A Witnessing HeartErwin W. Lutzer | September 10, 2000
Selected highlights from this sermon
Jesus says, in John 16, that the Holy Spirit who lives in us works through us to convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment. Christians are used by the Spirit of God to minister to people, bringing about conviction and saving faith.
I’m sure that all of us have memorized that little jingle that goes, “Convince a man against his will and he will be of the same opinion still.” But, I suppose it is not any truer than when it comes to the issue of religion. Just get somebody to change his religious perspective and you try to convince him against his will, and he will be of the same opinion still.
Here’s an 18-year-old college student who goes to a retreat, comes back, but receives Christ as Savior while he’s there. He suddenly has a sense of peace, and joy, and a sense of liberation. He finally knows that indeed he knows God. And he comes home and he is so excited. And he tells his parents, “You know, I received Christ as Savior, and I can tell you honestly that my life is different. I’ve been born again, and finally the guilt is gone. And I really do know a sense of meaning now that I have trusted Christ.”
And he expects his parents to say, “Oh, we’ve just been waiting to hear this message. May we sign on the dotted line right now?” Instead, what does he hear? “Ugh! What are you talking to us about things like that? We’re Christians too!” That’s one possibility of what he might hear. Another one is, “Are you some kind of a fanatic? What makes you think that you’re right? There are other ways to God. What’s the big deal here? This will wear off.”
And he finds the same response back at college. And he can’t believe it because to him it is like having found the bag of gold, and there’s more gold to be found, and he is telling his friends where it is. Yet he can’t get them to be the slightest bit interested.
What that young man must learn is what all of us must learn. That it is impossible for people to come to saving faith in Christ unless they are drawn by the Holy Spirit. In fact, Jesus said that, “No man comes except the Spirit draws him.” The Greek word is a very strong word, and it means that “No man cometh unless the Spirit drags him.” Do I speak to someone today who had to be dragged by the Holy Spirit to come to Christ?
Now, God does ask us to participate in the ministry of the Spirit in the world. I believe that when today’s message is over, I’ve been asking God that as a result of it, you and I will witness with more confidence than we’ve ever had and that we will not become discouraged in our witnessing. But that we will leave here anxious to share with someone today or definitely tomorrow the good news of the Gospel, with love and caring, trusting the Spirit to do the rest of the work.
Our text is found in the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of John. Jesus was just talking to the disciples about persecution and if you were with us last time, you know that that’s what we were speaking of. And Jesus talks to them about persecution.
But of course the question that arises in the lives of the disciples is this: in light of the fact that we can expect hostility and persecution, should we just write the world off? Should we just simply say “Hey, you know the world hates us, so we are out of here! We are going to build our own little colony; we are going to live in our own little desert. We are going to do our own little thing, and let the world go to hell! If that’s the way they are, then that’s the way they are.”
Jesus does not want them to think that way. So, what He’s going to say is this: “Disciples, the Holy Spirit of God has a ministry in your life most assuredly. But it also is going to have a very specialized ministry to the world.” You’ll notice that the Scripture says that “When the Counselor comes,” I’m in verse seven now of chapter sixteen, “It is good that I am going away, because unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”
Verse eight, “When He comes, He will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment; in regard to sin, because men do not believe in Me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father where you can see Me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world will be judged or is already condemned.”
What Jesus is saying is that the Spirit is going to convince the world. My translation says in verse eight “convict.” That word has many different meanings. It is actually a legal term; it can mean “to prosecute.” It can mean indeed to convince, it means to convict, it means to probe, and it means to show the truth, to show reality. And, that’s the role that the Holy Spirit will have among the people of the world. And we speak of the world by the way, of those who are unbelievers. That’s how Jesus is using the word.
What I would like us to do is to look briefly at how the Spirit of God uncovers the truth. And also how He helps people be rid of their lies. Because, we all grow up believing lies about ourselves and about God, and the truths that the Spirit of God is committed to show to the people of the world.
First of all, Jesus said that He will convict the world of sin, the world of guilt in regard to sin, and righteousness, and judgment. Sin, the last part of verse nine, “Because men do not believe in Me.” I think Jesus means first of all that the Spirit will convict people of the reality of their sins. That’s where the Spirit begins His work. Because, most of us believe we are much better than we are until we meet God, and then we get a more realistic picture.
