Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Holy Spirit is Not Your Personal Prosecutor

A few years ago, I worked for a state supreme court where we handled a lot of criminal convictions.  One day, I looked at the word "conviction," printed on an appellate brief, and it suddenly struck me as an odd word.

I wasn't sure why it had hit me as being so strange until I thought about it for a moment; and then it dawned on me that it was one of the words I most commonly used when discussing my interactions with the Holy Spirit.

For example:

"The Holy Spirit convicted me about being so judgmental."

"The Holy Spirit convicted me about my lack of interest in prayer and Bible study."

"The Holy Spirit convicted me about how little I understand God's love."

That day, I thought, "Really, Holy Spirit?  Is that how you interact with me?  Do You really 'convict' me all of the time?"  It just didn't seem right to me, as an attorney.  The Bible certainly uses a courtroom analogy, but in it, God is the judge, Jesus is our defense attorney, and Satan is the prosecutor (1 John 2:1, Revelation 12:10).  It's actually Christ's job to prevent our conviction, so the idea of the Holy Spirit working against Him didn't really make sense.

I went home that day and broke open Strong's Concordance, determined to pull out and study all the biblical references to the word "convict" or "conviction."  You'd think it would be splashed all over the pages of the Bible, as much as we use it.  But in the New King James Version, I found the word "convict" or "conviction" a mere seven times in the New Testament.

What is so interesting is that the word "convict" is never once used to describe the day-to-day interactions of the Holy Spirit with Christians.  Instead, as far as being "convicted" goes, it basically describes (1) how the Holy Spirit confronts unbelievers; and (2) what happens to Christians who try to follow rules instead of the Spirit (John 8:9, 16:8; 1 Corinthians 14:24; James 2:8-10; Jude 15).

So, I wondered, if it isn't the Holy Spirit's job to convict us, what exactly does He do?  I figured it was time to reevaluate the way I described His work in my life.  I did so by exploring the Scriptures, and what I found expanded both my vocabulary and my understanding of Him, as I learned that He actually does a great number of things that sound much less like a guilt trip and a lot more like good parenting.

Just to name a few things the Holy Spirit actually does, I offer the following (which I encourage you to try to slowly read and visualize):
  • The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness, teaches us, and reminds us of the words of Jesus (John 14:26; Romans 8:26; 1 Corinthians 2:13).  
  • He gives us the words to speak when we don't know what to say (Mark 13:11).  
  • He gives us supernatural power and clarifies our calling (Acts 1:8; 13:32).  
  • He fills us with boldness to speak truth in situations where we would've never dreamed of speaking before (Acts 4:8, 31).  
  • He opens our eyes to see God's glory, and he fervently prays for us as we flounder around in this exhausting life on planet earth (Acts 7:55; Romans 8:26).  
  • Perhaps most importantly, He moves into our hearts and fills us with God's joy, peace, and love (Acts 8:17; Romans 5:5, 14:17).  
    But one thing He does not do - He does not convict us.  Jesus has already been convicted and received all of our punishment.  We now get to be in a relationship with His Spirit, who apparently never gets tired of creatively meeting our deepest need - the need to be deeply loved and cared for by God Himself.

    Linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf is quoted as saying, "Language shapes the way we think, and determines what we can think about."  If this is true, I think that believers have a special obligation to watch the words we use to describe God, and I think that's especially true when our words paint Him to be someone He simply isn't, doing things He simply doesn't.  

    God is not our personal prosecutor, constantly looking to put us on a never-ending ride on the Guilt Trip Express.  He's bigger than that, big enough to deeply love us like any good parent would.  With a little effort, we could easily alter our vocabulary (and hopefully our minds) to reflect that.

    P.S. If you feel that the Holy Spirit has really used this article to convict you of anything, I'm very sorry.  Blame it on my poor writing skills.


    1. I feel convicted about my views of God.

    2. I've said that (I'm convicted) and thought that (God is not for me). I am enjoying your posts--good solid reminders to look at life/church/relationships through a biblical lens rather than my own distorted viewpoints.

      Thanks, too, for stopping by.

    3. i have been dealing with some things and this article really spoke to me and reminded me of what God (and my relationship with him ) really is! thanks and keep writing because i really enjoy reading your articles.

    4. Dillo and Bethany, thanks for your encouraging words. Let's keep praying that His Body will become more and more aware of how kind He is. Remember, it's actually HIS Body, which is why "When we are faithless, He is faithful. He cannot disown Himself." 2 Tim. 2:13

    5. I have dealt with this same issue in the last few years especially and realized that God doesn't work through guilt. His desire is to remove that guilt and shame and have us walk in freedom and power. If I feel guilty about something, or angry at myself, I have realized that is often a sign that I am listening to lies instead of the Holy Spirit. Because when the HS speaks, it is joy and freedom and hope, never guilt and shame. Even in the case of having my hidden sin revealed to me by the HS, he only reveals it so that he can lead me out of it, not so I can walk with the burden of it weighing me down. Oh the glorious joy of learning to hear his voice.

    6. That's great to hear, Bethany. Thanks for sharing your joy.

    7. Great post. And I agree with you 100%.

      When I call myself out as being "guilty" about something - it's not because I feel the Holy Spirit is pointing His finger at me, but rather because in His love and graciousness He telling/reminding me how I *should* be living, or what I should be doing. It was my mind running rampant saying: "Heather, you knew better... Christ has given you the perfect examply to follow and pattern your life after. The Holy Spirit reminds you daily of the things you should or should not be doing... why aren't you listening?!"

      That is when I look at myself and say "Guilty."

      How beautiful it is to be followed up by a loving, merciful Savior who says "Forgiven." and helps me carry on and try again (time and time again).

      Great post - it was so very encouraging.
      ~ Heather Joy

    8. Hi -- I clicked your link from the hopebeyondhell site...and want to thank you for sharing this beautiful truth about the word 'convict'. I am printing this article out to meditate on. Praise Him.
      I also loved what you shared about HIS BODY...about Him not disowning himself....and immediately I was quickened that as we are JOINED to him it is our Body too....and so as we move, live. and have our being in Him we will manifest His kindness to one another and the world, revealing Him & His true nature. As He is so are we, for we too are called not to condemn the world but to bring LIFE....
      To Christ Jesus belongs all the praise & glory!
      His peace & blessings to you.
      S. Schulz

      1. Thank you for these encouraging words.


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