We continue our reflection on the promises Jesus makes to his disciples concerning the gift of the Holy Spirit as found in the Gospel of St. John. We find the fourth promise in John 16:7b-11.
For if I do not go, the Paraclete will not come to you.
But if I go, I will send him to you.
And when he comes he will convict the world
in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation,
sin, because they do not believe in me;
righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me;
condemnation, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
The verb ‘to convict’ is the central action of the Holy Spirit in this promise. “The Greek verb used here (elenchein) evokes the notion of establishing or revealing a fault, often in an unmistakably forensic context. Of the several possible nuances available, only one seems adequate to describe the Spirit’s action here: he will afford convincing proof that the world is wrong and in sin” (Francis Martin, “The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me,” 59-82, in The New Evangelization, ed. Steven Boguslawski, OP and Ralph Martin, 72).
The ‘other Paraclete’ will prove that the great sin is refusal to accept the revelation of God the Father offered in the person of Jesus Christ; that Jesus, not the religious leaders who condemned him, is truly righteous because he now exists in the presence of the Father; and, that Jesus’ death on the cross was not his condemnation, but in fact the condemnation of the devil who is the prince of death.
The difficulty in this passage comes in understanding where the action of ‘convicting’ takes place. Will the Spirit convince the world of its error or does the Spirit act within the disciples to establish them in the truth of Jesus? “Basically, it must be the second. If the world were able to acknowledge its sin, it would no longer be the ‘world,’ that is, a place which, despite the fact that there is still room for freedom and choice, is nevertheless at its depths a ‘demonic universe of refusal and rejection’” (Ibid.). So, the Spirit acts in the hearts and minds of believers in order to convince them of the truth of the gospel, especially in the face of their own weakness and the seduction of the world. “The Paraclete addresses itself only to believers: it is an interior illumination that happens in the hearts of believers” (Ignace de la Potterie, La Vérité dans Saint Jean, Tome I, 410).
Like the third promise, this fourth promise is directed at believers in the struggle they will face to hold to and grow deeper in their faith. Whether it is profound personal suffering, the allure of all that the world promises, intellectual challenges to faith, encountering ridicule for following the upside-down ethic of Christ, or the countless other ways faith is tested in this world, the Paraclete comes to the aid of the believer. The Spirit firmly inclines the heart and mind of the person of faith to see clearly that the only ultimate sin—and therefore separation from true life—is not believing and trusting in Christ. The Spirit shows to the eyes of faith that Jesus is gloriously victorious over the world and that the world’s promises are ultimately illusory.
In brief, this promise assures us of the active presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the faithful, revealing “that ultimately love and sacrifice are more powerful than violence and death,” that following Jesus’ way of sacrificial giving of our lives to God the Father for the sake of others is the way to authentic liberty and life (Francis Martin, “The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me,” 59-82, in The New Evangelization, ed. Steven Boguslawski, OP and Ralph Martin, 74)!