Does the Spirit Convict Believers?

An odd teaching has been circulating around the church for a long time.

John 16:8 says that the Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. Note that it says the world is convicted of those things, not the church or believers. Therefore the odd teaching says that the Spirit does not convict the church of those things. Then the teaching goes on to say that a believer’s conscience may bother him, but the Spirit himself does not bother or convict him. That is not his ministry.

Is this true?

Definition of the Verb

In John 16:8, the verb is elegchō (pronounced eh-len-khoh), and it is used 17 times in the New Testament. Let’s define it first and then discuss the verses.

BDAG is considered the authoritative Greek lexicon of the NT, and it has four definition of the verb, depending on the context.

1.. “To scrutinize or examine carefully, bring to light, expose, set forth.”

2.. “To bring a person to the point of recognizing wrongdoing, convict, convince someone of something, point something out to someone.

3.. “To express strong disapproval of someone’s action, reprove, correct.”

4.. “To penalize for wrongdoing, punish, discipline.”

Application of the Verb in Relationships

Now let’s look at the verses where the verb appears, in bold font, with “amplified” options of the one verb.

Unbelievers by the Light or Law of God or God Himself

John 3:20

Everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works are exposed or are convicted or are rebuked.

Ephesians 5:13

Everything exposed by the light becomes visible.

Jude 15

At the return of the Lord, the Lord will convict the ungodly of all their ungodly acts.

Believers by the Law

James 2:9

If the Christian community shows partiality or favoritism, then they are convicted by the law as transgressors.

Unbelievers to Believers

John 8:46

Jesus challenged his critics to convict or rebuke or find fault with him. They couldn’t.

Believers to Unbelievers

Luke 3:19

John the Baptist convicted or rebuked Herod the tetrarch for taking his brother’s wife and all the wicked things Herod did.

1 Cor 14:24

When prophecies are given, the unbeliever or newcomer is convicted and convinced and rebuked and the secrets of his hearts are exposed, so he says that God is in this place.

Ephesians 5:11

Believers should not do the works of darkness, but rather expose them.

Believers to Believers

Matt. 18:15

If your brother sins against you, show him his fault or convict or rebuke him.

1 Timothy 5:20

If anyone sins persistently, he is to be rebuked publicly, so that others may fear.

2 Timothy 4:2

Paul instructs Timothy to be in season and out of season, to reprove, rebuke, correct, with patience and in teaching

Titus 1:9

Paul tells Titus to hold on to the taught, trustworthy word and to give instruction in sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict it.

Titus 1:13

Paul tells Titus to rebuke Cretans sharply when they get involved in bad teaching.

Titus 2:15

Paul again tells Titus to exhort (strongly urge) or rebuke the Cretans, with all authority.

God to Believers

Here is the category that answers the titled question directly. God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have the same operation of convicting and rebuking and finding fault.

Hebrews 12:5

We are not to regard lightly the Lord’s discipline and not to lose heart when he rebukes or corrects us.

Revelation 3:19

Jesus said to the church at Laodicea that he loves those he rebukes or disciplines.


Recall that John 16:8 says that the Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. In this post we learned that the Spirit also convicts the church of those things, because the church sometimes sins (1 John 1:8-10), it needs more righteousness (Phil. 1:11), and it will go through judgment, both here on earth (1 Pet. 4:17) and in the next life (1 Cor. 3:10-17).

Yes, the believer’s conscience will sting him (if it is developed enough), and so does the Spirit. He develops the believer’s conscience in the process.

Further, leaders in the church are to convince or convict or rebuke or correct believers and unbelievers, and we can be sure that the Spirit is guiding the leaders to minister those things to the misguided. This Spirit-guided ministry is another way to develop the conscience of the untrained believer.

Therefore, the teaching that says that God by his Spirit does not convict believers is deficient and must stop. He does convict them of their sins and wayward steps.

How does this post help me grow in Christ and to know him better?

It is okay to be rebuked or corrected, and it is okay to rebuke or correct someone when he does wrong. We must do it in the love of God, however.

Closing verses:

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:1-2, NIV).

Helping each other in various ways, like correcting a brother or sister or showing him or her the better way fulfills the law of Christ—the law of love.


Bible Basics on Sanctification and Holiness

Word Study on Holiness and Sanctification

Sanctification: Past, Present, Future

Sanctification: Can Christians Achieve Sinless Perfection Now?

Sanctification of the Whole Person: Spirit, Soul, and Body


Works Cited

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