I know that nothing good lives in me; that is, nothing good lives in my corrupt nature. Although I have the desire to do what is right, I don’t do it. I don’t do the good I want to do. Instead, I do the evil that I don’t want to do. … What a miserable person I am! [Romans 7:18-19,24a (GW)]
Yesterday, I suggested taking a good look at ourselves in God’s mirror but let’s not beat ourselves up over our failings. While a critical look at ourselves and our shortcomings can make us feel wretched and condemned, that’s not what it’s supposed to do. There’s a big difference between condemnation, which comes from the enemy and conviction, which comes from the Holy Spirit.
Conviction of sins is one of the Holy Spirit’s duties and it’s much more than a pang of conscience pointing out right from wrong. When we’ve been convicted, we see our sin, understand what an affront it is to God, and have the desire to change our ways to honor Him. In conviction, the Holy Spirit acts a bit like a prosecuting attorney—he exposes our wrongs, admonishes us for them, and then convinces us of our need for Jesus. We repent, ask forgiveness, and then get on with our lives. While conviction may leave us disappointed in ourselves, it doesn’t leave us with guilt, shame or despair. Rather than a dread of divine judgment, conviction leaves us with a sense of forgiveness, peace, love and hope.
While Satan probably prefers to keep us sinning in blissful ignorance, recognizing our sins gives him another opportunity to overcome us. He has a pocket full of falsehoods and destructive thoughts to lay on us—self-pity, guilt, shame, and despondency, along with feelings of worthlessness, incompetence, and futility. Rather than acting as prosecutor, Satan acts as the judge who already has declared us guilty. He wants to condemn us to a prison term of living hell even though Jesus paid our debt and served our sentence and we’ve been forgiven. Moreover, Satan is worse than a nagging spouse—he never lets go of our past failures. He’ll not only tell us how we screwed up this time but he’ll remind us of every past mistake we ever made. Condemnation is his gift that keeps on giving!
The Holy Spirit convicts us so that we repent; the enemy condemns us so that we feel guilty! The Holy Spirit is like the parent who tells the child his actions are wrong; the enemy is the one who tells the child how naughty and wicked he is. One is specific and convicts a behavior; the other is general and condemns the person. One tells us how we failed and the other calls us a failure. One focuses on the problem and offers forgiveness; the other focuses on the person and lays on the blame. One wants us to be better but the other wants us to feel worse. Let us never forget that Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it! [John 12:47]