Conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit and condemnation of satan explained. How do we differentiate between conviction and condemnation when our conscience is pricked?
The Holy Spirit’s role is to convict (elegchō) the world of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). The word ‘world’ refers to all, believers and non-believers alike. It is false to think that the Holy Spirit only convicts non-believers of sin and spares believers.
And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
No doubt this passage in John 16 is open to various interpretations. The best way to settle the issue is to compare scripture with scripture. Let’s turn to two other passages, one in Revelation and the other in Hebrews, which show us clearly that the Holy Spirit does indeed convict believers of sin.
The fact that the Holy Spirit convicts believers of sin is found in Revelation 3: 19-22. The key verse here is verse 19. “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19). The word ‘reprove’ has been translated from the Greek word, elegchō, which in English can also mean convict, show to be guilty, expose, rebuke, discipline. http://bit.ly/1OczgqH
As such, Revelation 3:19 may be paraphrased thus: I convict those whom I love concerning sin and I discipline them; so they have to be zealous and repent.
The book of Hebrews tells us that God convicts (disciplines or chastens) those who are his children. In fact, such conviction is a mark that they belong to God.
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
An earthly father would be doing a great disservice to his children if he fails to discipline and correct delinquent behaviour while they are still young and pliable. If he is grossly negligent, they might turn out to be criminals, murderers and rapists later in adult life.
Do you think our loving heavenly Father will fail to discipline His beloved children? Will He not reprove or convict us when we sin?
Can you see the close similarity between the two passages in Revelation and Hebrews? God, the Holy Spirit, convicts or reproves us so that we might repent and be saved from judgment.
So we can now bring to the attention of the megachurch pastor who claims that the “Holy Spirit never convicts believers of sins”, that there are two passages, Revelation 3: 19-22 and Hebrews 12:5–6 that refute his teaching.
To say that the Holy Spirit convicts non-believers of sin and believers of righteousness, as hyper-grace teaches, is to add man-made artificial subdivisions to this passage in John 16:8-11.
Though the Holy Spirit shows us where we have gone astray, exposes our sin and makes us feel guilty, He does it with pure motives. He reproves or convicts us because we are His children and He wants the best for us so that we will not have to face His wrath on judgment day.
The Holy Spirit is definitely on the believers’ side though the way He exposes our sin makes us feel uneasy. By convicting us of sin, the Spirit makes us uncomfortable so that we may escape judgment through repentance. “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
It is better to be uncomfortable now (acknowledge the conviction of Holy Spirit as genuine and positive and then repent) than face the prospect of eternal suffering in a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The error with hyper-grace is that it dismisses the fact that there is such a thing as the conviction of the Holy Spirit. So, from this false teaching, believers think that they do not need to repent but merely rest in the imputed righteousness of Christ.
Whatever guilt we feel inside as a result of sin is “swept under the carpet” on the basis of this false teaching: Whenever we sin and our conscience is pricked, hyper-grace leads believers to think like this: “Don’t worry, no need to repent, just change your thinking, we are pure in God’s eyes by imputed righteousness.”
The consequence of embracing false teaching is that our ‘sin account’ with God is not settled. We no longer enjoy God’s favour (John 15:9, Rom 11:22b). And we will have to face God’s wrath on judgment day.
What are the possible scenarios when we sin and our conscience gets pricked?
- When the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, we humble ourselves and repent.
- Secondly, we can be convicted of sin by the Spirit but harden our hearts. So we do not repent.
- Thirdly, we choose to believe in the lie that the Holy Spirit does not convict believers of sin. So we reason to ourselves we do not need to repent.
Only the first restores our relationship with God. In the other cases, our fellowship with God remains broken.
The ultimate tragedy is when believers think they are prosperous and do not feel the need to repent, not realising they are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked (Revelation 3:17).
So far we have dealt with conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit. How about condemnation by satan?
The devil, in contrast, accuses believers day and night (Revelation 12:10) in order to torment us and make us ineffective or impotent in our service for God. Condemnation of the devil is negative. Satan, in contrast to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, is clearly not on our (believers’) side.
We may have been cleansed after having repented but his accusation still rages on. It is in such situations that we need to declare that God has forgiven us (1 John 1: 9) and that He no longer remembers our sins (Hebrews 8:12, Isaiah 43:25).
We need to declare Romans 8:1-2: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” Yes, we need to declare, “I am the righteousness of God.”
The baffling question is this: “How do we know whether it is God convicting us or satan condemning us whenever we feel uneasiness in our conscience?”
The answer is the Word and the Holy Spirit.
Notice that if our heart does not condemn us, if we do not feel guilty, we have confidence before God (1 John 3:21). If our conscience is pricked when we sin, we do not have confidence to approach God. http://bit.ly/1KLTocd
The Holy Spirit works hand in hand with the Word. The Spirit shows us where we have transgressed God’s laws, convicts us of sin, exposes our sin so that we might repent and become righteous.
Jesus, in His high priestly intercessory prayer, prayed to the Father that believers will be sanctified by the truth, which is the Word. “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).
We also gather in John 16:13 that the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth. But unless we are well-versed with the truth by diligently studying the Word, the Holy Spirit will not be able to guide us along the paths that please God.
We need to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit does convict believers of sin. The Spirit accomplishes this task through the Word, which guides us concerning what pleases Him (or what grieves Him or quenches the Spirit).
When we are convicted by the Spirit through the Word and repent, we continue to enjoy God’s favour and remain in fellowship with Him.
Believers who fail to recognise the conviction of the Holy Spirit as something positive, but instead dismiss it or deem it as the condemnation of satan, may be led up the garden path of deception and damnation.
For more insight into discerning whether our pricked conscience means the Spirit’s conviction or satan’s condemnation, we would do well to read “The Spiritual Man” (3 volumes) by Watchman Nee, which explains how our spirit, soul and body function in relation to one another.
SELF EXAMINATION: HELP OR HINDRANCE?
Certain conditions have to be fulfilled before self-examination is useful. Otherwise it is mere introspection.
SHOULD BELIEVERS GET RID OF SIN CONSCIOUSNESS?
Hyper-grace teaches that since God has already forgiven all the past, present and future sins of believers, it follows that we should put the ‘sin issue’ behind us and banish ‘sin consciousness’ from our lives. Is this biblical?
IS REPENTANCE IS MERELY CHANGING OUR MIND?
Hyper-grace teaches believers only need to change their mind (correct their past erroneous thinking) when they repent. Is this what the Bible teaches about repentance?