The Role of the Spirit – “Conviction or Convincing?”

by | Apr 5, 2017

Evangelism Misunderstood

Key Concepts

  • Evangelism is not about “winning” any person to Christ, but only about proclaiming the truth of the Gospel, with the expectation that God might persuade the unbeliever of the truth of it.
  • Salvation is accomplished by God from start to finish.
  • Faith itself is sometimes confused with the outcome of faith. Faith is not what we do, but what we possess. Because we possess faith, we are able to bear fruit and do good works. 
  • No one can persuade themselves to believe the truth, no matter how hard they may try any more than they can persuade themselves to believe any known fact.
  • Anyone can believe the truth intellectually, but this is not the same as having faith or heart belief. Intellectual knowledge of the truth will not bring about transformation.

Evangelism is often misunderstood as the task of persuading an unbeliever to choose to place his trust in Christ. Like the door-to-door salesman who tries to persuade the woman of the house why she needs his amazing product, well meaning evangelist sometimes try to win over the lost.

Evangelism is not about “winning” any person to Christ, but only about proclaiming the truth of the Gospel, with the expectation that God might persuade the unbeliever of it. When God persuades us of the truth He is bestowing faith upon us. Faith is what brings about our salvation. When God persuades us of the truth, we believe; this is faith and not something that we muster up on our own.

It is easy to overlook the fact that salvation is accomplished by God from start to finish. We believe the Gospel because we hear it and God grants us faith to believe since “…faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Rom. 10:17).  We believe the Gospel because God persuades us to believe it and not because we decide to believe it. This faith is a gift from God just as the eternal life that follows.

Faith itself (that is, believing the truth with the heart) is sometimes confused with the outcome of faith (good works or the Spirit’s fruit.) Faith is not what we do, but what we possess. Because we possess faith, we are able to bear fruit and do the good works, “… which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them…” (Eph. 2:10)  Anything that we do that is not of faith is sin or falls short of God’s desire for us. When we try to do faith it becomes a form of “spiritual performance” in an attempt to try to act like Jesus or to “do what Jesus would do.” The ultimate outcome of even the best performer is eventual failure.

Believing the truth with the heart can only come about when we are persuaded of the truth. No one can persuade themselves to believe the truth, no matter how hard they may try. They cannot do this any more than they can persuade themselves to believe any known fact. We know and believe all that we do because we were persuaded to believe by someone or some source of information outside of ourselves. Later we will see why this is so when we discover at what we call the “Trust and Authority Principle”.

Faith is the persuasion of God of the truth that He has given. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6) It is because God shone His light into our hearts that we believe, and not because we brought anything about on our own.

Nevertheless, self-persuasion is the means that many people attempt to “grow or increase” their faith, overcome a lack of faith, or rise above their doubt. Since we cannot accomplish these things, trying hard to believe through self-persuasion usually brings about frustration and further doubt, rather than more faith. God is the only one who can persuade our hearts of the truth.

Some confuse faith with knowledge, when they are not the same. Knowledge is attainable by anyone disciplined enough to pursue it. I can choose to learn and fill my mind with all manner of biblical facts, but this will not produce faith. Anyone can believe the truth intellectually, but this is not the same as having faith or heart belief. Intellectual knowledge of the truth will not bring about the transformation that God desires for us. One of the primary functions of the Spirit is to lead us into all truth: When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…” (Jn. 16:13). He does this by persuading, or convincing us of it.

 

Conviction or Convincing

Key Concepts

  • A common understanding of the role of the Spirit is that He convicts the sinner of his sinfulness, thereby, making him feel badly and hopefully, leading to his repentance.
  • We will be hard-pressed to find a biblical model for trying to make people feel bad so that they will come to Christ.
  • The Bible refers to people who reject the Good News as “unbelievers” because they have not been persuaded of the truth, they have not accepted it as the truth.
  • A sinner is more likely to look to Christ when he is persuaded of the truth of the Gospel than when he is made to feel bad about something that he is probably enjoying.
  • Unbelievers are ignorant of the truth as an outcome of the hardness of their hearts toward this truth.
  • In order to believe the unbeliever’s heart will need to be softened. God desires to do this, but some people will never come to this place where they will be receptive to this occurring “…being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart…” (Eph. 4:18)

It is commonly believed that the a primary role of the Spirit is to “convict” us of our sins. Conviction meaning; to make us feel bad about what we are doing. The primary passage used to support this is “… when He [the Spirit] comes, [He] will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…” (Jn. 16:8). The word “convict”  typically carries a negative connotation of being found guilty of something with the expectation of punishment to follow. In relation to sin, conviction has the connotation of making the sinner feel bad about sinning with hope that he might repent.

