The Spirit’s Work Of Convicting The World Of Sin

By Mike Willis

As Jesus prepared his disciples for his imminent death, he told them that he would send the Holy Spirit to them. He promised, “I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth” (Jn. 14:16-17). The Holy Spirit was to be a Comforter for the apostles just as Jesus had been while present with them.

The Spirit had a work to perform when he came to the apostles. As the “Spirit of truth” Qn. 14:17), the Holy Spirit would guide the apostles into all truth.

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you (Jn. 14:26).

But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me (Jn. 15:26).

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come (Jn. 16:13).

The work which the Holy Spirit performed is described in John 16:8-11:

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.

In the remaining portion of this material, I want to draw attention to the work of the Holy Spirit in convicting the world of sin. Though this is not the totality of the Spirit’s work, it is a part of his work.

Convicting Of Sin

We can learn how the Holy Spirit accomplished his work of convicting men of sin by examining how Spirit inspired men did their work of preaching. We cite several examples:

1. On Pentecost (Acts 2). When Peter preached under the influence of the Holy Spirit, he charged that those in his audience were guilty of crucifying Jesus. “Ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (2:23). Some of those present were “pricked in their heart” (2:37), having been convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit.

2. Stephen’s sermon (Acts 7). When Stephen spoke under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the Jews refuted him but “they were not able to resist the spirit by which he spake” (6:10). They charged him with blasphemy and brought him before the elders and scribes. In his defense, the Spirit convicted the audience of sin saying, “Ye stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye” (7:51). Like those on Pentecost, these were “cut to the heart” (7:54) having been convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit, but unlike those on Pentecost, these refused to obey the gospel.

3. Paul’s sermon to Felix (Acts 24.25). Paul preached to the Roman procurator Felix during his imprisonment at Caesarea. The Scriptures state, “And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled.” The Holy Spirit convicted Felix of sin.

4. The assembly at Corinth (1 Cor. 14.24-25). The effect which gospel preaching through the Holy Spirit was to have on the unbeliever can be learned from these verses which emphasize that prophesying is to be preferred over uninterpreted tongues.

But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.

The preaching of the gospel exposed the sins of the man’s heart, convicting him of sin.

5. Paul’s example at Corinth. Paul faced a church with many problems at Corinth. He sought to correct those problems through teaching. However, he saw that more severe action might be necessary. Consequently, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, he wrote: “What will ye? Shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?” (1 Cor. 4:21) Impenitent sinners would provoke a response from Paul which they did not desire. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit again he wrote, “For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, back-bitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults: and lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed” (2 Cor. 12:20-21). There is a threatening tone in these inspired words.

Quench Not The Spirit

The work of convicting men of sin is a work of the Holy Spirit. The exhortation of Paul, “Quench not the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19), contextually applied to miraculous spiritual gifts, has application to the Spirit’s work of convicting men of sin as well. Some modern preachers belittle the work of convicting men of sin.

In his book, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, Robert Schuller affirms that anything which attacks the self-esteem of man is contrary to the gospel. He decries a message which will “put down a person before it attempts to lift him up” (p. 127). He charges that Protestant Christianity has “manipulated guilty, insecure persons by feeding them ideas that directly generate fear, lack of self-worth, guilt and anxiety about approaching God” (p. 126). Rebuking a sinner for his sin attacks his self-esteem and is, therefore, contrary to the work which God wants the Holy Spirit to do. The teaching of Robert Schuller quenches the Holy Spirit’s work of “convicting the world of sin.” Had Schuller been present when Paul reasoned with Felix of righteousness, temperance and the judgment to come, causing Felix to tremble, he would have stopped the inspired apostle and charged him with sin for destroying Felix’s self-esteem.

Some among us have been infected with the idea that gospel preaching should not make the sinner uncomfortable. The idea that a preacher should “not challenge every false statement” or “challenge (one’s) moral condition” because this would make the sinner “uncomfortable,” interferes with his conversion. Preaching which rebukes apathetic Christians for indifference is castigated as “brow beating,” “shouting at a dead dog,” “hammering on the people in the pew.” Preaching aimed at denominationalism or liberalism is denigrated as “obnoxious name-calling, negative faultfinding” which “runs off everyone who might be interested in filling their spiritual needs.” Another exhorted, “Let us not embarrass anyone because of their evroneous beliefs but build a love for Jesus and truth in their hearts.” I would like to see these criticisms applied to Paul’s preaching to Felix, his rebuke of the Corinthians, and other New Testament, Spirit-inspired preaching. Criticisms of this nature have the impact of “quenching” the Spirit’s work of “convicting the world of sin.”

I sat in a meeting with a group of elders in one congregation who told me that they would not preach on dancing, mixed swimming, and some other forms of worldliness from the pulpit, preferring instead that these subjects be taught in a Bible class. They seemed concerned that preaching these subjects from the pulpit would cause visitors not to return. If what the Bible says on these subjects can be relegated to the classroom, can what the Bible says on other subjects be relegated to the same arena? Are we ashamed for the world to know what the Bible teaches on these subjects? Such attitudes have the impact of quenching the Spirit’s work of convicting men of sin. Some do not want denominational folk and weak Christians who social drink, mix swim, and dance to know that they are lost in the sight of God. So, we preach a message which does not offend them – a message which does not call them to repent of their sins.

If our preaching makes indifferent, half-committed Christians comfortable, leaves denominational folks content in their denominations (or persuades them to leave their denomination for the church of Christ which they view as a better “denomination”), and allows liberal brethren to think there are no differences between us which might jeopardize their souls, we have “quenched” the Spirit in his work of convicting the world of sin.

These comments should not be understood to mean that I am advocating obnoxious, abusive mistreatment of visitors. Indeed, we must speak the truth in love. However, in my twenty-one years of preaching, I have not been exposed to obnoxious mistreatment of visitors. The preaching which I have witnessed on denominationalism generally has been prefaced by statements designed to assure the hearers that one has no interest in offending them, making a personal attack, or otherwise abusing their denominational friends; rather, the preacher only wants to contrast truth and error. Doctrines are read from the creed books and contrasted politely with the Bible. Nevertheless, even this is viewed as “obnoxious name calling” by some brethren. I can only conclude that some brethren want nothing preached from the pulpit which exposes the denominations and liberalism by name.


The work of the Holy Spirit includes “convicting the world of sin.” Not everyone who is convicted of sin will resolve to obey the gospel; some will get mad, turning away from the gospel in anger. Changing the gospel by watering it down so that it does not anger them will not convert those who have no desire to conform to its message. Relaxing God’s standards to accept them into the Lord’s body does not convert their souls. Rather, this encourages them to believe that they are acceptable before God without ceasing the practice of their specific sins. What this does do, however, is make us disloyal to Christ. “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mk. 8:38).

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 16, pp. 482, 499-500
August 18, 1988