My first job was in a grocery store. I was a bagger for a couple of years before I was promoted to the meat department. This is where I encountered my first jerk of a boss.
He was a perfectionist in every sense of the word. Every shelf had to be stocked fully and perfectly. He was quick to point out the smallest flaws and he regularly did so in front of others. I’m pretty good at not making mistakes once I learn something, but there were more than a few times that he berated me in front of employees and even customers.
The thing is that as soon as you were off the clock, he was the nicest guy in the world. I remember one day we got out early and he invited me and a few others to shoot pool in the pub next door.
He bought me a burger and chatted me up. But I couldn’t reconcile the two sides of him. One minute he was the meat dictator and the next he wanted to be best buds over burgers.
I couldn’t do it so I just started making excuses any time he wanted to do something out of work. I knew that if he was a jerk to me at work, he really couldn’t be that different anywhere else.
Conviction of the Holy Spirit
It’s been hard for me to picture the Holy Spirit as anything other than the sin police. All my life I was taught that Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin. In my mind I pictured this ethereal spirit floating over my shoulder, watching me steal a magazine from work (yeah I did it, don’t judge me!).
I know that He does other nice things like comfort and teach but honestly I’ve had a hard time reconciling that with the sin cop. In my mind, He was there making sure everything was in order and just waiting to convict me as soon as I made a mistake.
But what if Holy Spirit doesn’t convict us of sin? What if we’ve misunderstood Him all this time?
There are two key verses that are referred to when it comes to the subject of Holy Spirit’s conviction of sin. The first one is John 16:8-9:
“And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me”
The other one is in 1 Thessalonians 1:5:
“our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction”
But wait a minute, convict and conviction are two totally different words. The verb convict means to prove or declare guilty of an offense or to impress with a sense of guilt.
The context of the noun conviction in Thessalonians is more accurately translated “assurance”. That’s a big difference. It’s not a verse you want to hang your hat on.
Stop Feeling Guilty
When I looked at this for myself I’ll be honest, I didn’t believe it. How could so many people be wrong? My whole life I’ve been taught that Holy Spirit brings conviction when I sin.
Looking at John 16 again, I see that He does bring conviction; just not for me. Holy Spirit convicts (or declares guilty) the world. Why? Because of unbelief.
Okay, I’m a believer. So why do I still feel guilty?
One of the heaviest and complex chapters of the Bible is James 2. My whole life I’ve wrestled with this chapter. Even as I feel I’m getting more of a grasp on it, I know that I will continue to get more revelation as the years pass.
James is dealing with a couple of issues but this stands out to me in verses 8-10:
“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.”
So what’s happening here is that believers are switching back into striving mode. Any time we try to keep any part of the law for the sake of the law, we are responsible for keeping ALL of it.
The minute we fall short, the law convicts us as transgressors. In other words, the law is the source of our guilt.
Paul makes such a big deal about us not being under the law through his writing because as soon as we try to live by it, we die by it. The good news is that it has already been fulfilled through Jesus and since we are in Jesus, we don’t have to try to do what He already accomplished.
One of the most quoted verses in the Bible is Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. Another word for condemnation is punishment. Think about that. If there is no condemnation, Holy Spirit isn’t declaring us guilty (convicting) of anything.
Now look at what Holy Spirit really does in the next verse.
“For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”
Holy Spirit brings freedom to those in Christ, not conviction. When you are free from sin and you continue to sin, it’s going to feel weird. Like putting on an old pair of shoes that you grew out of. Maybe what you feel isn’t guilt but a realization that your actions don’t match your identity.
When we change our mind about who we are, we’ll change our mind about what we do. When we change our mind about who Holy Spirit is to us, we’ll change our mind about what He does through us.
What have you believed about the conviction of the Holy Spirit?