You remember that college retreat where the director of the college ministry put above the door, “For sinners only.” And the college students looked at one another and said, “Well if that’s for sinners only, then where do we go?” (Laughter) “I mean, are you trying to make all of us out to be sinners?
So, there are those that think that their sins are small. There are those who think that their sins are insignificant, and they themselves can manage their sins. So the Spirit of God convicts them of the reality of their sin, but also convicts them of the one sin, the greatest sin, which is unbelief. Jesus said, “Because they believe not on Me.”
Left to yourself, you will never believe on Christ. You may believe about Him historically, you may think wonderful thoughts about Him, but you will never transfer your trust to Him until He shows you that unbelief is sin.
It says in 1 John, “If we believe not, we make God a liar.” What is the biggest sin? The greatest sin is really unbelief, because it lies at the root of all other sins. Even when I choose to disobey it’s because I don’t believe God’s promises that His way is best.
There’s a sin in the New Testament called the “unpardonable sin” in the book of Matthew. What is this unpardonable sin? Well, first of all it was a national sin, because Jesus revealed Himself to the nation Israel and they rejected Him. So Jesus said in effect, “I am finished with the nation.”
Secondly, it was a sin committed by unbelievers. But, it was hardened unbelief-a fundamental determination to not believe on Jesus–and that was the root from which all other sins sprung. I don’t believe that the unpardonable sin can be committed today as it was in New Testament times, because it was a national sin, and it is a sin that unbelievers commit. But hear me carefully: there is an unpardonable sin, and that is unbelief.
So, I need to speak to you today. You who have heard the word often, and have rejected it often, beware. Because God does not take your sin lightly, and don’t harden your heart against the conviction of the Spirit. He will convince you of the reality of sin, particularly one sin: unbelief.
Let’s notice what else the Spirit shows: first of all, the one sin. Secondly, the one standard: righteousness. Notice He says that He “will convince the world of sin, and righteousness, and judgment. In regard to righteousness,” verse ten, “because I am going to the Father where you can see Me no longer.”
What is the ministry of the Spirit with regard to righteousness? The Bible says that there are two different kinds of righteousness. There is man’s righteousness. And man’s righteousness can never attain the righteousness of God, which stands in sharp contrast to it. There are two different kinds of righteousness. Human righteousness looks good to us, but God says it is as filthy garments. He can’t accept human righteousness.
The only kind of righteousness that God accepts is His own. That’s why salvation has to come through God himself who is the Redeemer, because He accepts only His own righteousness. Paul says regarding the Jews of his day, “They turned away from God and they established their own righteousness, and did not submit themselves to the righteousness of God.”
You see, what the Holy Spirit of God does is He creates within the conscience this restlessness, this feeling of guilt. You’ll notice that I read the text too quickly. It says that “He will convince the world of guilt,” and then it goes on to define what that means. And what the Holy Spirit is doing is He is showing that we are not meeting God’s high standards. That’s what the conviction of the Spirit is all about.
Now isn’t it interesting that psychiatrists, and I’m not talking about all psychiatrists, but I’m talking about some psychiatrists that are unbelievers. People come to them and they feel guilty and they say, “You know I’ve got this medication for you.” They are trying to make people feel good whom God is trying to make feel very not good. Psychiatrists are trying to bring peace to those God is trying to bring restlessness and conviction to.
It’s the role of the Spirit to show the difference between that kind of righteousness. It is not only the two different kinds of righteousness, but also the Spirit would want to show that the righteousness of God is a gift. It has to be a gift.
You’re thinking people, so let’s follow this. Since it is God’s righteousness, and it’s different from our own, it’s not human righteousness added together. Obviously it has to be a free gift. Because, there is nothing in God’s righteousness to which we can contribute. We cannot make it any better, we cannot detract from it, and we most assuredly cannot earn it. All that we must do is to humble ourselves and to receive it.
And so Jesus is saying that the Spirit of God will show you that need. And then He says, “This will happen because I am going to my Father.” What’s the connection there between the conviction of righteousness and the going to His Father? Put it this way: when Jesus was in the world, Jesus was the one who exposed people’s sin and their need for God’s righteousness.
