The Convicting Work of The Spirit

Have you made a mistake recently or in your past that you’re not able to let go of? Maybe you think, “I don’t want to walk through my life with this cloud of guilt hanging over me anymore,” but you don’t know what to do. Are you holding onto sin, but you’re not sure what to do to let go of it? Join us this week as we explore how the Holy Spirit sets us free from sin and regret.

Alright, as we continue our series, “The God I Never Knew,” today we’re going to look at the convicting work of the Holy Spirit.

And I want to start with John 16:7.

Jesus has been telling his followers about the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

He says in verse 7 that it’s a good thing for his followers that he will go away. Because if he goes away, then the advocate — the word is sometimes translated the counselor or the comforter — the Holy Spirit will come. If he doesn’t go away, the Holy Spirit will not come.

He says:

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.

Then he says in verse 8:

When he comes,

When the Holy Spirit comes.

he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. (John 16:7-11)

Jesus says that the Spirit will come and bring the ministry of conviction. He will convince or convict the world about the reality of sin, righteousness and judgment.

This is the convicting work of the Holy Spirit.

I want to take just a moment and plead with some of you who are here.

Some of you have been resisting the convicting work of the Holy Spirit.

Some of you know it and you avoid thinking about it, but the truth in your life is that you’re gripped by sin.

Some of you have maybe been stuck in a pattern of deceit, or in dishonest business practices, illegal practices, immoral relationships or sexual patterns that you know are displeasing to God.

Some of you have been, in some area of your life — maybe small, maybe large — defying the Spirit.

And if you keep doing that, what happens to the heart is it gets harder.

Well, I just want to say — today is your day.

Today, the Holy Spirit of God is here, doing the work of conviction, and calling you to come home to the Father.

Today we’re going to spend some time in the classroom, learning about this ministry of the Holy Spirit.

But some of us need to, above all, open ourselves up to the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit and say, “God I’ve been holding onto this sin, and I’m not even quite sure what I need to do to let go of it. I don’t know what I need to do to get power to overcome it. Today, God, I fall on my knees before you and say as best I can with your help I want to let go of sin and be clean before you. I don’t want to walk through my life with this cloud of guilt hanging over me any more.”

I want to say, before we walk through the rest of this message, for some of you, don’t let this be information. Today is your day.

Jesus says that he sends his Spirit. His Spirit among other things will bring this conviction of sin.

And it’s possible that God is at work in your life right now doing just that.

And I want to say this — every time you become aware of your sin and your need to be forgiven by God, and you fall before God and receive mercy, it’s the work of the Holy Spirit, even if you don’t understand what’s going on.

And this work of the Holy Spirit is always done in love and grace.

And it’s purpose is always to lead us to life.

It’s the work of the Spirit.

It’s to cause us to see the truth about our position and our condition, because we won’t see it otherwise.

There was an electrical genius in the early days of electric companies — a guy by the name of Charlie Steinmetz.

Charles Steinmetz was known as the wizard of electricity at General Electric.

When he retired in the very early part of the twentieth century, they found often that they needed him.

One time, they had a very large, complex system of machines that had broken down. They didn’t know how to repair them, so they called Charles Steinmetz.

This was around 1920.

He came and took a look at this large, complex system of machines that had baffled the engineers at General Electric.

He stopped at one point, pulled out a piece of a machine, ran a couple of tests on it, took a piece of chalk out of his pocket, put an X on a part of that machine and then walked out of the plant.

Later on the engineers disassembled that part, and they found out that it, in fact, was the problem and were able to fix it.

They got a bill from Charles Steinmetz. Remember, this was the early part of the twentieth century. They got a bill for ten thousand dollars.

They were not pleased with this, so they got a hold of him, protested the amount of the bill and asked him to itemize it.

Remember, all he had done was come, walk around, do a few tests and make an X with chalk.

They said, “We’re not happy about the size of this bill. We’ve got to process this, so itemize it.”

He sent them back an itemized bill with two entries:

For making one chalk mark — $1.
For knowing where to put it — $9,999.

You get the point.

