The Difference Between Conviction & Condemnation

There’s a big difference between conviction and condemnation. But not every believer has learned about the great gulf that exists between the two.

For that reason there is much that is accepted from pastors and teachers that is nothing more than spiritual abuse in the name of “Christ-centered” preaching. The worse off you feel after being screamed at and talked down to (even sarcastically)… the more “powerful” the sermon.

Or so some people have believed.

I’ve heard this sort of thing defended with, “He was just preaching the truth of God’s Word.”

Folks, nobody is ever “just preaching the truth” of Scripture. They are always preaching their interpretations of the Bible from a certain vantage point—their image of God rooted in personal experience (background, culture, context, etc.) and their own self-identity.

If you’ll listen close… you may learn more about the preacher instead of what God is actually like and what he really thinks about you.

Never forget that.

It’s not the role of human beings to convict other human beings of sin.

In fact, we aren’t even capable of convicting people. Only the Holy Spirit can convict us of sin. And that’s not just some theological bullet-point.

“And when he (Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.” John 16:8 NLT

When men and women try their hand at convicting others of sin, condemnation is the result. The methods common among these preachers are the use of guilt and shame to solicit repentance. But you can’t solicit true repentance through condemnation. It will never work.

Learn from Adam and Eve in the garden. Guilt and shame prompt us to run and hide. But God is interested in clothing us with Christ and restoring us to himself. Don’t believe the lie of the serpent that God really isn’t good after all. And remember that guilt and shame belong to sin and death.

You may guilt people to do what you want some of the time. But they will ultimately burn out or become burdened down with a law-centered, works-oriented faith that is bound to a false image of God. It’s a dead end.

Some folks would soon sum up the Christian life with,”God is holy, you’re not, try harder.” If that’s the extent of the “Gospel” that you’ve embraced, then you’ve not taken serious the message and example of Jesus.

Those whom Christ died for will not discover the yoke that is easy and the burden that is light in this way. Believers or not, they will not come to know Christ if this is the way they are “spurred” on in the faith.

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” Romans 8:1-2 NLT

The image of God in Christ is one that comes to redeem us through love. Paul wrote that it’s God’s kindness that leads people to repentance (Rom 2:4). Jesus told us that God comes not to condemn, but to seek and save the lost, the hurting, the victims of sin and circumstance (Jn 3:16-17).

Jesus said, “Where are your accusers?” to the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:1-11). Hmm… accusers. Reminds me of Satan, the great accuser (Rev 12:10). Those ready to judge are like the devil. It’s a frightening thought that the “Christian” who condemns is more like Satan than Jesus. But it’s true.

Friends, that is the naked truth of Scripture.

Real conviction from the Lord picks us up out of the dirt, looks into our eyes, and says, “Neither do I condemn you. Now go and sin no more.”

True and lasting change of heart and mind comes when a person is overwhelmed by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, which works its power through the love and kindness of God as revealed in Christ.

We’ve been called to embody that love and kindness.

It’s time to give up trying to change others (or yourself) by way of condemnation and judgment. If we want others to repent, let’s begin by repenting of our own public hypocrisies and secret sins.

Resorting to any message or method that judges and condemns is anti-Christ. It reflects our own failure to grasp the power of God’s love and the non-coercive nature of the peaceable Kingdom.

Believe in the power of love and humble service to bring about the sort of change that God’s wants in your life and those around you.

Let’s love like Jesus and work at discovering our new identity in him.

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David has over 20 years experience as a pastor and teacher in and outside the church. He currently pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Pennsylvania. View all posts by David D. Flowers

15 responses to “The Difference Between Conviction & Condemnation

  • Barry

    Dave… One of my favorite verses… “And when he (Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.” John 16:8 NLT
    And an excellent use of Scripture throughout your presentation. The end result of these pursuits are freedom, liberty, and harmony with Christ.

  • Reina Carrasco

    David – So glad to see you had posted a new column. I so enjoyed your message even though it hit me straight between the eyes but then we need that every now and then don’t we. Thanks for the reminder–and blessings to you!

  • Alice Scott-Ferguson

    great post…though surprised that you did not go on to continue and clarify the words of Jesus quoted from John 16:8. Verses 910/11 illustrate one of the rare occasions that he did indeed offer further explanation of what he was saying! The conviction is the sin of not believing in Jesus; of righteousness, because he has completed the work and returns to the Father and of judgement (not of humanity), but that the accuser had been finally and completely judged and has nothing o which to condemn us!! Good news indeed!

  • Tobie

    Thanks. I struggled with this for years as a young Christian. The thing that set me free was Watchman Nee’s passage on the blood of Christ in The Normal Christian Life. I read it and entered paradise, understanding for the first time that the very blood that satisfies God also satisfies my conscience, and that it is an insult to God to try and provide additional atonement for the screaming conscience (fired on by the voice of the accuser) when God has chosen the blood as the payment for my sins and is wholly satisfied when he sees it.

  • Thomas Arvidsson

    Well written! I meet a lot of brothers & sisters who struggle with this. It’s a bad legacy that has to be cut off. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Sean Durity

    Wait – you are condemning me for my condemnation of others? 😉 Just kidding. There is certainly a place for those with the gift of discernment (or prophecy) to call out sin for what it is. However, it is never condemning as you say. The Holy Spirit does use people to do His convicting work, though, don’t you think? (He is not limited to that, but I have certainly felt conviction from God after being reminded of God’s standards, character, etc. by a gifted teacher.)

  • Bob Demyanovich

    We lose spontaneity in committing comments to writing yet the intent is less encumbered without the persona. Media in general, less with written communication does not impart enough of the in person fellowship that is intended. It must be the truth and strength of this post that prefers against video messages. Amen David, to add to the encouragement for this post and to acknowledge the Holy Spirit.

  • Jim

    David, God Bless–I’m a Biblical Researcher and this sounds sound

    This was the first time I read your stuff and it was great. I was blogging on another blog and saying the same thing, one individual mentioned your blog. This is good, I always mentioned–If there’s a teaching that condemns you–ask the question–Is this really from God?

    * God is all Love, He is not the author of confusion and condemnation, so when we here these sermons–as students of the Word of God–We have to ask the question or which is rare–having an immature teacher just out of the blocks learning how to teach–then take that person and teach them how to teach.


  • Jeremy Myers

    Right on. We must stop trying to do the work of the Holy Spirit for Him. I think He does a pretty good job on His own..

  • Gary F. Patton

    Your’s is a good word on an issue that causes great misunderstanding in the Body and, therefore, great, unnecessary pain that’s NOT God’s heart!

    My Bible-based “rule-of-thumb is that if the comments of another Christian don’t build-up, cheer-up and lift you up, you’re listening to demonically-reinforced condemnation …not conviction from God’s spirit!

  • Santo Peter William

    Yes that’s true man of God, we cannot do the work of the holy spirit But the holy spirit can do his work through us

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