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When The Spirit Has His Way

The Gift Of Conviction

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | October 14, 2013

Selected highlights from this sermon

When we don’t acknowledge God; when we don’t worship God; when we don’t love the Lord with all of our hearts, minds and souls, we are living in sin. And the Holy Spirit has come to convict us of this sin, and of the danger facing us if we continue down that path. He has come to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.

When God uses this conviction to save someone, it’s a huge work. God spiritually regenerates a person, and that is a miracle only He can perform.

There is a story about a ship that was in the Atlantic Ocean and they sent an S.O.S. saying that they did not have any drinking water. As you know, the ocean is salty, and the water cannot be drunk. But actually what the ship didn’t know is that it had sailed into the St. Lawrence Seaway, the St. Lawrence River, and was in fresh water. They could have simply let down their buckets and they could have had a drink.

I wonder if you and I are that way because we think to ourselves that we are defeated, disappointed and bound by our sins, and there is no hope for us. And God says to us by the Holy Spirit of God that the provision has been made for you and for me. “Put down your bucket and drink and receive from God the miracle of the Holy Spirit of God’s work in our hearts.”

Now if you are a believer, you know that we are already indwelt with the Spirit. Jesus made it very clear, saying that the Holy Spirit cannot be given to the world, but today we are going to look at exactly what the Spirit does in relationship to the world. This happens to be number five in a series of messages entitled, When the Spirit Has His Way. I can’t help but (when I read the book of Acts) see the vibrancy of the Church and the miracles of the Church. Even if we say that we don’t believe that we can do the miracles that the Apostles did, because there are miracles that only the Apostles could do, still the answers to prayer, the inexpressible joy of the Church, the power of the Church, and the Spirit is the same today as He was back then. He hasn’t changed in 2,000 years. If only we trusted Him more. If only we dealt with all of the issues on our side of the ledger, who knows what would happen if the Spirit had His way?

Well, the passage today is in John 16 where Jesus is talking about the relationship of the Holy Spirit and the world. You’ll notice that He said this: “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.” I’m now in verse 5 of John 16: “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth; it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper (that is, the Holy Spirit, the advocate) will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 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.” Wow! What an interesting passage!

Yesterday I was asking myself the question, “Who is this message for that I have prepared based on this text?” Well, it certainly is for you if you are here today and you are a seeker. In fact, while I am speaking there may be a small voice in your heart drawing you to Christ and to His forgiveness and His grace. Listen to that voice.

If you know Christ as your Savior you are going to be greatly encouraged knowing that when we witness we become partners with the Holy Spirit in His great work. Maybe you belong to another religion. Maybe you are an atheist, but if you listen very carefully you’ll also hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. I encourage you to listen to that voice, the Spirit’s work in the world.

I remember an eighteen-year-old who went off to camp and was saved, that is to say he was converted. He came back home and said to his parents, “You know what? I feel so different. All of my guilt is gone and I know I belong to God. I have peace in my heart. Did you know that if you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior you can have that too?” He was very excited. His parents said, “What are you talking about? We’re Christians too. We go to church. You’ll get over your fanaticism. This is just an experience. Look it! We are good people, so what do you have to say to us?” And the kid was confused. It was like finding a pot of gold and telling someone that they can come and get this gold too, and yet, all that you are met with is a cold stare. Wow!

Let me explain to you, my brothers and sisters, that when the Holy Spirit of God does His work to show us our need, our sin, and our need of Christ, it is a great work. And the Bible says that you cannot believe without the action and the direct intervention of this Holy Spirit because it isn’t just an intellectual issue. It is a heart issue, and everything within us says, “No, no, no,” and God has to overcome that resistance, and He does it by the action of the Holy Spirit. That’s why there are some of you here today who perhaps thought that this was going to be an ordinary message, but you may discover that it is extraordinary, as the Holy Spirit of God works in your heart.

Now Jesus said that there are three things that the Spirit is going to do when He comes. First of all, He is going to convict the world of sin. By the way, the Spirit is an advocate for believers. That’s another translation of the word comforter. But notice that for the world He becomes the prosecutor because you see, you can’t see the beauty of Jesus and why you should believe on Him unless you are cognizant and aware of your sin. So the Spirit is going to convict of sin.

