Condemnation And Conviction Are Two Different Things


prayer_meetingIn the exchange I had a week ago with a couple atheists on a different site, one person who described himself as a former pastor who no longer believes God exists, said he has never been more at peace. I answered that I can understand completely why that would be true: only Christians have the unsettling discomfort of the conviction of the Holy Spirit and a burden for the lost.

Guilt! the atheists cried. That’s what is so terrible about Christianity, and Christians. That religion is all about making you feel guilty for everything. (And how dare you say he has no compassion—but that’s a subject for another day).

It seemed so odd to me at first, because I don’t live with guilt. I live under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, which means I am warned from doing things that wouldn’t glorify God, I’m reproved for things I’ve done or said or thought that don’t please Him, and therefore am led to the throne of grace where I can pour out my sorrow and be reminded that Jesus Christ paid my debt, that I am a new creature, and that Jesus has set me free from sin and guilt and the law.

So guilt? Not on my worst days do I live under the weight of guilt. I don’t doubt that some Christians who were raised with a legalistic framework or with a works mentality, might have old habits to break from. But even as they struggle to find the freedom in God’s grace, they can assert with their head, if not their heart, that they are only in right standing with God because of Jesus Christ and what He did at the cross.

As God so often seems to do, He validated those thoughts with Scripture. I’m reading in the Psalms and got to 34:22

The LORD redeems the soul of His servants,
And none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned.

I’d used the words “conviction of the Holy Spirit,” and I realized as I thought about the above verse, there’s a gulf between conviction and condemnation.

In fact, I just recently wrote about faith as the conviction of things not seen. In that post I tied conviction with the idea of being convinced, in the same way that a jurist only convicts someone of a crime if he is convinced by the evidence that the accusation is true.

Conviction, then, is a matter of agreeing with, based on evidence. When the Holy Spirit convicts a Christian of sin, we simply stop trying to justify ourselves or alibi out of our sin. We no longer pretend that what we have done, said, or thought is perfectly fine and acceptable to God. Instead, we agree with Him that we have fallen short, that we have disobeyed, that we have displeased Him, that we need to grow in the area He’s revealed to us.

Condemnation is an entirely different thing. That’s an accusation, a declaration, that we are guilty of something. But we’re not. We can’t be because Jesus took all our guilt on Himself. Because He “bore our sins in His body on the cross” I am declared righteous.

It’s a more complete transformation than a blood transfusion or a heart transplant. Those are only partial fixes and they are only physical and temporary. This new life God gives is permanent and complete. Romans 8:1-2 spells it out:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

Revelation 12 identifies Satan as the one who is the accuser of believers. He stands before God hurling invective at Christians, but none of it sticks. What Satan doesn’t apparently understand is the extent of Christ’s work on our behalf. Romans 4:7-8 clarifies it:

“BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE LAWLESS DEEDS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN,
AND WHOSE SINS HAVE BEEN COVERED.

“BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT.”

Ironically, the kind of peace this former-pastor atheist claims is the kind that comes when you get to do whatever you want without anyone telling you to stop or change or shape up or do better. But that’s only temporary and it’s oriented toward the self—if I’m at peace, it’s all good.

There is, however, a greater peace, one that is deeper and eternal:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1)

This is the peace that a person can count on even when their world turns upside down. I have a friend, a man I taught with years ago and who I’ve reconnected with on Facebook, who is an example of a Christian with this kind of peace. From a recent FB post:

This past week doctors discovered a fast growing tumor in my pancreas about the size of a silver dollar, several spots on my liver and surround the portal vessel providing blood to the liver, pancreas and spleen. I start chemotherapy today and pray for one to two years of serving Jesus.

Please pray for [his wife] Suzy as my greatest caregiver. I know Our Lord is the great healer and will use my body for His miracles and His glory. These next months are planned to reach more people for Christ and encourage this generation and the next generation of Christian leadership.

I am so very grateful for the opportunity to minister . . . I have been allowed to serve in the kingdom of God on earth and prepare for His eternal kingdom. I look forward to seeing Jesus and worshiping Him in heaven, and I look forward to these next months with you, my family and my precious wife.

There’s peace that passes understanding, the peace that reconciliation with God gives, the peace that comes from one not under condemnation—though he still might from time to time feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit. 🙂

Published in: on January 18, 2016 at 6:06 pm  Comments (60)  
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The Assurance Of Things Hoped For


Anselm made Archbishop of Canterbury

Anselm made Archbishop of Canterbury

Some while ago I had a discussion on a Facebook site that brings Christians and atheists together. The question came up at once about how foolish it is for Christians to depend on faith instead of reason.

