Wednesday, December 5, 2007
What is the Holy Spirit's Main Function?
Conviction, The Holy Spirit's Most Important Work
John 16:8 (NEB) "When he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world, and show where right and wrong and judgment lie. He will convict them of wrong..."
The first work of the Holy Spirit is the conviction of sin. If we are temples of the Spirit, His presence, His name in us will convict us, and others, of sin. We will feel more affinity towards those who, like us, long for more conviction, repentance, and the power of God to live a life that will stand the test of fire.
When Holiness Comes In Contact With Unholy Men
Mat 10:34 (NAS) "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."
Whenever Jesus showed up, He brought division among men. He brought inner peace to a few, but outward hostility among people who were getting along fine until He showed up. Christ's Spirit is the great polarizer, wedge driver, sword. If this same Spirit lives in us, we should expect that we too will illuminate what eternal side people are on.
Agents of Conviction
2 Cor 2:15-16 (Phi) We Christians have the unmistakable "scent" of Christ, discernible alike to those who are being saved and to those who are heading for death. To the latter it seems like the deathly smell of doom, to the former it has the refreshing fragrance of life itself.
Prov 24:24-25 (NIV) Whoever says to the guilty, "you are innocent"--peoples will curse him and nations denounce him. But it will go well with those who convict the guilty, and rich blessing will come upon them.
It should not surprise us that as we follow Christ, people who want to remain in sin will start to get uncomfortable around us; that we will be accused of being "judgmental" before we have said a word, and that in general we are disliked and avoided for the sake of His name. Others will be attracted to us for this same reason. This is sure proof of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. If this does not happen, can anyone rightly claim to have a measure of the Holy Spirit? Holiness, by its very nature, illuminates sin in sharp relief.
Eph 5:11,13 (NIV) Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose [YLT: convict] them... Everything exposed by the light becomes visible.
The Privilege of Conviction
Oswald Chambers: "Conviction of sin is one of the rarest things that ever strikes a man. It is the threshold of an understanding of God. Jesus Christ said that when the Holy Spirit came He would convict of sin, and when the Holy Spirit rouses the conscience and brings him into the presence of God, it is not his relationship with men that bothers him, but his relationship with God."
Prophecy and Conviction
John 12:43 (NIV) For they loved praise from men more than praise from God.
We prophecy whenever we speak on God's behalf. This can be done by saying "The Lord says..." or by representing what God says as a pastor, preacher, Bible study leader, or in simple Christian witnessing. We are all to aspire to speak God's word (1 Cor 14:1), which brings conviction that leads to repentance and salvation... or can also lead to rejection of the Holy Spirit and to God's wrath if refused. It is God's will that--whatever the result--we speak His word.
Jer 35:15 (NIV) "Again and again I sent all my servants, the prophets, to you. They said, 'Each of you must turn from your wicked ways and reform your actions...' But you have not paid attention or listened to me." (2 Chr 7:14)
"Encouraging" People To Remain In Sin...
A false prophet is one who represents God's word incorrectly. When we speak on behalf of our God, are we saying what He wants, or are we promoting our own program under His banner? False prophets are more interested in making friends than disciples, more interested in pleasing men than God. If we falsely represent what God requires, we not only encourage others to reject God's message, but we share in the judgment of those we have failed to convict of sin.
Eze 3:18-19 (NIV) "When I say to a wicked man, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself."
Eze 3:20-21 (NIV) "Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling block before him, he will die. Since you did not warn him, he will die for his sin. The righteous things he did will not be remembered, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the righteous man not to sin and he does not sin, he will surely live because he took warning, and you will have saved yourself."
But That's Not Very Encouraging!
John 16:13 (Phi) "Yet when that one I have spoken to you about comes--the Spirit of truth--he will guide you into everything that is true."
The Holy Spirit never encourages our carnal nature--the flesh. The truth is, our carnal desires and nature must die. We are wicked people. Since we long to fellowship with an utterly holy God, somebody has got to change, and it will not be God. God offers eternal encouragement by the way of the Gospel: death, burial, and resurrection. The starting point is the truth. The truth convicts: we are guilty of sin. Conviction is the first step in the cycle of sanctification, and we should expect it and welcome it as it does its deadly work on the old man.
Phil 4:8 (NIV) Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure...
John 8:32 (Phi) "...and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free."
Short Circuiting the Holy Spirit
1 Jn 1:8-10 (Phi) If we refuse to admit that we are sinners, then we live in a world of illusion and the truth becomes a stranger to us. But if we freely admit that we have sinned, we find him reliable and just--he forgives our sins and makes us thoroughly clean from all that is evil. For if we say "we have not sinned", we are making him a liar and cut ourselves off from what he has to say to us.