And of course He could only do that to a few people, relatively speaking. There’s a whole group of people outside of the land of Israel and even within its borders that Jesus never got to. That’s why He says “It’s good for you if the Spirit comes and I leave.” Why? Because as we will see in a moment, the Holy Spirit of God is going to now use believers.
All throughout the world, whether it’s Africa, or whether it’s India, or America, or South America, God is going to use believers through whom the world will be convicted when the Spirit comes to them. “Now I’m going to the Father, and I am going to put you in my place.” The Spirit will convict the world of one sin, the primary sin of unbelief. The Spirit will convict the world of righteousness, the one standard, God’s righteousness.
But, He will also convict the world of judgment. Jesus said that “The Counselor comes and He convicts the world of judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned,” last part of verse 11. What’s the connection there between those phrases? You see, man’s judgment is often times faulty because people looked at Jesus dying on the cross and they thought for certain He died defeated. It looked as if the devil and evil won.
But actually it wasn’t that at all! Jesus won and Satan was condemned. Jesus is saying, “In light of the fact that Satan is condemned, be assured that all those who do not believe in Christ will be condemned with him.” Judgment is coming. And so Christ is saying, “The Spirit will convince the world of the wrongness of their judgments, but also will convince them of coming judgment.”
Now, isn’t this remarkable? It says in the book of Romans that “A day is coming when God is going to judge the world and the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.” The Spirit causes legitimate fear of that judgment. Just like we spoke to someone this past week who said she is “Scared… terrified of hell.” She has not yet believed, but isn’t that wonderful? That’s the work of the Spirit!
Now, one sin, unbelief; one standard, righteousness; one danger, judgment. But I would not be true to this text unless I didn’t point out that there is one channel, and that is believers. Look at what the text says in the very last verse of chapter 15: “You also must testify because you have been with Me from the beginning,” said Jesus. “You are going to be My witnesses; you are going to be My representatives.”
And now let me pick up the text again that I read moments ago. “It is for your good,” chapter 16, verse seven, “that I am going away, because unless I go away the Counselor will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you, and when He comes, He will convince the world.”
How will He do that? Oh, my friend, today He will do that through you. The Holy Spirit does not work in a vacuum. It is very seldom that somebody is walking down a street in Chicago and then is suddenly smitten with conviction and says, “Oh, it has just dawned on me that I am a sinner and I have to believe on Jesus.” That could happen. Occasionally people are saved just by reading the Bible that happens to fall into their arms or lap. But, that’s the unusual case.
In the vast majority of instances, it’s something like this: “Well you know, I was going along and thought my life was okay. And I met this person at work who was so kind to me, and took me to a Moody business luncheon, and I began to be interested in these things and somewhat intrigued about Jesus. And then I began to think to myself, ‘You know, there is something in my life that is missing.’ And, I began to realize that I couldn’t rectify it myself and that I needed God,” and on and on it goes. And pretty soon through you and through me, the person comes to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
This may well be the most important thing that I am going to tell you today. Jesus says the Holy Spirit of God “comes to live in us, works through us to convince the world of sin and righteousness and judgment.” And just like Jesus, the second member of the Trinity needed a body so that He could be incarnate to represent God here on earth.
And, the Spirit of God needs bodies through whom that Spirit works, so that the light of the Gospel goes to people and the Spirit is free to do His work. When the Spirit comes to you, He will convince the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.
I’d like to make two very important conclusions and lessons here at this point. And this now comes just from my heart to yours, from one sinner to another. But, a saved sinner to other saved sinners. First of all, folks, we must cooperate with the work of the Spirit. So often you find people who are not interested in Christianity at all. They are totally turned off by other Christians.
That happens for a number of different reasons. First of all, because of inconsistency. On the one hand, “Yes, I go to Moody Church, would you like to believe on Jesus?” On the other hand, there is somebody who doesn’t pay his bills, is unfaithful, uses language that should not be used and lives an inconsistent life. And so people say, “Yeah, huh, you’re a believer?” Like the guy who called me one time and said, “Here’s my wife who is a born-again Christian, and she acts this way,” and he told me about how she acted. And then he said, “She tells me to believe on Jesus.” He says, “Why in the world should I believe on Jesus with a wife like this?” So that is part of it.