Back in the old “revival days,” some preachers described a sinner as being “under conviction.” The belief was that if a sinner could ever be made to feel bad enough about his sin, then he might repent and turn to God. Shame and fear where the two primary tools used to bring about this conviction. The typical message preached during the revival service was one of “Hell, Fire and brimstone” (the fear factor) along with describing in gory details the deplorable state of wickedness to which the sinner had succumbed (the shame factor).

Once the shame and fear were applied, the sinner was deemed ready to be place under the pressure of enduring thirty-seven verses of “Just As I Am.” Unless the sinner was a complete reprobate, he would eventually buckle under the pressure and decide to follow Jesus or at least make a “re-dedication” of his life to Christ —whatever this may actually be.

If we look to the Scriptures to find a model for trying to make people feel bad so that they will come to Christ, we will be hard-pressed to find one. What we will discover is a different approach that proclaims the goodness of God, His mercy and grace, the forgiveness of sins, the cancellation of debt, and the free gift of eternal life. A sinner is more likely to look to Christ when he is persuaded of the truth of the Gospel than when he is made to feel bad about something that he is probably enjoying.

The people who reject this Good News are referred to as “unbelievers.” Because they have not been persuaded of the truth, they have not accepted it. Only a fool would reject the gracious gift of eternal life, if he actually believed that this was what was being offered. What person, if physically standing between the fires of hell and the gate of heaven, would choose eternal damnation over everlasting life? No one. This is why we call this person an “unbeliever.” They simply do not believe. Having heard the truth does not guarantee believing it. The question that is yet to be answered is, how do we come to believe it?

The Apostle Paul enlightens us to this spiritual dilemma of the unbeliever when he said: “… [they are] darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart” (Eph. 4:18). We see here that there are two reasons for their unbelief. First, they are ignorant of the truth and secondly, this ignorance is an outcome of the hardness of their hearts toward this truth.

God desires that all men come into the knowledge of the truth and that no one perish (2 Pet. 3:9). However, in order for God to persuade a person of this wonderful truth, their heart must be softened to receive it. We all know of cases where God allowed much suffering and difficulty to invade a person’s life, breaking down the stony heart, softening it and making it receptive of the truth. God can and will do this, but there are also those who refuse to hear no matter how severe the breaking. We see this in the book of Revelation where the four angels are released to kill a third of the earths population and yet those who remain refuse to take heed and respond favorably to the truth. 

“A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which proceeded out of their mouths… The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.” (Rev. 9:20-21)  Some people will go to their graves unwilling to consider the glorious truth of the Gospel that God so graciously offers.

 

Persuaded by love

Key Concepts

  • The root of the Greek word for “convict” is the word elegchó, which means “to convince or persuade someone of something with solid, compelling evidence…”
  • The role of the Spirit is to persuade (elegchó) the unbeliever of the truth and convince him of the error of his ways.
  • The early church evangelists, in the New Testament, simply proclaimed the Good News and left it at that. Some heard and believed and some did not.
  • The Spirit does not convince the unbeliever by shaming and scolding him, but rather by persuading Him of the truth of the Good News of the Gospel flowing from the love of the Father’s heart.
  • Salvation is not the outcome of being made to feel bad about something, but being persuaded of the mercy and grace of God and the free gift He is offering. 
  • When the Spirit persuades and convinces us of the truth of the Gospel within our hearts, we will believe and be justified (Rom. 10:10).
  • After the Cross, we see a change in protocol; from turning from sin and trying to keep the Law, to having our minds renewed (change of thinking) resulting in effortless transformation or the fruit of the Spirit.

The root of the Greek word for “convict” is the word elegchó, which means “to convince or persuade someone of something with solid, compelling evidence…” (see Helps Ministries, Inc. http://thediscoverybible.com/). The role of the Spirit is to persuade (elegchó) the unbeliever of the truth and convince him of the error of his ways. The outcome may in fact be that the person feels guilty and remorseful over his sin. However, persuading the sinner of the grace and mercy of God’s great forgiveness is not accomplished through a “conviction” that makes him feel bad, but rather a conviction and persuasion of the truth though love. This is the function of the Spirit, and not something that we can do. The early church evangelists, in the New Testament, simply proclaimed the Good News and left it at that. Some heard and believed and some did not.

The Spirit does not convince the unbeliever by shaming and scolding him, but rather by persuading Him of the truth of the Good News of the Gospel flowing from the love of the Father’s heart. If we look at the way Jesus dealt with sinners, we see compassion, forgiveness, and love. The woman caught in adultery was persuaded of the truth of the love of God and not condemnation. That, together with His great forgiveness, changed her life. However, when it came to those who claimed to know the truth and yet rejected Jesus as the Christ, the Lord’s attitude was much different.

So we see that salvation is not the outcome of being made to feel bad about something, but being persuaded of the mercy and grace of God and the free gift He is offering.  When the Spirit persuades and convinces us of the truth of the Gospel within our hearts, we will believe and be justified (Rom. 10:10).

