Yesterday I began musing about the difference between condemnation and conviction. I’d just read a wonderful news article about a woman who single-handedly began a Christmas party for the homeless. I was so glad that she had been so successful, but I also felt a twinge of guilt. After all, I haven’t organized a party for the homeless. I don’t frequent downtown shelters. I don’t personally know anyone who is homeless; in fact, we don’t even have people standing on street corners holding “Help, Please” signs in our corner of small town Texas. These thoughts flew through my head as I drove to church. I’m not good enough. I don’t do enough. I’m feeling guilty because I have a warm coat, a full belly, and a family that loves me.
Why is that?
Condemnation is the act of finding someone guilty, wrong, or evil, usually after weighing the evidence (thank you, m-w.com!) In comparing myself to the Christians working in the shelters, to the Mother Theresas of this world, I am, in fact, condemning myself. I hold myself guilty. Sinner that I am, I do not deserve the blessings the Lord has showered down on me. So I feel guilty. I berate myself internally, telling myself that I should have stepped up to help my church with the gift-hand-outs or the women’s outreach. I should have rescheduled a doctor’s appointment so I could go with the church and deliver toys to a women and children’s shelter. I should offer my time and teach English to those who don’t know any. I should, I should, I should.
It’s been a common refrain in my mind for as long as I can remember. No matter how much I do, I feel like it isn’t enough for God. And if I spend my time on doing things that are for me, I feel guilty about it. No wonder I’ve had a month-long headache! The Christmas season fills my head with so many “I shoulds” that I end up feeling stressed and angry.
It’s amazing how God uses something so simple as a blog to shake some sense into me. My last post ended with some thoughts about there being no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, and that’s what popped in my mind as I drove to church on Sunday. If the Lord himself sat in the passenger seat I could not have heard his message any clearer. It was as if I heard him speaking in my head, saying, “Stop It!” God brought to my mind how Paul experienced much of what I am going through — “what I want to do, I don’t do, and what I don’t want to do, I do…” and this is what he concluded in his letter to the Romans, chapters 7 and 8:
21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power[e] within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.
1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power[a] of the life-giving Spirit has freed you[b] from the power of sin that leads to death. 12 Therefore, dear brothers and sisters,[e] you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do.
28 And we know that God causes everything to work together[m] for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. 29 For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.
31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
Who am I to condemn myself? Through Christ, God himself has given us right standing with himself!
Now conviction, on the other hand, is not the same thing as condemnation. I have been blurring the lines. A conviction can be handed down, such as a thief being “convicted” and “found guilty.” A conviction is actually the state of being convinced of something, whether of guilt, such as the case of the thief, or of a belief, such as a belief in Christ. Take a look at this verse from 1 Thessalonians 4:
4For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.
I used to think that word conviction had the “guilty” connotation to it. I used to think that these brothers were convicted in their hearts of their guilt, so they changed their behavior. I have listened to sermons and felt at times as if the Holy Spirit was convicting me of a sin I needed to confess. But I need to remember the other meaning of conviction: being convinced. In fact, the Greek word used in the verse above is plerophoria, and it means full assurance, most certain confidence. When we have full assurance and full confidence, we act in a certain way.
When I let the Guilt Monster occupy my thoughts, I am not being convinced of my “right standing” with God. I am relying on my works, not on his unfailing, beautiful, incomprehensible grace, mercy and love. I am comparing myself to other Christians. Have you ever tried to “out-Christian” another Christian? Why do I think I “should” do a certain kind of work just because someone else does it? We are all parts of the same body.
12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. 13 Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles,[e] some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.[f]
14 Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. 15 If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?
18 But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. 19 How strange a body would be if it had only one part! 20 Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. 21 The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”
Those words from 1 Corinthians 12 are like rain to my parched spirit! Especially…”God has put each part just where he wants it.” In this season of my life, he has appointed me to be my daughter’s teacher. What an awesome and scary part to fulfill! He has me reaching out to the community through this blog. He has me volunteering as editor of a homeschool group’s monthly newsletter. He has me volunteering in a Sunday school classroom with a terrific group of second graders. He has given me my excellent husband to support, encourage, and lift up.
Rather than beat myself up with the “I shoulds,” this Christmas season I will trust and rejoice…trust in Emmanuel to convict (convince) me about which tasks he wishes to use me for…and rejoice in the birth of my Savior who has called me and given me “right standing” with him.