“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 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 16:4b-11)
“Concerning sin, because they do not believe in me.” At its heart sin is not believing in Jesus Christ, not trusting him for forgiveness. Every sin that we commit is in fact a testament to our weak faith, our unbelief. We live with that. Even as baptized Christians we have to learn to pray, “Lord, I believe! Help thou my unbelief.”
But I want to talk about this a little more because I think we lose sight of this way too often. Unbelief isn’t what we normally think of as sin. And therefore we don’t often think of ourselves, or our neighbors as sinners because they are unbelievers. When we say sinner, we think of all manner of sexual vice, for sure. We think of our neighbors as sinners because they use uncouth language, but not because they don’t go to church. We think of them as sinners because they get drunk on Friday evening. But if they don’t use foul language, engage in extramarital sexual activity, or get drunk and use drugs, we think of them as righteous. We would probably think this way even if they were to be worshiping Satan expressly.
It is dangerous for the church to think this way. It is dangerous for us to think this way. Then we do not comprehend the problems of society, and for that reason become preoccupied with the problems of society at the expense of the gospel, perhaps even in the name of the gospel. We begin to think that the answer to the problem is not Christ and his righteousness but in passing laws, and training people to be good little boys and girls. But in the end you exchange one side of immorality for the other side of the same coin, and for all your efforts there is not a one who is righteous.
Not that there isn’t a place for some social activism. I think the church does well to call attention to the sins of society. I think we as citizens do well to be conscious concerning the destructive character of libertine life for the fabric of society and for the overall welfare of our neighbor. But I think that is key, it has to be argued in such a way that it is apparent to our neighbors that we love them and are concerned about their welfare, both physically and spiritually speaking. And too often this is not done, but rather we give little thought and react from disgust, and from come off as hate and fear mongers. I tell you, I have a hard time listening to right wing radio, not because I disagree with them, so much as I don’t like the tenor. I see this sort of mentality in the church way too often also. Too much concern over being right, and not enough concern with making our neighbor right. We don’t go into conversation with an attitude that wants to hear, listen, discuss and come to agreement. Instead we want to be right and show that we are right.
But we aren’t. We are not right. Christ is right. Him and him alone. And this is what the Spirit come to do, to convict us of righteousness because Jesus goes to the Father. He goes to the father, and the world will be convicted of righteousness, Christ’s righteousness because he has been vindicated in the resurrection and shown to be not guilty. There he conquered sin. He rose from the dead, he has gone to the Father, therefore he sends the Holy Spirit who can convict us of such things and overcome our sin, our unbelief, showing that Jesus is righteous and therefore we who believe in him are righteous and our judgment, God’s verdict on us is not guilty, because there on the cross the ruler of this world encountered his judgment.