Anyone can walk around marking Xs on stuff. Only the master has the discernment to identify precisely where the breakdown has occurred.

Only the master is able to put his finger on precisely what it is that needs to be fixed and healed.

The question is… because the Spirit is present with you right now, where is he putting an X?

What part of your life needs to be pointed out by the convicting ministry of the Spirit?

The Spirit is here right now. The Spirit really is here right now, and he is at work guiding you right now in your thoughts and in your heart. The Spirit is at work.

This is a very important point. I want to point out that guilt is not always a sign that the Spirit is at work.

Guilt is not an infallible sign of the convicting ministry of the Spirit.

Some of you feel guilty about everything, even things that you had nothing to do with.

Some of you feel guilty because the As haven’t won a game all season.

Okay, they’ve won a game but you still feel guilty that they’re the worst team in baseball.

Have you ever met someone who constantly says “I’m sorry,” even when they haven’t done anything wrong?

We had a person on one of our teams who always said, “I’m sorry,” even when she hadn’t done anything wrong.

When we confronted her on it, we would say something like, “You’re a great person. We like having you on our team, but you’re always saying ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry’ for things you have no business being sorry for. It needs to stop.”

Her response, of course, was, “You’re right. I’m so sorry.”

Guilt is not an infallible sign of the ministry of the Spirit.

I want to take us to something the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 7 about how there are two kinds of sorrow or what we usually talk about as guilt — two kinds of sorrow or guilt.

Before we do that, though, I have a question to ask you.

The question is this:

Did you ever do something you were really sorry for?

And if you did, what did you do next? What’s the next thing you did?

When my kids were real little and I let them pick where they wanted to go out to eat, more often than not, they would pick Panera.

They picked Panera for the cookies.

They’re teenagers now and they still pick Panera for the cookies.

But when they were little, Panera had a carrot cake cup cake with cream cheese frosting inside.

Every time we went I tried to convince myself I was not going to get the carrot cake cup cake with the cream cheese frosting inside.

I would walk into Panera, and I say to myself, “This time I’m not going to eat carrot cake with the cream cheese frosting in the middle.”

And the next thing you know, I find myself eating it, and I know I shouldn’t do it so I feel guilty…

And now I have a new problem… which is, what do I do with all these guilty feelings?

Now, when you’re in a restaurant and you feel guilty, what’s the one thing you can do to deaden the pain?

Eat!

The only thing better than eating carrot cake with cream cheese frosting is eating a bear claw to wash it down.

When you know you’ve blown it, what do you do next?

We’ve all been in that situation when we’ve done something wrong, or we’ve said something wrong.

You went for the carrot cake.

When you go into an occupation like mine, you have enough people pour their hearts out that you realize this is just the case for many, many people — so many of us are carrying burdens about something.

Maybe you’ve been involved in practices of fraud for a long time and fear being discovered. You’re carrying that burden.
Maybe you’ve been engaged in sexually immoral activities or relationships. That’s the burden you carry.
Maybe you’ve inflicted unspeakable cruelty or abuse on other people, maybe on the others who are closest to you. You carry that burden.
Maybe you’re involved in financial practices that are just corrupt, which would shock people closest to you if they knew. You’re carrying that burden.
Maybe you’re involved in deeply sinful and highly self-destructive patterns of behavior.
Maybe you’ve failed, and the failure is significant and you can’t dismiss it and you can’t pretend it never happened. You’re carrying that burden.

Well, I want to tell you. If you’re weighed down by sin or regret… what you do next, what you do today, will be a matter of life and death.

You can beat yourself up, you can carry your sin and guilt around like a giant burden, or you can choose another way.

The Apostle Paul writes this letter to the church at Corinth — 2 Corinthians, the seventh chapter, beginning with verse 8.

Let me just give a word of background.

There has been a mess in Corinth. We don’t know exactly what the mess was. Paul doesn’t say. But it was bad enough and widespread enough that he had to write a previous letter to the church at Corinth, a very painful letter.

In the second chapter of this letter, he talks about having written them previously “in tears and in anguish of heart.”

