Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. – John 16:7-11
Our Lord contends that His followers will be at an advantage once He leaves because He will send “the Helper” to them. At least in this lesson, the advantage of the Spirit is connected with the ministry of Jesus’ followers toward the world. Why exactly the Spirit is preferred over Jesus Himself is not explained, but is probably due to the fact that the Spirit will cover more ground (through Jesus’ disciples) than Jesus could in His flesh.
I’ll let Carson, whose interpretation of John 16 I am following here, provide us the right way to hear “the Helper”:
The Greek term parakletos, rendered ‘Counselor’ in the NIV, is the verbal adjective of parakaleo, lit. ‘to call alongside,’ and hence ‘to encourage,’ ‘to exhort.’ The verbal adjective has passive force, and is roughly equivalent to ho parakeklemenos, ‘one who is called alongside.’ In secular Greek, parakletos primarily means ‘legal assistant, advocate’…i.e. someone who helps another in court, whether as an advocate, a witness, or representative. With this legal force it was transliterated into Hebrew and Aramaic. In Greek, however, the term never had the restrictively technical force that Latin advocatus (‘a legal advocate’) had. Moreover, the passive form does not rule out the possibility that the Paraclete may be an active speaker on behalf of someone before someone else.
In John’s usage, the legal overtones are sharpest in 16:7-11, but there the Paraclete serves rather more as a prosecuting attorney than as counsel for the defense. NIV’s ‘Counselor’ is not wrong, so long as ‘legal counselor’ is understood, not ‘camp counselor’ or ‘marriage counselor’—and even so, the Paraclete’s ministry extends beyond the legal sphere. The same limitation afflicts ‘Advocate.’ AV’s ‘Comforter’ was not bad in Elizabethan English, when the verb ‘to comfort’ meant ‘to strengthen, give succor to, to encourage, to aid’) from Latin confortare, ‘to strengthen’). In today’s ears, ‘Comforter’ sounds either like a quilt or like a do-gooder at a wake, and for most speakers of English should be abandoned. ‘Helper’ (GNB) is not bad, but has overtones of being subordinate or inferior, overtones clearly absent from John 14-16. – Carson, The Gospel According to John, p. 499
But what will the Spirit do through believers in the world? He will convict the world of its sin, righteousness, and judgment. That word ‘convict’ (elencho) means to expose wrongdoing, produce appropriate shame, and convince of guilt. That, according to Jesus, is what we should expect of the Spirit after He is sent.
Specifically, the Spirit will expose the world’s sin, righteousness, and judgment. The world’s sin is summed up in the fact that they have not believed Jesus, and thus haven’t accepted either God’s diagnosis of their problem or His way out of their ruined condition.
In the middle of their sinful unbelief, the Spirit is testifying the truth about Jesus.
Because the world, in John, designates the order that is in rebellion against its Creator, we should understand that the sin, righteousness, and judgment mentioned here are each expressions of that rebellion. Of course the world’s sin is a problem; but so, says Jesus, is its righteousness and judgment.
Which means, there is a righteousness of the world but it’s a sham righteousness. Read the Gospels and you’ll discover that the vocation of Jesus included His going behind the current religious posturing and pulling back the curtain of hypocrisy. But He has gone to the Father.
The Spirit, though, will continue the assault against the laziness that excuses itself in pious terms, the vague spirituality that ignores the problem of the individual heart, the platitudes empty of good deeds, the adopting religious labels in lieu of worship—in short, the “righteousness” which the prophet Isaiah says is to God as so many menstrual cloths.
The world’s judgment is its deeply flawed evaluation of itself and its Creator. It is the secular assessment that never takes into account the opinions of the invisible God. It is the state of mind that trivializes sin, shrivels the concept of guilt to merely annoying feeling, has no patience for a textual faith.
Behind this mindset is the prince of this world who churns out lies—humongous systemic lies that underpin a false worldview and small lies that rationalize and minimize one’s failings before God. But the Spirit, Jesus says, can expose the world’s defective evaluations because the prince of the world has been judged.
In the Messiah’s cross, sin and rebellion and all the works of the devil have been condemned in His body. In the resurrection of the Messiah God began a new creation that leaves behind the ancient curse and the old devil and everything that fades away outside of the will of God.
God will use Jesus’ followers to convey all this to the world He loves.