Sunday my grandson Vandin came in the house after church and proclaimed to me that he learned about “conviction”. Seeing as he recently turned 4 years old, that is a pretty big word for him to be throwing around. Remembering the word was quite an accomplishment, but I still attempted to coax from him what he understood about conviction. He struggled some to give the definition he had learned at church. To be truthful, my experience with Vandin was not that different from my experience with many people when talking about conviction and what it means from the perspective of a follower of Christ. Usually when people speak of conviction, they think in terms of a criminal court where most dictionaries would define it as “the act of convicting someone, as in a court of law; a declaration that a person is guilty of an offense.” This definition is usually not what we are speaking of in church.
The second most common definition would be: “a fixed or firm belief.” This definition would be applied in church, but it is much broader than that. It is bigger than just a belief. Your convictions include your values, commitments and motivations. The great Bible teacher Howard Hendricks said: “A belief is something you will argue about. A conviction is something you will die for!” The actual definition that the children in church are working from is “standing for what is right, even when others don’t.” Our convictions determine our conduct. If you are concerned about your conduct, it could be time to examine your convictions.
Often when we speak of conviction in the world of Christianity, our definition would more reflect this one from the CARM Dictionary of Theology: Conviction is the work of the Holy Spirit where a person is able to see himself as God sees him: guilty, defiled, and totally unable to save himself (John 16:8). Conviction functions differently for the Christian and non-Christian. For the non-Christian, conviction reveals sinfulness, guilt, and brings fear of God’s righteous judgement. Whereas, conviction in the believer brings an awareness of sin and results in repentance, confession and cleansing. Theologically, conviction is produced by the Holy Spirit (John 16:8), the Gospel (Acts 2:37), conscience (Rom. 2:15), and the Law (James 2:9). Conviction of sin brings man to the cross and shows the need for forgiveness.
As a Christian, I experience this type of conviction regularly as God seeks to mold my life more in the image of Christ. At times I am stumped as to how I should respond when I feel convicted. Prayer and repentance is an obvious choice, but sometimes it is more involved. Recently I felt convicted for simply talking too much in a social setting. Nothing sinful, off color or offensive was said, I just felt convicted for saying too many words. There were probably several reasons for this. One, much of what was said was trivial; some of it was probably downright silly. Two, I can help people more if I listen and make an intentional effort to understand than I can if I am constantly talking. I will know better how to respond when I do speak if I have listened more carefully. Last, I am not sure I increased my influence to speak later into these people’s live about significant things. What I struggled with was how to respond to this conviction. Was the Holy Spirit working in me to improve me for the next time? Was I supposed to go back to the people I was with and share with tem how the Holy Spirit was working in me (which I am still contemplating)? Should I just pray and change? Conviction should bring change. Understanding and acting upon that change can be difficult.
I try not to view conviction as a bad thing. The encouragement for me with conviction is that it reminds me that I do have a relationship with God and He still has a desire to see my life improve so that I can be a better representative of Him. Without fail, I also know that I look more like Christ when I listen and change.
What does conviction look like in your own life? Which definition do you apply most often when you think of this word? Is it your belief system? How is the Holy Spirit working in you right now to change you? What actions do you need to take as a part of that to become more like Christ? As I pressed Vandin to get him to explain what conviction meant, the one word that he would finally share was “right”. Our convictions should be right then our conduct will more represent who we are to be. Even though Vandin is only 4 and he may have a difficult time attaching the word conviction to his own feelings, at his age he still has moments where he is aware that his actions are not representative of who is supposed to be or wants to be. He has convictions and experiences conviction as a child. We all do. The choice is whether we will listen and change.
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