I am especially grateful for Priscilla Shirer and her book Fervent: A Woman’s Battle Plan for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer for opening my eyes more fully to the distinctions between condemnation and conviction as well how to better recognize which one is present in my life at a given moment. Her quote below is especially poignant,
“Condemnation always leads to guilt-laden discouragement, while conviction–though often painful in pointing out our wrongdoing–still somehow encourages and lifts us, giving us hope to rebuild on. The first makes you focus on yourself; the other points you to the grace and empowering mercy of Christ.” (Fervent 28)
As I read this, 2 Corinthians 7:10 came clearly to my mind,
“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
I have often confused condemnation and conviction even though intellectually I know the truth about the completeness of forgiveness. I understand and believe that Christ has paid the penalty completely and born even the shame of my sin. I believe that upon my confession and repentance I stand before God adorned in the righteousness of Christ. My sin is removed from me “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12) and that all-knowing God “remembers them no more” (Heb. 8:12).
And yet, If I have wronged someone or fallen into some sort of sin there is part of me that thinks I need to wallow in the guilt and heartbreak of my failure. I never consciously admit it, but it seems that I feel a sort of penance is necessary. I would never say that I have earned any part of my salvation and forgiveness, but there is that part of me that wants to make sure I feel bad enough about what I have done.
Don’t get me wrong, sin should break our heart, we should have that conviction, that “godly sorrow”. We do not cheapen grace and smooth over sin. Paul addresses “cheap grace” in Romans 6.
But we also don’t try to pay a bill that has already been paid, that we could never pay, by feeling rotten and remembering that which God himself has “forgotten.”
The enemy is going to push us to one side or the other in order to make our lives as miserable and ineffective as possible. Either we will excuse sin and experience the effects of it on our hearts and minds over time or we will be stuck with a burden of guilt weighing us down that we were never meant to carry and in reality only exists as long as we believe these lies and hold onto it. The enemy either blinds or accuses, many times both depending on the situation.
The quickest way to realize that we are living in condemnation from the enemy and not just experiencing godly conviction is if after we have taken our sin to God, confessed it and received the forgiveness that is already ours’ in Christ and if we have sought forgiveness from anyone we have wronged, if we are still beating ourselves up and feeling like we are worthless, that is living in condemnation.
Satan is accusing us for our past, Christ is proclaiming that he has paid for it and taken care of it, and we choose to live either in the lie that Satan is telling or in the reality of the grace and mercy of Christ.
When we truly receive that grace and forgiveness it should lead to thankfulness and rejoicing. While it might be rejoicing through tears and some of the pain may still linger and some of the earthly consequences may still need to be dealt with, the difference in our spirit and mind will be significant. Condemnation leads to despair, conviction leads to hope.
Obviously the enemy will try to bring it up again and accuse us again, especially in our weak moments. That is one of the reasons it is so important to remind ourselves of the truth regularly, so that when those accusations come, we will be prepared to cut them down with the truth from God’s word.
“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ…” (Rom. 8)