We have an incredible ability to rationalize our behavior. Even though we do things that others might know are clearly wrong, we come up with many reasons for why what we did is right. A news reporter might say, “I didn’t misrepresent the facts, I just embellished them for dramatic effect.” One person might say, “I’m not lazy, I just work really hard at other times.” Another might say, “I’m not a coward, I’m just cautious.” Or, “I’m not mean-spirited, I just say it like it is.”
One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to expose our false motives and pretexts for what they are. Jesus said, “When he comes,” that is the Holy Spirit, “he will convict the world regarding sin and righteousness and judgement (John 16:8).”
The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, in that people do not believe in Jesus Christ (John 16:9). People often say things like, “If I had only been there when Jesus was raised from the dead, I would believe.” Yet, there were some present back then who still did not believe. The Holy Spirit continues Jesus’ work of convicting people of their sinful unbelief, just as Jesus did during his earthly ministry (e.g. John 10:36-39). Some will respond with repentance; others will continue in unbelief.
The Holy Spirit convicts the world’s righteousness, in that Jesus went to the Father where he is seen no more (John 16:10). Righteousness basically means to justify. We try to justify our existence in many ways: by being good enough, liked enough, accomplished enough, wealthy enough, religious enough, or enough in some other way. Jesus declared a different type of righteousness. Though we, on our own, cannot satisfactorily justify our existence, Christ justified us by being enough on our behalf.
The Holy Spirit will also convict the world of judgement, in that the prince of this world stands condemned (John 16:11). The prince of this world is the devil. He has been a liar from the beginning. He cannot make us do things, but he does seek to distort our judgement. In the eyes of the world, its own Messiah was judged a heretic and hung on a cross to die.
The Holy Spirit convicts the darkness of the world by exposing our spiritual blindness. Is the Holy Spirit convicting you of something? Take some time to let him search your heart and lead you to the peace-producing truth who is Jesus Christ.