Conviction vs. Condemnation
Conviction or Condemnation?
Conviction and condemnation can feel similar for a Christian. Conviction is from God and is necessary for joy. It should be cultivated. Condemnation is from Satan. It is a lie and should be resisted and thrown off. How do we tell the difference in our own lives? How do we help students discern the distinction in their hearts as well?
Satan will do whatever he can to drive a wedge between a believer and God. He asked questions to make Eve doubt God’s goodness and love. He tried to steal Job’s joy in God. In Zechariah 3 he comes into the courtroom of God to accuse Israelites of their sins.
Apart from Christ, all people deserve condemnation. You sinned against a sinless God and rightly deserve His damnation. Christ on the cross took the wrath and condemnation of everyone He would save. Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). That doesn’t stop Satan from trying to make us feel condemned.
It is hard trying to identify thoughts and feelings of condemnation and cast them out of our lives (2 Corinthians 10:5) because it is easy to confuse satanic condemnation with Holy Spirit conviction. Conviction is a good thing for Christians when we sin. It’s like pain signals if we touch a hot stove. Pain isn’t fun, but it is necessary and can protect joy. So can conviction.
When we sin, we grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). He lets us know by convicting us. This conviction is meant to lead us to repentance.
How are these two realities similar? Conviction and condemnation both make people grieve. Conviction brings a godly grief that leads to repentance and joy. Condemnation produces a worldly grief leading to death. In the earliest stages of conviction and condemnation, the grief can feel identical. A student may come to you grieving but you wonder is this conviction or condemnation? How can we tell the difference?
Condemnation is usually hazy, hateful and hopeless. Usually when Satan brings feelings of condemnation to a Christian they are vague. There is a general thought that “Something is wrong with me!” It often has to do with shame. Some say shame means feeling bad about who I am. Guilt means feeling bad about what I did. I wouldn’t die on a hill for that definition, but it can be a helpful distinction. Condemnation often traffics in hazy, vague shame.
Condemnation is always hateful for a Christian. Satan hates you and your students as he hated Job. He can’t steal salvation, but he can steal joy and assurance of salvation if we let him. He wants to hurt, not help; burden, not bless. It is like spiritual waterboarding where Satan is trying to smoother any glimpse of God’s goodness and love. He tries to drown people in their sins.
Lastly condemnation is hopeless. It brings the sense that you are a lost cause. You are chained to your sins forever. You will never change. God doesn’t care for you. He has cast you off eternally. Condemnation is always a lie for anyone in Christ.
Conviction in most ways is the opposite of condemnation. Conviction is high-definition clarity, helpful and hopeful. Condemnation can feel like a cloud of shame hanging over your whole being that you can’t even explain. Conviction is usually very specific. It may be a precise thought in your mind such as “I need to quit watching that new show on Netflix I like because it’s got too much sexual content.” Conviction is clear enough to give you a path to truly move forward in repentance.
Conviction is rooted in love not hate. God loves you and wants the best for you. He brings conviction in your life to convince you of a better way. He is getting your attention to protect and bless you. When I discipline my young child for running towards a busy street aimlessly, my correction of him was driven by my delight in him. We should be overwhelmingly grateful for the conviction and correction the Holy Spirit brings to His people.
Lastly, conviction is hopeful. It does not leave people in the doldrums. It brings with it an atmosphere that seems to say “Why will you persevere in sin and shame? God has a better way. Repent now and run to the wide open arms of a loving and merciful Savior.” Godly grief over sin is the waiting room that leads to repentance. It’s a great thing to be rejoiced in!
The night Christ was arrested, Peter and Judas both committed big sins. (This example isn’t perfect because Judas wasn’t a true Christian, but he was a professing believer and a member of Christ’s discipleship group. There’s much we can learn from this comparison.) Both felt grief very soon after their actions.
Judas had worldly grief. It led to regret. He had some form of repentance, but it was not genuine. He returned the money to the Pharisees, but they offered him no hope, no mercy, no love. Their cold sterility is a great picture of the hatred Satan has for us. He didn’t run back to Christ as he should have. He ran to himself, which led to death.
God made us all for joy. We cannot stay away from joy. If we try to handle our sin and shame on our own it will always lead to more sin because only Christ can give the joy we long for.
Peter had godly grief. It led to repentance, which in turn led to Christ. Christ met with Him. Christ forgave him and restored him and continued to use him in powerful ways. Peter was restored to joy!
How do you respond after you sin? This may be the greatest test of spiritual maturity. Do you feel godly grief that you sinned against your loving Father? Do you run back to Christ and beg mercy rather than wallowing in guilt and shame? Can you receive His mercy and cleansing and move on in new obedience? This is godly conviction that leads to joy!