Using the Wrong Standard

“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 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 16:4b-11 ESV)

While I love the holidays and the chance to see and spend time with family and friends, I also enjoy it when everyone goes home and things finally get quiet, again. While I love and miss my kids, I’m a bit of an introvert and I truly enjoy my alone time. In the passage above, Jesus acknowledges the feelings of sorrow and dread as the disciples prepare for His departure. Jesus wants to alleviate their fears as He assures them it is really to their advantage that He leave. How could it possibly be an advantage for them that He leave? Simply put, the Holy Spirit cannot come until Jesus has ascended and “all is accomplished.”

Sometimes it is difficult to grasp the truth of a statement until that truth has born fruit in our lives. In other words, we only grasp the truth and power of something as we look back on the results. This is certainly true in our spiritual lives. We often overlook or misunderstand the truth and power of God’s Word until we are able to look back on the outcome of it in our lives.

Often, we fail to recognize the power and presence of God until its absence is felt. Sometimes it’s easier to see what something or someone isn’t rather than what they are. For example, I generally failed to acknowledge the wisdom of my father’s advice until he was no longer there to offer it and I usually took his love for granted until I was unable to reciprocate because of his unexpected death. I more readily saw his wisdom and felt his love when it was suddenly a void in my life.

While the disciples are being prepared for Jesus’ departure they really cannot grasp the relevance of the Holy Spirit’s presence. They have lived, walked, talked, ate and marveled at His power and presence. They have listened in sheer awe at the authority of His teachings. The have stood, mouth agape, at the power of His healing touch. They have wondered aloud at the power of His Words and His true nature as the winds and waves obeyed His commands to “be still.” So, they are familiar with Jesus authority and power, but not the Holy Spirit’s.

In Romans 8:1-11, Paul encourages believers to develop the life skill of learning to walk by faith and not sight. Up to this moment, everything the disciples have experienced has been as firsthand eyewitnesses to the events. As John says: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:1-3 ESV)

But, Jesus is leaving and things are about to change dramatically for the disciples. Their eyewitness experiences must now transition to enduring faith in the face of obstacles and persecution. What they’ve seen must be translated into what they truly know deep in their hearts. But, God will not leave them (or us) without the resources to endure… the Helper will come, Christ will send Him! But our focus today will be on the task of the Holy Spirit to convict us concerning sin, righteousness and judgment.

The first task of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin. I believe this conviction is two fold, corporate and personal. Let me explain…

At one time, it was unnecessary to really explain what sin was and to convince folks we are all guilty of violating God’s commandments. It was just a fact of life, like the sky is blue and water is wet, Man is a sinner. But, we’ve rejected this concept of sin in favor of a victim mentality. We no longer see ourselves as a source of evil in our world, but only as its victims. In recent weeks we’ve been inundated with the results of the #METOO sexual harassment charges that have been coming to light. We’ve seen celebrities and politicians sacrifice their careers and positions in an attempt to fulfill their sexual appetites.

But, what’s most interesting is our cultural response of shock and dismay. We seem to have developed a case of cultural amnesia and cannot recognize the connection between our obsession with sexual freedom from the so-called restrictive confines of a biblical sex design within marriage. We want sexual freedom and then we’re shocked at the results it brings. As I was watching TV one evening a few weeks ago, I saw the news brief regarding the sexual harassment charges leveled against a morning news show anchor followed by a commercial for a lingerie fashion show (which is nothing more than soft-porn on prime time television). I honestly doubt that ANYONE in mainstream media even recognized the sheer hypocrisy of the moment. We throw images of sexual enticement all over the screen and then we’re appalled when someone falls victim to their images.

What does this have to do with our lesson? One of the primary tasks of the Holy Spirit is to convict the world of sin. We resist it, we reject it, we deny it, but He keeps showing us. You might not be familiar with the term “corporate sin,” but it simply refers to sinful actions we engage in at a cultural level, like sexual freedom described above. The Holy Spirit will work in us at a cultural level to inform and convict us of corporate sin.

However, His best work in us is on a personal level. Not because of limitations on His part, but on our part. We always seem to see the failures in others, but seldom in ourselves. It is this personal conviction of sin that is so vital to a healthy spiritual relationship. Now, that may seem or even sound counter intuitive. How can an awareness of personal sin be vital to a healthy spiritual relationship? In the same way that an awareness of physical disease or illness is vital for a healthy physical relationship.

