What does John 16:9 mean?
ESV: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;
NIV: about sin, because people do not believe in me;
NASB: regarding sin, because they do not believe in Me;
CSB: About sin, because they do not believe in me;
NLT: The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me.
KJV: Of sin, because they believe not on me;
Verse Commentary:
Jesus has repeatedly predicted the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16–17, 26; 15:26–27; 16:7). In the prior verse, He alluded to three aspects in which the Holy Spirit would "convict" the world (John 16:8). While Christians often speak of spiritual conviction (1 Corinthians 2:14–16), the literal Greek term elenxei also refers to accusation or rebuke. In that sense, the Holy Spirit will bring a form of "conviction" to the entire world. In this verse, Christ details the meaning of the Holy Spirit bringing the world conviction concerning sin.

Rejection of God, and of His Son, could be construed as the ultimate sin. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus make God's plan clear (John 3:18, 36; 15:22, 24). The Holy Spirit will influence the lives of believers (Matthew 5:11–16) to spread that message. Followers of Christ, empowered by that Spirit, will carry Jesus' teaching around the world (Matthew 28:19). Ultimately, there is ample evidence in nature itself (Romans 1:18–20; Psalm 19:1) that people ought to seek God. Seeing and hearing the message of Christ-followers "convicts" those who ignore it (John 9:41).

This is the aspect of the Holy Spirit's "conviction" that most offends non-believers. It's one thing to suggest that Christ offers an example of good deeds (John 16:10), or that evil is in some sense going to be punished (John 16:11). What truly enrages many people is the claim that they are guilty of moral wrongdoing and are therefore subject to God's judgment. So far as believers live out the influence of the Holy Spirit, that conviction will inspire hatred and anger from the unbelieving world (1 Peter 4:3–4; John 16:1–4).
Verse Context:
John 16:5–15 resumes an explanation of the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus began to discuss this topic in John 15:26–27, before returning to the subject of persecution (John 16:1–4). Christ must leave the world, so His followers will learn to depend on the influence of the Holy Spirit. That Spirit will guide, judge, and speak in order to bring glory to God.
Chapter Summary:
Throughout His teaching in the Last Supper (John 13:1–5), Jesus has often brought up the fact that He's giving His followers advance warnings (John 13:19; 14:25). His intent is to provide encouragement—persecution as a result of their faith is inevitable. In keeping with that reassurance, Jesus again promises the coming of the Holy Spirit. He explains that after a time of deep sorrow, His followers will experience great joy and clarity. This concludes with a beloved promise that Christ has "overcome the world."
Chapter Context:
This completes the teaching portion of Jesus' words during the Last Supper, begun in chapter 13. Christ echoes many of the themes of His earthly ministry. His focus is especially on encouragement: reminding the disciples that the hard times they will experience will end in victory. While they don't clearly understand, the Holy Spirit will lead them in the right direction. This ends with Christ's beloved declaration that He has "overcome the world." That introduces the record of Jesus' High Priestly Prayer in chapter 17, immediately before His arrest early in chapter 18.
Book Summary:
The gospel of John was written by the disciple John, decades later than the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The author assumes that a reader is already familiar with the content of these other works. So, John presents a different perspective, with a greater emphasis on meaning. John uses seven miracles—which he calls “signs”—in order to prove that Jesus is, in fact, God incarnate. Some of the most well-known verses in all of the Bible are found here. None is more famous than the one-sentence summary of the gospel found in John 3:16.
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