Conviction

ConvictionDr. Sam Storms, in an article entitled “HYPER-GRACE AND CONVICTION OF SIN” (original source here) writes:

In an earlier article I pointed out what I perceive to be one of the errors in the message that I’m calling Hyper-Grace. It had to do with repentance. Certain authors who promote this doctrine build their concept on the notion that the Holy Spirit will never convict Christians of their sins. Here is how one Hyper-Grace author put it:

“The Holy Spirit never convicts (Christians) of your sins. He never comes to point out your faults. . . . It does not take a revelation from the Holy Spirit to see that you have failed. However, when you know that you’ve failed what you do need is for the Holy Spirit to convict you of your righteousness.”

First of all, I beg to differ. Often times it takes precisely “a revelation from the Holy Spirit” to see that I have failed. All of us (I trust I’m not alone in this) are prone to self-deception. It is all too easy for us to drift from the path of righteousness and convince ourselves that we are doing God’s will. We are prone to self-justification, self-righteousness, and often are blind to the clear teaching of Scripture. Beware of self-delusion. The “conviction” for which I will argue below is the work of the Spirit in awakening me to the ways in which I have sinned and restoring me to the path of righteous living.

Now, back to my main point. The man whom I quote above then points to Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 where the apostle tells us that Scripture has for one of its purposes our “training in righteousness.” This he says “is believing that you have been justified or made righteous by faith in our Lord Jesus.” The only way God “corrects” us is by reminding us that we are already righteous in Christ. To be trained in righteousness, he contends, is to learn how to look backwards at your justification by faith in Christ. But Paul clearly is describing something that is yet future in our lives. We are instructed by God’s Word and empowered by the Holy Spirit to learn how to live righteous lives day in and day out. We are trained to say no to the passions of the flesh and yes to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the commands of the NT.

Again, he says:

“The bottom line is that the Holy Spirit never convicts you of your sins. He NEVER comes to point out your faults. I challenge you to find a scripture in the Bible that the Holy Spirit comes to convict you of your sins.”

Advocates of this view argue that the only verse where the Spirit is said to “convict” someone of sins refers to non-believers (John 16:8). Undoubtedly it is true that John 16:8 is describing what the Spirit does among and in unbelievers. But that hardly settles the issue.

The reason they give for this is that God has already fully and finally forgiven us of all our sins, so why would the Holy Spirit continue to remind us of them or bring to our hearts a sense of guilt for having committed them. But conviction is not condemnation. The purpose of conviction is to lovingly awaken us to where we have strayed and to restore us to vibrancy and joy in our walk with Christ.

Are these individuals correct? Does the NT teach that the Holy Spirit never convicts a Christian of his/her sins? No.

I may be wrong, but I get the sense that they draw their conclusions based on what they find in their English translations of the NT rather than on the Greek text. Perhaps what has happened is that they looked through a variety of English translations and discovered that the word “convict” nowhere else appears with reference to what the Holy Spirit does in the lives of believers. Does this settle the matter? Hardly.

The word in John 16:8 translated “convict” is elencho. We find it in several other NT texts that describe how the Spirit uses the Scriptures and the ministry of other believers. Here are some examples.

“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove [2nd person plural, aorist active imperative of elencho], rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). We could just as easily have translated this, “convict, rebuke, and exhort.”

“This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke [2nd person singular, present active imperative of elencho] them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13). Again, this could easily have been translated by the word “convict”.

“Declare these things; exhort and rebuke [2nd person singular, present active imperative of elencho] with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (Titus 2:15).
“But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted [a participial form of elencho] by the law as transgressors” (James 2:9). Here James is addressing Christians who are discriminating in the church based on socio-economic factors.

Perhaps the advocates of Hyper-Grace would respond by saying that in none of these texts is it explicitly the Holy Spirit who does the work of conviction in our hearts. But it is the Holy Spirit who inspired these very biblical texts and who fills and energizes the preacher/teacher who is called upon to “reprove” or “convict” everyone by the application of such texts to their lives. Surely if it were out of line for the Holy Spirit to bring conviction it would be equally inappropriate for Christian ministers to do so who operate at his urging and under his influence.

Of course, there are still other texts where it is specifically said to be God who brings conviction.

“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved [participial form of elencho] by him’” (Heb. 12:5).

“Those whom I love, I reprove [1st person, present active indicative of elencho] and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Rev. 3:19).

This final text in Revelation 3 is especially important because it ties the Lord’s work of bringing conviction to our hearts to the love that he has for us!

In summary, it is, of course, quite true that the Holy Spirit never “condemns” a Christian for his/her sins. That condemnation has been endured and exhausted by Jesus. As Paul says in Romans 8:1, there is therefore now “no condemnation” for those in Christ Jesus. Praise God for that. But the Holy Spirit most assuredly does “convict” us or “reprove” us or “rebuke” us or bring to our minds and hearts the realization of the ways in which we have disobeyed and fallen short of God’s revealed will.