“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 16:8–11, ESV)
The role of the Spirit in the world is immense, but then again our God is infinite and there is nothing too big or even too small for Him. In speaking about the coming of the Spirit, Jesus said He would convict the world. Convict can be viewed in at least a couple of ways. One of them is in the judicial sense as in a courtroom when someone is found guilty he is convicted of violating the law and subsequently judged. There is another sense that we see in many of the verses used in speaking about the work of the Spirit in man which points more to the aspect of convincing someone of their guilt. One points to a decision by another party and the other to a change in the perception of an individual concerning him- or herself.
We know from Scripture that though Jesus is the final judge with the Father. He also did not come into the world to judge the world but that man might be saved (John 12:47). We also know from Scripture that those who reject Jesus remain in the judgment to which they are already subject and will eventually be sentenced. The only thing that removes this judgment is the salvation which Jesus came to give which is received by faith in Him and not by any works that man might do. Scripture builds a firm foundation of salvation by faith in Jesus as the Son sent by the Father.
In line with this, the convicting of the Spirit in the life of man is appropriately that of convincing man of the truth and His need to respond. Jesus said the Spirit would come to convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment. He then said that the Spirit would do this in relation to sin because men do not believe in Him. Everyone has sinned. There is no one who has not done so. Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23, ESV) The Spirit was sent in order to reveal this to man, showing him his sin and his need for a Savior. The Spirit makes truth visible such that man is convicted of his sin and responds. We read of the word of God being spoken in this way in 1 Corinthians 14:24-25, “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” (1 Corinthians 14:24–25, ESV)
Next Jesus said that the Spirit would convict people of righteousness because Jesus Himself would leave them and return to the Father. Having returned to the Father, His personal physical example of righteousness and instruction concerning it would no longer be visibly present. He would not be there to call people to righteous living, but the Spirit would. Jesus regularly confronted the religious leadership over their pretentious self-righteousness (hypocrisy), calling His hearers to a life of righteousness from the heart found in God and not themselves. This was something foreign to man, and it necessitated God revealing it to him. Paul wrote in Romans 3:10, “as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;” (Romans 3:10, ESV) The Holy Spirit in coming will show man what righteousness is and how the righteous man is to live by faith (Romans 1:17). Man does not become righteous in himself by believing, but by believing man has the righteousness of Christ credited to him and he grows in living that way as he walks by faith in Christ who made Him so. The Holy Spirit will reveal both man’s lack of righteousness and how the help him to live as a righteous man who walks by faith.
Jesus also said as the third work that the Holy Spirit would convict man concerning judgment because the ruler of this world is judged. “IS” might seem like a small and insignificant word, but it is so far from the truth. The ruler of this world is already judged and awaiting final enactment of his sentence. The verdict has been issued and he is guilty. One day (which God already has settled in eternity) he will be forever tossed away into the lake of fire created expressly for him and all how remain his. This is an already settled truth. But today he lives as if it weren’t, and so does man. Man ignores any consequence of his evil, and he lives as if there were no price to pay. The Holy Spirit reveals to man how lost he is and how much he needs Christ. The Holy Spirit opens eyes and brings to light the truth of who Jesus is and how much He is needed. Having shown these things to man, man then sees his own sin and responds to his own false-righteousness by calling on the righteous One who forgives sin.
Apart from Christ and apart from the work of the Holy Spirit to reveal Him man remains hopelessly lost in his own sin, clothed in unrighteousness and judged with his father the devil. The Spirit was sent to reveal this to man and convince him of his need for change found by faith in Christ.