Does the Holy Spirit sign His name to His work?
In an earlier article I asked, "What spiritual activity can you see in your own life that you know is not a counterfeit, and on what do you base that confidence?" Of course that's a question for myself, too.
Jesus said that, when the Holy Spirit comes, one of the things He does is convicts the world of sin (John 16:8). In other words, conviction of sin is one of the signature marks of the Spirit.
How's that going for you? For me? It's an important question, because any spirit that tolerates sin is not the Holy Spirit of God.
Maybe it would help if we asked ourselves a few questions. Do we really want conviction? How do we know if we really want it? And what's the difference between godly conviction and a religious "guilt trip?"
Is conviction of sin something we truly desire?
Why should we desire it?
Imagine if you had cancer cells lurking in your body, growing, multiplying, spreading. They can do so for a long time without you even noticing. In fact, they can reach a lethal state before you even know they're there. Image via Wikipedia
Do you want the diagnosis? I suppose that might depend on whether or not there was hope for a cure. Ignorance might be bliss if the situation were hopeless, but what if finding out could have changed everything?
Sin is spiritual cancer. It eats away, destroys, kills.
Conviction is the diagnosis, and if we're alive and able to feel the Spirit's convicting work, then it's not too late. There is hope.
That's why King David wrote, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts, and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Ps. 139:23-24) He wanted God to show him his sin so that he could repent of it and walk in the paths of life.
How do we know if we really want conviction?
Do we really want conviction, or are we secretly hoping to find a way to soothe our consciences without actually dealing with sin? John Owen, in his 17th-Century work, "On The Mortification of Sin in Christians", clearly describes a heart that doesn't really want conviction. Condensed and paraphrased in modern English (by me...blame me for any errors), he says,
If the heart searches for ways to excuse itself, and to keep its peace despite unconquered sin, and despite not even vigorously fighting against sin, then it's in a deadly condition. There are different ways that this can happen.
1. Whenever the man feels troubled by his sin, instead of applying himself to destroying it, he searches his heart for evidence of the good that is in him. When he finds something good about himself, he convinces himself that all will be well with him. This is the desperate plan of a heart in love with sin. Such a man clearly shows that he is content to be as far from God as he can be without suffering eternal separation. What can be expected from such a heart?
2. By applying grace and mercy to a sin that is cherished and coddled, the man can continue to deceive himself. This is using God's grace as a license to sin. (End of Owen paraphrase)
If there is a genuine work of God's Spirit, then an awareness of our sin will bring conviction and repentance.
Are we experiencing true, godly conviction rather than a religious "guilt trip?"
What's the difference? It's vital to differentiate them, because no one ever found true repentance as the result of a guilt trip.
A guilt trip manipulates how we feel about our own sin.
Conviction touches our hearts with how God feels about our sin, and teaches us to see it the same way He does.
A guilt trip focuses on what we've done and how to change our behavior in the future. It causes sorrow about specific incidents, and if it broadens its view, it only does so in a way that makes us feel hopeless and discouraged about ourselves.
Conviction focuses on who we are and our need for a changed heart. It causes sorrow about the godlessness underlying all those sinful incidents. In other words, while we do sorrow over the incidents themselves, and seek to make things right with those whom we've offended, we don't stop there if we've experienced true conviction. We see root causes, with the Spirit's help, and we also see the hope that He provides for real heart change.
A guilt trip focuses on self-reform.
Conviction focuses on coming to God to be changed by Him.
A guilt trip is laid on us by someone else for selfish purposes.
Conviction is laid on us by God with a desire to save our souls.
A guilt trip is "cured" by modern psychologists who convince us we're just fine the way we are, and who prescribe the numbing drug of self-esteem. This is what God condemned in Israel's false prophets. "They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, Saying, 'Peace, peace!' when there is no peace." (Jer 6:14)
Conviction does not get healed, nor does it need to be. It causes healing when it brings about repentance. And the repentance it causes will not be on a surface level only. It will ultimately lead an individual to repent of self-centeredness and self-rule, in order to accept God-centeredness and God's rule.
In a heart which has been so utterly won over to God, sin cannot reign. It may cause stumbling, but it cannot ultimately conquer.
Time for your input. What personal experiences or Biblical insights can you share? Please post a comment.
Next entry in this series: "Convicting of Righteousness."