He sends this letter off where he brings them face to face with the bad choices that they’ve made, with the wrong that they’ve done, and then he wonders, “How are they going to respond?”

Paul kind of holds his breath for the many months that it takes to get word back, and finally word comes about how they have responded to their sin and their guilt.

This, then, is Paul’s response to the news of how the Corinthians have dealt with their sin and their guilt.

2 Corinthians 7:8-13

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance.

For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.

So even though I wrote to you, it was neither on account of the one who did the wrong nor on account of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are. By all this we are encouraged.

These are Paul’s words about the response of the church at Corinth to their sin and guilt.

What do you do when you’ve blown it?

There is a response that Paul calls “worldly sorrow,” and it leads to death. There is a kind of sorrow which, if you engage in it, will kill you.

I saw an unforgettable example of this kind of sorrow some time ago in a film called “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

It’s a deep theological movie.

There’s one scene where there’s a group of monks who are aware of their own sense of sin and inadequacy, and so, in this scene they pass through a town and they’re chanting long prayers to God, and they carry large, heavy planks of wood with them.

At the end of each line of their prayer, they whack themselves in the head.

We know our great guilt [whack].
We’re so sorry [whack].
We don’t deserve forgiveness [whack].

That’s the way they deal with their guilt. They just whack themselves in the head, inflict pain on themselves.

Now, of course, this sort of thing would only go on in a Monty Python movie, right?

No human being in his or her right mind would go around hour after hour, day after day beating themselves upside the head in a misguided attempt to deal with their guilt and sin problem, would they?

See, the sad truth is that throughout history, human beings have followed the misguided notion that if they could just inflict enough pain on themselves, maybe that would take care of their sin problem. Maybe they would feel less guilty; maybe God would be a little less severe.

In the Middle Ages, there are actual records…

Of monks who ate no cooked food for seven years.
Of monks who exposed their bodies to poisonous flies while sleeping in a marsh for six months straight.
Of monks who proudly kept records of how many years it had been since they had seen a woman to deal with their guilt problem.
There are people who bound themselves with chains.
People who mixed their food with sand.
One man spent more than five years suspended from his armpits with iron shackles.

And lest you think all of that just happened in bygone days, early in the twenty-first century, there was a monk in Albania who forced himself to spend three days and three nights listening as fellow members of his monastic orders took turns 24 hours a day dragging their fingernails across a chalkboard.

Okay, I just made that one up. That didn’t actually happen.

That would be a really bad one though, wouldn’t it?

“There is,” Paul says, “a kind of worldly sorrow.”

Now, the ultimate example of this in the Bible is written by Matthew.

Matthew was a tax collector, who knew quite a bit about guilt. He betrayed his people for his own financial gain by collecting taxes for Rome.

Then he met Jesus and completely changed his life.

Matthew 27:3-5

This is the ultimate example of worldly sorrow. Jesus, now, has been betrayed, has been handed over to the chief priests.

Verse 3:

When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5)

What’s happened here is finally Judas sees, sees with blinding clarity the horrible thing he’s done. He has sinned against his God and he has sinned against his teacher. He’s betrayed innocent blood.

His whole life now is one huge regret.

So he presses his money back on the chief priests as if maybe if he gave what he had profited, it would set things right. But it’s too late. The deed is done, and he cannot undo it.

So, it occurs to him that there’s only one thing left to do, and he does it.

His sorrow and his regret are a burden he cannot bear, and so he hangs himself.

You know, there’s more than one way to hang yourself.

Some people spend their whole lives hanging themselves. Some of you are hanging yourselves right now.

“Worldly sorrow,” Paul says, “is slow death.”

It is emotional death, because when you do it, you seal yourself off from the possibility of joy or hope or laughter. You anesthetize your heart.

It is relational death, because who can be intimate with another human being who’s committing lifelong suicide.

It is death to who you are before God because you become incapable of sitting in his presence and receiving love from him.

You torture yourself by replaying the memory of your failure in your mind.

You punish yourself by refusing to immerse yourself in life, or ministry, or giving, or even playing.

