John 16:7-11 (KJV)
Many people think that the purpose of the Holy Spirit is to reveal our sin to us or make us feel bad for sin until we repent. I’ve heard many testimonies of people saying things like, “I was an alcoholic” or that they struggled with whatever sin, “and the Holy Spirit was on my case until I changed.” That is not the Holy Spirit. He is not the “condemner” – he is the “Comforter.” It is the ministry of the Holy Spirit to reprove of sin, righteousness, and judgment. His ministry is a positive ministry. It is purposed to draw you unto Jesus and get you focused on truth and to help you to draw from His power, and it results in us reigning in life.
Legalism focuses on the external. “Thou shalt not… thou shalt…” (“don’t do this… do that…”). Legalism is more interested in your fruit and actions than it is in your heart. The truth is that man looks (and judges) on the outside, but God looks (and judges) on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”
Matthew 23:23 (ESV)
Religion always reduces a relationship with God to actions and neglects the more important matters of the heart. Our actions are important, but the heart’s motivation and heart’s focus are much more important. Everything starts in the heart (Proverbs 4:23) and our heart’s focus determines how we live our lives (Proverbs 23:7). Change your heart and you’ll change your actions and your life.
“And when he is come, he will reprove (convict) the world of sin…
John 16:8 (KJV) – brackets mine
At first glance, it seems like Jesus is saying that the Holy Spirit deals with our actions of sin. And sadly, this is what many Christians believe, but if you keep reading, the next verse explains it:
“…Of sin, because they believe not on me.”
John 16:9 (KJV)
The Holy Spirit doesn’t point out actions of sin but rather He convicts of the sin of unbelief. The word “world” here doesn’t refer to unbelievers; it comes from the Greek word “kosmos” and refers to inhabitants. And so the Holy Spirit convicts the believer and the unbeliever of the sin of not believing on Jesus.
“It is he who is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world’s.”
1 John 2:2 (ISV)
Jesus paid for our sins and the sins of all the inhabitants of the world. What sends a person to hell isn’t their individual actions of sin but rather their sin of unbelief – they didn’t believe on Jesus for salvation (Romans 10:9-10). The Holy Spirit doesn’t convict the believer of the sin of stealing (for example). At its root, the sin of stealing reveals that an individual isn’t trusting Jesus to provide their needs. The root of all sin is unbelief in Jesus. Adam and Eve’s sin wasn’t eating of the forbidden fruit. They didn’t believe in the goodness of God. They chose to believe the devil’s lie that God was withholding something good from them (Genesis 3:5). They doubted God and believed the devil. What was the root of King David’s sin when he committed adultery and then murder to try and cover up his adultery? God told David that he had despised (or disesteemed) God (2 Samuel 12:10). Yes, David has hurt a whole family by “stealing” a man’s wife and killing her husband, but even David acknowledged that the sin was primarily against God (Psalm 51:4). David chose not to follow God’s ways. He didn’t believe that God knew better and that God had good things in store for him. When we are not content in God we seek out sin. It seems to satisfy us, but it is only a momentary pleasure. When we aren’t satisfied in God (which reveals unbelief, a lack of faith) we seek to satisfy ourselves with momentary pleasures. We shouldn’t be seeking to satisfy ourselves, but rather look to Jesus and trust Him to satisfy us.
The Holy Spirit deals with our hearts and convicts us of the root of the problem. Christians live by faith (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38). When we choose to sin, it reveals that we’re not believing on Jesus and trusting in Him, but rather we believe that the path we’re choosing is what’s best for us. God’s ways are always better, and so we should simply trust in His goodness and follow His leading.
The Holy Spirit is not the source of condemnation, guilt or shame, but rather He lifts you up and always draws your attention to Jesus (John 16:14), leading you to trust in Him. Allow Him to reveal Jesus to you. As you focus on Jesus, faith will rise up in your heart to live in victory and reign in life.