Let’s Talk About Conviction

“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.” (John 16:8–11 ESV)

The word in bold above is a difficult one to translate in order for an English reader to get a sense of what Jesus is saying here [for Greek studs the word is ἐλέγχω].  It can mean “bring to light, expose, set forth, convict, convince, punish, or discipline.”  Some examples of translations are:

  • he will convict NLT, NIV84, NKJV
  • will convict ESV, LEB, NASB95
  • he will reprove KJV 1900, AV 1873
  • he will prove … to be in the wrong NIV
  • he will prove … wrong NRSV
  • will convince RSV

Henry Alford points out our dilemma in how we understand the word:

“It is difficult to give in one word the deep meaning of the original term: ‘convince’ approaches perhaps near to it, but does not express the double sense, which is manifestly here intended—of a convincing unto salvation, and a convicting unto condemnation:—‘reprove’ is far too weak, conveying merely the idea of an outward rebuke, whereas this reaches into the heart, and works inwardly in both the above-mentioned ways.”

The work of the Holy Spirit will be to expose sin so that men are convicted of their sin and either turn to faith in Christ or turn away from faith in Christ, but being convicted forces them to make a choice.  Don Carson points out that “in every instance [in the New Testament] the verb has to do with showing someone his sin, usually as a summons to repentance.”

The German Common Language Translation has my favorite translation of this passage: “he will show that the men on earth have wrong ideas about sin, about God’s righteousness, and his judgment.”

This is the declared role of the Holy Spirit and of course, dear reader, John means for you to understand this in application to your own life.  The Holy Spirit is here.  He is here to convict you [and me] concerning sin and concerning righteousness and concerning judgment.  This is true even if you are a French atheist!

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