If we fail to take care of ourselves physically or neglect existing health issues then it doesn’t take long for a simple issue to become a major health crisis. For example, last week I really wasn’t feeling well but I resisted going to the doctor. I thought that if I could just get through the Christmas holiday then I’d be fine. So, I pushed through and preached last Sunday while fighting a fever and hacking cough. Once the Christmas Eve service was over, I crashed. I asked Tina to take me by the Urgent Care Clinic and I waited a miserable 90 minutes to see a doctor. I was aching, shivering, coughing and just wanted to be home in bed covered up with a warm blanket. The doctor said I was the poster child for the flu but I tested negative. However, I was on the verge of pneumonia and ended up with five prescriptions. While I still have a nagging cough, I feel much better than last week.

What does all that have to do with conviction of sin? When we neglect our spiritual health in the same way I had ignored and neglected to address my worsening physical health symptoms, we can end up seriously spiritually sick. The Holy Spirit’s conviction of sin isn’t intended just to make us feel bad about ourselves or guilty. He intends that we realize how much we need the spiritual healing that can only be found in Jesus Christ.

Next, the Holy Spirit also convicts and convinces us of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Now, this may seem a bit anti-climactic but it is an important factor. We tend to neglect this aspect of the gospel. We know Jesus was good, but we fail to fully grasp the implications of His righteousness. You see, we all tend to compare ourselves to other people around us and we feel like we measure up pretty well. We don’t see our sin as being such a big deal because we’re comparing ourselves to other sinners, and we seem to stack up ok to them.

But, therein lies the problem… we’ve used the wrong standard. One of the tasks of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of Jesus’ righteousness. When we compare ourselves to Christ, the problem becomes perfectly clear…

“For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:20-24 ESV)

The work of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of Christ’s righteousness. Why? So that we always have the proper perspective on our guilt. It is easy to dismiss our guilt and sin when everyone else becomes our standard of righteousness. But, when the innocent and perfect Lamb of God is our standard then our personal goodness pales and our sin becomes apparent. There’s a commercial on TV that advertises for a teeth whitening product. To illustrate to the viewer how much they need the teeth whitening they suggest a “tissue test” whereby you hold a tissue next to your teeth. Without the standard of the white tissue contrasting with their non-white teeth many folks think their teeth are “good enough.” But, the contrast of the tissue with their own teeth shows the truth and the contrast of Christ’s righteousness with our own does the same thing to us spiritually. Need a gentle reminder? Go back and re-read Peter’s description of Christ’s actions when He was crucified (above)… it doesn’t describe me, does it describe you?

Finally, the Holy Spirit’s job is to convict and convince us of judgment. In other words, if Jesus is righteous and we aren’t then what is God going to do with us? Obviously we’ve made a real mess of things. Don’t believe me? Just take a look around. We try and convince ourselves that everything is improving; like the economy, the violent crime rate, homelessness, etc. But the twentieth century was the bloodiest century in human history. But honestly, none of that is really the issue here.

We want and expect God to judge those who are evil but we don’t consider ourselves to be a part of that group. We see ourselves as “pretty good” people and God would never punish me. I mean, I might do a few bad things but overall I do a lot more good than bad. Surely all the good things I do outweigh the few stupid things I’ve done, right? If this is where you find yourself today then I would encourage you to go back and review the previous section regarding standards. You’re not comparing yourself with Jesus but only with your neighbor, brother, co-worker or spouse. Sorry. Wrong standard.

That’s why the Holy Spirit must also convict us of judgment. God is going to hold us accountable for not only our actions, but also our thoughts and intentions. Sometimes we do the right things for the wrong reasons. God knows our thoughts and intentions and we will be responsible and accountable for them. Sometimes we do the wrong things but we had all the right intentions. Fortunately, God even knows about those times. That’s why it is important to remember and understand that we will stand before a Holy and Righteous Judge. Nothing will be hidden from Him…

“For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.” (Hebrews 4:12-13 NLT)

My prayer for you today is that the Holy Spirit will work in your heart to convict you of your sin, of Jesus’ righteousness, and of God’s just but final judgment. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else around you and realize Jesus is God’s standard for justice and judgment. Fall before Him and seek His mercy… it comes by grace, through faith. (Eph. 2:8-10)

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