The Holy Spirit’s Ministry To The World: S. Lewis Johnson, John 16
In S. Lewis Johnson’s Gospel of John series, I’m now in the “Upper Room Discourse” section, which includes Jesus’ statement in John 16:8-11 about the work of the Helper: 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.
I didn’t always understand what was meant in this section – didn’t closely study the matter, and from general reading thought of it in a negative way as somehow about judgment and condemnation of unbelievers. S. Lewis Johnson’s message on this text brings out the actual details here, beginning with a discussion of common grace. The world has the benefit of some of God’s blessings: the general blessing of God’s goodness to all creatures; conscience; and human government with its moral restraint.
Common grace incidentally is not called common because it’s common but rather because it is general. That is the grace of the Holy Spirit in his general blessing to all creatures, even animals. Every living thing is the object of the blessing of God. And consequently the fact that we have food, the fact that we have drink, the fact that we have clothing, the fact that we have the Son and the benefits of the Son and the fact that we have the rain which ministers to our ultimate physical benefit, all of this is part of the general grace of God exercised towards his creatures. Then the general operations to the Holy Spirit by which he without renewing our hearts and giving us the new birth exercises a moral influence in human society. Is it not an interesting thing that all over the world in almost every society there is a sense of right and wrong? Sometimes it is not quite the same sense that one would find in more enlightened societies more spiritually in lightened societies, but nevertheless there is a universal sense of a conscious, which men recognize that things are right and some things are wrong. This is part of God’s common grace. He exercises moral influence. He curbs sin. He promotes order.
Universal human government is the gift of God. If we didn’t have common grace we would have utter chaos all over the world. I know some of you think that we already have utter chaos, but you have no idea of what chaos would be if we did not have human government. That is part of the common grace of God. And then also those general operations of the Holy Spirit by which he seeks to influence men toward redemption, although not securing redemption, may be called common grace. In other words the Lord Jesus says many are called, but few are chosen. The calling of men is common grace. When the gospel is preached that is the common grace of God it is a general seeking on the part of God to influence society for the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
SLJ also notes the correct understanding of “world” here — that it doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit will convince everyone in the world regarding sin, righteousness and judgment. Rather, this text is talking about how the Holy Spirit will work, through the Christians in the world, to reach some unbelievers: those who will yet come to faith through this general ministry. The book of Acts gives us two good examples of such unbelievers who are reached: the Ethiopian eunuch and Cornelius.
Regarding the three specific things the Holy Spirit will convince the world of:
Sin – “because they do not believe in me.” Sin is not merely the outward actions, following the Ten Commandments; the root of sin is unbelief. In other words the essence of sin is not what we do. The essence of sin is what we believe. And when we do not believe in the Lord Jesus that is the root of all sin.
Righteousness: not man’s unrighteousness, but His righteousness is pointed out here:
Now what is it about our Lord’s going to the Father that convinces the world of righteousness? Why does that convince the world of the facts about righteousness if the Lord Jesus goes to the Father? Well now, remember the world is a body of people who cannot receive the Holy Spirit, who not only cannot receive the Holy Spirit but who hate the Lord Jesus Christ. The world likes to put on a lot of veneer today and so the world will speak with kindly little phrases about the Lord Jesus like He was a great teacher. … Not realizing, that is a blasphemy, and furthermore, how can a person who was just a good man but not the eternal God say that He was the Son of God and affirm that salvation is only through Him? All of these statements then become the most arrogant of lies if Jesus is not what He claimed to be. But the world likes to say, “Yes, He was a good guy.”
Well, the world hates the Lord Jesus Christ. The world hates the Lord Jesus because He condemns the world. And the world’s righteousness is unrighteousness in the sight of the triune God, so when the Lord Jesus came and ministered among them, what did the world do to him? They crucified him. That expresses the idea that God has concerning the goodness of the world. They have with wicked hands taken Him and crucified Him. But God when Jesus was placed in the grave on the third day God raised Him from the dead. And furthermore He has ascended to the right hand of the Father, and there He sits as William Perkins says, “Possessed of all sovereignty and authority over the whole of the creation.” Evidently God has a different view of Jesus Christ from the view that the world has of Him. The world says He’s worthy to die, and to be crucified on a cross. God says, He is worthy to be raised from the dead. He is worthy to sit at the right hand of the throne on high. He is worthy to have put into His hands all authority in heaven and in earth and to give the Holy Spirit to His people.
The judgment to come:
Now the Holy Spirit will convince the world of judgment — not of their future judgment although of course that is plain — but of judgment because the prince of this world has been judged. So our Lord looks at the fast approaching cross of Calvary where He will bear the sins of sinners, and that by which Satan has a hold upon men will be destroyed because Jesus will bear the penalty. And Satan is judged in the cross. And men who believe in the Lord Jesus go free from bondage and penalty and condemnation of sin. He speaks not of judgment to come, but of the judgment that now has come when He died on the cross at Calvary. So the death on the cross was a judgment of sin in the person of our substitute the Lord Jesus Christ.