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defining our terms: conviction

February 2, 2010

A non-Christian guy in Utopia Coffee that I got a chance to talk to about the gospel a couple weeks ago asked me what Christians meant when they talked about “conviction”.  As Christians who are trying to communicate the gospel understandably to an increasingly secular culture we need to be able to both understand clearly what theological words mean and how we can best explain them to non-Christian people.

First, there are two “conviction counterfeits” that look like conviction, but aren’t…

  • Guilt.  Guilt is from people.  Guilt is what you feel when people say things like, “Man, we haven’t gotten to hang out with you guys in a long time – I suuuuuuure wish you all had time for us these days” or when your grandma says, “Haven’t heard from you in awhile; I was starting to wonder if you’d forgotten about me.”  Guilt is not conviction.

  • Condemnation.  Condemnation is from the devil.  Condemnation is the evil feeling of dirtiness or self-loathing that, instead of pointing toward your actions and saying “that’s wrong”, points toward you and says “you’re wrong” or “you’re twisted” or “you’re hopeless”.  God never speaks condemnation to his kids because his acceptance of us isn’t based on what we do but what Jesus did.

Conviction, then, is the discomfort that Christians feel when they sin.  The Holy Spirit – because he is holy – is uncomfortable with sin.  As Christians, the Holy Spirit lives in us so when we sin he gets uncomfortable and that makes us uncomfortable.  In contrast to condemnation, conviction never points toward you but always points toward your sinful actions and says, “that’s wrong”.  That is conviction.

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