Doctrine of Conviction

August 8, 2011


The original Greek word elegko (elegko), which may be translated either convict or convince, is used seventeen times in the New Testament and represents in general the process whereby one is caused to reach certain conclusions or impressions in his mind.  Too often it is assumed that this approach is through the emotions and that conviction consists in a spiritual depression and sorrow for sin.  Wrong, it is rather to be observed that the emotion which may arise in the heart is itself due to conviction, a convinced state of mind, and is not the convinced state of mind itself.  Under a misapprehension it is assumed that sufficient sorrow for sin will soften the heart of God to the end that He may forgive, or that the sorrow for sin will result in a complete abandonment of its practice.  In neither of these suppositions is the truth to be found.  God’s attitude toward the individual’s sin has been thoroughly changed and this because of the fact that Christ has borne his sin.  Through the death of Christ for sin, God is now propitious (the Integrity of God has been satisfied).  There remains no occasion for Him to be appeased or propitiated either by human tears or sorrow.  Likewise, to reach a point in conviction where some moral reforms are secured is far removed from the salvation of the individual.  If through the enlightenment which conviction imparts, however, the individual is led to be cast completely upon God for His saving grace, the desired result of a spiritual transformation (salvation) will be gained.

With this more specific meaning of conviction in mind, attention may be given to the central passage bearing on this theme, namely, John 16: 7-11, which reads:

John 16:7-11
7    “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper [the Holy Spirit] shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.
8    “And He [the Holy Spirit], when He comes, will convict [enlighten] the world concerning sin [genitive singular of amartiaj], and righteousness, and judgment;
9    concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me;[that is the sin: unbelief; rejection of Jesus Christ]
10    and concerning righteousness [imputed; cf. Phil. 3:9, 1 Cor. 5:21], because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me;[the Son’s return to the Father was evidence that He had secured the provision of perfect righteousness for sinners; it was to be theirs now through faith alone in Christ alone]
11    and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world [Satan] has been judged.  (NAS)

1.    We find in v.8 two determining words that are crucial to our understanding of this passage.  The first is elegcei- the third person singular future active indicative of elegko- which means to bring to light; set forth; demonstrate; prove; to convict or convince someone of something, to point something out to someone.

A.    The future tense is a predictive future, used to predict an event which is expected to occur in future time.

B.    The active voice indicates that the Holy Spirit, as the subject, produces the action of the verb.  He enlightens the mind of the unbeliever to the three vital issues of sin, righteousness and judgment through His pre-salvation ministry of common grace.

C.    The indicative mood is used to relate the verbal action of the sentence to reality.  The declarative indicative is used here for the statement of a simple fact.  He, the Holy Spirit will enlighten the unbelieving world to these three issues.

2.    The second is kosmoj- which means order, disposition, arrangement and is usually translated world.  It refers to the cosmic system over which Satan rules.  Unbelievers are always implied as the inhabitants of the cosmic system.

This threefold ministry of the Spirit to the unsaved by which they are enlightened or convinced is most essential if any intelligent acceptance of Christ is to be achieved.  This work of enlightenment, known theologically as common grace, overcomes the blindness which Satan has imposed respecting the gospel.  This satanic blindness is described by the Apostle Paul in:

2 Corinthians 4:3-4
3    And even if our gospel is veiled [hidden, concealed], it is veiled to those who are perishing,[unbelievers]
4    in whose case the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  (NAS)

Only the Holy Spirit can lift this veil of spiritual blindness.  The Spirit does so by causing the individual to comprehend three cardinal, indivisible truths.  They are cardinal since they comprise the very structure of the gospel of God’s grace.  They are indivisible since no portion of them is ever dealt with apart from the whole.  It is of great importance to recognize that these subjects are mentioned in the text as constituting the substance of the Spirit’s unfolding or revelation to the unsaved.  The complete unveiling of these truths is as definitely essential in each unregenerate person as the totality of their blindness requires.  Of itself and apart from Satan’s blinding, the gospel is not difficult to understand and looks most attractive to those unto whom it comes through the enlightenment of the Spirit.  Apart from a clear understanding of the gospel through the Spirit’s work of common grace, no one is saved!

1.    OF SIN.  Reference here is to the one sin that “they believe not on me.” Too often it is assumed that it is the Spirit’s work to make people conscious of and sorry for their sins; rather, He reveals to the unsaved simply the one sin of rejecting Christ.  This emphasis of the Spirit is reasonable in the light of the truth that Christ has borne all sin in His death.  There remains but the one issue; that of believing or receiving what Christ has done and Himself as the glorified Savior.

2.    OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.  Here, again, the Spirit unveils what it is impossible for the unenlightened, unregenerate person to comprehend, namely, that in the invisible Christ now at the right hand of God has been provided every merit and quality which one could ever need for time or eternity.  Though the unsaved cannot enter deeply into the complex doctrine of imputed righteousness, it is essential that they know how salvation depends on their turning from all confidence in self or any other hope and on placing expectation wholly and only in Christ.  This certainly proves an important feature of the Spirit’s work if an intelligent acceptance of Christ as personal Savior is ever to be secured.

3.    OF JUDGMENT.  In the use of the word judgment at this point allusion is made to the cross of Christ by which Satan, “the prince of this world,” was judged (cf.  Col. 2:14-15).  The entire fact has to do with Satan’s hold upon humanity on the ground that they are unlike God through sin.  By bearing the sin of the world efficaciously (John 1:29), the Son of God wrought a judgment against Satan which should be acknowledged as the greatest of all judgments.  The unsaved are expected to recognize that they, like criminals, have been apprehended, brought into judgment, found guilty, and led out to be executed, only to have Another, by His own choice, intervene and suffer execution in the sinner’s stead.  Thus it comes to pass that the sinner is placed as a judged criminal beyond his own execution.  Certainly this is not a thing to be undertaken by the sinner, then, but is something to believe.

When the entire field of truth which the Spirit reveals to the unsaved, by whatever agency He may elect, is revealed, it becomes evident that the issue before the unsaved as God presents it is one of believing what has now been accomplished by Christ and of resting with confidence in the Saviorhood of Christ.  It is plain that he who attempts to preach the divine message should do so with all this truth in mind.  In other words, the gospel which the Holy Spirit can illuminate is what has been set forth by the three phrases: “of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.”