On the news one night, I watched a criminal’s sentencing after he was convicted of a crime. The judge ranted, calling the guy shameful, subhuman, and despicable, among other things. Maybe he deserved it, but I was struck by the impact those words had on him. He was weeping, his head hung as low as it could go. I couldn’t help but think about how much I’m like him. Sure, my sins are different. In society’s eyes, I’m fine. But in God’s eyes, that poor guy and I are just alike . . . both sinners . . . both convicted . . . both with a debt to pay.
But unlike that judge’s, God’s conviction is clean and specific. He never berates me when He convicts me. It’s about what I did (or didn’t do) . . . never about who I am. I am a new creation in Christ. I am an adopted son of the living God. That’s my identity. It’s never called into question because of what I’ve done.
As a believer, I’m forgiven. God forgave me at the Cross, so asking for forgiveness is asking for something I’ve already been given. But there are some steps we need to take, for our good and the good of the Kingdom. Starting with gratitude . . . “Thank you, Father, for your forgiveness.” “Thank you, Jesus, for paying my debt with your suffering, with your blood.” Thanking Him for His forgiveness is critical. Failure to express gratitude comes across as ingratitude. I want Jesus to know how much I appreciate what He did to pay for my sin.
Then comes confession. Admitting our failure to God is important. Sometimes, He also leads us to confess to the person we sinned against and to ask them for forgiveness. Some folks think that’s it, but I think there’s more. We’re asked to repent . . . to go in the opposite direction . . . to turn away from sin and not repeat it. Which we can only do with God’s help . . . with courage and discipline only available from Him. Sometimes He wants us to make restitution, to repay people what we took from them, be it their money, property, or even pride. “What can I do to repay you . . . to make things right . . . to make this up to you?” That’s a humble heart seeking the peace of Christ.
There’s a big difference between guilt and conviction. God convicts to help us, to call us into account, to hold up a mirror up and ask, “Is this what Jesus would have done?” The goal of convictions is to grow us. While guilt’s goal is to bring us down, to make us question who we are, to keep us from truly receiving God’s forgiveness and moving on. Jesus died to remove our guilt and shame. God desires that we accept His conviction, be grateful . . . then confess, repent, make restitution, and move on in love to do good deeds. Guilt paralyzes. Conviction motivates and empowers.
Conviction is God’s way of keeping us on track. Always respond, never ignore. It’s for our good and His glory.
Scripture: Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)