Holy Spirit Conviction or Spiritual Insults?
What is the difference between a spiritual self beat-down and the work of the Holy Spirit as He brings genuine conviction of our sin? That is what I want to address this week in my article.
Knowing the difference between these two things is knowing the difference between the constructive work of the Holy Spirit making us like Christ, and the destructive work of our own self-oriented religious actions. As we begin discerning these two things, we begin by looking at a passage of Scripture that speaks of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in us.
"But 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 He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. John 16:7-11 (NASB)
This is a passage about the convicting work that God does in our lives. So how do we know when the Holy Spirit is doing this work? First, we should note that He comes to convict us. The word for convict here is “elegcho,” which means to prove or show someone to be wrong; to convince of error; to refute, rebuke, reprove, or admonish. The word has the idea of doing this on more than just a factual basis – but to actually bring someone to an emotional response as well. That response is shame over what they have done. There are three areas where the Holy Spirit desires to bring us to this kind of conviction. But what might be instructive before we look at these three areas is what is NOT among them.
Not among these things is the area of personal attacks. When the Holy Spirit convicts us, He NEVER attacks us personally. Never will He call us stupid – or use demeaning names as He speaks within our spirit. When we say that God convicted us and called us a name like “idiot” or “moron” or something like that, we are stepping outside of Scripture. About as rough as God gets is to call someone a fool – or to refer to their actions as foolish. But let me reiterate that God does not trash talk when dealing with our sin. The problem here is that in our society we have a difficult time accepting correction without thinking it is a personal attack. Let me explain.
When we choose to lie, the Holy Spirit is going to convict us that we have lied. There are even a few passages in Proverbs where if we commit certain sins involving departing from the truth, we are called a liar. That causes many in this society to bristle – and accuse God of calling names. He is not calling any names – except those we have proven to be true by our actions. Note that nowhere does God refer to someone as a stupid liar, or a lying idiot. God simply addresses the sin with truth. He does so with authority, honesty, and with tact. He is not out to trash talk us or to engage in some kind of spiritual beat-down. But, with that being said, He is going to rebuke us and tell us that our actions were wrong. We want to say we are dealing with someone who is being mean, and therefore justify rejecting what they say. But God does not work in this way. When we experience genuine conviction of sin we are dealing with Someone who speaks the truth. We face a “truth encounter.” Our problem is that it is difficult to handle the truth – face up to it – and repent accordingly.
Let me illustrate with one more example. God says that homosexual activity is sin. When He says this God does not resort to insults or any kind of “street-talk” slurs. He addresses the sin. But society wants to say that God is a “homophobe” for saying this. This is like saying that God is a “lie-a-phobe” for saying that lying is a sin. We want to make conviction seem like a beat-down, when it fact it is nothing more than a truth encounter. When we make it a beat-down, we can then reject Holy Spirit on the grounds He is being mean. The fact is that He is not mean – He is lovingly truthful. We just don’t want to face the truth – whatever the issue may be. Making the encounter seem like a beat-down provides us a sort of perverse comfort that actually God is out of line in saying what He says. But turning His conviction into a reason to insult Him will guarantee us only bondage in the end. Bondage to the very sin He desired to deliver us from by bringing conviction in the first place.
We need to learn to receive genuine Holy Spirit conviction in our lives. We need to discern how God defines sin without defiling his work by adding insults. We need truth, not trash talk. May God give us grace to hear Him as He has revealed Himself in His Word. And may we learn in the process that His conviction of sin is not a beat-down or an insult. It is the first step on a pathway to God’s forgiveness – and honestly – to freedom as well.