How Do I Handle Conviction?
This article began with the tentative title, “Why is feeling conviction over sin important?” My original plan was to do an explainer on the role of conviction in the life of a true believer. Yet the more I thought about it, read, researched, and prayed, the more I realized that while, yes, conviction is important, understanding the heart of Christ toward us in our conviction is perhaps even more crucial.
Conviction or Condemnation?
We have all experienced confusion over where that line lies between conviction and condemnation. I’ve heard it said, “Conviction is from God, and condemnation is from the evil one. Simple.” While that is generally true, it does not help to clear up the hazy lines between these two realities in our souls.
Recently, the difference between an inward versus an outward focus stood out to me. Healthy Christ-exalting conviction points us to Christ with grief at first. But our grief turns into joy when we focus on Christ and his atoning work on the cross. Condemnation turns us inward with an unhealthy focus on our sinfulness - perhaps coupled with the self-condemnation of our own hearts. The main difference between these two ideas of conviction and condemnation emerges in the question, “Where does your focus lie in your awareness of sin?” Yourself? Or Christ? The answer to that question determines where you most likely fall on the conviction or condemnation spectrum.
Jesus and Our Sinfulness
Sin is serious. Jesus coming to die for sin is serious. Christ’s death for our sin is huge and carries ramifications that surpass our finite minds’ ability to grasp. If we humbly believe and acknowledge the power of Jesus to save us, his heart is surpassingly gentle with us in our sinful, fallen state.
Jesus is gentle. He is gentler with us than any human being could ever be – more than a mother with a newborn baby. He knows our weakness because he experienced the same temptations, yet he does not condemn us.
The prophet Isaiah says of Christ, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3).
Puritan author Richard Sibbes wrote an entire book on this one verse titled “The Bruised Reed.” It’s an amazing exposition of Christ’s heart for us in our human frailty and weakness.
"God knows that we are prone to sin, so when consciousness is thoroughly awakened, we are as prone to despair for sin; and therefore he would have us know, that he sets himself in the covenant of grace to triumph in Christ over the greatest evils and enemies we fear, and that his thoughts are not as our thoughts are; that he is God, and not man; that there are heights and depths and breadths of mercy in him above all the depths of our sin and misery; that we should never be in such a forlorn condition wherein there should be ground to despair, considering our sins to be the sins of men, his mercy the mercy of an infinite God." (Sibbes, The Bruised Reed, pg. 4)
The precious blood of Christ is infinitely more powerful than our sin. Ultimately, our focus on our own sin (leading to self-condemnation) is a conscious expression of a subconscious belief that the blood of Christ is not enough. We fall into the unhealthy thought process that it might be enough for other people, but it’s not enough for us.
However, God uses conviction over sin to draw us closer to him. As believers, when we turn the eyes of our hearts on Jesus, that sin will pale in comparison to his compassion, mercy, and grace. Joy in our forgiveness is the only plausible response.
What does all of this mean for you and me at a practical level? It can seem very hypothetical and sometimes mentally overwhelming.
Some practical thoughts on Jesus’s heart for us in our sinfulness:
You do not need to fear. Our culture desires to bombard us with fear from every conceivable angle. If your heart has been set free in Christ (Romans 8), then you have been liberated and set free to engage the culture without fear because of your confidence in Jesus. The worst someone can do to you is kill you, and even then, Christ prevails.
God desires to hear your voice. Hebrews 4:16 encourages believers to boldly approach the throne of grace. You are washed clean by the blood of Christ and have God as your Father. Seek his heart through prayer because there is no more condemnation. His heart is drawn toward us in our sinfulness because he is the only person who can do something about our sin.
Embrace conviction. It is a crucial aspect of being spiritually alive. Rejoice that you feel sorrow over your sin, but do not stay in that sorrow. Cling to Jesus because He has paid the ultimate price for your white-washed robe of righteousness. Repentance is a key aspect of the Christian life – we have one to whom we can come and be fully and freely forgiven, not based on works, but based on what Jesus has done.
Brittany Proffitt lives in Dallas, TX, holds a BA in Religion, and is a student at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is passionate about Scripture and how God’s Word impacts individuals’ hearts and lives.