Conviction: Human and Divine
There is always plenty of confused thinking out there in the Christian world, and it often springs from not getting the biblical balance right. We can easily go off into an extreme simply by emphasizing one aspect of biblical truth while ignoring others.
Sadly this happens all the time, and in its extreme version, this is exactly the way cults and heresies develop. An aspect of God’s truth will be emphasized, or over-emphasized, while other vital biblical truths are ignored, minimized or neglected. That is always a recipe for disaster.
We should be concerned about all this for at least three reasons: we certainly do not want to veer into heresy or cultic directions; the Bible constantly stresses the importance of getting our doctrine and theology right; and real harm can come to Christians and Christianity when we get things off balance and out of kilter.
So let me offer another example of this which just occurred on another site. I had mentioned how some Christian celebs are pushing the homosexual agenda. I rightly took some of these deceived and deceiving believers to task. Yet for that, I was taken to task by a believer who insisted that we can never judge other believers, or point out their faults.
Instead, this person assured us, only the Holy Spirit can bring conviction, so we should just leave matters to him. It is not our job to tell any believer anything that they might be doing wrong – just leave it to the Holy Spirit. Yep, he actually said that.
If we simply examined this claim in terms of basic logic, we would find that he has committed the logical fallacy known as the false dilemma. In this case, he is telling us: “We either let the Holy Spirit do his work of convicting, or we speak out to other believers. Take your pick.”
Umm, no, not at all. It is not a question of either/or, but of both/and. Yes, the Holy Spirit brings conviction (of sin and other things), but God’s ordinary means of making this happen is through his people. God has told his people to hold one another to account, to encourage each other, to admonish one another, to be Jesus to each other.
This is true of the whole of the Christian life – even its very beginning. How do people get saved in the first place? By the preaching of the Word obviously. And who preaches the Word? People do of course. Sure, it is the Holy Spirit who brings conviction, but again, God works through his people. That is always how it works.
Does that mean God never works without some human intermediary? Not necessarily. Sometimes he does his work directly with someone. Saul is a case in point: he was zapped directly by God. But even in this case, Saul would have heard much of the gospel as he was persecuting believers. So the Holy Spirit may well have been convicting him through these human words and actions already before his road to Damascus encounter.
But the normal pattern of how God works is through his people. He has appointed us to proclaim the gospel and to make disciples. He has appointed us to teach, challenge, rebuke, and admonish one another. He has appointed us to do the work of the Kingdom. Sure, the workings of the Holy Spirit are invaluable here, but in most cases, the Holy Spirit works in and through his people.
There is to be no dichotomy here. We do what God has called us to do, and we allow the Holy Spirit to work in the process. No sensible Christian believes we are just to sit back and do nothing, and just let the Holy Spirit do everything. God uses his people to allow the Spirit to work.
If this foolish imbalance were taken to an extreme, then we would never have pastors teaching and preaching the Word. We would just sit back and let the Holy Spirit do it directly. But again, it does not work this way. God has appointed pastors to minister in the word, in conjunction with the Holy Spirit.
The pastor preaches the Word while the Holy Spirit brings conviction. This is standard operating procedure. The two always work together in tandem. Preaching without the Holy Spirit will not get us far, but neither will the Holy Spirit without any preaching. God has ordained the two to go together.
And it is the same with the body of Christ. Throughout the New Testament believers are commanded to be active in the lives of other believers, whether by encouragement or by rebuke. We are not to sit back and think the Holy Spirit does it all by himself. The Spirit works through God’s people.
Even a simple perusal of the New Testament will show just how often we are told to hold one another to account, point out sin, challenge and rebuke, and offer words of correction and reproof. Here is just a small sampling of such passages:
Matthew 16:6 “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
Mark 13:22-23 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect – if that were possible. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.
Luke 3:19 But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done,
Luke 17:3 So watch yourselves. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.
Acts 20:27-31 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
1 Corinthians 2:15 The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment.
1 Corinthians 5:3-5 Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.
1 Corinthians 6:2-3 Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!
2 Corinthians 13:2 I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others,
Galatians 2:11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.
Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.
Ephesians 5:10-11 and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.
1 Thessalonians 5:14 And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
1 Timothy 1:19-20 Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.
1 Timothy 5:20 Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.
2 Timothy 2:25-26 Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage-with great patience and careful instruction.
Titus 2:15 These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority.
Titus 3:10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.
Hebrews 3:13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
James 5:19-20 My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
1 Peter 4:17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
There are plenty more such commands. We have a job to do. And as we do that which is our Christian responsibility, the Holy Spirit will be there, working with us. It is a team job, just as God always intended it to be.
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