I’ll tell you what the other possibility is. You have someone who lives a rather consistent life but is so vocal, is taking the Word of God and cramming it down people’s throats and telling them “the truth.” This is the truth, folks. They say, “You are just getting the pure, unvarnished truth from me.” What do the people say with whom he works? They look up and they roll their eyes and they say, “Spare me,” and they are turned off to the Gospel.
Folks, what we have to do is to cooperate with the Spirit. We witness absolutely, not just by life. Because you witness by life and people say, “Well you know, you are a remarkable person,” but they never understand why you’re remarkable. Life is important, but also with lip. And what happens is your life representing Jesus by what you do and say becomes the means that releases the freedom of the Spirit to do His convicting work through you.
A couple of weeks ago my wife and I had an interesting experience. We were at a Savings and Loan, and a young lady walked in who was helping us. She came into her office, and I need to tell you that within 20 minutes I was on my knees at her desk leading her to faith in Christ. Now that often does not happen, and I mention it only because it is rather exceptional.
But you see it is interesting to see all that had gone into her life till that moment. The problems of life made her realize that she needed God, she had a religious background that gave her enough information to know that she should keep seeking, and she has all this. Here you have the Spirit of God leading the people of God to meet someone who needs to know the message of God, and the Holy Spirit brings it all together. And you look back and say, “This is a God thing.”
One of the things that encourages me in witnessing is I know what my part is and what the Spirit’s part is, and I don’t try to do the Spirit’s work for Him. I don’t try to get the chicken out of the egg. Yes, you urgently share the Gospel. But at the end of the day you know that the Holy Spirit is the only one who can show them their need and make it real, and grant them the ability to believe. And so you do what is possible and you trust the Spirit to do what is impossible.
This morning I am doing what is possible. I’m preaching a message. I can do that. All that I can do sitting on the platform as we were singing together, and as we were listening to the song that was being sung before I stood up to preach is, I kept saying in my mind “I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe in the Holy Spirit, etc.” Why? Because I can do what is possible, but only the Holy Spirit can do the impossible. And, I am willing to trust the Spirit to do the impossible.
How does the Spirit do His work? We love evangelistic campaigns and we say, “Bring in Billy Graham.” And then he can convert all of Chicago and we can sit back and cheer him on, “Preach Billy!” You say, “You know what we need? We need a good book on the Gospel.” And we do… in fact I know at least one that has been written (laughter). So we say to ourselves, “That’s what we need are books, that’s what we need are radio programs, that’s what we need are television programs.”
Yeah, yeah, they all are used by God. But, there is no possible substitute for a Christian that has the Spirit of God, being used by the Spirit of God to minister to people of God who are never going to be participating in these other kinds of high, visible actions. The Spirit of God uses that person to bring about conviction which results in saving faith. There is no substitute! You say, “Well, can’t we do it by computers, can’t we do it by cell phones? Can’t we just get a universal cell phone number where everybody can call and hear the Gospel?”
In 1984, a long, long time ago, my wife and I and our children went to the People’s Republic of China. Some of you weren’t born in 1984, but I think everybody here on the platform was well on their way by that year. (Laughter) Now I want you to visualize that when China closed in 1949, all mission agencies agree that there were about one half million believers in China.
Then Communism came. The Communists said, “We are going to take Christians, and we are going to destroy them because there is power in numbers. We are going to split them up and we are going to send some Christians up there, and some over there, and we are going to divide the church and destroy it through division.”
Now missionary experts tell us that there are 25 million, and some say 50 million believers in China today. How did they do it? No books allowed, no television programs allowed, no radio stations allowed, no witnessing overtly allowed, can’t preach on street corners. How did these people do it?
First of all, when the Communists took the Christians and split them up, that meant there were representatives of Christ all throughout China. Just like the early church, as Satan tries to blow out the flame, it actually blows it all over the countryside. That’s what happened.
But number two, the Christians just lovingly witnessed to Christ within their factories, within their farms, wherever God had planted them. As people would say, “Now why is it that you are so able to handle the problems of life much better than I am and what do I see in your life that is missing?” And, relationships were built, and integrity was established among the believers.
And you have this underground church where multitudes are believing because of the individual witness of Christians because they knew they had to do it. They knew they could not depend upon a Billy Graham, or some evangelistic campaign, or some book, or some radio program. They had to do it; they were the only representatives that Jesus had scattered throughout that great country.
