Tag Archives: conviction

A Conduit for the Word and Power

In my line of work, there are times when we request inspections and reports on the condition of underground conduits or pipes to ensure that they remain able to function without blockages, leaks, or collapses.  The ideal conduit remains in original, or near-original shape, in-tact, and free of obstructions to allow water (storm, sewage, etc.) to travel easily without having the flow impeded or diverted. Typically, this flow is regulated by some sort of mechanical device, i.e. valve, gate, weir, or other.  By way of analogy, those who teach, preach, or otherwise communicate God’s Word are to likewise be conduits such that the Word may flow through with power apart from hindrances. If the human being is God’s conduit, then the Word is the material flowing through the conduit and the power is the rate or force at which the Word flows through the conduit all of which is regulated by the Holy Spirit.

Writing under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the believers at Thessalonica, Paul encourages them in the faith by reminding them that the Gospel he spoke to them came not only in word, but in power and in the Holy Spirit and with conviction.  

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.”  1 Thessalonians 1:4-5

In the passage above, we see that Paul has assurance in the election of the saints he ministered the gospel to in Thessalonica because the effectiveness of God working through the message preached and the evidence wrought in the production of fruit in their lives (vs. 4).  He indicates that the gospel came, not only in word, but in power, and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. That the gospel came with words in significant. Paul, Silas, and Timothy spent 4-6 months ministering the word in Thessalonica.  In Acts 17, we are specifically told that Paul reasoned with them in the synagogue for three straight Sabbaths on the necessity of Christ’s death and resurrection in which he said, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” Acts 17:3  It was necessary for them to use words in their communication of the truth of who Christ is, His life, death, and resurrection.  However, our passage states this in the negative, “not only in word.” This lets us know that words were necessary, but not sufficient in and of themselves.  Instead, the word must be accompanied by power.

Preaching or teaching, here we will simply combine them to mean communication of God’s Word, must be accompanied with power.  Absent of power, the communication, which may be true, orthodox, and accurate, is simply a lecture. It’s nothing more than reading a facts sheet.  There’s nothing to distinguish the powerless preaching of God’s Word from a university seminar lecture. It’s weak and unplugged from the source of power.  No one walks into a room, turns on an unplugged lamp in order to read a book in darkness! Yet this dimness clouds the man who preaches God’s Word apart from power.  This power, according to Vincent, is the “power of spiritual persuasion and conviction: not power as displayed in miracles, at least not principally, although miraculous demonstrations may be included.”  This power is what has been called by some unction, though there is a contingent opposed to such language. (NOTE: This is in NO WAY related to the Roman Catholic sacrament of extreme unction.)  

In trying to wrap our minds around this difficult concept, Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes

“What is this [unction]?  It is the Holy Spirit falling upon the preacher in a special manner.  It is an access of power. It is God giving power, and enabling, through the Spirit, to the preacher in order that he may do this work in a manner that lifts it up beyond the efforts and endeavors of man to a position in which the preacher is being used by the Spirit and becomes the channel through whom the Spirit works.”

This concept of power in preaching the Word is further illuminated in some of Paul’s letters, particularly to Corinth:

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18

“And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of the Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 2:3-5

“For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.” 1 Corinthians 4:20

We might also consider: Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; Acts 4:33; Acts 13:9

The conduit doesn’t have the power in and of itself.  God is the source of the power, the conduit’s responsibility is simply to allow the power to flow through, apart from hindrances.  What are these hindrances? It could be eloquence or the desire for great oration and wisdom apart from the simplicity of God’s Word.  It could be pride of knowledge, a desire to let everyone know that you have a depth of knowledge which is self-validating. It could be sin: laziness, lustfulness, selfishness, anger, envy, jealousy, etc. which can completely stop the power or cause it to leak sufficiently out of the conduit.  Obstructions, leaks, and other defects could be enumerable, therefore it is all the more critical for God’s conduit of the Word to seek the face of God and actively work, by the indwelling power of God’s Holy Spirit, to stay in the presence of God, evidenced much like the glowing face of Moses who shone in the presence of God and veiled his face when he knew the shine had left.

