Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
May 2, 2021
“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.”
These words are the explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed in Luther’s Small Catechism, where we confess our faith in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God, just as the Father is God and the Son is God. The special work of the Holy Spirit is that he sanctifies. The Father creates. The Father created us through the Son and with the Holy Spirit and he still takes care of us. The Son redeems. The Son redeemed us with his precious blood and innocent suffering and death. The Father and the Holy Spirit did not suffer and die for us, but rather it was Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father who was made man in the womb of the Virgin Mary, suffered and died for our sins, and was raised from the dead. The Father created us. The Son redeemed us. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us.
To sanctify means to set apart for God’s special purpose, to be made God’s precious possession. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us by means of the Word of God. The Holy Spirit does not work apart from God’s Word. Yet, through the Word of God, the Holy Spirit sanctifies us by separating us from the sinful world and placing us into the Christian Church. Jesus’ disciples are sad, because he tells them that he is going away to the Father, but Jesus tells them that it is to their advantage that he go away, because if he does not go away, the Helper will not come to them. But if he goes away, he will send him to them. The Helper is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can only come to do his work of sanctifying us if Jesus first departs to the Father. This is because Jesus goes to the Father by way of the cross, where he redeems us from all sin, death, and hell. If Jesus does not redeem us, then the Holy Spirit cannot sanctify us.
The title Helper given to the Holy Spirit comes from the Greek word, Paraclete. Paraclete can also be translated as Comforter. The Holy Spirit comforts us by means of words, specifically, the Gospel that Jesus has redeemed us from sin and hell and has won for us salvation. The Holy Spirit works in the world, because it is those in the world, whom he seeks to sanctify. The ruler of this world is Satan. The world is full of sin and death. The world hates Christ and is in constant rebellion against God. So, the Holy Spirit comforts us by taking us out of the world and placing us into the Christian Church. By doing this, we are not of the world even while we are in the world. This gives us comfort even in the midst of sorrow.
The Holy Spirit sanctifies us by preaching. By means of preaching the Word, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, because they do not believe in Jesus. All inhabitants of the world are born in sin, inheriting the desire to sin from their first father, Adam. Yet, because Jesus has borne the sins of the whole world, unbelief has become the only unforgivable sin. Only through rejecting Christ Jesus are your sins still bound to you.
The Holy Spirit convicts the world of righteousness, because Christ Jesus goes to the Father. Again, Jesus goes to the Father by means of the cross. The whole world is convicted of righteousness, because Jesus has borne the sins of the whole world and removed them from us. This means that the whole world is justified, that is, declared righteous and innocent of sin on account of Christ.
Yet, this is confusing. How can the Holy Spirit convict the whole world of sin and of righteousness? Sin is the opposite of righteousness? The whole world is convicted of sin, because by nature all mankind is born under sin and in unbelief. The whole world is convicted of righteousness, because Christ Jesus has paid the debt of the whole world and has won righteousness for us. Those of the world who do not believe in Jesus do not have his righteousness counted in their favor, because this righteousness can only be received through faith. While those who do believe in Jesus do not have their sins counted against them, because Christ’s righteousness puts away their sin. It is as the Holy Spirit speaks through St. Paul in Romans chapter 5, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (vss. 18-19).
So, it is clear that all are sinners and all are righteous. All are sinners by physical birth. All are righteous on account of Christ reconciling the world to the Father by his suffering, death, and resurrection. Yet, sin is not counted to those who believe, but only the righteousness of Christ. And the righteousness of Christ is not counted to those who disbelieve, but only their sins. So, the big difference is faith. This is why the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctifying is accomplished only through the Word. Faith comes by hearing and hearing from the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17). The Holy Spirit convicts us by convincing us by means of the Word, that God is at peace with us on account of Christ. Our first birth of the flesh makes us sinners. But the Holy Spirit gives us a second birth by means of the implanted word, which enables us to hold fast to Christ’s righteousness through faith. This second birth is accomplished by the Holy Spirit ordinarily in Baptism. And the Holy Spirit continues to daily and richly sanctify reborn Christians by means of the preaching of the Gospel and the Sacrament, which again is empowered by the Word of God.
This is not self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is righteousness that you think you have by your own good works, as if you earned it yourself. This righteousness that the Holy Spirit convinces you of is the righteousness of Christ, which is given as a gift and received through faith alone. Again, it is as the Holy Spirit caused St. Paul to write, “For Christ’s sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” (Philippians 3:8-9).
This is why we call the Holy Spirit the Comforter. He does not come to lay upon us another Law, by which we attempt to become righteous before God, but fail; a law that only shows us our sin and guilt. No, the Holy Spirit is sent by Christ after he has won eternal redemption for us. The Holy Spirit comforts us by telling us that it has all already been done for us. We are redeemed. We are forgiven. We are righteous before God for Christ’s sake. When we believe this, we are also sanctified and separated from the sinful world and placed in Christ’s kingdom, the Holy Christian Church.
Finally, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. The ruler of this world is Satan, who falsely judges and condemns us beyond his authority. He is the enemy of God and of the Christian Church. Satan has ruled this world ever since man’s fall into sin. The whole world is born under the influence of Satan until they are rescued by the Holy Spirit. The world of sin is judged along with its ruler. But those whom the Holy Spirit has sanctified, whom he has rescued from the world of sin and convicted of righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer, are not condemned with the world. Rather, they pass from judgment into eternal life (John 5:24).
It is the exclusive right of the Holy Spirit to judge, because the Holy Spirit is God. Every judgment the Holy Spirit makes he receives from God the Father through Jesus Christ his Son. Yet, Jesus teaches his Christians not to judge. Christians are not to judge where they have no right to judge, but are rather to leave judgment up to God and to those whom God has delegated judgment, such as parents, the Church, and government. Christians are not to judge the motives of others, but are to put the best construction on everything. Rather than condemn others, Christians are called to forgive as God in Christ forgave them. Yet, this does not mean that Christians are to make no judgments whatsoever. Christians are called to judge between right and wrong, to confess the truth and refute error.
One of the most absurd errors that the Satan has convinced so many people of believing is that when Jesus says that Christians are not to judge that Christians are not allowed to state what is right or wrong, to confess the truth, or to call sin, sin. I was once told that I was wrong to say that Jesus is the only way to heaven, because Jesus said not to judge. Well, how absurd would it be for Jesus to tell us it is wrong to confess what he teaches us about himself? No, Christians are called to confess what the Holy Spirit says about sin, about righteousness, and yes, about judgment. Christians should call sin, sin, and unbelief, unbelief. Christians should confess Jesus as the Redeemer of the world and the one who gives his righteousness to whomever believes in him. And Christians should confess that God will judge the living and the dead and that this judgment will be determined on the basis of whether people cling to sin and Satan or to Jesus and righteousness.
The Holy Spirit convicting the world of sin and judgment is terrifying for the unbelieving world, because it sets it at enmity with God. Yet, the Holy Spirit remains our Comforter, because he sanctifies us by the Gospel, that is, he separates us from the sinful world and places us safely into the Church of Christ, where we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ through faith alone. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but passes from death to life.” (John 5:24) We are not judged along with Satan. We are not found sinful along with the world, rather, having believed in the redemption of Christ preached to us by the Holy Spirit, we are declared righteous by God. The Holy Spirit tells us how it shall be for the righteous in Psalm 37, “The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble. The LORD helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.” May this message from the Holy Spirit comfort us always. Amen.