404 Stop Blaming The Holy Spirit For Your Conviction

Stop Blaming The Holy Spirit For Your Conviction

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?


  1. There is a difference between guilt and conviction.

    Guilt brings our attention to ourselves while conviction brings our attention to the hinderences in our relationship with God.

  2. Tony,

    I believe that the word ‘conviction’ is just as is says in the bible ‘convicted’. When a criminal is ‘convicted’ of a crime, he is proved in the wrong by a higher moral power, the judge in this case. I believe it works the same way with the holy spirit, he convicts us for something we just did wrong; which should lead us to repentence. The guilty feeling is an alarm bell to let us know we did something wrong. Once we ask for forgiveness, however, we should not feel guilty anymore, if we still feel guilty after asking for forgiveness from God (and maybe also others involved), this is NOT the holy spirit.

    If you can sin against God and NOT feel guilty for it, then clearly the love of Christ is not present in you. I encourage you in Christ.

    • I totally hear what you’re saying Sam. But as I really look at God’s work and the absolute SCANDAL that is called grace, I don’t think it really works that way. If Jesus paid the price for it all, how can we ever really be “charged with guilt”?

      I know it sounds ludicrous and some might think it’s a blank check to do whatever we want, but I believe it’s the opposite. The beauty of grace is that it’s NOT fair because what we really deserve is DEATH. But Jesus paid for it all. Not only did He pay for our sin but because He lives in us (Colossians 1:27) He gives us the power to OVERCOME the sin that we face. But when we fall pray to it, His sacrifice covers it all.

      Sure we can KNOW when we sin and we feel that it’s wrong. But I don’t believe the Holy Spirit’s job is to condemn or punish believers. He guides us to truth and leads us to walk in the Spirit.

      It sounds completely unreasonable and unfair but anything less is not grace. God’s grace will first offend us before it comforts us. Anything else is creating God in our own image and when we do that, we don’t really need Him at all.

  3. Jeanette Gouws says:

    Hello Tony.
    Really enjoyed this post. A while back I read that years ago the word convict meant innocent. You were convicted innocent in a court of law or sentenced guilty.

  4. Thanks for this one. I think I may need to apply this one in my life right now.
    Ann Fantom recently posted..Gain a Bigger and Harder Erection Naturally

  5. Heather Nokken says:

    I have been marinating and processing this passage for a couple of years and appreciate the insights shared. I would like to throw out for consideration that the word in John 16:8 – convict is #1651 in strongs – it can be convince or bring to light or expose, so not necessarily guilt and shame. So I see this passage as a total encouragement that the HS brings to light to the world their need for the finished work of Jesus (without guilt or shame), brings to light and exposes our righteousness because of Jesus and exposes the truth that Satan has been defeated and no longer has any power or authority over us. Another thought to add to the discussion is that just as we have begun to discover that some of what we have held to be true our whole lives isn’t true – maybe that is true of the translators too – their misperceptions have caused the definitions and or words used to translate have actually interpreted things slightly off the mark?!

  6. Thanks for this post, Tony. It’s surprising how surprising this revelation is, isn’t it? I’ve been wrestling with it for the past few years, apparently recovering from something similar to what you grew up with.

    Your words fit right in line with John 12:44-50, in which Jesus says, amongst other important things, I don’t judge people, my words do (my paraphrase). That was the passage that did it for me. The word has massive power, Jesus loves without measure, and there is a significant ‘echoes in history’ implication to his presence on Earth.

    Furthermore, Satan is “the Accuser”. It seems highly problematic to ascribe that responsibility to the Holy Spirit.
    brad recently posted..Is the World Getting Worse?

    • I love what you said here:

      “Furthermore, Satan is ‘the Accuser’. It seems highly problematic to ascribe that responsibility to the Holy Spirit.”

      Yes, that is exactly what I was getting at! Great thoughts, Brad.

  7. Loving this discussion!

    I’ve always heard it taught (and even taught it myself) that the Holy Spirit “convicts” us of sin toward the end that it leads us closer to God, and the Devil “condemns” us regarding our sin toward the end of leading us away from God.