No, no, several of us responded. We aren’t choosing faith over reason. Our reason leads us to faith. Impossible, these atheists answered. Finally we backed up a step and defined our terms. It soon became clear: to the atheists in the discussion, faith was limited to blind belief, more nearly tied to what I call wishful thinking.

A light went on. No wonder those atheists were dismissive of Christians. Who wouldn’t question someone who knows something isn’t so (or who has no evidence that it is) but who wants it to be true and therefore simply declares it into existence?

To the atheists in that discussion, there was no other meaning to the idea of faith.

And yet, the Bible gives an entirely different view of the issue. Hebrews 12:1 basically defines faith for us: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

I think the last part of the definition is actually the strongest because conviction pushes the matter beyond just wanting it to be true. There’s a convincing element to the word. After all, we convict criminals—we make a strong and convinced statement about a person’s guilt, not based on wishful thinking, but on evidence.

In the same way, faith is conviction—belief based on evidence.

But doubters are quick to point out what comes next—the conviction is of things not seen. You can’t see God, and yet you’re convinced? You can’t see angels. You can’t see heaven. You can’t see the Holy Spirit or demons or hell or Satan or Jesus or a video showing men moved by the Holy Spirit writing the Bible. Pretty much everything in the Christian faith is conviction of things not seen.

How, then, does one become convinced or convicted as to the truth of Christianity? That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it! If I could give an answer in a nutshell, I’d have pastors and missionaries and evangelists beating a path to my apartment.

There’s actually a lot that goes into this convincing/convicting. One element is proclamation. Like anything else that we believe, we may have first heard the statement from someone we trust and we believed it for no other reason than that he or she said it was true. Many a Christian took that first “leap of faith” because someone older and smarter and more experienced and knowledgeable told us the truth about Jesus. And about us.

Another element in the process of becoming convinced/convicted is verification from personal experience. So a trusted someone says, all people everywhere are sinners. Without much trouble, I can verify that statement based on my experiences. I see the news that shows people doing heinous things, I look at my family and friends and see their flaws and foibles, I search my own heart and find wrong attitudes and desires. So, yes, I can agree with and be convince of the truth that all people everywhere are sinners.

A third component to the process is reliable corroborative evidence—things like people whose lives have been changed or who live their lives in a way that is countercultural, Bible passages and the overarching Biblical narrative, miraculous events that have no explanation apart from supernatural intervention (or lying, but lying has been disproved).

Another part of this process is deductive reasoning. For instance, one way to arrive at belief in God is to draw a conclusion from several self-evident statements:

    1. One who creates is outside of and apart from what it creates (a painter and his painting; a watch maker and his watch)
    2. Nothing in the known world has the ability to create sentience
    3. Therefore, something outside the known world with the capacity to create sentience must exist.

That’s a somewhat clumsy effort to illustrate how deduction works, but I hope you get the idea. There are numerous others, but apparently Anselm Archbishop of Canterbury is credited with the development of this approach. Here’s his deduction proving God’s existence with a bit of explanation following:

Anselm’s first form of his argument follows:

    1. God is the greatest possible being (nothing greater can be conceived)
    2. If God exists in the mind alone (only as an idea), then a greater being could be imagined to exist both in the mind and in reality
    3. This being would then be greater than God
    4. Thus God cannot exist only as an idea in the mind
    5. Therefore, God exists both in the mind (as an idea) and in reality.

The first premise (1) that God is the greatest possible being stems from the classical attributes of God i.e. omnipotence, omnipresent, omniscience…etc. It naturally follows that there cannot be two rival omnipotent beings…etc. For Anselm (and most theistic thinkers) this understanding of God goes without saying. It is axiomatic to say that God is omnipotent…etc. Any other definition of God would not be God.

The second and third premises (2 and 3) argue that something that exists in reality is better than something that exists only in ones imagination. For example, which is better imagining that you have £1 million, or actually having £1 million in your bank account?

The conclusion (4) follows from the first three premises (1,2 and 3). Anselm’s final conclusion (5) is that if all the previous premises are true (1,2,3 and 4) then God must exist. “The Ontological Argument for the Existence of God”

Other elements that go into the convincing/conviction that is faith in what we do not see involves inductive arguments. We reason from what we “see” to what we don’t see. For instance the “Moral Argument” for God’s existence is inductive—we see that an objective morality exists and conclude that the sense of right and wrong has its origin in a Moral Being.

