Convinced of sin.
Alexander Maclaren on the place of conviction within Christian ministry.
When one talks about the insistence and importance of the “conviction of sin” within Christian ministry, a mangled mosaic of pointed fingers and shouting preachers often blazes across the mind. That word, “conviction,” seems to be a loaded one within certain religious contexts, triggering all manner of emotional responses. Even still, that doesn’t negate conviction’s place within the “faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3). For however much it’s been contaminated by power-grabbing preachers who’d rather prey on the emotions of their congregants than present a faithfully fervent message, the ministry of conviction abides as one of the ministries which Christ’s Comforter and Counselor brings to bear.
In a sermon entitled, “The Departing Christ and the Coming Spirit,” Rev. Alexander Maclaren examines the trifold ministry of the Holy Spirit as delineated by Christ himself. “Nevertheless,” the Savior affirms, “I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:7–8). That word “reprove” can, likewise, be rendered “convict” or “convince.” And, as Maclaren endeavors to show, the backbone of the faith is rigidly within the convictions the Spirit administers. He writes:
I am here to assert that a Christianity which is not based upon the conviction of sin is an impotent Christianity, and will be of very little use to the men who profess it, and will have no power to propagate itself in the world. Everything in our conception of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and of His work for us depends upon what we think about this primary fact of man’s condition, that he is a sinful man. The root of all heresy lies there. Every error that has led away men from Jesus Christ and His Cross may be traced up to defective notions of sin and a defective realisation of it. If I do not feel as the Bible would have me feel, that I am a sinful man, I shall think differently of Jesus Christ and of my need of Him, and of what He is to me. Christianity may be to me a system of beautiful ethics, a guide for life, a revelation of much precious truth, but it will not be the redemptive power without which I am lost. And Jesus Christ will be shorn of his brightest beams, unless I see Him as the Redeemer of my soul from sin, which else would destroy and is destroying it. Is Christianity merely a better morality? Is it merely a higher revelation of the divine Nature? Or does it do something as well as say something, and what does it do? Is Jesus Christ only a Teacher, a Wise Man, an Example, a Prophet, or is He the Sacrifice for the sins of the world? Oh, brethren, we must begin where this text begins; and our whole conception of Him and of His work for us must be based upon this fact, that we are sinful and lose, and that Jesus Christ, by His sweet and infinite love and all-powerful sacrifice, is our soul’s Redeemer and our only Hope. The world has to be convicted and convinced of sin as the first step to its becoming a Church.
It is of no use to exhibit medicine to a man who does not know himself diseased. It is of no use to talk about righteousness to a man who has not found himself to be a sinner. And it is of as little us to talk to a man of sin unless you are ready to tell him of a righteousness that will cover all his sin.1
There is comfort, then, inherent to the ministry of conviction because the Spirit never presses the reality of one’s sin without further applying the concrete assurance of sins covered by the blood of the Son. His aim is to convince you of both the inescapable iniquity with which your heart is encumbered and the ineradicable grace which cleanses from every imaginable blight.
Grace and peace.
Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Vols. 1–17 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1944), 11:96–98.