A Guilt Trip Encouraged by the Apostle Paul
2 Cor 7:8-11 (NIV) Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it--I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while--yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you...
Jer 6:15 (NIV) "Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush... "
Often people complain of guilt problems, but guilt and conviction are usually the result of sin. Sin is the problem, guilt is the symptom. Most of us have a sin problem, not a guilt problem.
Solving The Symptom, Or The Problem?
Imagine the scandal of someone putting a baby who has a fever into the freezer to "solve the symptom". "Hey, the kid was hot, we had to cool him down." Attempting to solve symptoms, rather than problems, inevitably makes the problem worse.
Yet some in the modern church have made an industry of "solving the guilt symptom"--to the spiritual demise of many. We pay money to have someone make us feel good without repentance; to give us the temporary illusion of God's approval of our sin; to assuage our guilt with smooth words. But unless the sin which caused the guilt is dealt with, any relief is only temporary and may make the problem worse. After all, conviction is the first work of the Holy Spirit!
John 16:7-8 (NIV) "But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I [Jesus] am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment."
Jer 3:13 (NIV) "Only acknowledge your guilt..."
The "Positive" Hospital Parable
Imagine a doctor in a clean, well lit hospital having the following dialog with a patient: "What seems to be the problem?" The patient replies, "My fingers are great." "Good, but what is wrong with you." "Well, my feet are really feeling fantastic." "Fine, but this is a hospital, what can we do for you?" "Well, let me brag about my legs, I have been walking on them all day!" "Great, but this is a place of healing. Around here, we focus on what is wrong so that we can make you fully healthy. Now then, where does it hurt." Now imagine the patient saying: "That isn't very positive, I would rather talk about what is right about me" or "I think I'll find a new hospital. I feel so "sick" here, everyone seems to be so judgmental and faultfinding."
Or, on the contrary, imagine a more needy patient going into a hospital and begging for help for a particular problem, and having the doctor say, "Don't condemn yourself by admitting you have a problem. I don't receive that, brother! Let's focus on the positive. Besides, we were having a cheerful conversation about how great the hospital administrator is... "
The church should function as a spiritual hospital. A place for sinners to come and be healed. But more often, in modern Christianity, churches have become places where people are affirmed in their sickness, or worse still where sick people brag about self-wellness.
Out From the Dugout and Into the Game
The work of the Holy Spirit could be modeled after "running the bases" for home, as follows:
Stuck On First
Those with real guilt problems have stalled out at first base. We must go through all the bases in order to come home, and our coach is encouraging us to run the entire circuit. Some would like to run straight to third base, others have sensed their own guilt but want to skip repentance and claim God's grace and power. And so on...
2 Tim 2:5 (Jer) Take an athlete--he cannot win any crown unless he has kept all the rules of the contest.
Mark 15:29-30 (NAS) And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, "Ha!.. save Yourself, and come down from the cross!"
Many are listening to the other team's coach and the heckles coming from the stands. "Get off that guilt trip!" But it took some doing for God to make us sick of our sin. Will we let God complete what He has started, or will we stall out on first? Worse still, will we veer from conviction before ever getting to first base with God? In our counsel to others, whose team are we on?
C.H. Spurgeon: "There can be no grace where there is no guilt... You are such kind people that, out of complement to religion you say, 'Yes, we are all sinners.' But you know in your heart of hearts you do not mean it. You will never ask for grace [power]; for you have no sense of shame or guilt."
Conviction is First Base in Our Love Affair with God
Ezra 9:6 (NIV) "O my God, I am too ashamed and disgraced to lift up my face to you, my God, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens."
Luke 18:13-14 (Phi) "But the tax collector stood in a distant corner, scarcely daring to look up to Heaven, and with a gesture of despair, said, 'God, have mercy on a sinner like me.' I assure you that he was the man who went home justified in God's sight..."
Ecc 7:2-4 (NIV) It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
Ps 13:1-2 (NIV) How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?...
Jer 31:9,12-13 (NIV) "They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble... They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord... They will be like a well-watered garden, and they will sorrow no more. Then maidens will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.
Zeph 3:15-19 (NAS) The Lord has taken away His judgments against you... "Do not be afraid, O Zion; Do not let your hands fall limp. The Lord your God is in your midst... He will exult over you with joy... He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy... I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will turn their shame into praise and renown in all the earth."
Isa 51:11-12,14 (NIV) "The ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. I, even I, am he who comforts you... The cowering prisoners will soon be set free; they will not die in their dungeon, nor will they lack bread."
Isa 60:1-2,4-5 (NIV) "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you... Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm. Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy..."
Isa 60:20 (NIV) Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.