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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:The Holy Spirit proves the world guilty
Text:John 16:8-11 (View)
Topic:The work of The Holy Spirit

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 104:1,7,8

Psalm 51:1-4

Hymn 48

Hymn 70

Psalm 67

Scripture reading:  Acts 2:14-41

Text:  John 16:8-11 (begin reading at verse 4b)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

The story is told of an Emperor who prided himself on wearing the best and most fashionable clothes.  One day two tailors approached him with the offer of something very unique.  They would fit the Emperor with a suit of clothes that would only be visible to those who were highly intelligent and fit for their position.  After the tailors finished the outfit, the Emperor’s ministers raved about it.  Even though they couldn’t see it, they were afraid of being exposed as incompetent or, in the words of the two tailors, they didn’t want to be seen as “hopelessly stupid.”  Of course, the Emperor did the same.  Finally, the day came when the Emperor paraded in front of his subjects with his “new clothes.”  The crowds too were afraid of what others might think, so they ooohed and aaawed over the Emperor’s new fashions.  You probably know what happens next.  A little boy cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”  It’s a lightbulb moment for the crowds and soon they join in.  But the Emperor is unfazed and carries on with his parade – in his proud mind the crowds are too stupid to see his clothes.  That little boy exposed the objective truth of the situation.  Everyone else, including the Emperor, was too blinded by their pride to admit what they were really seeing.

In our text this morning, our Lord Jesus says that the Holy Spirit is going to come and do something like what that little boy did.  He is going to expose the objective truth of the situation.  So many have blinded themselves to what’s really going on.  In their pride, they have convinced themselves that things are one way, when they’re really another way.  But the Holy Spirit will come, says Jesus, and he will be the one to tell the truth.

The Spirit’s work of telling the truth has more to it than first meets the eye.  You can see this in the way that the ESV translates the key word here in verse 8:  “…he will convict the world…”  “Convict” has a legal connotation with it.  This word is associated with courtroom proceedings.  The word refers to exposing the objective truth, but it also contains the element of proving that someone is in the wrong, that someone is guilty and without excuse for what they’ve done.  The Spirit is going to conclusively demonstrate that the “world” is guilty.  So I preach to you God’s Word as we see that at and after Pentecost, the Holy Spirit proves the world guilty.     

We’ll see that he does this with regard to:

  1. Sin
  2. Righteousness
  3. Judgment

Before we begin looking at verse 8, we need to note where we are in the Gospel According to John.  The second half of John’s gospel is taken up with the events right before, during, and after Christ’s death on the cross.  This is one of the things that makes John’s gospel unique.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke dedicate several chapters to these events, but not anywhere near half of their gospels.  In John 16 we’re in the second half of that gospel.  Jesus is with his disciples on the Thursday evening before Good Friday.  They have eaten the last supper together.  Judas Iscariot has departed to do his evil work of betraying Jesus.  Jesus then began to teach them about what must soon take place.  One of the things he mentions several times is the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus has a special name for the Holy Spirit here.  He calls him the Helper.  At least, “Helper” is the translation we have in the ESV.  The NIV has “Counselor,” and you could also translate this word as “Comforter.”  Our Lord is clear that the Spirit, the Helper, will come later and will be with the disciples forever (14:16).  The Spirit will comfort them, and also teach them and help them to remember everything that happened while they were with Jesus (14:26).  The Spirit of truth will also bear witness about Christ (15:26).  So when the Lord mentions the Spirit in our text, he’s not introducing something new.  That evening he’s already mentioned the Holy Spirit several times.

In our text, in verse 8, Jesus says that the Spirit is coming.  From the verses before, we know that this happens after the Lord goes away.  That means that the Spirit comes after Christ’s ascension into heaven.  From where we stand today, we know that this takes place at Pentecost.  Fifty days after Easter, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the church in a spectacular way.  But from the perspective of Jesus and his disciples in our text, this still lays in the future.  The Helper is coming. 

Now that might raise a question in some minds.  Where was the Holy Spirit before Pentecost?  Was he in heaven waiting for Pentecost so that he could finally come to earth?  Is Pentecost sort of like Christmas for the Holy Spirit?  Before Christmas, Jesus was not on the earth, and before Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was not on the earth?  No, loved ones, the Holy Spirit was present and active on the earth long before Pentecost.  We can see that from some of the Psalms we’ve been singing this morning.  Psalm 104 mentions the activity of the Holy Spirit in creating and preserving life.  He’s been doing that all along, long before Pentecost.  In the words of the Nicene Creed, he is and has always been the Lord and giver of life.  We sang Psalm 51.  David there pleads with God not to take away the Holy Spirit from him.  The Holy Spirit lived in David’s heart and not only gave him strength for his calling as King, but also worked faith in his heart.  In fact, everyone who believed before Pentecost in Acts 2 could only believe because of the Holy Spirit.  Ephesians 2:8 says that faith is a gift of the Spirit.  We can’t imagine that before Pentecost sinful people could believe on their own steam, and then suddenly after Pentecost, they need the Holy Spirit to do that.  No, faith has always been a gift of the Holy Spirit.  So, what changes at Pentecost?  Pentecost is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the church.  The emphasis falls on “pouring out.”  The emphasis is on the fullness and abundance of the Spirit’s presence and work in the church of Christ.  He comes with power to equip the church to fulfill the mission given to her by Christ to bring the gospel out to the nations.