    As I look at this passage in John 16, Holy Spirit is convicting the WORLD of sin…specifically the sin of unbelief because were THEY to believe in Jesus finished work on the cross, they would experience forgiveness for and grace to overcome ALL their sin. But for believers, He is speaking to them about their righteousness as it says in verse 10, “concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and YOU will see me no longer.” Jesus changes the language from the “THEY” of the world to the “YOU” of the disciples He is talking to. He is saying He is going before the Father as our advocate who has already made us righteous. Holy Spirit is “convicting” us of our righteousness in Christ as it says in 2 Cor 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” I’d like to submit that when a believer sins, Holy Spirit convicts of us our righteousness in the midst of the sin. This anchors our identity in Christ and his finished work of the cross and leads us to the place where we can’t even understand why we acted that way in the first place…it’s not who we are as new creations in him. As we are convicted of our righteousness, we can repent (not say “sorry God” but rather change our mindset and thus future action) for the wrong thinking (and misplaced identity) that led us to sin in the first place and walk in freedom. What if this is what the Holy Spirit does and what repentance is all about?


    • I see what you’re saying and I agree conceptually but not semantically. I don’t think the context of John 16:10 switches from the world to talking to the disciples.

      The Message translates it like this:

      “When he comes, he’ll expose the error of the godless world’s view of sin, righteousness, and judgment: He’ll show them that their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin; that righteousness comes from above, where I am with the Father, out of their sight and control; that judgment takes place as the ruler of this godless world is brought to trial and convicted.”

      I totally believe that Holy Spirit leads/guides/teaches into and about righteousness. But He doesn’t prove us guilty of righteousness. I just don’t think the word “convict” jives with that context.

      He definitely leads us to repentance. The beautiful thing is that it’s His kindness leads us to repentance (Rom 2:4). That’s so good!

  8. This is something I’ve needed to hear for awhile. Thank you, Tony.

    There are a few sins in my past that I’ve struggled with forgiving myself over and continually felt guilty for.

    God bless you, Bro.
    ThatGuyKC recently posted..Sometimes You’ve Gotta Fake It

  9. Perhaps, like the OT Law, God’s Holy Spirit reveals sin. Paul spoke of that (I think) in Romans 5&6, that the presence of the Law revealed the sinfulness of mankind. Apart from God’s Law, there would have been precious little understanding of what sinning against a Holy God and his beloved creation even meant.

    Since Christ fulfilled the demands of the law and with his death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit was unleashed to anyone who believed on the name of Jesus, proving one main work of the person of God in the Holy Spirit is to reveal to the spirit of man what the spirit of Christ deems to be holy and acceptable.

    He is the great divider, showing us our sin and offering the gift of Christ all at the same time. He doesn’t do this with the intent to condemn believers, as the verse says, he condemns the world. The world is condemned already, Jesus said. Jesus, and the Spirit exist (not only, but in part) to reveal and redeem anyone who accepts Christ as the one way to have peace with God.

    I love the step by step unpacking of the person of the Holy Spirit, Tony. Thanks for lots to think about today 🙂 Alyssa
    Alyssa Santos recently posted..How Recycling Got Me to Africa

  10. I like what you wrote here Tony. I agree in that we should not look at the Holy Spirit as the “sin cop”. It’s the same way some people see God as someone who is trigger happy waiting for someone to fail and they can be abolished from this earth because of their sin.

    I don’t want to get into semantics about conviction and sin, but I think it’s important to understand that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the God head. A Who, someone who can be grieved, someone who we can talk to, someone who talks to us. If we look at it this way, we can be certain that He will indeed communicate with us the dangers of temptation and sin. I have known many people who love God and have fallen into addictions. I am in no position to doubt anyone is a Christian or not, but obedience is a critical part of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit is always with us and who will guide us to all truth and lead us closer to the bosom of the Father.

    Us believers, who are surely freed from the condemning power of sin, should still be diligent in mortifying the indwelling power of it. The Bible says that The “renewing of us by the Holy Spirit,” (Titus 3:5), is one great way of mortification. The Holy Spirit causes us to grow, overcome, flourish, and abide in those graces. But He’s the active “ingredient” (if that makes sense) in overcoming sin, and often is Him making us “aware” of it.

    Thanks for this post. It made me think and now I have to drink coffee and eat some marble cake… or something. 🙂
    Moe recently posted..The Oneness of Discipleship

    • I like how you put it that He communicates the dangers of sin. Obedience is definitely part of the Gospel because before we received the Holy Spirit, we were slaves to sin. Now we have a choice where we didn’t have one before.

      Good words, my friend! Save me a piece of that cake!

  11. I guess I have a different view of conviction than what you described here. I see it more as guidance – the the Holy Spirit is in a way like a parent. When we are about to do something or have done something that will pull our hearts away from God, He gives us that nudge or feeling or whatever you want to call it that we need to not do that thing and return to God. Maybe conviction isn’t the right word to use in instances like this, and that might be what’s causing confusion for some people.