Jesus said, “When the Spirit comes to you and indwells you, through you He will convince the world of what they need to know.” But, all of us represent Jesus and the blessed ministry of the Spirit. So first of all, the Spirit is faithful to His work, and we must cooperate with the Spirit.
Finally, the Spirit can be resisted. Now of course theologians also believe that there is a category of people who cannot indefinitely resist the Spirit, because God is going to bring them. Jesus talks about “those whom the Father will draw.”
But, I am just talking for a moment now to those of you who have been sitting here at The Moody Church perhaps week after week, month after month, maybe year after year. Sometimes we get reports of people who say they’ve been coming to the Moody Church for the last ten years and they still aren’t Christians.
Listen, I want you to forget for a moment that you are in a large crowd. I want you to look at me now, because, my dear friend, if you resist the ministry of the Spirit in your life, you cannot be saved. And the more you hear the Gospel and turn away from it, the more indifferent you become to its message.
Sometimes you’ve had the experience of having to live near train tracks. First time you move into the house you say, “Why did we buy this place? You know, the whole place rattles as the train goes by.” But you live there, for a couple weeks or a month. And visitors say, “Oh my goodness that train!” “Train?” you say. And they say, “You can’t hear the train?” “No.” You’ve built up a resistance to it so it doesn’t even register.
Could I be speaking to someone today who has built up so much resistance, that even now you are not hearing what I say and you’re turning away from it? Because the voice has been squelched so often.
There is a story about a miser who had some gold coins and some other money that he would hide in the bottom of his little hut. And he would tear up the floor, and he had his little place there where it was. And he took it out occasionally and counted it. He liked the feel of it. And some people looked through the window, some thieves, and they saw him and they knew where the money was. And they even knew how to get into his hut without even making a whole lot of noise. But the problem was that the man had a dog, and that dog barked from time to time.
One night the man decided to have a good shot of whiskey. And he took his drink and lay down for a good, long nap. He was sleeping soundly and the dog begins to bark, and the man gets up in his stupor and looks around, but nobody is there. He goes back to sleep, and the dog begins to bark, and he again goes back to sleep.
Finally, in anger so he could get some sleep, he took his gun and just shot the dog. “If you don’t shut up, you’re out of here.” Well, the story is that when the dog was dead the thieves came and took his money.
My dear friend, if you resist the prompting of the Holy Spirit, you resist the only voice and the only message that can ever possibly save you. Because apart from the work of the Spirit you cannot be saved, you will never believe. You will appreciate messages, you will learn from them, you will sing hymns with us, but you will never become a born-again believer apart from the Spirit. Do not stifle the only voice that can possibly save you.
When the Spirit comes, He will make you aware of your need, because you are an unbeliever. He will make you aware of the fact that you lack the righteousness that you need. He will make you aware of the fact that there is a coming judgment and that you need God. And I urge you today to listen… listen to the voice of the Counselor.
Let’s bow together in prayer. Father, I have done what is possible. The impossible is Your job. Would You take people, Lord, who perhaps have heard Your Word many, many times, and one more time grant them the opportunity to hear the tug of the Spirit, the conviction of the Spirit? And we pray that they might follow that. Grant that, oh Lord God we pray.”
Who can overcome the resistance of the human heart? Who can take away the blindness? Who can cause life to come out of darkness? We cannot, Father, we cannot. We are dependent upon You. Humbly we plead, we beg, do Your work.
And now before I close this prayer, what about you, my friend, wherever you are? Whoever you are, wherever you are listening to this message, whether in here or in another venue, would you take out time right now and say, “Father, I sense the prompting of the Spirit and I choose by Your grace to trust Christ, to give up my stubborn heart and believe on Him.”
Would you talk to Him if He’s talked to you? Father, for those who have not yet been silent enough to hear your voice, bring them to total silence. Whether today or tomorrow, bring them, oh God, to the point where they can say, “I’m a sinner and I must believe.” Because apart from that we know, Lord, that there is no hope.
Have mercy upon us, oh Lord. Have mercy upon us who are believers and perhaps do not use the opportunities that You give to witness your saving grace. May there be in offices, and hospitals, and factories in Chicago this week ministry going on, and witnessing going on because we do love You and we received Your Spirit. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.”