Sunday Night Live Sermons
THE PROMISE OF CONVICTING WITNESS
6th October 2002
I attended some lectures by the famous Viennese psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. Viktor Frankl's father, mother, wife and brother all perished in the concentration camps of the Second World War. Somehow, he survived. The concentration camp was a world that consisted of starvation, freezing cold, disease, gas chambers, crematoriums and massacres. The concentration camp was also a world that took away one's entire former life.
Yet even in some of the worst privations a person could experience, Dr Viktor Frankl made some astounding discoveries. He was a medical doctor and a psychiatrist, so he was intimately involved in the condition and behaviour of his fellow prisoners. Frankl discovered that a person can get used to anything, mentally and physically. No matter how horrible, no matter how punishing, and no matter how grotesque the situation, the human Spirit can survive, and even be triumphant. The horror of the situation was not Soul-destroying for everyone; to some it was 'Soul-awakening'. These people turned from the horrors around them 'to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom'. He realised as years went by that this was the reason why some who were less robust survived better than those who were stronger.
He observed that humour helped some in such a horrible place. Humour was one of the Soul's weapons in the fight for self-preservation. Why? Because it allowed those who were imprisoned to take a step away from the drama, even if only for a few minutes. Curiosity helped others. As with humour, curiosity helped to separate people's minds from the drama and allowed them to become more observers than victims. He found a sense of appreciation helped others survive their ordeal.
He observed that for some people, watching a beautiful bird on the prison fence was a deeply moving experience. For others a piece of bread could create a feeling of intense joy and comfort. The smallest of blessings produced the greatest of pleasures, much more so than when the prisoners lived a 'normal' life. Generosity was shiningly in evidence, such as when some people gave away their last piece of bread to those who needed it more. This didn't apply to everyone, but it did describe those who found deep survival techniques in their spirit.
He was surprised the human body was able to withstand so many things. Even though he trained as a doctor, Frankl concluded that the medical profession didn't know everything. You could be freezing and not get ill, be around disease and not get ill; go without sleep and not get ill; receive little nourishment and not get ill, be unable to clean your teeth and have a terrible vitamin deficiency and still have healthy gums; be unable to clean the sores on your body and remain infection-free. Frankl learned that one could find the blessing in any situation. For example, there were times when he did succumb to illness. At such times he would find himself lying on a hard board packed side by side with other men who were also ill. While most observers would see it as a scene from hell, Frankl said he was actually grateful that he was not out in the cold working; and he was able to warm himself by the bodily heat of the men around him. He learned not to judge people, understanding that none of us know how we would react under similar circumstances. He noted that there were good prisoners and horrible prisoners. There were also good guards and horrible guards. Frankl learned that 'love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved'.
Most importantly, Dr Viktor Frankl learned that if people had and understanding of meaning in life, which he believed there was, then there was meaning in all the suffering. Suffering is part of our lives. We need to learn, grow and find our purpose and meaning in it all. Those who were spiritually committed allowed their inner power and love to take charge of the situation and save them over and over and over again.
If some academic would theorise on all of this and project that these things were possible, we would not believe him. But when Viktor Frankl spoke you believed it, because he was there. He was a trained observer. He was a medical psychiatrist interested in how people responded. He was a convicting witness. Frankl survived, was released from the camp at the end of the war, and died at the age of ninety-two in 1997. Because Viktor Frankl had lived through the Holocaust, I listened to his insights. His convicting witness erases the ravings of anti-Semitic people who say the holocaust did not happen. Because of what he said, my attitude to life changed. Because of his certainty about what happened, I was convicted about the sinfulness of men seen in those who exterminated six million Jews, Christians, Gypsies and others. Because of his insights I was challenged and changed and have been able to help counsel people whose lives were experiencing hell for them. He was a convicting witness. Jesus Christ left for His followers a convicting witness. Jesus commanded His disciples to go into all the world, to preach the gospel, and to bring about changes that would affect every part of life - economic, social, moral, philosophical, political and spiritual. That radical transformation was to be called conversion.
There are several ways by which the world can be changed. One is by force. Germany developed the concept of changing the world by the use of massive force. Another way is by economic domination. The effect of capitalism has been to change the world by changing economic relationships. That was part of Karl Marx's theory. American dollars, Japanese yen, Middle Eastern petrodollars - all seek to build economic strength to influence weaker nations, especially Third World countries. The world could be changed by a philosophy that influences people's minds. Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, and Mao Tse Tung, have all changed the attitudes and actions of millions. Others seek to change the world by terror as did Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot and Osama Bin Laden. The Church cannot use these methods.
