On Confusing Conviction With Condemnation

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It’s so predictable! As a speaker for Life Action Canada at Revive conferences, I always know what the response is going to be on the evening we dig into the remarkable vision that Isaiah was given of heaven’s throne room.

As you’ll recall, in his vision, Isaiah encountered the God who is thrice holy. The heavenly beings cried, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” and, at the sound of their voices, “the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke” (Is 6:3-4). 

Not surprisingly, in the face of such greatness and majesty, Isaiah was suddenly struck by his own unworthiness. The brilliance of God’s holiness exposed his own sinfulness. “Woe to me!” he cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Is 6:5).

Clearly, Isaiah was a man under “conviction” at that moment. However, what I’ve noticed time and time again through Life Action Canada’s Revive conferences is that many of us confuse “conviction” with “condemnation.” Referring to Isaiah’s experience, I always try to explain the difference between those two realities and without exception, people share afterwards how they’ve allowed condemnation to flourish unchecked in their hearts and lives. 

Too often, I’ve done the same. Thinking that what I was experiencing was conviction, at times I have allowed condemnation to slowly eat away at my soul. Conviction is a gift that we receive through a genuine encounter with God. Condemnation, on the other hand, is a curse that comes from the Evil One.

Like Isaiah, whenever we brush up against God’s holiness, we discover the truth that light exposes. But that which the Spirit exposes is always something very specific. For Isaiah, it was a matter of the lips. For us, of course, it could be something entirely different. 

Nevertheless, it will always be something specific. Our sin gets named. And although we experience a pang of guilt as we come face to face with our shortcomings, at the very same time there is always a sense of hopefulness in the midst of it as well. When we experience the Spirit’s conviction, we invariably hear his invitation to experience God’s gift of grace anew. 

In Isaiah’s case, the seraphim immediately retrieved a burning coal from the altar and touched it to Isaiah’s lips. “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for,” the seraphim assured him (Is 6:7). Isaiah was not only forgiven; he was also free to once again respond to God’s call. He “heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send?’” and Isaiah straightaway replied, “Here am I. Send me” (Is 6:8).

Unlike conviction, condemnation tends to be general rather than specific. Condemnation’s voice in our head often sounds like this: “I’m no good. I never get anything right. I always ruin things.” It shames us and pushes us away from grace, rather than inviting us into the Father’s embrace. And rather than being hopeful, condemnation invariably makes us feel hopeless. “It’s never going to change.  God can’t forgive me.”

When we listen to the voice of condemnation, we remain on the floor, unable to get up, and we can’t get past the words, “Woe is me.” As long as we agree to continue listening to condemnations lies, we’re unable to stand up before God in joy and confidence to say, “Here I am, Lord! Send me!”

In short, the Evil One uses condemnation to destroy us, but the Spirit of God uses conviction to bring us to new life. Conviction is only and always intended for our blessing! 

Live boldly and thankfully before the Holy One today, knowing that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1)!

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Admin

Powerful and helpful distinction. Thanks for sharing! 

Participant

Awesome.  Great insights.  I fear condemnation is running rampant in our churches.