You live half a life. You live half asleep.

The truth is you’re gripped by worldly sorrow, and it’s killing you. It’s lethal.

Now, the obvious question is, why do people choose worldly sorry? Why would someone choose it?

Well, I’ll tell you a nasty little secret. This is one of those kind of things that you’re just not going to like.

It can look spiritual to beat yourself up.

We say we hate it, but we still do it, and the truth is, I think, the truth is there is a kind of perverse pride that lies behind worldly sorrow.

I think people who beat themselves up are filled with resentment if you get to know them.

I think underneath the guilt is a significant level of anger, even rage. They’re mad at other people, they’re mad at the world, they’re mad at God for holding them to such high standards and mad at themselves for failing to live up to them.

I think underneath worldly sorry is a kind of perverse and angry pride.

Do you want to know how I know that?

Because Joe Hartley has that problem.

No, I have that problem. I’ve played that game. I’ve carried that burden.

I’ve whacked myself upside the head a few times.

Because to fall on my knees before the cross, to acknowledge I have a sin problem that I cannot handle, to resolve that I will allow God to do whatever needs to be done to make me like his son, that’s a pride-shattering thing.

That is a pride-shattering thing.

I mean, there’s a significant level of brokenness that you have to experience to fall on your knees before the cross.

Well, Paul says there’s another way.

Now, Judas is not the only follower who wounded Jesus.

When Jesus predicted that his followers were going to desert him, do you know which disciple it was who boldly proclaimed, “Even if everyone else deserts you, Lord, I will not desert you; I’ll stand by you”?

It was Peter.

Matthew tells us about Peter’s defining moment, critical moment, when it comes to this guilt issue right in the same passage.

It’s just before Matthew 27, the end of chapter 26. Matthew 26:73.

Peter now has denied Jesus two times, and he’s confronted the third time:

Those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”

Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”

Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:73-75)

Now, there’s the key phrase, and it may well be that Matthew is deliberately positioning these two stories back to back to let us see the path of worldly sorrow on the one hand, and then this other path that Paul calls godly sorrow on the other.

See, Peter chooses another way.

It says at the end of the Gospel of John in the 21st chapter that when Peter is in a boat and he sees Jesus, the other disciples start rowing into the shore.

Peter gets out of the boat and starts swimming to Jesus in his tremendous hunger to be restored to him.

He runs to Jesus… and he finds grace. He finds grace.

Now, there’s an interesting tradition about Peter. We don’t know for sure if this is true or not, but it’s a very old tradition. It dates back probably to the first century. There’s a very good likelihood it’s true.

The tradition is that for the rest of his life, when Peter would travel and minister or preach, if someone wanted to heckle him, they would crow like a rooster.

Can you imagine being Peter and hearing that sound? It’s a way of saying, “You’re the one who denied your Lord. You deserted him when he was dying for you.”

See, here’s the deal.

To receive forgiveness from God takes a certain kind of something like ruthlessness, something like ruthlessness, precisely because in your darkest places with your heaviest burdens, you know you don’t deserve it. You know that.

But the only alternative is to say that Peter’s sin or your sin or my sin is stronger than Christ’s death. And this Peter would not do.

I wonder when Peter heard the sound of people crowing like a rooster, if he thought about his old friend, Judas, and about their early, hopeful days together and about how it all ended.

I wonder if Peter reflected on the path of worldly sorrow and the place to which it led.

Back to 2 Corinthians 7.

Paul says there is another kind of sorrow. He calls it a “godly sorrow” in verses 9 and 10.

In other words, God has a plan for sorrow. Sorrow itself is not bad. It’s dangerous, it can do damage, but it’s possible to be sorrowful as God intended.

That’s another way of translating the phrase “godly sorrow” — sorrow according to God, being sorrowful as God intended — and he lays out some of the characteristics of it.

Godly sorrow is only temporary.

In verse 8, Paul says:

I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while.

In other words, Paul is saying, “It is not God’s will that you live in guilty grief day after day, year after year.

So if it’s an ongoing, chronic condition, it’s not godly sorrow.