Ask the average person what sin is and he will tell you that it’s something that somebody else does that he doesn’t like. You know, “Oh, it’s the murderer,” or it’s this. One time in Germany I was using my broken German to witness to somebody and telling him why he should believe on Jesus, and I remember he was sitting there saying, “I don’t have any sin.” He said, “It’s the politicians! Go preach to them.” (laughter) He doesn’t have any sin. No, the fact that he was divorced and living with a woman who wasn’t his was no big issue, but "get the politicians."

But what is sin? Sin is living in God’s world without acknowledging and worshiping God. Sin is not loving the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind, and with all of your soul. That’s sin, and from that stem all of these other sins that Jesus said are lodged in our hearts. “From within,” he said, “come adultery, fornication, theft, wickedness, and all kinds of evil.” It is because we don’t love God with all of our heart and mind and soul.

And then it’s not just any sin. Jesus said, “The biggest sin is that they believe not on me.” Now you say, “What about those who haven’t heard about Christ?” Let’s not discuss them for a moment. Let me discuss you because you are hearing about Christ. The greatest sin that you can commit is to reject the gift of God that He has given to us in Jesus Christ. So God says, “The Holy Spirit is going to come and He’s going to convict people of sin, and He’s going to convince them as to why they have to believe on Jesus, and why nobody else can be their savior, and He’ll show them the beauty of Jesus.”

Next Jesus said that the Holy Spirit of God would convict, yes, of one sin, but notice also one standard, and that is the standard of righteousness. The Bible says that there are two different kinds of righteousness. There is the righteousness of man, and the righteousness of God, and what a difference between the two.

You know most people believe that their goodness will get them somewhere, but just like you can add a billion oranges and never get a banana, in the very same way, you can take all human righteousness that has ever been done and you will never attain to the righteousness of God. You know we may get someone to measure the height of Moody Church over against Willis Tower. It used to be the Sears Tower. We’ve discovered that Moody Church is pretty low in comparison to that skyscraper. But you know if we began to compare the two in relationship to the closest star, which is so many light years away, discounting the sun for a moment, we’d discover that the difference is negligible.

When you and I are confronted with our sin we do one of two things. First of all, we blame somebody else. Did you guys see on television the story of how they set up a sting at our airports, and there was a TSA agent who stole an iPad? But they had a little gadget on the iPad so that they could track it down to his home thirty miles away. And they show up at his home. He doesn’t have it, but then they had a little beeper on the iPad. He said, “Well, let’s hope you find it, and so this little beeper goes off. So the man has to give it to them. And then his last words, if you saw it, were, “I think my wife got it from somewhere.” Wow! First of all, you lie, then you fudge, you tweak, and if in the end it doesn’t work, you blame your wife. Isn’t that what Adam did in the garden? (laughter) “The woman whom thou gave me; there was this weak-willed woman.” And notice that Adam said that even though there wasn’t a chance in the world that he had married the wrong one. (laughter)

What God does through the Holy Spirit is show people something–that in comparison to each other they might be good, but in comparison to God they have not attained His absolute pure holiness, and that’s the only righteousness that God accepts. People are always shocked when I tell them that you have to be as perfect as God to get to heaven. But of course you do, but that perfection comes because when you trust Christ as Savior, He gives you the gift of His own righteousness and qualifies you for fellowship with God and for acceptance before the Father.

So Jesus shows them this through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. They begin to see that in relationship to somebody else I’m pretty good, but when it comes to comparing myself with God, that’s another story. As Job said before God came to him, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye sees thee, and I repent in dust and in ashes.” Wow! God–pure, holy, transcendent! I am indeed a sinner that needs a savior.

And then the Bible says He will also convince of one danger and that is judgment. There is something within us that tells us about our accountability to God, and there are atheists, you know, who do all that they can to try to discount it. They keep telling themselves over and over again that there is no life after death until their own consciences are deadened. But we all know it, and we all want it. Somebody who has done evil to you, you would want God to really judge them. You’re not so sure whether or not you want God to judge you however. The Bible says that the day is coming when God is going to judge. Catch this. It says in Romans 2 that God is going to judge the secrets of men and women by Jesus Christ. No hiding, no tweaking, no fudging, no covering–just you and God and reality. That is scary unless you know something about the righteousness of Jesus Christ credited to your account so that you stand there welcomed into heaven as perfect as God because He has given you His righteousness.