That mission begins with convicting.  That mission begins with the Spirit convicting the world, exposing the world’s guilt and deep need for Jesus Christ.  When Jesus uses the word “world” here, we need to be clear on what he means.  As elsewhere in John’s gospel, “world” here refers to the world as the collection of people sinning and rebelling against their Creator.  The world is not neutral or undecided when it comes to serving God.  Instead, the world is dead set against God.  If we were to refer back to the story of the Emperor, the world is committed wholeheartedly to the idea that its clothes are beautiful and only fools can’t see it.  Meanwhile, the reality is that the world is poor and naked.  In fact, worse than naked, for the world has threadbare garments covered in the dirtiest filth imaginable (cf. Isa. 64:6).

It’s important to understand that the world is not the opposite of God’s covenant people here.  In chapter 15, when Christ speaks about the world, he describes them as those who persecuted him (15:20).  The world is those who wanted him dead.  Those who wanted him dead were men who had physically descended from Abraham.  Those who persecuted Jesus were men who had been circumcised on the eighth day – they were members of the covenant.  So you can’t read these words and say, “This is just about those outside of the covenant.  This isn’t about us in the church.  It’s just about the people out there.”  You can’t say that.  The context won’t let you say that.  When Jesus speaks about the world here, he does so with the full recognition that sometimes the “world” is found among the covenant people of God.  It shouldn’t be that way, but sometimes it is.                           

The Spirit will prove the world guilty on three scores.  The first of these is in verse 9.  The Spirit will prove the world guilty concerning sin, because they do not believe in Christ.  The Holy Spirit is going to expose the sin of unbelief.  The reality is that everyone is called to repent and believe in Jesus.  Everyone is called to turn their backs on sin, have a change of mind about it – to repent – that’s what repent means, to have a change of mind or heart.  Instead of loving sin, the person who repents hates it.  Instead of being opposed to God, the person who repents loves him.  Instead of seeing themselves as not needing a Saviour, the person who repents acknowledges their deep need for Jesus.  Everyone is called to repent.  Everyone is also called to entrust themselves to Jesus as the only one who can save from sin and its eternal consequences.  The call to repent and believe is not optional.  Listen carefully, you can refuse to believe, but you’re not allowed to.  There are consequences for refusing God’s call.  Refusing to repent and believe in Christ is a sin.  This was true for God’s covenant people, the Jews, in the days of Jesus.  It was true for the Jews and Gentiles after Jesus ascended into heaven, after Pentecost.  It remains true today.  It’s true for us, for you.  The Holy Spirit says that you must repent from sin and rest and trust in Jesus Christ alone.  If you refuse his call, you’re with the world and the Holy Spirit proves you guilty.

Now a question we should ask is:  how does the Holy Spirit do this work described here?  How does he convict the world of unbelief, proving the world guilty of unbelief?  Our text doesn’t answer this question, but the rest of the Bible does.  Elsewhere in Scripture we learn that the Holy Spirit has a tool that he uses to accomplish his purposes (Eph. 6:17).  The Holy Spirit’s tool is the Word of God.  Through the Bible and the preaching of the Bible, the Holy Spirit does what he wants to do.  He proves the world guilty of unbelief through the Word of God, both as it’s written and as it’s proclaimed.   We see that illustrated in the second chapter of Acts.  Right after Pentecost, the Spirit does what Jesus says he will do here in John 16.  He works through Peter’s preaching to prove the world guilty of unbelief.  The Spirit is speaking through Peter and he says that those listening to that sermon have sinned by refusing to believe in Jesus and instead crucifying him.  Now I want you to notice something important in Acts 2.  Who are the people to whom Peter was preaching?  They were all God’s covenant people, they were Jews.  They were Jews from all over the world, but Jews nonetheless.  But before repenting and believing, they were “the world” in the terms of Jesus in John 16.  And the Spirit proved them guilty of the sin of unbelief, he exposed their wickedness.  The result of that is found in Acts 2:37, “they were cut to the heart.”  They said, “Brothers, what shall we do?”  And Peter told them to repent, believe, and be baptized.  Over 3000 people did exactly that.  The Spirit convicted them not only objectively, but also in their hearts, subjectively.