This brings us to observe that the gospel did not come in words only, but in power AND the Holy Spirit.  From our analogy earlier, which breaks down as all analogies do, we concluded that the Holy Spirit was the Regulator of the Word and the power, controlling both the content that flows through the conduit and the force at which it flows.  This is all the more true when we consider the nature of preaching itself as the communication of divine truths in divine power to produce divine results. It has been said that as Charles Spurgeon would climb the stairs to his pulpit, he used to say with each step, “Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit.”  The minister of the gospel’s reliance on the Holy Spirit is of critical importance, indeed it’s mandatory. Reliance on God the Holy Spirit is inversely proportional to reliance on self, the more of the former, the less of the latter…and unfortunately, vice versa.  I have often said, if the Holy Spirit is not accompanying you into the pulpit (or in whatever manner God may have you speak), then sit back down and be quiet.  

The word that was preached to the Thessalonians came with power and the Holy Spirit and produced, “full conviction”.  Preaching the Word with power by the Holy Spirit, necessarily makes demands and brings the results of that which it demands.  Here, it is summarized as, “with full conviction.” Others have translated it as “with full assurance.” Those debates aside, it’s clear that this is the result of the power-filled, Holy Spirit regulated preaching.  It may bring conviction of sin, as in the case of the Thessalonians who heard the Gospel and were brought to repentance of sin and faith in Christ. Though we must hold in tension the reality that it may also bring hardness of heart, as it did with many of the Jews in Thessalonica who heard the exact same message, yet it led them to riot and assault Jason.  Similarly, this preaching may bring assurance of faith, in other words edification, to genuine believers. Genuine preaching always demands and brings a response.

Our passage does not stop there, however.  Some translations, such as the ESV above, end the sentence after “full conviction”.  However, the construction of the Greek sentence joins full conviction and the subsequent phrase that is not seen above.  It perhaps should read, “and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.”  The difference is that the ESV translation above makes the character of the “conduit”, keeping with our analogy, a loosely related add-on statement whereas it appears the original sentence construction that their character is integral with the message they preached with power and the Holy Spirit.  The Thessalonians knew what kind of men Paul, Silas, and Timothy were by observation! They knew that the conduits who brought them the word in power and with the Holy Spirit, while not perfect, were nevertheless sound, without obstructions or deflections that would hinder the Word. In other words, the character of the messenger helped to validate the quality of the message.

Preaching the word with power and the Holy Spirit has become glaringly absent in today’s churches.  It seems this can only be due to either obstructed or leaky conduits or a failure to preach with power and the Holy Spirit.  Whatever the cause, it is evident when the power and Spirit are present, yet it is also evident when it is lacking.  Let us conclude by giving the last word to Lloyd-Jones

“Do you always look for and seek this unction, this anointing before preaching?  Has this been your greatest concern? There is no more thorough and revealing test to apply to a preacher.”

Conviction by the Spirit points to Christ

One thing that’s occurred to me recently, not only in observing the visible church, but also within my own life and ministry is that there is very little knowledge, active presence, or reliance upon the power of the Holy Spirit.  It would seem that this is the case from the largest efforts of man to build mega-churches to the most individual efforts of “convincing” sinners of their need for Jesus and calling on them to make decisions for Christ.  The Holy Spirit, the 3rd member of the Trinity, the “other Helper” that Jesus promises, is largely absent.  The Forgotten God as one author states.  Ask most people what He does and you’re likely to get blank stares.  In fact, ask if the Holy Spirit is a He at all, not an “it”, and watch panic set in.  Why?  I believe largely this is due to decisional evangelism and pragmatic, results based ministries that were so popularized by Charles Finney (1800’s) and has become to this day the model for mainstream evangelicalism.  It seems that today the Holy Spirit is either ignored all together in most denominations or largely overemphasized in charismatic and Pentecostal denominations.  Each extreme is a travesty, but unless we return to preaching Christ-centered messages in the power of the Holy Spirit and recover the lost doctrines of what the Bible teaches about the ministry of the Spirit, then no revival, no reformation will happen.  Only man-centered, flesh driven ministries that thrive on attendance and the tickling of ears will prosper, albeit for a season and then flame out because they’re powerless.  So why the lack of Holy Spirit teaching and understanding?  Because the Spirit convicts and most people do not want to feel convicted.  It’s uncomfortable.  It can be difficult, even painful at times.  But make no mistake about it, it’s necessary and without it there is no genuine salvation.