Jesus said that Satan, of course, was judged at the cross, seen to be evil, and seen to be a failure. He says, “Just like I judge him, so there will be those who anticipate the danger of judgment.” And I say this to you from my heart. If you don’t know Christ as Savior you stand in danger of judgment, and the Bible says the condemnation of God already rests upon you.

So, Jesus says that the Spirit is going to point this out because you and I want to run and hide. We want to give all the arguments. “I don’t want to believe in Jesus because what is He going to do, and why should it be Jesus?” and on and on and on because we are running from what we think might be true and we fear might be. That’s why C.S. Lewis, the great apologist, said he was brought kicking and screaming into the kingdom. And even while I am speaking there are some of you who are listening right now and there is a struggle in your soul because you don’t want to believe. You think of all the implications and you want all the reasons, but at the end of the day I pray that the Holy Spirit of God wins the argument in your heart, and that you believe on Jesus Christ. (applause) I’m glad I have a witness to that.

And then there is one channel. You’ll notice that Jesus says, “When the Spirit comes to you, through you he will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment.” God uses two channels really to convert people. First of all, He uses His Word. That’s why you’ll notice in a conference that is coming up somebody did a comparison study between the Bible and the Qur’an and ended up believing in Jesus. That happens again and again because there is power in the Word of God.

So God uses His Word, but He usually brings that Word through one of His people. The Spirit comes to you. Through you He will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment. And so the gift of the Spirit is poured out upon us not just for ourselves, but rather for the wider community that needs to know the good news of the Gospel, and believe and be saved.

So how’s your witness going? Tomorrow morning you are going to be in your different work places. You are going to be interacting with neighbors. Do they know, by the way, that you are a Christ follower? Have you told them? Have you even asked them and said, “You know, what is your opinion of Jesus?” After all, the Spirit has come to you and He’s going to use you to give the good news of the Gospel so that people understand that unless they believe in Jesus they will be lost forever.

Now there are some implications here that I want to give you. First of all, do you realize how exciting this is? When you begin to witness to Christ and about Him the Spirit immediately comes to your aid because we are partners together in this. You do your work in introducing them to Christ, and having a discussion about Christ and the Gospel, and then the Spirit shows up and He does His work. In fact, if the Spirit doesn’t do His work it’ll all fall by the wayside, and you have to believe that when you exalt Christ, immediately the Spirit is there to support you and to help you. If you’ve never had that experience as a believer, please take it at my word.

I know this sounds strange but when I was in high school in Canada, that is in grades 10, 11 and 12, a friend of mine and I (and I don’t do this, young people, you understand) used to hitchhike to the closest city and we would give out tracts. You know what a tract is? It’s a little leaflet with the Gospel, and God forgive us, some of them were published on newsprint. They weren’t very attractive. We gave out thousands of them. You say, “Well, isn’t that an exaggeration?” No, because we would go there when the grandstand was full for a certain event, and as people left we would hand these out, and of course, everybody took them. They thought they were an advertisement for the next event. (chuckles) And I’ve often wondered whether or not anyone ever believed the Gospel as a result of our witness.

But I remember when I was about 16 years old or so and I began to witness to people on street corners. And whenever I would bring up the subject of Christ and defend it, there was something that happened within me that gave me such assurance and such confidence, I would say to myself, “I absolutely love this.” Now getting started was hard, but you see, whenever you and I exalt Christ, the Spirit immediately shows up and says, “My responsibility is to point men and women to Christ. We are partners together in this.”

Partner with the Holy Spirit. Ask somebody tomorrow what their opinion is of Jesus, or ask them where they are on their spiritual journey, or say to them, “Would you mind if I were to share with you something that somebody once shared with me that changed my life?” Who is going to say no to that? I’ve never had anyone say no to that. And then tell them your story of conversion, and the Holy Spirit who has been given will begin to do His work.

