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Reproving the World

by Tim O'Hearn

Nobody likes to be corrected. We all like to think we are perfect, or at least right, in almost everything we do. There is a tendency, when corrected, to become defensive. We justify ourselves. We may even retaliate, physically or in kind. Yet all of us have required correction at one time or another. One of the functions of the Holy Spirit is correction.

Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. (Jn 16:7-11)

The word reprove in verse 8 may be translated as “to correct.” It may also be translated “convict.” We mayWe are pardoned. The record is not sealed; it is expunged. not like to be corrected. We like less to be convicted. That word implies a legal sentence of guilt and the punishment to follow. Although we have all, in God’s eyes, been convicted felons, the anticipated result of the conviction by the Holy Spirit is a complete pardon.

Jesus said the world would be convicted, convinced, or corrected in three areas. He further explained what he meant, and it may not necessarily agree with how we might interpret his comment.

Of Sin

We like the idea of convicting the world of sin, when the sinner is someone else. Someone cuts us off on the road, we want that person convicted of reckless or inattentive driving. We hear of corporate misdeeds and we hope that the perpetrators are convicted and spend years in prison. Sometimes we even define things as sins worthy of conviction that God never addressed. There was a time that some churches, especially in the American South and Southwest, would call dancing, smoking, and “mixed bathing” (boys and girls swimming in the same pool) sinful. Granted, smoking is bad for a person; it takes some twisting of scriptures to call it an outright sin. Some would even distinguish sinful dancing (waltzes, the twist, etc.) from non-sinful dancing (line dances, square dancing, ballet), without any real scriptural backing for making such distinctions. Yes, we like convicting others of what we call sins.

Jesus, however, said that he would convict the world of sin based not on what people did but on what they did not believe. He will convict or correct the world because of sin simply based on whether or not they believe on Jesus.

The whole world is guilty of sin. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” (Rom 5:12) We are already convicted, whether we know it or not. The punishment for sin is slated for all men. In one sense, Jesus convicted every one of us by living without sin. Because we sin, we do not measure up.

Believing on Jesus changes all that. Anyone who does not put their trust in him remains in sin. For everyone else there is a pardon. One who is guilty of a crime, and convicted in a court of law, faces three options. One is punishment. This may be reduced by clemency on the part of the court or government, or it may be reduced because of mitigating circumstances; nevertheless, punishment is the most common option. After a certain period of time a convicted person may be granted a parole. This is a conditional release based on certain promises by the parolee. A person who is paroled retains a record of conviction for a crime. The third option is pardon. When a convicted person is granted a pardon they no longer have to say they were convicted. It becomes as if the conviction, and perhaps the crime, never existed.

Pardon is what we are afforded by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Those who believe on him are free from any conviction for sin. The record is not sealed, it is expunged. God says that we are like his son, sinless. But the fact that some people are without sin automatically convinces or convicts those who have not received a pardon. It emphasizes their condition. Because they choose not to accept the terms of pardon they become aware of how truly sinful they are.

Someone might argue that the world’s lack of faith means that they are not convinced that they have sin. In fact we see the opposite. People may not admit that there is sin. They may not admit that they have sinned. But they know there is sin, and where they stand in relation to it. Whenever anyone reacts negatively to the life of a Christian, they are proving that they are convinced of their own sinfulness. Otherwise, why would their reaction be so strong? The fact that people choose not to believe truly convicts them.

Of Righteousness

How do you convince someone that there is such a thing as righteousness? How do you show them that righteousness is a good thing? How do you show them that they may not be righteous? As importantly, what is righteousness?

Righteousness is keeping the laws and commands of God. It is being in a right state with God.

With that definition in mind, then there may be some difficulty in convincing the world of righteousness. If one does not believe in God or in following his commands, then it is difficult to prove that those commands are good, and to be followed. Even if you show that the performance of God’s laws is good in principle, they are not going to accept them as the laws of God, but merely as humane or beneficial acts. It may be possible to show a person that something is good, but more difficult to show that person that it is righteous. It may have its benefits, but until one does something because it is from God then it is not righteousness.

How, then, does Jesus’ going to the Father convince the world of righteousness? What does not seeing him any more have to do with righteousness?

That is really the crux of the gospel. Jesus dying on the cross, rising from the grave, and being seen afterward by witnesses is the gospel.

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. (1 Cor 15:3-8)

The ascension of Jesus into heaven is the only way to convince men of righteousness. To be aware of righteousness one must be aware of God. To be aware of the benefits of righteousness one must be aware of the forgiveness of God. The resurrection of Jesus proves the existence of God, for only God has the power to raise one from the dead. The crucifixion proves the forgiveness of God. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (Jn 3:16)

For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb 9:13-14)

Jesus proves righteousness. His death, resurrection, and ascension to the Father prove that God exists. If God exists, then righteousness exists. Good deeds become more than deeds that are merely good; they become acts of obedience to God.

Of Judgement

There was an episode of “Happy Days” in which Fonzie was teaching Richie to stand up to a bully. He told him that all it took was for him to stand his ground and feel like he could beat the bully. In the end, however, he realized that he left out one important point. You have to have shown in the past that you are willing to actually hit the bully.

Jesus occasionally called the devil “the prince of this world.” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; and the passage in question) The devil is that bully. He was in the habit of making men do his will instead of God’s will. He used any means to get man to follow him. As long as he continued to get away with his bullying, mankind could say there was no justiceThe resurrection proves the existence of God. The crucifixion proves the forgiveness of God. in the world. So justice happens to some people, but unless the bully is brought to justice, there is truly no justice.

That is why Jesus said that the world would be convinced of justice. That is how the world would be convinced of justice. The bully had to be judged. One we could see that God has the power to judge even the bully, then we can recognize the possibility that there is justice in the world.

Some people teach that the devil is currently in charge in this world. They say that because Peter described him as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8) he must still be the prince of this world. While he does prowl about like a lion, he is a toothless lion. If he is a prince, he is a deposed prince. He has been judged, convicted, and chained. (Rev 20:1-3)

Because the devil has been convicted and his power limited or broken, the bully has met his judgement. There is justice in this world. Jesus convinced the world of justice because he met the terms of justice. He paid the penalty for sin, and in so doing he judged even the one who had been prince of this world.

Maybe nobody likes to be corrected. The wise man accepts correction, even if he does not like it. The world has been corrected. Now it is just a matter of seeing who is wise in the world.