The Holy Spirit still does this work today and he does it in the exact same way.  He comes to us, the people of God, with the Word of God.  He says, “You’re a naked sinner and you need to be clothed with Jesus Christ.”  He proves us guilty and in need of a remedy.  He provides the remedy in the gospel.  Loved ones, all of us have to accept that remedy.  We have to agree with the Holy Spirit’s true assessment of us.  We have to say, “Yes, I am a poor wicked sinner and I know that I need Jesus Christ to deliver me from the wrath to come.  I will turn from all my sin, hate it, and believe in him, trusting that he is the Saviour I need.”

According to Christ, the Holy Spirit will also prove the world guilty concerning righteousness.  Here we’re at verse 10.  The Lord says that the Spirit will do this because he is going to the Father and will no longer be seen.  What does it mean that Jesus is going to the Father and how does that connect to righteousness? 

There are two ways in which Jesus “goes to the Father,” and they’re both in view here.  Jesus goes to the Father immediately after he dies on the cross.  Remember what he said to the thief who repented and believed?  “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).   Paradise is the presence of the Father.  Some people think that when Jesus died, he descended into hell.  No.  He descended into hell as he experienced our hell on the cross.  When Jesus died, he right away went to be with the Father in Paradise.  But he also “goes to the Father” when he ascends into heaven.  Before the eyes of his disciples, he gets taken up into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.  This is also in view here in verse 10.  There’s a connection between his death on the cross and the ascension and the righteousness that’s mentioned here. 

When Jesus died on the cross, he did so as the perfectly righteous Son of God.  He was perfectly obedient to the will of God for the salvation of sinners.  The Holy Spirit proves this through Peter on the day of Pentecost.  Peter proclaims that Jesus was a man attested to the people by God.  He was accredited by God – in other words, righteous before God.  When he dies, he disappears and goes to the Father as one who, in himself, was completely righteous.  The Righteous One dies at the hands of unrighteous men.

But this same Righteous Son of God is also raised from the dead, testifying to his righteousness.  God raised him from the dead to announce that his obedient sacrifice was accepted, it was exactly what was needed to redeem sinners.  As Paul says in Romans 4:25, “he was raised for our justification.”  God raised him to show that his work accomplished exactly what it was supposed to.  The body and soul of Jesus were gloriously reunited and there was a mighty message in that.  The Holy Spirit proved that too through Peter on the day of Pentecost.  God exalted Jesus in his resurrection to prove that he was righteous – the world said he was a sinner, a blasphemer who deserved to die on a cross.  But God said this is the righteous Son of God in whom you need to believe if you are to be saved from your sins. 

The resurrection set the stage for his going to the Father in his ascension.  Jesus was to be in the Father’s presence, not only in spirit, but also in body.  Jesus was to go to the Father with his whole glorified humanity.  The ascension saw Jesus being taken into the Father’s presence and this too announced his righteousness.  After all, a sinner cannot dwell in God’s presence.  He must be either perfect in himself (which Jesus was) or he must be made perfect (which we will be, which Elijah and Enoch were).  So you see, the ascension too announced that Jesus was the righteous Son of God. 

The Spirit takes the Word to the world and says, “World, you’re wrong when you say that Jesus was just a mere man with faults and weaknesses like everyone else.  World, you’re wrong when you say that Jesus was a sinner like everyone else.  The cross proves otherwise, the resurrection proves otherwise, and the ascension proves otherwise.”  The Holy Spirit through the Word of God convicts the world and says, “This is the perfect and righteous Saviour you need.  You need a Saviour who is sinless in himself.  Jesus is that Saviour.  You need a Saviour whose sacrifice for your sin was accepted by God, guaranteed.  Jesus is that Saviour.  You need a Saviour who is in God’s presence right now ready to speak up for you and defend you before the holy God.  Jesus is that Saviour.” 

The Spirit takes that Word to us too, brothers and sisters.  He takes that Word to us to first point our faith again in the right direction.  He wants us to again be reminded of these basic gospel truths.  But he also wants us to be his instruments to bring this Word to the world.  The Spirit wants to work through us as we witness to the world about the righteousness of Christ.  He is seen here no longer.  But the message about him must be heard.  It can only be heard when his followers speak of him.  The church must witness to the righteousness of Christ, announcing that he is the only one who can save.

