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There is a feeling of heaviness and weighted misery that sweeps over Christ-followers after we have willfully sinned against God. The exact sin does not matter, as long as it’s sin. Sin is sin. But what about that feeling? Sometimes it’s in the pit of our stomachs, and sometimes it’s in the depths of our minds. No matter the location, it would be foolish of us to suppress it and believe we can overcome it alone. But is this feeling of God (conviction) or is it of the enemy (condemnation)?

After we commit a sin against God and the feeling sweeps over us, we repent. We ask God to forgive us and plead for Him to humble our selfish hearts. We always come back to repentance because the Spirit of God lives in us (Rom. 8:9). The Spirit begins working from the moment we sin to the moment we repent as it wrestles with our flesh in the limited space of our hearts. The one we’ve given the most leeway wins. Repentance may not take place until 12 seconds prior to the sin or until 12 years after. Nonetheless, there is that feeling.

We must learn to discern between condemnation and conviction for sin. When we appreciate one and not the other, or worse, we blur the two together, we miss three things: the Spirit’s place, God’s grace, and Christ’s plan.

We see the Spirit’s place in conviction in John 16:7-11 just before Christ’s ascension. He says the Spirit’s place is to convict, first of sin, then of righteousness, and lastly of judgment. When we mistake guilt or condemnation for conviction, or vise versa, we misplace the Spirit Himself.

We see God’s grace in conviction in Joel 2:13. Joel writes, “…Return to the Lord your God. For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and He relents from sending disaster.” A common misconception of God is that He is a vicious judge, waiting on the edge of His seat for a chance to slap your hand. Joel says quite the opposite in this passage. The feeling of conviction and the opportunity to repent when we are in the wrong against God is one of His greatest gifts of grace.

Lastly, we see Christ’s plan in conviction in Psalm 38 as David cries out to the Lord. I often try to imagine what the Holy Trinity talked about or how they behaved when David would call to them. Sometimes I picture them dancing and singing as David strums away on his harp praising them. In Psalm 38, however, I picture God holding David’s hand as David says “For my iniquities have flooded over my head; they are a burden too heavy for me to bear”. In this scene I see the Holy Spirit and Jesus packing their bags for Earth and reviewing the plan for redemption.

Yes, conviction is key in our lives, and yet we too often carry condemnation with us. But how can we determine between the two? Let us examine them now.

First, condemnation is violent. The enemy flings the committed sin in your face and rubs it into your already worn heart. Phrases pop into your head like, “You’re so stupid, God is ashamed of you.” Condemnation distorts God’s Word. We begin seeing His promises and mercies as obligatory and unsatisfactory. Along with that come ideas such as, “God will never forgive you”. Condemnation is selfish. It focuses on our glory being shot down and our own abilities, or lack of abilities. We think, “If only I had tried harder.”

And what of conviction? Oh that sweet, sinking feeling when we realize our wrong! Oh that sound of Christ’s dripping blood when we become aware of our offense. Believer, be grateful for God’s conviction. When seen through the eyes of Scripture, conviction is our plumb line. But what is it, you may ask?

It is the weighted misery.

Conviction is healing. Our Savior sees our sin in the moment it is committed and compels His Spirit to cleanse us of it. We feel remorse for ever having offended our King, and soon we begin to heal from our disobedience.

Conviction is progressive but does not drag on. C.S. Lewis said, “Mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of a sin. The guilt is covered not by time but by repentance and the blood of Christ.” So we see that it may take time to heal from our sin, but it takes repentance and Christ’s blood (which is already provided) to be forgiven of the sin.

Lastly, conviction is of Christ and brings life. Rom. 8:1 confidently states that there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. Rather, Christ utilizes His Spirit in us to enable a sort of grief over our sin. In 2 Cor. 7:9-10, Paul says, “I now rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance. For you were grieved as God willed… Godly grief produces repentance that leads to salvation without regret, but worldly grief produces death.”

We strive to claim purity and abstain from sin, but as we are still in the flesh, we also strive towards repentance daily. As we run this race together, let us “not be conformed to the desires of our former ignorance” (1 Pet. 1:14). We cling to conviction and deny condemnation. With hearts of humility, let us praise God for this weighted misery that quickly turns to triumphant gratitude!