    The Holy Spirit guides us into the things of God, so sometimes, He will have to show us where in our lives we’ve made mistakes, not out of convicting us of guilt, but of helping us to move beyond sin and grow closer to God.
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    • Like I said in another comment, it might be a semantics thing but I think it’s an important distinction. It’s so easy to run with something because we heard it without really thinking about what it means. The word conviction has a clear connotation of guilt.

      A lot of us struggle feeling guilty-ridden and it really just keeps us running in place trying to modify our behavior rather than walk in the Spirit.

  12. That was like one big electronic hug. Thank you.

  13. So you’re saying the law is the only thing that ‘convicts’, not the Holy Spirit. Is that a fair assessment?

    • Sam, I take that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of it’s sin. Does H.S. convict us of sin… I believe he reminds us if we are doing wrong. If He is in us, and we do sin, obviously, He will try to keep us from sin. But that is our free will choice at that point. We, in Him, have the power not to sin. Do we always choose to walk in that power, nope. And I believe he will bring conviction as a reminder, that this is not who we are. It’s co-laboring, a partnership. He is God in me. We dwell with the fullness of the Godhead, dwelling in us… Kinda brings a heavy freedom to mind. We have all this freedom, what do we do with it?

    • Yes. The law judges us guilty of sin. The Holy Spirit doesn’t declare those in Christ as guilty of sin because Jesus already paid for it.

      That is Good News indeed.

  14. Tony -love it when you unpack concepts like this. Great post!

    For me – conviction is this short, immediate revelation that leads to “realization and release” – I don’t know how to explain it in words other than that. It always happens quick so I can miss it, but it is as if a transformation happens in my spirit. Something beyond words.

    What has helped me discern some of this stuff is this…
    Conviction – behavioral based. Something that is w/in our power to change WITH God’s help.

    Condemnation – identity based. Shaming. Something not w/in our power to change.

    Satan condemns for the purpose of bringing shame/death, God convicts (or insert whatever word you want to here) for the purpose of leading us out and bringing freedom.

    So when I listen to the “language” of my mental thoughts – if it is ID based, I know it’s not of God and I can ignore it

    What say you Tony tone?
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    • You bring up a great point that my next post is going to be about. So much of what I’ve learned about being a Christian is really just behavior modification.

      I’ve learned, “This is what it looks like to be a Christian”. I’ve heard what I should and shouldn’t do. But behavior modification is really just sin management. What that doesn’t take into consideration is that the sin “problem” is already dealt with.

      It’s not about our actions at all. It’s about the revelation that the Spirit lives INSIDE us and we are led by Him. It’s just a matter of really understanding what that means. That’s what I’m going to talk about in the next post.

  15. I’ve never really thought of Him as convicting me of sin. Rather, Holy Spirit convicts me of truth. Most of the time, when I sin it’s because I’m lying to myself or the Enemy deceiving me. In those moments, I believe Holy Spirit prompts my spirit with truth, a little nudge or reminder. So, I don’t see Him as a cop or a hall monitor. Last weekend, our pastor reminded us of the difference between guilt and conviction. Guilt, which is not of God, pulls us away from Him, a point where we seek our own atonement, that striving you mentioned. Conviction draws us toward God, it’s Him beckoning us back towards Him and the Truth. It’s Him reminding me of the plan, the spiritual truth, the covenant He has made with me. Great post, Tony!!!
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    • oooo YES! Convicts of truth – THAT is the language I was looking for.

    • I still think that the language isn’t right. I can’t find where I’m convicted (declared guilty) of sin OR truth by the Spirit.

      John 16:13 says “when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth”. But that has nothing to do with guilt, which is the fruit of conviction.

      I used to say the same exact thing your pastor was saying but as I study it, I can’t find any Biblical basis for conviction as I’ve understood it or have been taught.

      It might be semantics but I think it’s an important distinction.

  16. This is a really helpful exploration of some key terms in the Christian walk. God’s grace and forgiveness really are better than we expect.

    From what I understand of the Holy Spirit, he can lead us to repentance, but he doesn’t necessarily “judge” us. I think there’s a huge difference, in that one brings us in and the other sends us out. The Holy Spirit makes things better, not worse, by pointing us to our position in Christ and even praying on our behalf.
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    • That’s how I see it. And repentance is simply a change of mind. It’s like He sees us trying to put on that old ratty shoe that doesn’t fit and shows us that we have a brand new pair that fits perfectly.


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