Note: We also see this word “elegchó”—to convince—used in Hebrews 12:2, where it says: “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The word translated “conviction” here is elegchó, the same word found in the John 16:8 passage: “…[He] will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…” Faith (peitho) is the persuasion and the convincing (elegchó) of things not seen. God is the source of this faith, since He alone is able to persuade us of such things.

 

A Change of thinking

  • The Greek word translated “repentance” in the New Testament is “metanoia” which means to “change the way one thinks about something” or simply put, “a change of thinking.”
  • The Old Testament understanding of “repent,” when addressed to God’s people, was to turn away from sin and return to keeping the Law.
  • The Bible says clearly that transformation (life change) is the outcome of a renewed mind (change of thinking): “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). Turning from sin is not change. It is ONLY a temporary holding pattern.
  • When change of thinking occurs—metanoia—it is because God has persuaded me of the truth in my heart, and the result is a renewed mind that transforms my life. This is the essence of an authentic faith.
  • After the Cross, we see a change in protocol; from turning from sin and trying to keep the Law, to having our minds renewed (change of thinking) resulting in effortless transformation or the fruit of the Spirit.

 

In the original language, the word translated repentance does not mean to turn from sin and turn to God, even though this is generally how it is understood. The Greek word translated “repentance” in the New Testament is “metanoia” which means to “change the way one thinks about something” or simply put, “a change of thinking.” When heart belief changes, repentance has been granted and new behavior will follow. Notice that I said “granted,” as opposed to turning from something. New Testament repentance is something that God grants and we receive.

Take some time and revisit some of the places in the post-resurrection Scriptures where the word “repentance” is used and apply the definition “change of thinking” to see how it opens up the meaning of the text in a new way. Also notice how repentance is granted to the believer and not something that the believer is doing in order to achieve or get God to do  something. We typically make repentance (turning from sin) something required before God does something. This makes us the initiator of our salvation as opposed to God.

Here are a couple verses to start with:

“When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” Act 11:18 (How would turning from sin lead to life? Whereas, being granted the truth (a new way of thinking) can.

“…with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth…” 2 Tim. 2:25 (Again, how can turning from sin result in the knowledge of the truth? Here again, being granted a new way of thinking leads to this knowledge.)

The Old Testament understanding of “repent,” when addressed to God’s people, was to turn away from sin and return to keeping the Law. However, we know how effective the Law was in bringing about a changed life! The Apostle Paul said that the Law brought death to him and exposed just how sinful he was. He declared, “…when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died…” (Rom. 7:9). If repentance is indeed turning back to the Law that kills us, then there must be a more profitable and better way: “… thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 7:25).

In a TPM session we find this idea of repentance occurring when people receive the truth from the Spirit. This change of thinking results in them coming “into the knowledge of the truth” and transformation. In TPM we are not ever asking people to turn from anything, but only to the Lord for His truth. When the Spirit convinces us of the truth we come into a new way of thinking and are transformed by it.

The Bible says clearly that transformation (life change) is the outcome of a renewed mind (change of thinking): “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). Turning from sin is not change. It is ONLY a temporary holding pattern. This form of “repentance” is accomplished by willpower, self effort, and strong determination. How is doing this any different than what was done prior to the cross in an attempt to keep the Law? When change of thinking occurs—metanoia—it is because God has persuaded me of the truth in my heart, and the result is a renewed mind that transforms my life. This is the essence of an authentic faith. 

After the Cross, we see a change in protocol; from turning from sin and trying to keep the Law, to having our minds renewed (change of thinking) resulting in effortless transformation or the fruit of the Spirit. The teaching of the Apostle Paul reveals that repentance—change of thinking—is something that God bestows upon us (like faith) and is not something that we do. We see this clearly by the way he instructs Timothy to deal with wayward members: “…with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance [metanoia – change of thinking], leading to the knowledge of the truth…” (2 Tim. 2:25).

You are encouraged to take the original Greek meaning of the word that is translated “repentance” (metanoia) as “a change of thinking,” and look at the places where it occurs in the New Testament. If you apply this definition to the verse in its context, I think you will be surprised at the new understanding this will bring.


 

NOTE: You may find it interesting to see how the New Testament Greek word most often translated “repent,” is defined by a popular Bible Study website as supported by the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance:

“…metanoéō (from metá, ‘changed after being with’ and noiéō, ‘think’)—properly, ‘think differently after,’ ‘after a change of mind;’ to repent (literally, ‘think differently afterwards’)” (Helps Word-Studies copyright © 1987, 2011 by Helps Ministries, Inc.).

It is interesting that the Greek meaning is: “changed after being with…,” or to “think differently afterwards.” This sounds like what happens in a TPM session when we have been with Jesus and the change and transformation that follows.

 

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