprove the world of sin. That reproving work is what I experienced at the age of five when I heard that evangelist preach about hell. In that moment, my eyes were supernaturally opened and I knew I was lost.
If you know Jesus Christ, I am certain you can also remember a time in your life when you experienced this reproving work of the Holy Spirit and you knew that you were a sinner. The word “reprove” used in John 16:8 is from the Greek word elegcho. It means to expose or to convict, such as to convict someone of a crime or a sin. This word was used technically in a court of law to describe legal proceedings during which a person was examined and cross-examined by a prosecuting attorney. After a thorough examination, if the person was found guilty of the accusations brought against him, the court convicted him of the crime and issued a corresponding judgment. It was a conviction that led to condemnation.
Jesus used this word elegcho to describe the work of the Holy Spirit in John 16:8, when He said that the Spirit would “reprove” the world of sin. This means one of the significant works of the Holy Spirit is to cross-examine a sinner’s heart until that sinner is utterly convicted that he is lost. But unlike a prosecuting attorney and court judge in the example given above, the Holy Spirit’s goal is not to condemn a person, but to escort that person from his sin to the forgiveness, freedom, and life offered to him in Jesus Christ.
When a sinner’s eyes are opened and he really grasps the fact that he is spiritually lost and therefore deserving of judgment, it triggers that moment when from his heart, he cries out to God for salvation. This is precisely the purpose of conviction! In Romans 2:4, Paul told us that it is “the goodness of God that leads us to salvation.”
The word “leads” is the Greek word ago, which gives the picture of God graciously leading us where we could never go by ourselves. Because we are lost, we could never find the way on our own, so God lovingly steps in to escort us to a crucial point of knowledge — where we understand that we are sinners in need of salvation and that we need His help.
This is the reason the Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin! It is not to make a person feel badly, but to help each person become aware of his or her profound need. His purpose is to cause the sinner’s heart to cry out for God and to steer that sinner to the Cross of Jesus Christ, where forgiveness and release from judgment is available.
That awakening moment came for me when I heard an evangelist preach about hell. But by studying the different scriptures where the word elegcho is used in the New Testament, it is clear that the conviction of sin comes to people in a variety of ways. For example:
- In Matthew 18:15, the word elegcho is used to depict the personal witness of a friend, family member, or acquaintance, and how that personal witness can bring a person to a point of conviction about his sinful condition. We must never forget that we are anointed to take the Good News to people who are unsaved. When we speak to them, it triggers that divine moment when they really see and understand their need for Jesus. It brings conviction that leads them to repentance.
- In Luke 3:19, the word elegcho is used to illustrate how the preaching of John the Baptist brought Herod to a point of conviction about his sinful lifestyle. Herod refused to repent, but because of John’s bold and straightforward preaching, Herod could not escape knowing that he was a sinner. This is an example of how Holy Spirit-anointed preaching can bring a person to a place of conviction about his sinful condition.
- In John 3:20, the word elegcho is used to demonstrate how the Light — the truth of God’s Word — produces conviction in people who are in darkness and When the Holy Spirit shines His truth into unbelievers’ darkness through one of His many amazing avenues — such as through preaching, a believer’s personal witness, the printed page, or a television broadcast — it brings unbelievers to a place of conviction about their sin. At that moment, they have a choice: to run to the light and be changed or to run from the light and continue in darkness. Those who run to the light are gloriously saved, whereas others knowledgeably run from the light because they do not want to change. However, although they try to escape the light, it is too late, for the light of truth has already shone into their darkness and convicted them that their deeds are wrong. Truth brings conviction of sin!
- In First Corinthians 14:24, the word elegcho is used in the context of a sinner who comes into a church service where the presence of God is so strong that he is stricken with his unholiness in light of the holiness of God. The result is that he becomes convicted of sin and falls on his face in repentance. Here we find a reason why we should make every effort and do our part to build a strong presence of God in our church services. This environment unleashes His power to convict the sinner of his need to be saved, and it convicts the saint of his need for sanctification and surrender. A strong presence of God brings conviction of sin!
- In James 2:9, the word elegcho is used to denote how knowing God’s law makes a sinner conscious of the fact that he is a sinner and a lawbreaker. Romans 3:20 tells us that “by the law is the knowledge of sin.” When people have a knowledge of God’s law, such as the Ten Commandments, that knowledge makes them aware that they have fallen short of the glory of God and are therefore lawbreakers and sinners. The law of God is a major instrument by which the Holy Spirit convicts people of sin. Could this be the reason why the devil has worked so hard to remove the Ten Commandments from today’s society?
The fact is, if the Holy Spirit doesn’t direct a person’s eyes to see the truth about his sinful condition, he will never see it. It is a miracle when a man or woman sees that he is lost — and only the Holy Spirit can reveal this to a lost man (see Sparkling Gems 1, February 20, for more on this subject).
The wonderful news is that the Holy Spirit has come “to reprove the world of sin.…” He knows exactly how to bring every person to a point of conviction. He has the key to every person’s heart. He longs to lovingly escort every lost sinner to repentance and to a new life in Jesus Christ which is precisely what happened to me at the age of five when I heard that evangelist preach his fiery message about hell. There was no escaping from the truth — the Holy Spirit made me to know that I was a sinner. The only remedy was to repent and commit my life to Jesus Christ.
So today I ask you: Are you available for the Holy Spirit to use you to shine His light into the hearts of spiritually lost people you know? The Holy Spirit knows how to reach them, but He needs someone like you through whom He can work. Are you available to Him? You may hesitate at first, but think how thankful you are that others allowed God to use them to reach you. Now it’s your time to let the Holy Spirit work through you to help lost people find their way to the truth that will turn their lives around and change their eternal destiny!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Lord, I am thankful for the work of the Holy Spirit to produce conviction and change in our hearts and lives. I remember when I first became convicted of my own sin, and it eventually led me to salvation. Now I know that You want to use me to shine the Light of Your Word to others who are in darkness as I used to be in darkness. Forgive me for hesitating and being fearful to take this bold step of faith to act on the love of God in my heart for those who need You. Today I am rejecting that spirit of fear, and I am asking You to release Your power in me so I can help lead others to a place of repentance and lasting change. Help me do this for others just as others once helped me!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that I am a bold witness for Jesus Christ. There are people I know — friends, relatives, acquaintances, and coworkers — who need to know Jesus Christ. I declare by faith that I am not selfishly holding back what I know to be life-giving truth. I will lovingly tell others the Good News that Jesus can save them and change their lives. I am a mighty vessel that the Holy Spirit can work through. Because I am available for His use, people in my life who need Jesus are coming to know Him and the freedom He brings!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Can you remember when you first became aware that you were a sinner and you needed to repent? What were the circumstances, and what exactly happened to you to let you know you were lost and without God?
- Can you think of specific individuals in your life who you know are lost and you have sensed the Holy Spirit tugging on your heart to speak to them about Jesus? Have you been resisting this tug of the Spirit in your heart? If so, what is stopping you from telling them the most important news in the universe?
- How long has it been since you’ve reached out to someone who is lost to tell that person about Jesus? A year from now when you look back, will you have a better answer to that question because of the decision you made today to be a bold witness for Him?