The difference between conviction and condemnation was something I struggled with a lot as a young Christian. It seems to be something that’s not often touched on or even understood by many Christians. But for me, learning the difference between conviction and condemnation was a battle that I had to win if I was to grow in my Christian life.
Simply put, God convicts us of specific sins or weaknesses, giving us hope that if we bring it to Him, He can and will forgive us and heal us. On the other hand, it’s the Devil that condemns us, saying that we’re just generally bad and hopeless. It’s been understanding the difference between these two that has been an essential part of my being able to get to grips with some of the sins, failures and shortcomings of my life and to also recognize when the voice of Satan is trying to bring hopelessness to me in some matter.
Is what I’m saying here according to God’s Word? In John chapter 8, the Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus who’d been caught in adultery. They called upon Jesus to agree to the writings of the Jewish law that she should be stoned to death. But Jesus said to them, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.” And the next verse says, “When they heard it, they went out being convicted by their own conscience”. (John 8:9) Jesus’ words brought conviction.
How about the Devil’s words? In Revelation 12:9 the Devil is called “the accuser of the saints”. The devil is like the prosecuting attorney in a courtroom, constantly bringing our sins before ourselves and God, calling for our condemnation and judgment.
But there’s another kind of condemnation and one that’s perhaps even more subtle. The apostle John wrote, “If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart and knows all things.” (I John 3:20) Some people have a lot of trouble with that. Their heart condemns them in several ways. For one, since we are all sinners (Romans 3:23), then without the rebirth through salvation in Jesus, each of our hearts overcomes us through one sin or the other.
Sometimes though, even if you’re saved, your own heart may have the habit or tendency to condemn you. It’s like negative thinking. A verse that helped me on this one time was “He that justifies the wicked and he that condemns the just, both of these are an abomination to the Lord.” (Proverbs 17:15) You can get to thinking, “Oh I’m really humble because I’m always so down on myself”. But it’s not the way the Lord wants us to be in the spirit. For us to condemn ourselves is actually an abomination to God, according to that verse, just as much as if we were justifying the wicked,
Maybe the most famous verse about condemnation is, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which be in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1) But in some ways, it’s a thin line to walk. On one side, we don’t want to “fall into the condemnation of the devil” (I Timothy 3:6). God forbid. But that sure doesn’t mean in any way that we want to harden our hearts against the gentle chiding voice of the Holy Spirit which “will reprove the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment”.
It comes down to which voice you are learning to listen to. We don’t want to be in tune with “the accuser of the saints” or our own heart that can condemn us. But we do want to have a clean conscience that can help to be a guidance to us. And even more than that, we want to have a clear channel to the voice of the Lord Who will convict us and lead us in the paths we are to walk in.
Someone said one time that it’s like a chain with a weak link. We’re that chain and we all have weak links, sins, and weakness, areas that we need to change and grow in. The Lord takes a look at the chain, probably sees a number of weak links and He points out the one that He wants to work on. He points to one weak link and says, “That one right there, give that one to me and I’ll fix it.” But then the Devil comes along and says, “Oh my God, that is a bad chain! It’s bad! It needs to be totally thrown away!”
That’s the difference between conviction and condemnation. One is specific, doable and brings hope for change and improvement if there is repentance. The other is general, totally negative and also hopeless. God help us all to know the difference between condemnation and conviction and to learn to recognize the Lord’s voice of conviction that brings change, hope and progress. “For Godly sorrow works repentance to salvation, not to be repented of. But the sorrow of the world works death.” (II Corinthians 7:10)