Let me give you a second bottom line. It is that we are partners together, but remember conviction is not the same as conversion. Many people that we talk to are going to resist the Spirit. In fact, one of the ways in which they resist the Spirit is oftentimes they become very angry, or very agitated, or very dismissive. They can’t stand what it is that you’re saying. Don’t be discouraged. It’s the work of the Spirit to convince them. You’ve given them some evidence. Let the Spirit take it from there because without the blessed Holy Spirit they can’t see their need. They are filled with self-justification. They are defensive. They are upset. They may shake their fist at you, but don’t let that discourage you because it’s up to the Spirit to do what you and I can’t.

Now, for God to actually use this conviction to save somebody is a huge work. I mean if you are here today and you are a believer, God really favored you with a huge miracle. In the Bible, believing on Christ is likened unto being raised from the dead because you are raised from death to life spiritually. It is spoken of as being blind and now you are able to see. What a miracle that is to a blind man! It is like being deaf and suddenly you can hear. God, then, by the Spirit regenerates a person when they savingly believe on Jesus. That’s the miracle that the Holy Spirit is working toward in the lives of those who hear the Gospel.

Now, of course, the Holy Spirit can be resisted. Oh I know that there may be some people in whom God just continues (or discontinues) to work to overcome their blindness that they might believe. That’s a separate story, but there’s no question but that many people resist the Holy Spirit. We see it all throughout the New Testament. We see it in the Old Testament. Stephen stood up and said (and he wasn’t very nice and politically correct), “You stiff necked people, you always resist the Holy Spirit.”

There are some who are listening right now and maybe you don’t like this sermon. Maybe you wish you weren’t listening to this and you are also resisting the Holy Spirit. Don’t resist Him. The reason that He is speaking to your heart today is to lead you to Christ so that you might find that forgiveness and that cleansing that can only be found in Him. So I urge you today to listen to that voice. Do not stifle that voice. Your recognition of your need in the presence of a Holy God is actually a gift that God is giving, because unless you grasp that you will be lost.

See, that’s why Martin Luther said that in order to be saved one must go from hell to heaven. What he meant is you have to descend into hell; you have to see your need. Now that doesn’t mean that everybody sees it at the same time, but I have to tell you that on Wednesday evening after our prayer time a precious little ten-year-old boy came to me and said, “Pastor Lutzer, I have to be saved. I want Jesus to save me. I want Jesus to save me.” It was beautiful for me to be able to pray with him. His father was there. And it’s a reminder of the fact if you don’t see your need of Christ, open your heart to the Spirit and He’ll show you that you need a savior; not a guru or prophet. You need a savior to save you, and only the Holy Spirit can show you that, so listen to His voice.

You know, some time ago I read a story about a miser who lived in his cottage with his dog, and what he liked to do was to take out his money (Those were in the days before you could put it in the bank, I guess), which was sorted in a vault beneath the floor, and he liked to count it. Now if you know anything about a miser maybe he thought the more often I count it the more there will be. I don’t know, but the story is that he counted his money and put it away, and then took a good shot of whiskey and laid down to sleep. What he didn’t know was there were some thieves looking through the window and they knew where the money was. His dog began to bark. He was so angry at the dog he cursed the dog, but eventually he shot his dog. And then the men broke into the cottage and while he was sound asleep they stole his money.

This is my parting word to you in this message. Don’t resist the only voice that can save you, and that is the voice of the blessed Holy Spirit of God.

In a moment we are going to sing Have Thine Own Way, Lord, and while we are singing it, if you sing this in your heart and say, “I want God to have His way,” you can be saved even while you are singing this song if the Spirit has talked to you. The Bible says, “When the Spirit speaks, don’t harden your heart. Don’t be angry. Don’t be defensive.” You respond to the Spirit and be saved.

Would you join me as we pray together?

Is the Holy Spirit speaking to you today? So what is your defense?

Father, I pray that You might overcome all of the defensiveness, all of the excuses, all of the rationalization. We pray that many today may see that they need a savior, and that is Jesus. May they believe and be saved, we pray, even as we sing. Amen.

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