In studying the Holy Spirit recently, albeit very limited, I ran headfirst into a problem, namely a lack of information on the biblical role of the Holy Spirit, if not a complete lack of info, then at least incomplete information or inconsistent at best.  Keep in mind, I’m not referring to spiritual gifts, i.e. tongues, prophecy, healing, etc. I’m talking about the ministry of the Holy Spirit, what His purpose is and how He accomplishes that purpose.

Jesus defines this ministry in what has been called the greatest sermon ever preached, the Upper-Room Discourse, as it’s affectionately known, as found in John’s Gospel, chapters 14-16.  Here Jesus describes and promises the coming ministry of the Holy Spirit to His disciples.  In His last message to His disciples before His death, Jesus is telling them that He has to go, His earthly work will soon be finished at the cross, but He promises that He will send another Helper for them (and us).  This promise is made in John 14:16-17 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  You know him for he dwells with you and will be in you.”  Now imagine just for a second what must be going through the minds of the disciples.  Jesus, whom they’ve been with for a few years now, walked with, talked with, touched, learned from, broken bread with, is leaving and He is going to send someone else that the world can’t see or know.  That had to blow their minds and bring up so many questions.  Nevertheless, this promised Helper is promised power for the disciples.  Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will teach them and remind them of the things He’s taught them, surely an inference to the Spirit-guided inspiration of Scripture.

As He continues with His sermon, Jesus points out in John 15:26 the primary purpose for sending the Holy Spirit, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”  It’s here that we see the Spirit will “bear witness” about Jesus.  But what exactly does this “bear witness” mean, by what method is it accomplished, and how?

To bear witness simply means to point towards or to testify of.  It’s the Greek word martyreo, which means to bear witness or affirm that one has seen or heard or experienced something (see Blue Letter Bible Lexicon for more).  So the Holy Spirit’s primary role is to point towards Christ.  Likewise, we see that His role is to glorify Christ, as read in John 16:14.  But by what means or avenue does He do this?  The first way that the Holy Spirit testifies of Christ is through the written Word of God, namely the Bible.  Remember that Jesus told us back in John 14:16-17 that the Spirit would bring to the disciples’ memory all the things that Jesus taught and told them.  Ever wonder how the written works of the disciples were written in such detail?  They likely didn’t walk around carrying notebooks; it was through the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  All of God’s Word, from Genesis to Revelation bears witness to Christ.  Since it is inspired by the Spirit, we see the first of the methods used by the Spirit to point to Christ is through the Scriptures.

The second avenue through which the Holy Spirit works to bear witness to Christ is found in John 15:27, “And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”  This verse followed right after Jesus’ declaration that the Spirit would bear witness.  Are we to deduce here that there are two separate parties pointing to Christ, namely believers (in context the disciples) and the Holy Spirit?  No, instead it’s best understood as in conjunction with, meaning believers through the power of the Holy Spirit bearing witness to Christ through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. 

This leaves us with the question of how the Holy Spirit accomplishes His ministry through these two avenues that we identified.  In chapter 16 of John’s Gospel, we are told what He will do upon His arrival.  It’s this passage that I found lacking completeness in the study Bibles, commentaries, and sermons that I reviewed.  Here is the rather complex passage, “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 16:8-11

It seems reasonable, if the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to point towards Christ, then we must conclude that His role as defined by Jesus above, must likewise point towards Christ.  In this passage, we see 3 functions of the Spirit’s ministry.  The first is conviction of sin, but not just any sin, that of unbelief in Christ.  In John 3, a chapter in which Jesus describes Spiritual rebirth no less, the chapter concludes with this bold statement (from John the Baptist), “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”  The fundamental human responsibility upon hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to respond to the Spirit’s conviction by repenting and then subsequently placing one’s Spirit provided faith in Christ.  (Note: The order of repentance first vs. faith first has often been one of debate; however there can be no debate over the necessity of each).  We read of an example of the Holy Spirit’s ministry of conviction in Peter’s Gospel sermon from Acts 2, where the hearer’s were “cut to the heart”, an obvious response to the work of the Spirit, which was followed up by repentance and an immediate declaration of their faith by baptism.

