Consider for a moment the life of a convict. He/she spends a portion of life behind bars as a result of being a suspect, then being indicted, then tried, and then convicted for a violation of the law. The length of the sentence served varies with the seriousness of the crime, but the identity of the person now is shaped by reality that he/she was a convict.

Jesus, though innocent, became a convict as His Father placed on Him the weight of all the sins committed by those whose redemption He purchased. He received the death sentence and was executed, having been convicted in our place. His conviction establishes our guilt and His death satisfies God the Father’s just requirement that all sin be punished. The Bible teaches that those who believe in Jesus Christ as Savior are regenerated and that their sinful acts are pardoned(the verdict is set aside) and the sin nature in them is mortified. Yet, Christians still sin.

The Spirit’s work is to reveal the current reality of the work of the sinful nature as believers do continue to sin in specific ways.

John writes, “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 16:8-11, NIV

In previous versions of the NIV, a single word, guilt, translated the word ‘wrong’ and another word, convict, translated the verb ‘will prove to be.’ This last word appears in John 8:46, where Jesus says, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me?” Here, Jesus uses the word as if He were in a court of law and indicted for some wrongdoing. Being proved guilty is being convicted.

This experience of conviction in our lives as believers is the work of God’s Spirit.  The Spirit’s work produces a greater awareness of the sin’s that Christ has covered and sins that I continue to commit with the result that I am more and more grateful for His sacrifice and honor Him by surrendering my life to Him.

All this leads me to conclude that I should recognize the benefit of living life as a convict. I don’t want to pretend that I am not sinning against God and others when I am. And I have tried to pretend that I am not sinning in many ways for a long time. I have simply turned a blind eye to some sins. I have minimized others, pretending that the Bible doesn’t teach that to sin in a “small” way is just as serious as sinning in a “grave” way. I have rationalized others. With still others, I have shifted the responsibility for my sin to someone else.

There is an important distinction between the work of the Spirit in convicting me of my sin and the work of my head and heart which very often leads me to discouragement and/or depression as a result of entering into sin again and again. I might entertain the thought, “You are hopeless! You have never been able to resist this temptation and you never will be able to. Do you really think that you are saved? How can that be true?” 

Such thinking seems legitimate, as a cursory reading of Hebrews seems to indicate:

“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.”

Hebrews 10:26

However, the author elsewhere writes,

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Hebrews 4:14-16

F.F. Bruce writes of the first text,

“The context suggests that something much more serious is in his mind than what Paul calls being ‘overtaken in any trespass’—after all, he has pointed out more than once that in Jesus Christians have a high priest that can succor them when they are tempted.”

As a result, I don’t need to be afraid of being a convict. Instead, I can embrace my convict status because Jesus was convicted in my place. I can now acknowledge to a greater and greater degree my dependence upon Him. Thanks be to God!