In the late 1930’s, theologian H. Richard Niebuhr summarized the creed of liberal protestant theology in this way:
“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”
With these words he captured well the revision of the Gospel not only in his own time, but in ours as well. This statement is prophetic of what would become the ongoing tendency of “enlightened” Christianity to remove the elements of sin and judgment from the Gospel message. And yet, without a clear understanding of sin and judgment, we cannot grasp the beauty of grace and forgiveness.
That’s why it is important to understand that one of the Holy Spirit’s primary functions is conviction of sin. Before He delivers the joy of knowing God’s forgiveness, before He seals our adoption as God’s children, He first reveals that we stand guilty before a holy God. He first shows us that we are not God’s children by nature, but children of wrath (Eph. 2:3). He first must cut us to the core with conviction.
And yet, this is an incredible gift, because we would never convict ourselves of sin. The Bible is clear that man is morally incapable of turning away from his sin and to Christ apart from the convicting work of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 3:10-18; 1 Cor. 12:3). Indeed, the Spirit’s conviction is a mark of God’s great love for us. He is unwilling to let us continue our love affair with sin. He loves us so much that He enables us to see the wretchedness of our sin, despise it for what it is, and turn away from it.
Only when we know what we have been saved from, can we see what wonderful blessings we have received in Christ. The Spirit must open our eyes to the reality our sin before He can open our eyes to the reality of God’s grace.
In preparation for Sunday, I encourage you to read John 16:5-11 several times asking yourself a few questions:
1) What does it mean that the Spirit will convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment?
2) How does this impact your understanding of your own salvation?
3) How does this impact what we say to those with whom we are sharing Christ?