When God told Adam and Eve to frolic in the Garden of Eden there was only one rule they must obey: “…you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:16-17, NIV). Concluding that the fruit was desirable, Adam and Eve decided to take and eat and suddenly a spiritual separation between God and man introduced the reality of physical and spiritual death. While all of creation continued to give glory to the Creator in spite of the curse (Genesis 3:17-19), the one made in His image would wrestle with God’s sovereign decision to give man the ability to choose for himself. The vacuum created by God’s absence in the soul of man has left a world that makes decisions based upon it’s own defective intuition and logic and not upon God’s illumination.
At the cusp of God’s initiative to open the door to hope for man’s hopeless and helpless state Jesus informed Nicodemus in John 3:6 that ‘flesh gives birth to flesh’. And so, we see our culture trying to control the flesh with rules and regulations that by far occlude the daunting challenges of the Law of Moses, never touching the motive that stands behind the Torah:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts (Deuteronomy 6:4-6, NIV, emphasis mine).
Indeed, it is within the legal regulations themselves that God insists that His people will love their neighbors as they love themselves (Leviticus 19:18), even extending that love to foreigners (vs. 34). Why? Because this is part of God’s nature (Exodus 34:5-7) and His people are called to imitate Him (Ephesians 5:1-20).
And so, in His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus draws the distinction to stress: “…the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6). The rebirth that is required to access the Spirit involves a rebirth by both water and Spirit (vs. 5) that brings one from the realm of the flesh that is enveloped in the darkness of its own pride and rebellion. When the Spirit breathes life into those who believe in Him and open themselves to God’s spiritual perspective the world begins to look very, very different (John 3:10-21). Indeed, just as the wind blows wherever it pleases, so those born of the Spirit begin to move in ways that do not make sense to those who are bound by unbelief…the darkness…the flesh (John 3:8).
Later in John’s gospel, the night that He was betrayed, Jesus’ final words to His disciples in chapters 14-16 make the role of the Spirit more explicit. Contemplating the completion of His work on earth to reign at the side of His Father Jesus tells them:
But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. (John 16:7-11, NIV)
It is here that Jesus reveals three specific tasks of the Advocate; i.e., the Holy Spirit: to prove the world’s error in regards to 1. sin, 2. righteousness, and 3. judgment. As I comprehend these three aspects Christ was getting ready to face the consequences of our sin in the Passion of pain, suffering humiliation and death (John 15:18-25). But, through the One who innocently suffered the consequences of my sin (cf., Is. 53:4-9) I see a man who showed me what it means to live a perfect life of righteousness before God, empowered by the Spirit, so that I, too, could know the ethical and moral standards by which I want to live my life before men….because I want to be like Him in spite of my imperfections as I live life in the flesh (cf., Romans 6-8).
Preparing for His departure, Jesus was being explicit with His disciples when He told them that “the world hates you” (John 15:19). In fact, these words filled the disciples with grief and fear to the point that they were afraid to ask Him where He was going (John 16:5-6) after He informed them of what they would be called upon to suffer after His departure (John 16:1-5).
Because flesh gives birth to flesh…it cannot give birth to Spirit.
The Spirit must come from somewhere else.
When it arrives, the Advocate will convict us of our inability to save ourselves from our sin, strengthens us to live a life of righteousness and save us from the judgement that has been reserved for Satan and those who refuse to believe in Jesus and obey His commandments. Then, as tools in God’s service, our lives lived before those who do not believe will offer opportunities for them to choose either to believe in Jesus and follow Him, or to reject Him and turn away to face God’s judgment.
This is not our work…it is the work of the Holy Spirit as we live in the shadow of the cross. But, it will not appear this way to the world. As our western culture continues to pursue a secular agenda that creates the animosity that Jesus predicted (John 16:1-4) we should not be surprised. He told us this would happen, “All this I have told you so that you will not fall away” (John 16:1).
And so, John MacArthur offers a valuable perspective on these three aspects of the Holy Spirit’s work in the context of God’s love:
The world is messed up. Our world is so self‑centered. The world has decided that it will judge everything. The world thinks it’s the judge of everything. My Bible says that God is the judge. Christ will be the executor of judgment, sentence will be passed by the Holy Spirit on all of those who refuse to be convinced in their heart that they need Jesus Christ. That’s what the Holy Spirit does, He shows you the monstrous sin of rejecting Christ. He shows you how righteous Christ is. And that’s the only way God can ever accept you and the only way you can ever be righteous is in Christ. And then He shows you that anybody, Satan included, who is apart from God, rebellious and sinful will be damned forever.
You say, “Why does He show me all that?” Cause He loves you. Cause He wants you to wake up to your sin and come to Jesus. That’s the ministry of the Holy Spirit. And you can respond to it two ways. The day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, Peter got up and he was filled with the Holy Spirit and so the Holy Spirit convicted men through him. First Peter preached about the sin of rejecting Christ. Secondly, he preached about the righteousness of Christ in Acts 2. Thirdly, in verses 35 and 40 he preached about the judgment. He took these same three things‑‑sin, righteousness and judgment‑‑they were the basis of Peter’s sermon and the Holy Spirit used those things to convict.
And you know what happened that day? How many people came to Jesus? Three thousand. You know why? Because the Holy Spirit had done more than witness, what else had He done? He convicted them, hadn’t He? (John MacArthur, “The Holy Spirit Convicts The World, Part 2,” November 7, 1971, Grace To You at www.gty.org)