The role of this sorrow is to bring your attention to what needs fixing and then move on.

Godly sorrow is non-toxic.

Paul says:

For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us.

In other words, the quality of repentance is not a function of how much pain and guilt you inflict on yourself.

Now, if we get nothing else today, if you take nothing else with you, I want us to be straight on this one — Repentance is not about beating yourself up.

The fundamental way you distinguish between these two forms of grief or sorrow is by looking at their consequences.

So you’ll need to take this home and reflect on your life in view of it.

If you want to know if you’re experiencing godly sorrow or worldly sorry, you view the consequences… because Paul says:

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

“Worldly sorrow produces death, slow death, but godly sorrow produces a repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret.”

Godly sorrow is the opposite of worldly sorrow. It produces the opposite of death, which is salvation, or another word for salvation is life.

And then we see in verse 11 this explosion of life that happens in Corinth:

See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.

They just explode with the power to live God’s kind of life.

The way that you tell that you’re experiencing godly sorrow — it leads to repentance, it leads to life, and it ultimately leads to joy.

But you’ve got to choose. You’ve got to choose.

There is a worldly sorrow. Religious leaders of Jesus’ day had a way of dealing with human guilt, and this is how Jesus described their attempts. He said in Matthew 23:4

They tie up heavy, cumbersome burdens and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

Life to them is an endless attempt to find some way to get back into God’s good graces. And Jesus says it’s like this huge burden that people just carry around.

It’s too heavy for them.

But there is another way. There is a way that leads to life.

Jesus said in Matthew 11:28

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Jesus says, “Come to me and put it down. Put your burden down.”

See, some of us are not traveling though this life free from burdens.

Some of us are carrying burdens. We don’t like to acknowledge the burden and sometimes we pretend it’s not there… but it’s there and it weighs very heavily.

Sometimes it involves burdens that are deeply shameful to you.

Jesus says, “Put the burden down.”

Some of you have been carrying your burden around for so long, you can no longer even remember what it feels like to stand up straight and walk tall and be free.

You can’t remember what it is like to be human.

What a great day to repent!

Jesus invites us to receive grace and to be nurtured and to be free and to set it down.

Put your burden down, for you were not meant to carry it. And it will kill you if you try.

Come to the cross and lay down your burdens and you will find rest for your soul.

There is a way that leads to life.

I want to ask you to close your eyes for a moment and just reflect on your life.

If you’ve made unethical decisions with finances and fear being discovered — you can lay the burden down and be set free. You just need to come to Jesus and ask him to free you.

If you’re involved in sexually immoral activities or relationships — Jesus said, “The truth will set you free.” Put the burden down. Turn to Jesus and he will set you free.

If you struggle with controlling your anger and hurt people you’re supposed to love the most — you can be set free. One of Jesus’ disciples, John, said, “Confess your sins, and he is faithful to forgive you and cleanse you.”

If you’re involved in something that would shock people closest to you if they knew about it — you shouldn’t carry that burden. Stop doing what you’re doing. Don’t carry that burden any longer. Lay it down at the feet of Jesus where there is grace and forgiveness and healing.

If you’re involved in deeply sinful and highly self-destructive patterns of behavior? Break the chains. Be set free. If Jesus has set you free, you are free indeed.

If you’ve failed — maybe that failure is significant and you shouldn’t dismiss it. You can’t pretend it never happened. But you can allow Jesus to remove the burden you’ve been carrying.

If there is sin in your life that you have not let go of. Today is your day to let it go.

Today is your day to fall on your knees before God and to ask him to set you free.

Christian and the team are going to come now and lead us in one more song. I want to encourage you to spend some time talking to God about whatever burden you’ve been carrying.

Just tell him, “God I have been holding onto this sin, and I’m not even quite sure what I need to do to let go of it. I don’t know what I need to do to get power to overcome it. Today, God, I fall before you on my knees and say as best I can with your help I want to let go of this sin and this guilt and be free before you. I don’t want to walk through my life with this cloud of guilt hanging over me any more.”

Just tell him.

Blue Oaks Church
Pleasanton, CA

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