a series of essays on the Spirit-filled life
by Del McKenzie
The Holy Spirit is consistently pictured in the Bible as being gentle, gracious and loving. He is a Comforter who comes along side to help. He is pictured as a dove, known for its quiet nature.
Jesus said in John 16:8 that when the Holy Spirit came he would convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. It might have seemed like a foreign idea was introduced. But this gives a fuller picture of the Holy Spirit. These two pictures force us to wrestle with how God can be both holy and gracious. The Holy Spirit is indeed the Holy Comforter and also the Holy Discomforter.
What can we anticipate the Holy Spirit to do in our lives and what can we properly trust him to do in, for and around us? We can expect him to convict. The word means to reprove, blame, condemn and find fault with. It is to speak to in disapproval, to rebuke. It was used to convince of a crime or a fault. An example of this is when John the Baptist convicted Herod because he had taken Herodias, his brother's wife, and for all the other evil things he had done Luke 3:19. He spoke to Herod in a disapproving way. That made Herod uncomfortable and he locked John up in prison. That work of the Holy Spirit still makes people uncomfortable, even miserable. Knowing this helps us understand why there are so many miserable people in our world. They are living with guilt because the Holy Spirit is convicting them of their wrong. The unbelievers may be unaware of why they feel so miserable. Perhaps many Christians are uninformed that this ministry of the Holy Spirit includes them. The pain of conviction is to be viewed as one of God's gifts of grace to us because, just as pain in the body is a warning device that something is wrong, so misery in our minds is God's signal that something needs to change. The real problem with leprosy is that it takes away pain and allows the body to damage itself without warning. For God to take way this world-wide pain of guilt would leave people totally free to damage themselves.
The primary way the Holy Spirit brings conviction to us is by putting thoughts in our minds. They are often not recognized because we think they are our own thoughts. It might be difficult to always differentiate his thoughts from ours but he is causing us to think things like, "That was wrong, I shouldn't have said that. Go back and apologize." He uses some channels through which to send these thoughts. One of them is our conscience. It is quite clear that everyone has a conscience, a sense of right and wrong. It is God-implanted but formed and developed by many outside influences such as family, community, schools, etc. We can violate our conscience, unintentionally or deliberately, until it is altered or rendered ineffective but the Holy Spirit still uses it. A guilty conscience can cause us great pain but that is warning light that change is needed. A second channel used by the Holy Spirit is the Word of God. For many, most who read this, it is the written Word, the Bible. But God is a speaking God and His word is going out through creation and in other ways. Reading the Bible will turn on a red light if something is wrong in our lives. Just as it does no good to smash a red dash light in our car, so it does no good to walk away from the Bible when it speaks to us. Someone has said that the Bible will keep us from sin and sin will keep us from the Bible. People are a third channel the Holy Spirit uses to put thoughts into our minds. People who speak truth into our lives by teaching , sharing or confronting can by the voice of the Holy Spirit. That is one reason people often avoid church services and interaction with other Christians when there is sin in their lives. They are under conviction of the Holy Spirit, don't want to increase the pain, but don't want to deal with the sin either.
Perhaps the biggest question is what to do with conviction. The Bible gives us many examples of the two options that are open to us. We can resist the Holy Spirit or we can submit to him. Herod chose to resist and put the messenger in prison. In Acts 7, members of the Jewish council, the Sanhedrin, resisted the Holy Spirit, as Stephen pointed out to them. They had seen his face as the face of an angel when he was speaking to them but when he pointed out that they had murdered the Righteous One, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him, covered their ears, yelled at the top of their voices, rushed him, drug him out of the city and stoned him to death. Pilate tried to wash his hand of his responsibility to make a decision about Jesus (Matthew 27:24), Felix was afraid but sent Paul way (Acts 24:25) and David tried to hide his sin by keeping quiet but his bones wasted away and he groaned all day long (Psalm 32:3). David changed his response when Nathan confronted him and acknowledged his sin. Jesus told Saul it was hard on him to kick against the goads and Paul responded to him as Lord (Acts 26:14-15). The people on the day of Pentecost, when they were cut to the heart by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, asked what they had to do. The answer was repent and be baptized (Acts 2:37). Those two options are still available to each of us today. We can surrender to the voice of the Spirit calling us to repentance or we can refuse to address the issue he has brought to our attention.
A great challenge is to distinguish between the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the accusation of the devil. Satan is the unholy discomforter and works at counterfeiting the ministry of the Holy Spirit by accusing people (Zechariah 3:1-7; Revelation 12:10). His sole purpose is to make people miserable because he is the thief who comes for no other reason than to steal, kill and destroy. The thoughts he puts in people's minds are without light or hope. His accusations are usually vague and general such as "I'm no good" or "I am an awful person" or "I can never do anything right." The convicting thoughts from the Holy Spirit are specific and have a sense of hope, cleansing and correction. They are something like, "That is a bad attitude, change it and find peace again." The accusations of the devil need to be resisted while the convictions of the Holy Spirit need to be embraced and responded to with change. People who learn the difference and yield to the voice of the Spirit can establish and build a relationship with him.
The fullness of the Holy Spirit is pictured as the bottom line relationship between this divine person and us. It can be entered into and maintained by faith when the conditions for faith are in place. In it we can expect him to make Jesus real to us, pour life into us and convict us of sin. Responding properly to these ministries will result in a life blessed by God.
Refusing to obey him will mean the loss of his fullness and leave us miserable on the inside. The personal relationship with the Holy Spirit is one of the great privileges possible for each true believer. It is God's answer to the misery that always comes when something in our lives needs correcting. May we learn more fully to understand the conviction of the Holy Spirit and honor his lordship by responding positively to it.