The second area of conviction mentioned in our passage is that of righteousness.  On the surface, this might seem a bit confusing, especially in regards to whose righteousness the passage referring to.  But clearly this is speaking of the righteousness of Christ, namely His active obedience (Romans 5:19, Hebrews 5:8) to the law of God in living the perfect, sinless life and reaching completeness in His passive obedience (Philippians 2:8) of death on the cross.  Philippians 3:9 gives a little insight into this righteousness, “and be found in him [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”  The Holy Spirit conviction concerning this is because through no righteousness of our own can we either improve our standing with God or earn our own salvation, but instead it’s through Christ’s righteousness that reconciliation and salvation come.

From our study passage above, the third way that the Holy Spirit convicts is “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”  Critical to understanding this part is to find out who Jesus is referring to as “the ruler of this world.”  In John 12:31 Jesus makes a similar reference, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.”  Likewise, reference to the “ruler of this world” is made again in John 14:30.  Jesus says that this person is judged and cast out both of which are an obvious reference to Satan.  When He states that Satan is judged, this is a reference to the finished work of Christ on the cross in defeating the powers of Satan.  In Colossians 2:15 we read, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”  Also, “…that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” Hebrews 2:14b  At Calvary Jesus defeated Satan, the ruler of this world, and although his final sentence is yet to be handed down, he is already judged, as we read in John 16:11. 

We need to ask ourselves, given the primary role of the Holy Spirit to point to Christ, how then does this conviction ministry point or bear witness to Christ?  I believe that the key to understanding this is found in understanding the work of Christ, which we have studied here over the past few months.  When doing so, we see that the Spirit’s conviction of the sin of unbelief points towards the need for Christ as Savior.  In 1 John 4:14 we read, “And we have seen and testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.”  Because of sin, we need a Savior, and that is only found in Jesus Christ who died on the cross for the sins of all those who would believe so that they might have eternal life.  Secondly, the conviction of righteousness points toward the need for Christ as Substitute.  We are all born sinful by nature, meaning at birth we are “unrighteous”. Eph. 2:1-4, Romans 5:12 No matter how much we try to do good or work our way into God’s favor it will never happen.  We can never be good enough.  Our good deeds will never outweigh our bad; in fact as Isaiah 64:6 states even our good deeds are as filthy rags.  Contrary to popular belief we are not “basically good people.” Romans 3:10-12 We need the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ credited or imputed to our account, just as we read in Philippians 3:9.  Finally, in the conviction of judgment the Holy Spirit points to the need for Christ as Advocate or Intercessor.  In 1 John 2:1b we read”…if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”  Likewise, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 7:25  The idea behind both of these passage is that Jesus, who now sits at the right hand of the Father, acts as a defense attorney on behalf of those who have faith in Him.  Without Him, sinners are condemned and remain under the wrath of God.

There is so much more to say about God the Holy Spirit, but to understand His ministry it’s important to begin where Christ did, namely that the Spirit was sent to glorify Him.  We are called to preach Christ from the Word of God through the power of the Holy Spirit and trust the Spirit to work in the hearts of men according to the will of God.  “Faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ” Romans 10:17

Dear reader ask yourself if you have ever been convicted by the Holy Spirit.  If you have, did you respond in repentance from your sin and faith in the finished work of Christ Jesus and His perfect righteousness?  If you didn’t respond that way, what are you waiting for?  You have need of a Savior, Substitute, and Advocate; otherwise you face judgment on your own.