These various ways of becoming convicted of what is not seen are philosophical. Too often our atheist friends want to stop with the words “not seen” as if the lack of material evidence means there is no evidence. However, there’s one overarching argument against this opposition.

While atheists accept that science can discover new things to the point that scientists might refute a position that had been commonly held to be true in a past age, atheists take for themselves omniscience in regard to God by saying that since they have not discovered scientific evidence for Him, He does not exist anywhere in the known and unknown universes and possible dimensions.

To know such a thing a person would have to, well, be like God. But since, in their view, there is no God, then they can’t know if God is in some distant universe or dimension. In other words, their position is simply . . . dare I say it? . . . wishful thinking.

Published in: on January 7, 2016 at 7:23 pm  Comments (13)  
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Hope Isn’t Wishful Thinking


AdventWreathLitLast Sunday night I hoped the Denver Broncos would defeat the New England Patriots in a National Football League game. (They did! 😉 ) I had no certainty that they would. Yes, the game was played in Denver (home field is always a big advantage in the NFL) and yes, New England (as the announcers interminably reminded the watching audience) had a number of offensive players hurt. And yes, the Patriots were playing at altitude on a short week of rest. But those factors did not guarantee Denver a win. I still hoped, not knowing how it would all turn out.

In many respects, you could say my position was one of wishful thinking. Not that my wishing could have any bearing on the outcome, but I had no certain knowledge and merely wished that the result I wanted would be the one that prevailed.

Happily it did!

But my hoping for a Denver victory on Sunday night is about as far from the hope a Christian has as possible, given the similarity in the dictionary definitions. The Bible links hope and faith in Hebrews 11:1 and both have nothing to do with “hoping against hope” or wishful thinking.

Rather, the writer specifies that faith is tied to assurance and hope to conviction.

Assurance. Conviction.

There’s a certainty about both those words. They remind me of Elisha’s position when his city was surrounded by an enemy army and he told his servant not to be afraid.

Uh, seriously, Elisha? I think there’s good cause to be afraid.

Except, Elisha saw what his servant didn’t—the host of heaven amassed against the enemy. So Elisha wasn’t making a foolish statement, and he wasn’t hoping against hope that things would turn out all right. He wasn’t exercising wishful thinking in the face of insurmountable odds. He was, in fact, exercising faith. He had the assurance that God’s army outnumbered the enemy. He had the hope built on conviction that God would not forsake him.

Even though outwardly nothing had changed. From where his servant sat, their situation couldn’t have been worse. They didn’t have the arms or the men to fight against the enemy and they didn’t have the resources to withstand a siege. All seemed lost.

It’s that “seemed” word that makes all the difference, because how things seem apart from God aren’t actually how they are.

Things undoubtedly seemed bleak to very-pregnant Mary when she had to follow Joseph to Bethlehem, then to Egypt, running for their lives with her little son. How could she know that for centuries people all across the globe would read about those frightening, uncomfortable, dangerous trips and give God glory because of His protection and care, because of fulfilled prophecy, because of the evidence of the humility of God’s Son, born in a manger, on the run before He could even walk.

Did Mary have hope? Did she envision herself raising her infant to become a man? To become the Savior of the World? That night I imagine she had hope despite the pain of childbirth. After all, the angel had told her she would bear a son. He wouldn’t lie. So she had assurance that this birth, even in a stable, would bring little Jesus into the world. And yet, she still had to bear the pain. She still had to run for her life when the angel told them to flee to Egypt. And she still had to witness her son die on a cross.

Hope is not wishful thinking. And it is not assurance that all will be without trouble or pain. But hope, when placed in God and His Son Jesus, gives what we all need: assurance that our sins have been washed away by the blood of the Lamb, that God has adopted us into His family, that we are no longer under condemnation, that God has given us His mercy and grace, and that we have a future to look forward to.

There’s a verse in Jeremiah that all too often is misused. Jeremiah is assuring the people of Judah who have been exiled to Babylon that God has not forgotten them, that they have a future and a hope despite the fact that they’ve been captured. This is not a promise of perfect health and untold wealth as some assume. But Christians can claim this promise for what it is: God’s declaration that our destiny is in His hands.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

We may face “captivity” in the here and now, but we have the hope of heaven—the assurance of things not yet seen, the conviction that He who promised is able to bring it to pass.

Published in: on December 4, 2015 at 7:23 pm  Comments (1)  
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