“When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” (John 16:8)
In this passage, Jesus explains to his disciples why it was better for them for him to leave them. This passage is relevant to us because Jesus is not with us in physical form. May God help us to understand and accept this message.
Look at verse 5: “Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’
It seems strange that Jesus said to his disciples that none of them asks him where he is going. In John 13:36, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” At that time, Jesus answered Peter, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Jesus didn’t really answer Peter’s question. The fact is that Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about. In John 14:2-4, Jesus told his disciples: “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Based on what Jesus said here, it seems that the disciples should have a pretty good idea of where Jesus was going. Jesus clearly said he was going to his Father’s house. Jesus also said, “You know the way to the place where I am going.”
And yet, the disciples seemed not to know. Thomas answered Jesus in John 14:5: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Why were the disciples having such a hard time understanding Jesus? Most likely it was not that they were incapable of understanding Jesus, but rather they were too overwhelmed with emotions to process what Jesus was saying.
Look at verse 6: “Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief.”
Not only was Jesus saying that he was going to leave them and that they could not follow him, but he had also told them that they would suffer persecutions; he had even said that one of them would betray him. And all of this happened in the same night. The disciples had come to dinner with Jesus expecting a joyful, relaxing time of fellowship, but the evening turned out to be far heavier than that.
It seems that by the time we reach today’s passage, John 16, the disciples had become quiet. They no longed asked Jesus, “Where are you going?” The reason they didn’t ask questions was not because they understood everything; it was because they were too upset to ask any questions.
Look at verse 7: But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.
Jesus comforted his disciples by telling them that it is for their own good that he was going away. They didn’t feel like it was a good thing. But it was necessary for Jesus to go away so that the Counselor could come to them. If Jesus went back to the Father, he would send the Counselor to them. Who is the Counselor? It is the Holy Spirit.
This raises two questions: First, why was it better that the Counselor be with them than Jesus in person? Second, why does Jesus refer to the Holy Spirit as the Counselor?
Most likely, the answer to these two questions is closely related. Let’s think about the meaning of “Counselor.” A counselor is someone who gives counsel, or advice, in order to help those who are being counseled to make better choices. Up until this point, Jesus had been their counselor. He had guided them personally, showing them what to do and how to do it. How, then, could the Holy Spirit be a better counselor for them than Jesus in person? For one thing, while Jesus was limited in his physical body and could only give counsel to his disciples when they were physically present, the Holy Spirit would be with them wherever they went. Second, even when Jesus was with them, they often had a hard time understanding Jesus. The Holy Spirit, however, could help them to understand things that they couldn’t comprehend through ordinary speech.
What, specifically, does the Counselor do? Jesus explains in verse 8: When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment:
Jesus says that the Counselor comes, he will convict the world of guilt.
This doesn’t seem like a very comforting message. Indeed, what comfort should the disciples take in the knowledge that the Counselor would convict the world of guilt? The fact is that this message was probably not that meaningful to the disciples at that very moment. They were too overcome with grief to think about the world. But a time would come when they would remember these words and understand what Jesus was saying and why it was better for them that Jesus went away and sent the Counselor to them.
The work of the Counselor to convict the world of guilt is closely related to the mission of Jesus’ disciples to preach the gospel to all nations. The hardest part about preaching the gospel is probably breaking through people’s hardened hearts. Many people have little or no sense that they are sinners; they do not see a need for salvation. What good is the gospel message to people who have no sense of guilt? This is where the Holy Spirit comes into the picture. The fact is that it is not the powerful words of the disciples that convict people of sin–it is the Holy Spirit that does this work. Of course, the Holy Spirit will work with the disciples, guiding them in what to say and how to say it. But the real work is the work of the Spirit.
How does the Spirit convict people of guilt? Does the Spirit remind them of the time they said something unkind to their friend? No. That’s not the kind of guilt the Holy Spirit convicts the world of–the conviction of the Holy Spirit is much more than merely reminding people of the bad things they have done. Jesus says the Spirit will convict the world of sin in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.
Jesus explains what this means a little more in verses 9-11:
9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10 in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
First, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of guilt in regard to sin because men do not believe in Jesus. It isn’t a list of bad things, but it is the sin of unbelief. Normally, we would expect that people who don’t believe in Jesus will not have conviction of sin, but it seems that the opposite is true: it is people who do not believe that the Holy Spirit targets for conviction. When someone doesn’t believe even after hearing the gospel message, we might think that person will never be changed. But that person is actually in the perfect situation to be convicted of guilt by the Holy Spirit.
Second, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of guilt in regard to righteousness because Jesus went to the Father. Here, the focus is not on a person’s sin, but on Jesus’ righteousness. Jesus is the only one who lived a truly righteous life; he is the only one who is righteous enough to go to the Father. No one except Jesus can see the Father because only Jesus is truly righteous. The Holy Spirit convicts us of guilt by opening our eyes to Jesus’ righteousness. When we compare ourselves to others, we might feel better than some; but when we see Jesus’ righteousness, we must confess our guilt before God.
Third, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of guilt in regard to judgement because the prince of this world now stands condemned. This final component of the conviction of the Holy Spirit has to do with decision and consequence. If anyone loves this world more than God, they are in danger of judgement along with the prince of this world, Satan. Satan is already condemned; he is already declared guilty and sentenced to a terrible judgement. When the Holy Spirit convicts us of guilt in regard to judgement, we fear God and choose to stand on God’s side.
All of this was difficult for Jesus’ disciples to understand at this point. Look at verses 12-13:
12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
Another benefit of the Holy Spirit coming to them would be that they could understand a lot of things they couldn’t understand at that point. Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the “Spirit of truth”. The Spirit of truth would guide them into all truth. The Spirit would provide a direct link between them and God so that they would be able to understand the spiritual world. It’s not that they would suddenly know everything, but the Spirit would “guide” them into all truth as they faithfully depended on God.
Ultimately, what is the work of the Holy Spirit? Look at verses 14-15:
14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.
The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring glory to Jesus by taking from what belongs to Jesus and making it known to them.
How can we apply this message? First, we can realize that the most difficult parts of a disciples’ life are actually handled by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit does the work of conviction; the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth. As we learn to depend on the Holy Spirit, Jesus will be glorified through us. Second, even though we are weak and easily overcome by emotion, we can take comfort in the fact that Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to be with us, to counsel us, and to guide is into all truth. May God help us to follow the guidance and counsel of the Holy Spirit each and every day.