A common theme has been coming up in my life over the past few days. It is the idea of conviction. I’m not talking about conviction in the sense of a firmly held belief. Nor am I speaking about a guilty verdict in a courtroom, although that concept may apply.
The conviction I’m talking about is a personal recognition of error and need for change. I’d like to unpack that a little more by starting out with what conviction is not.
Conviction is Not Guilt
When I first started living in community with believers, I heard this word thrown around a lot. People would comment about how convicted they felt after a particular sermon. They would mention their own personal conviction over certain struggles an sin. I always took it to mean the same as guilt, but I was wrong.
“Guilt comes from people. Conviction comes from God.”
I heard Mark Driscoll say that in a sermon once and it absolutely lifted the veil for me. Guilt is a feeling imparted to us by other people. It is often a tool used to control or to exercise authority. Guilt is also a feeling we impose on ourselves when we feel like we should.
Guilt may lead to conviction, but they are not one in the same.
Conviction is Not Condemnation
When we enter the realm of guilt, we can experience a thing called condemnation. Condemnation is when we start to experience negative thoughts and beliefs. We think that because we’ve failed in a particular area, that we are then a failure. We start to define ourselves by our sin.
You can convince yourself that you deserve to feel that way, but that is a lie. Condemnation is the result of our very real spiritual enemy who would have you believe the worst about yourself.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1 ESV
We have to always remember that we are not defined by our shortcomings.
Conviction is Not Punishment
You will feel bad and I will feel bad. Sin and error have real consequences. When a friend calls me out on the junk in my life (of which I have plenty,) I’m rightly grieved. It hurts as it should. Wise correction is not, however, a punishment.
“And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” John 8:9
Some religious ideologies would have you believe that you have to suffer for your sin. They believe that you should do penance or undergo some kind of self-induced physical or emotional punishment. This is a terrible error of which I witness the traumatic effects daily.
The truth of the Gospel is that God poured out all of our rightly deserved punishment on Jesus at the cross. In that moment, those who would accept Him were reconciled to God. For Him to punish us after that would be unjust. It would be unholy. God is holy and just.
“Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” Revelation 4:8 NIV
Conviction is never a punishment. It is actually a blessing…
Conviction Highlights Areas For Change
“You have cancer.” Those words will turn your world upside down. A negative diagnosis can be seen as an absolutely devastating moment. I would argue otherwise. The cancer was going to kill you wether you knew about it or not. The diagnosis is the hopeful red flag that lets you know its there.
Our sin and error is like a cancer that will eat us from the inside out. This goes so much further than breaking some arbitrary rule in a book that you may not even believe in. Conviction is the diagnosis from within that raises the red flag and tells you that something needs to change.
“Conviction of sin is one of the rarest things that ever strikes a man. It is the threshold of an understanding of God. Jesus Christ said that when the Holy Spirit came He would convict of sin, and when the Holy Spirit rouses the conscience and brings him into the presence of God, it is not his relationship with men that bothers him, but his relationship with God.” Oswald Chambers
If life were a cliff, conviction would be the guard rail at the edge of it.
Conviction Offers a Chance to Repent
The idea of repentance has been twisted and turned and used as a weapon by every religious zealot in every corner of the world. It is much simpler than some self-righteous act of forced piety. It means to turn from the direction you were heading in. To repent means to simply turn around.
Conviction offers you the opportunity to do just that. When you experience conviction, you are inwardly convinced that what you’ve been doing is wrong. It goes far beyond guilt in that you now know that whatever you were doing is wrong. Conviction gives you the chance to turn from it.
“For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord GOD. “Therefore,repent and live.”Ezekiel 18:32 NAS
As in the previous example, when you reach the guard rail, you have the chance to go back.
Conviction Leads to Growth
We experience growth only when we realize something is wrong in our lives and we turn from it. If your doctor tells you to quit eating junk food and start exercising, you have a choice. If you genuinely feel convicted about what he said and the health implications, you can move forward.
This is the greatest blessing of conviction. As we peel back the layers of our own dysfunction and sin, we experience great conviction. Sometimes, it feels like God is taking a wrecking ball to our lives. In the end, however, we have this incredible opportunity to turn from our own failings and to grow.
When we embrace this idea, we realize that conviction is a great gift.
“I will send [the Holy Spirit] to you. And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment… When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” John 16:7,8,13 ESV
May we always welcome the blessing of conviction that we could identify the sin in our lives, repent of it, and grow.