The Work of the Holy Spirit
Lutherans are often accused of ignoring the third Person of the Trinity. Many Christians claim to be “led by the Spirit” but we Lutherans follow ancient liturgical traditions. Some Christians literally sing a brand-new song to the Lord each week, but we Lutherans sing hymns that are hundreds, even thousands of years old. Our prayers usually come from a book instead of the heart. Here at Good Shepherd, we speak in English, not in other tongues. And when we speak, we have plenty to say concerning God the Father, and even more about God the Son, but not as much about God the Holy Spirit. Are we missing something? Should we perhaps become less Lutheran and more like our “spirit-filled” brothers and sisters?
In churches across America today, many Christians are speaking and singing of the Holy Spirit. “I remember the day; I remember the hour, when the Holy Ghost, it fell on me!” There’s a lot of talk about the Spirit. “The Spirit came to me last night and gave me a new word for the church.” Oh, it may indeed have been a spirit, but it was not the Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit does not speak a new word, He doesn’t speak of himself. Instead, He speaks only of Christ.
The tele-evangelists love to say, “I feel the Holy Spirit in this place.” These false teachers have misled the church so that we often look for God in places he has not promised to be. There is no promise in Scripture that you will ever feel the Holy Spirit, but Jesus does promise that you will hear him speak. Jesus said, “When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, and whatever he hears [from me] he will speak […] for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (Jn 16:13-14). The Holy Spirit takes what belongs to Christ – the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation purchased at the cross – and he declares this to you (Jn 16:14).
The Holy Spirit cannot be separated from Christ. The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth. Truth and Christ go together. If it doesn’t have to do with Christ, it isn’t from the Holy Spirit. If you want a religion of health, wealth, and success in this world, if you want a religion of social justice, economic equality, and the elimination of poverty, if you want a religion of civil righteousness where the church upholds the values of the state, you can find these religions promoted by popular churches across North America, but don’t look for the Holy Spirit to teach you these things. He doesn’t! He teaches Christ. He teaches the Truth, and because of this, he convicts the world of error.
Jesus said, “When [the Helper] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn 16:8). Everything this world thinks it knows about sin, righteousness, and judgment is wrong. The world regards sin as breaking the rules, righteousness as keeping the rules, and the judgment of others as its right. The Holy Spirit comes to expose these false ideas and to reveal the truth.
First, the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin. The world teaches us that sin is something we do. We become sinners when we break the rules. If we want to stop being sinners, we just need to stop breaking the rules. Easy. The problem is that we don’t want to stop. Your old Adam loves to sin. St. James tells us to be slow to speak, slow to anger (Jas 1:19). But do you want to do this when people make fun of you behind your back? Do you want to do your job when you are tired and don’t feel appreciated? Do you want to forgive those who do you wrong and aren’t even sorry? Sin isn’t just what you do, it’s what you want. Jesus called lust adultery. St. John called hatred murder. St. Paul called greed idolatry. This is the beauty of Luther’s Small Catechism. We might tend to think that the Ten Commandments concern our outward actions – what we do and don’t do – but Luther shows us that the Commandments are first a matter of the heart. This is the beauty of our liturgy of Confession and Absolution. We confess not only what we have done or left undone, but also that we are sinful by nature before we even get around to actually doing sins. The Holy Spirit teaches us that our desires, not just our actions, are sinful. We can’t stop sinning by trying to keep the rules because we sin daily in thought, word, and deed.
Jesus’ death on the cross was not just for the times you broke the rules. He also bled for the times you failed to act, and he suffered for your sinful desires – for your lust, your hatred, your greed. Everything the world teaches us about sin is wrong. The world doesn’t know what sin is, and it certainly doesn’t know how sin can be forgiven. But the Holy Spirit teaches us the truth –about our sin and about our Savior. Forgiveness for all sin was purchased at the cross, and it is delivered to you today by faith. The Holy Spirit convicts the world of its unbelief in Christ, and those who reject his witness will perish.
Second, the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning righteousness. The world teaches that righteousness is keeping the rules. For example, we all know that we should love our neighbor. The world teaches that you achieve this righteousness by loving yourself. “You’re a good person at heart, you just need to forgive yourself, love yourself, esteem yourself.” The Holy Spirit teaches us: “No, you’re wrong!” There is none righteous, no not one (Ro 3:10). Only Jesus is inherently righteous. Only his righteousness can replace our sin. We don’t need self-esteem. We need his righteousness. The Holy Spirit reveals our righteousness to be hypocrisy, filth, and sin. Is God serious about sin? Look to the cross and find your answer. Look to the cross and see God’s judgment upon all our sin and unrighteousness. Look to the cross and see God’s gift to you. The righteousness that we need is the obedience and passion of Christ.
Finally, the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning judgment. The world teaches that judgment is karma. As long as you pile up enough good deeds on the scale to outweigh the bad you’ll escape judgment and find heaven. The world is wrong. The Holy Spirits teaches us the truth: The only way to God is through Jesus. Charitable donations won’t get you there. Being a good person, or at least being better than your neighbor, won’t save you. Only by receiving the righteousness of Christ can you be free of your sin and find salvation.
The world also teaches that judgment is its right. It thinks that it can judge us Christians. Because we refuse to agree with its definitions of sin and righteousness, the world wants to pass judgment and condemn us. It calls us bigots and homophobes. It accuses us of being hypocritical and unloving. But the world is not the judge; God is the judge. And the Holy Spirit teaches us that believers in Christ are no longer under his judgment. God’s judgment against sin has already been carried out. The wrath of God against unrighteousness was poured out upon Christ for you. He took your sin and clothed you in his righteousness – righteousness that can’t be earned, because it’s the free gift of God.
The Holy Spirit teaches that the ruler of this world is judged already. Those who reject God’s gift of righteousness will share in Satan’s judgment. But you have nothing to fear. The Day of Judgment will be, for you and all believers, a day of rejoicing. For God has already pronounced his sentence upon you, “Not guilty on account of Christ.” Without the Holy Spirit to guide us in all truth, we would surely adopt the religion of this world and perish. But Jesus kept his promise and sent the Holy Spirit to be with us, to teach us his religion and to keep us in his faith. From the day of your baptism to the day of your death, the Holy Spirit will continue his work within you, testifying to the truth, pointing to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29). Jesus has given us his righteousness and freed us from judgment. This is the truth to which the Holy Spirit bears witness, and we respond in faith: Amen.