He is also the one who has victory over the ruler of this world.  That’s what we see in verse 11 where the Spirit proves the world guilty concerning judgment.  The judgment is over “the ruler of this world.”  Again, notice the mention of “this world.”  That’s not really a reference to the earth as a physical place.  After all, elsewhere in the Bible, God is clearly described as the ruler or King of the earth.  Think of Psalm 24, “The LORD is King of earth’s domain, the world and all that dwell therein.”  Obviously God is not the one being judged.  He is the Judge, not the judged.  “This world” refers to the mass of humanity in rebellion against the divine Judge.  You could say, “this sinful world.”  It’s the world of traitors, rebels, and malcontents.  Who is the ruler of “this world”?  Satan, the devil.  He rules over all this rebellion and treason against God.  Satan is the one judged here in verse 11. 

How has Satan been judged?  You have to remember that verse 11 is looking at things from the perspective of Pentecost.  This is looking at things from the perspective of Jesus’ work on the cross having been completed and accepted by God.  The cross was where our Saviour crushed the head of the serpent.  Satan thought he was dealing a death blow to Jesus by entering into Judas and having him betray Jesus to the Jewish religious leaders.  Satan didn’t understand that this was all part of God’s plan to destroy his power and rule.  When Jesus died on the cross, the guilt and power of sin were vanquished, and so was the one who cheer-leads sinners.   Satan wants sinners to continue rebelling against God, to live in sin, and follow him to hell.  At the cross, Jesus said, “No, you’re not going to have my sheep.  I’m going to bear their penalty, take their sin on my shoulders and there’s nothing you can about it.  Satan, you’re finished.  You are conquered and soon you’ll be cast into the lake of fire where you belong.”

The Spirit convicts the world on this score too.  The world is Satan’s willing ally.  The Spirit comes with the Word and says, “World, you’re in the wrong and you’re guilty for siding with the one who has been judged.  You’re on the wrong side.  World, if you follow your ruler, you’re going to receive the same judgment as him.  Unless you repent and believe, you’re also destined for the lake of fire.  You’re guilty and this is what you deserve.”  The Spirit announces that through the Word of God.  The Spirit expressly says that all who follow the Evil One will be judged with the Evil One (Rev. 20:10,15).  The Day of Judgment is coming and it will not go well with those who heard the Spirit’s call to repentance and refused to obey.

Loved ones, we see here an important warning for us too.  This world of unbelief is destined for judgment along with its ruler.  You don’t want any part of that, do you?  The ruler of this world is judged and the world along with him.  That judgment is not favourable.  This world of unbelief is condemned by God.  That warns us against getting cozy with the world around us.  We don’t belong with the world of unbelief.  Our citizenship is in heaven.  When we’re with unbelievers, there should always be a sense that we don’t fit in, that we don’t belong with them.  It’s not that we avoid them or that we abandon them, or that we’re afraid of them.  No, we have a call to be the Spirit’s instrument to bring conviction of sin and point them to the Saviour.  We want to be those who say, “Don’t follow the ruler of this world, because he’s been judged.  That’s the truth.”  However, as we do this, it has to be clear that there is a distinction.  Though we are all sinners, we are not the same type of sinners.  Christians are redeemed sinners.  Christians are repentant sinners.  Christians are people who hate sin and fight against it.  We recognize the evil and destructive nature of sin.  See, we are different, we must be different.  As the old saying goes, we’re called to be in the world, but not of the world.  We’re called to be with unbelievers, but not like unbelievers.

When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church at Pentecost, he came with this ministry of conviction.  He began to work in a mighty way so that sinners would be exposed for what they really are:  naked and in danger of condemnation.  From the beginning, naked sinners have hid themselves from the true God.  The Holy Spirit brings them out into the open and exposes them publicly.  Not only that, but for some, he opens their eyes to their plight.  He makes them see their need for Jesus and brings them to that Saviour in faith.  He did that in Acts 2 and elsewhere in Acts and he still does that today.  As we heard, he does that through the Word.  Loved ones, as we hear the Word, always be open to the Spirit’s conviction.  As we witness with the Word, let’s also be the Spirit’s instrument to work conviction for the salvation of sinners and for the glory of God.  AMEN.


O Spirit of Truth, Helper,

Please help us to always be open to your convicting.  When your Word is read or preached, let it speak to us the truth we need to hear.  We confess that we need your truth.  We need your light to shine into our remaining darkness.  We need to be directed to Jesus Christ as the only Saviour.  Help us to believe in him and continue believing in him.  Please continue to let your Word shape and guide us.  We also pray for your help in being your instruments to bring conviction to the world of unbelief.  This is sometimes so daunting for us.  We are easily filled with fear and feelings of inadequacy.  O Spirit, please give us strength to overcome our fears and make us bold and courageous.  Fill us love for the lost around us.  Use us as your witnesses to convict the world.  We pray that as unbelievers are shown the inexcusability of their unbelief, that they would repent and believe.  O Lord, make us soul winners for your glory.                                                                           

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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