Did you know that when you come to the end of the Sunday morning sermon, your morning devotional, or a provoking blog post, you have a decision to make? It’s a decision that will take you down either a path of destruction or the path of life. It’s a choice that must inform your emotions and will determine whether or not the content of what you listened to or read was life giving or life sapping. It’s a choice between condemnation or conviction. Did you know you had a choice?
I want to help clarify the difference between condemnation and conviction as the two can so oft be mistaken for each other. Discerning the difference is crucial, however, in whether a person grows in holiness or continues to repeat patterns of sin, deeper enslaving themselves to bondage.
I believe there are three indications for discerning whether your response to God’s confrontation is life-giving conviction or life-sapping condemnation. The way we FEEL, on whom and what is our FOCUS and the subsequent FRUIT of our response are three indications by which to discern whether we’re walking under condemnation or conviction.
Condemnation is a tool of Satan, birthed from guilt and perpetuated by fear. It can motivate one to change, but it cannot effect long-lasting, genuine change. It ensnares us to lies about ourselves, others and God. Condemning thoughts twist the truth, causing confusion and disillusionment. Condemning thoughts can come even while we read the bible, and the very words of scripture are used by Satan to shake our confidence in Christ’s redemption and love for us.
We can respond to condemnation with a myriad of emotions: shame, anger, defensiveness, despair. Thoughts such as, “I will never change, “ “I’m unworthy of God’s love and will never measure up,” “I only do that because of this circumstance in my life,” or “I am tired of trying to change to no avail. I give up.”
Do you notice the subject, hence the focus of condemning thoughts? IT’s ME! I will never…, I am tired…, I only do that because… A good way to tell if what you’re experiencing is condemnation versus conviction is to listen to the subject of the sentences being rattled off in your head. YOU will be the subject and despair, discouragement and disgust will be the emotions attached to how you feel about yourself and the standard to which God is calling you.
Conviction, however, will bring life-giving, hope-filled thoughts to mind. You will feel encouraged, joy and even a sense of relief that God in His kindness is revealing the cancers of sin in your life. You will feel hopeful that change is possible and even probable not because you, in your strength alone can bring it about, but because you are aware of Christ’s power to effect long-lasting change in your life.
You will recall scriptures such as these:
Philippians 1:6, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:13, I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Psalm 138:8, The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.
On whom is the focus in these scriptures? Christ. Responding to God’s confrontation with genuine conviction will bring about Christ-exalting thoughts. Your confidence will be in HIS ability to change you, to give you grace to keep on trying when you have tried already so many times. Your joy will be derived from the truth that it is God’s mercy to point out to you the areas of your heart and life that are still ruled by your flesh and the devil because those areas are far from God. And, you know that the nearness of God in all of life is the greatest joy.
Your focus will not only be on Christ, the person, but also on His cross, the means by which change can happen and personal holiness is attainable. You will run to the cross where you can receive forgiveness for all the lack of measuring up, where you can be cleansed by the blood of Christ and where you can be robed in HIS righteousness. Where there is true conviction, you will remember the cross is what bridges the gap between your performance and God’s standard. And, you will know speechless joy at the thought of it.
We have identified the feelings and focus behind condemnation versus conviction. Let’s move onto the fruit of both which can be deceiving at first glance. You see, condemnation and conviction can both bring about change in a person’s life.
Condemnation, birthed by guilt remember, can motivate one to change her behavior. But, guilt is an unruly task master, and eventually one will grow weary, weighed down by guilt and in despair give up her efforts toward change. Conviction, however, may not bring about immediate change that is anything to write home about, but over the long haul will persevere and lasting change will be evident.
I’m a runner so I readily liken more abstract concepts to the concrete principles of running. Compared to a runner's race, condemnation is a sprinter: fast out of the blocks and impressive. Conviction, on the other hand, steadily plods along, tripping here and there but persevering nonetheless. The race is not a 200 yard dash; it’s a marathon, and conviction will win.
When one experiences true conviction from God in a particular area of behavior or pattern of thinking, she knows that there is no way to begin or sustain change apart from the help of God’s Holy Spirit. She knows change is going to be a battle but that the battle is the Lord’s (I Samuel 17:47). She knows it will require
prayer and perseverance on her part, but that ultimately it is GOD who will bring about change in His time through His means. There is a confidence in Christ that buoys her efforts toward change. And, there is peace when she fails as she recalls that a righteous man falls seven times but gets back up again. (Proverbs 24:16)