There is only one Christian way to change the world, and that is by the Christian quality of life, the example of those who follow Jesus as Lord caring for others. Jesus called them to radical discipleship that would make them attract others to come to know Him also. By our character, we Christians seek to change the world. Our personal witness is our secret weapon. There have been times when the Church has tried to use other methods. During the era of the Holy Roman Empire, it sought to impose its will by force of arms. There have been occasions when the Church in its missionary enterprises has used economic influences to induce conformity to the Christian faith. For a while the church used force against Islam in the Crusades, and has sometimes sought to persuade men by clever philosophy and strong logic. Whenever the Church has used these methods it has failed. The only way is the loving witness of a changed life.
Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28: 18-20 Jesus promised His disciples three things: to be with them when they went into all the world, to give them a Helper, and to give them victory. Jesus also said, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts 1: 8
How can we be convicting witnesses? How can we witness so as to convict people about the person of Jesus and to quality of life with Him? Our Lord indicated that in order to assist us in our witness for Him, He would give us a Helper, the Holy Spirit, "It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." John 16: 7 Jesus frequently describes the Holy Spirit as the Counsellor. The word is technically a legal term, as you hear lawyers called in American Courtroom dramas. It means an advocate who will make a case on behalf of the accused. There are three things that the Holy Spirit will do through our personal life and witness: "When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned." John 16:8-11 It is the presence of the Holy Spirit that turns us into convicting witnesses.
The promise of Jesus is that He will give us a Helper, and through the quality of our character and by our witness we shall be able to prove to the people of the world that they have been wrong about certain fundamentals. We do not have to force our beliefs on others. It is the Spirit alone who convicts, converts and convinces.
1. THE SPIRIT CONVICTS OF SIN.
Jesus said about the people of the world: "They are guilty in regard to sin, because men do not believe in Me." v9 God's Spirit works through us. This does mean the changing of minds and attitudes, but it can never be done by force. Henry, King of Navarre, tried to make Theodore of Beza, a preacher of the gospel, to deny his faith. Theodore said that there was nothing that the king could do that would change his mind about the truth. The King said, "I will hammer you until you do change." Theodore replied, "Sire, I would have you reminded that the church is an anvil that has worn out many a hammer." The truth of this was learned by Communist China and Russia. In those nations the church was forced underground. Today their churches are more resilient than at any time in their history. Press the church down, suppress it and hammer it hard, but faith is an anvil that has worn out many hammers! The Holy Spirit Himself convicts the world of sin. It is the Spirit of God who convicts people of sin, and if you have ever felt in your heart a call that seems to say, "Come back to the Father," that is part of the work of the Holy Spirit in your life.
2. THE SPIRIT CONVERTS TO RIGHTEOUSNESS.
""When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt .. in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer". John 16: 9,10
People are wrong about what is right. How true that is! So we might convince the world that it is wrong about those things that are right, God gave us the Holy Spirit. His ministry is converting the world to righteousness. People often think of being converted from sin. Those who have little concept of their own sin, therefore see no need of conversion. It is more important to be converted to righteousness so that people will see righteous living that is acceptable to God and helpful to others.
3. THE SPIRIT CONVINCES ABOUT JUDGEMENT.
The Counsellor will come and "when he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to .. judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned." John 16:8-11 The Holy Spirit convinces people they are wrong about God's judgement. Everyone who does not believe in Jesus as God's Son, even the spiritual ruler of this world, has already been judged. Is it not true that most people in the world think that judgement is never going to happen? But God promises: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. Romans 12:19
It is the Holy Spirit who convicts, converts and convinces. Our role is simply to live a Christian life. To so live and speak to others, that the Spirit can work through us to our friends. It is the intention of the Spirit that they will be convinced about sin, converted towards righteousness and convicted about judgement. We do not have to argue, or force or coerce or bribe. Instead, we allow the Spirit room to move. God calls each of us to be a convicting witness through the Holy Spirit who speaks through us. How essential then for every Christian to possess the Holy Spirit within and follow the way of Jesus as both Lord and Saviour.
Man's Search for Meaning (Pocket Books, New York 1939, 1963) Pg 104.
Embracing Uncertainity Dr Susan Jeffers (Hodder 2002).