One of the great struggles of the Christian life is falling into sin. We profess to follow Jesus, but our moment-to-moment behavior contradicts us. The awareness of our sin can rob us of much of the joy of Jesus, or paralyze us in guilt, even going as far as to cause us to doubt our salvation.
But often our perceptions aren’t accurate. We only see the sin we’ve fallen into; we don’t see the meaning of the conviction and sorrow in the face of it.
Becoming Like Christ
…The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4)
When I finally put on glasses for the first time, I was shocked. Everything past my fingertips became clear—people’s faces became detailed, I could stop bringing books in close, and I could read signs down the street.
Before we knew Christ, our perceptions of the world were far more twisted, and our ability to discern proper action was tainted and broken. But Christ’s death means our innermost being is cleansed from sin and filled with the Holy Spirit. Through the finished work of Christ and the continuing work of the Holy Spirit, we are no longer blinded to Christ’s glory. The Spirit brings us sight through knowledge of God’s holiness and teaches us how to be conformed to that holiness—conformed to the likeness of Jesus:
And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds.” (Hebrews 10:15-16)
This should be an encouragement to our faith and bolster our hope, that conviction of sin is proof that the Spirit is working: giving us sight to see the glory of Christ, writing the law of God on our hearts and minds, and propelling our stumbling progress toward Christ-likeness.
The birth of my first child was the beginning of a great breaking up of my surprisingly hard heart. The arrival of this tiny, floppy person started the first few cracks, but the majority of the change came from a new viewpoint of my sin—there was a new, defenseless person my sin could hurt.
Now, as I see my children grow, I am increasingly convicted of this as I see their sin as something they have learned from me. I hate my sin now in a way I never had before.
A hard heart will not hate sin. Conviction of sin means that are growing to hate it and, therefore, that your heart is softening to the work of the Holy Spirit.
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules…Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. (Ezekiel 36:26-27, 31)
Proof of Love for God
My wife enjoys coffee—large, iced coffee with whole milk and simple syrup. If I stop on the way home to get myself coffee, I usually remember to get some for her. On the occasions that I have forgotten, I regret it as soon as I get home and see her face. I could have easily served her and loved her in this, but missed the opportunity to do so.
When we love Christ, we want to do the things that bring him joy. Jesus desires our obedience and holiness: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word” (John 14:23).
Many who do not understand the gospel see the things Jesus asks of his people as burdensome, but the opposite is true: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
When we are following Christ and are full of the Spirit, following his commands are a pleasure, a joy. It is when we fail that we feel burdened—we have let down him whom we love.
Conviction of sin is the love we have for God in Christ crying out against unloving thoughts or actions. While it shows us a failure in the moment, it also shows that we still love him and want to please him.
Proof of God’s Love
I remember sitting on my Star Wars comforter, waiting for my Dad to come and talk to me about some wrong I had done. I remember knowing I’d messed up and was afraid of the consequences.
I’m not sure what I was so worried about. I knew that my Dad loved me, and I now know that his discipline taught me how members of our family are expected to act.
Similarly, conviction of sin shows us how God is our Father:
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? (Hebrews 12:5-6)
He convicts us of sin because we are his children. He is teaching us how members of his family act in order that we might grow to reflect his holiness.
There is often an argument that a loving God would not require such high standards from the people he loves. But we only have to look at an earthly child who has not received proper discipline to see that this argument is without merit. Undisciplined children grow up into entitled, spoiled, stubborn, and selfish adults.
God is growing up for himself a holy and glorious people to live with him in a perfect place. How then can we expect that he would not discipline us according to the standards of the life to which he has called us? Would we expect him to leave us unprepared for the life to come?
A Pointer to Hope
Therefore, we should not dread the mourning of sin. Such conviction means that God loves us, that Jesus has saved us and made us clean, and that the Holy Spirit is within us. The gospel tells us that our sin has been dealt with fully and finally through the finished work of Christ—his perfect life, his atoning death, his victorious resurrection—so that we may be presented blameless before God.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)