Many people are haunted with memories of their past. They struggle with thoughts and regrets of how they should’ve handled things better, and now they are in an emotional prison of sorts. I’m not talking of things for which you had no control over, but rather instead those times when you had the opportunity of handling or responding to situations differently than you had. While there may be better and more sophisticated ways of addressing these, I want to simplify things by breaking things up into three groups, condemnation, guilt, and conviction.
I’ve found that a lot of people I’ve talked to in the past are confused about what condemnation, guilt, and conviction are or look like, and because of it they don’t know how to deal with them. The first group called condemnation is a nasty one. Sometimes others are the source of condemnation, and other times it is self-inflicted. Condemnation is fairly easy to spot, but not so easy to deal with. Regardless of its source, condemnation devalues and degrades people. With condemnation you will hear statements like; “you’ll never amount to anything”, “I’m no good”, “I’ll never be good enough”, or “you’re not worth it”. All these and other like statements do is destroy your self-esteem and sense of self-worth. These statements basically knock you down, and then work to keep you down. Do these statements, or thoughts, reflect how God views you? NO! God knows and believes you are very, very special, and He has a very special plan for you. God wants you to not only know that, but to also believe it. God will never belittle you or make you feel hopeless or worthless. He sent His Only Son, Jesus, to come and die so that you could have life and life eternal. You are worth it to Him!
The second group is guilt. There is a good or healthy type of guilt, and there is a bad and unhealthy type of guilt. The bad and unhealthy type of guilt are those things that you take upon yourself when they are not yours to take. These could look something like feeling guilty because your distant cousin three states away fell and broke his leg the other day while you were home working in your garage. This may be a bit of an extreme scenario but I think you get the point. Some people have a way, one way or another, of feeling guilty over things that they have absolutely nothing to do with. This is unhealthy guilt. The good and healthy guilt is when you it is for things that you were responsible for. Guilt comes when we become aware of or acknowledge we should have done things differently in a given situation. Guilt tells us that the way we responded or treated someone was wrong, or that we went somewhere that we shouldn’t have, or that we should’ve said or done something when we didn’t. Guilt is knowing that something we said or did, or didn’t say or do, was wrong and we should have done differently. Many people deal with guilt and never get past it. The more guilt they feel the greater the chances are that they will begin to feel condemnation in their life. The more they feel guilty the harder it is for them to move on in life.
The third group is conviction. This is similar to guilt but with one added twist to it. Guilt tells us we were wrong in something, but conviction tells us that we were wrong in something and gives us hope by giving us direction on how to make things right and to be free of it. Granted, sometimes the direction conviction gives us to make things right is not what we are wanting to hear, and therefore we see the conviction as guilt with nothing we can do about it. God’s Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, and the purpose of it is so that we will make the necessary changes to make things right in His sight. God’s heart is that we be right with Him in all our ways, and because of that He will let us know what we need to do to make that happen. Conviction gives us hope that we can rise above what we’ve done if we follow and obey His lead in how to make things right in His sight. Conviction is what leads us to salvation, where we recognize that we are lost and dead in sin, and with that He gives us the instructions we need on how to get free of it and be made right in His sight through a life surrendered to Jesus. Some people think that the moment we responded to His conviction of sin and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior then it’s a done deal. All our sin is taken care of with nothing more to worry about think, but this is a bit off. Yes, Jesus’ death made provision for all our sins, past, present, and future, but if all our present and future sins are already covered then why should the Holy Spirit convict us of sin? Some don’t recognize God’s conviction as conviction in order to avoid making life changes that are pleasing in His sight. And as I mentioned earlier, some don’t recognize conviction because they don’t like or accept any of the instructions God is giving them to make things right in His sight. Conviction is something that we should all welcome in our lives as it works to make us more like Jesus, and it prepares us for that trumpet sound we are waiting to hear. To squelch conviction in our lives, and we can do that, we are in essence quenching this role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The more we ignore conviction we become harder in our heart and more stubborn in our ways, and this can have dire eternal consequences in our life if left unchanged.
So, hopefully this helps clear up the confusion regarding condemnation, guilt, and conviction. In Romans 8:1 we’re told that there is now no condemnation for those who live according to the Spirit, but there is condemnation for those who live according to the flesh. Condemnation is not what God has for us as His followers, but if we are living according to the flesh then we are subject to it. Good and healthy guilt can help us recognize when we’ve done wrong, which is important in order to for God to help us with it. And conviction is vital in the life of every Christian, and not just convicting the sinner to salvation, because it helps us know when we’ve violated God’s will and nature in our lives and shows us how to make things right with Him and others. If we are living to honor and please God with our lives, and to accurately represent Him to the world as His ambassadors, then we need to welcome conviction instead of ignoring or pushing it aside.