In John 16:8 we read, "And when he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment." The Spirit's role is to bring conviction to people regarding their sin to bring them to faith in Jesus and faithful service to Him. But what is this conviction?
The conviction of sin – What is it?
A great biblical example of the conviction of sin is found in Isaiah 6:5. When Isaiah experienced God in the temple, he said, "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" He was convinced of his sinfulness and need of God.
Another example can be found in Christ's call to Peter. Peter experienced Jesus performing a miracle when many fish jumped into his nets at once. He responded to the greatness of Jesus by falling on his knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8).
In Acts 16, God sent an earthquake to rescue Paul and Silas from jail. When it occurred, "the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?'" (Acts 16:29-30). He was convicted of his sin and need for God in his life.
In Psalm 51, David was convicted of his sin of adultery and confessed to the Lord, "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight" (Psalm 51:3-4). He saw his sin as ultimately against God and worthy of judgment. He repented and asked for God's mercy as a result.
These and other biblical examples show that conviction of sin is to see the darkness of one's sin in contrast with the beauty and perfection of God's sinlessness. When a person is convicted of sin, the proper response is one of confession of sin and worship of God. Yet even this response involves the work of God. John 6:44 shows, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." God provides conviction and leads us to repentance and faith in His Son Jesus.
True conviction also includes repentance. Acts 17:30 shares, "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent."
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The sin nature - What is it?
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Are all sins equal?
How can I have victory in overcoming sin?
Truth about Sin