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That Uncomfortable Word — Conviction!

Copyright © 2003

Jim Kerwin

Introduction: Pastor Emeritus

Uncomfortable man, used under license from keeweeboy / 123RF Stock PhotoDefinitely uncomfortable!1

More years ago than I care to count, I was able to have some wonderful fellowship with the retiring, founding pastor of a church to which I had been newly called. He had a penchant for humor (as most pastors do), and he announced to me, “Jim, during my retirement ceremony, they made me Pastor Emeritus. You know what being Pastor Emeritus means, don’t you?”

Knowing a joke was following, I played along. “No, Jack, what does it mean?”

“It means they’ll let me say whatever I want whenever I want to… and they don’t have to listen to a word I say!”

Spirit Emeritus, Welcome (But Please Behave)

It was a humorous thought, but there came a day when this whole “emeritus” concept struck me in an entirely different way. I fear that in our hearts we are now dealing with the “Spirit Emeritus”—we “honor” Him in word, but are we acting like we don’t have to listen to a word He says? We invoke the Holy Spirit in our meetings and worship times, allude to His wonderful titles and ministries, but do we effectively ignore His leading and guidance when we come together in worship? For instance, in our meetings we frequently raise the chorus

Holy Spirit, Thou art welcome in this place…

but the Spirit had better not try to mess with the set song list that the worship team has practiced. Is He welcome? Well, yes, provisionally, as long as He behaves Himself and stays relatively quiet and inconspicuous. He should understand ground rules for oldsters like Himself — He is invited to “sit on the platform,” so to speak, but…

  1. The Holy Spirit should not do anything out of the ordinary. Now it’s true that we’re bored (yet comfortable) with “ordinary,” but, frankly, we’re frightened of His unscheduled spiritual manifestations, with Spirit-breathed lyrics that make us think deeply, and with Spirit-empowered challenges from the Scriptures that expose our spiritual state, requiring us to respond with life-changing once-for-all decisions. Besides, most God-interruptions take time, thus causing the service to run long, wreaking havoc with the schedule of all the worldly plans we have for the rest of the Lord’s day.
  2. The Spirit of truth must not bring about that indelicate, indiscreet, and awkward condition known by that uncomfortable word—conviction! It’s a matter of trends, really. Deep, heart-rending sorrow for sin, a deep sense of guilt and shame for offending a holy God… yes, well, that was in vogue right up through the Great Awakening, the campaigns of Charles Finney, and the revival at Azusa Street. But times have changed and conventional wisdom tells us that sinners (oops, excuse me, the “unchurched,” and “carnal Christians”) need to have their self-esteem protected while they are tickled into the Kingdom. All that old-fashioned stuff about guilt, conviction, and sorrow could be a real turn-off.

Getting to My Subject

Am I really so far off track? Have I caricatured the church you attend—or have I captured it better than you’d like to admit? I have a great burden that the Body of Christ should know the Holy Spirit in all His fullness. I want believers to learn experientially what it means to follow the Spirit’s leading within. I believe it will transform our meetings, our witness, and our lives. But the possibility of all that happening seems very remote if we short-circuit that very first work of the Holy Spirit: bringing sinners under deep conviction of sin.

Years ago, the Lord put it on my heart to write a grad-school paper on conviction of sin. So I set to work on my research. I suppose it should have come as no surprise (but it did!) that there was not to be found a single book devoted to the subject of conviction of sin in the divinity section of the school’s extensive library. Furthermore, in researching a database containing over 90,000 articles from various theological journals, only one article that partially dealt with the subject could be found. From a paper-writing standpoint, such a dearth of materials was discouraging. But that was balanced by the confirmation of my suspicion (part of the reason for choosing this topic in the first place) that the Church today largely overlooks conviction as a vital element of spiritual transformation.

The subject of conviction has been of great interest to me ever since I started preaching and listening analytically to the preaching of others. Having read the biography of Charles Finney over forty years ago, I have marveled at the contrast between the conviction of sin shown by his “inquirers” and those who respond to our modern “altar calls.” Further, as a result of uncounted hours of pastoral counseling I have wondered why so few people, unbelievers seeking salvation or Christians bound in transgression, have had no deep sense of their sinfulness.

What is conviction? How does God accomplish it? How may we yield ourselves to God to see true conviction of sin (and thus true and genuine conversions) through our ministries?

Conviction in the New Testament

Elengcho, the Word for Conviction

What is conviction? The Greek word used in the New Testament for conviction is élengchos (ἔλεγκος, pronounced EL-eng-kos). The verb form eléngchō (ἐλέγκω, pronounce el-ENG-koh) can be traced as far back as Homer (9th Century b.c.) where it means to scorn, to bring into contempt. In later Classical Greek the significance of the term evolved in such a way that the emphasis fell more upon the conviction of guilt or the demonstration of guilt. It is this meaning that survived, more or less intact, up through New Testament times. The table below shows a brief summary of how the word is translated in the New Testament:

Table Summary of the Uses
of élengchos and elengchō in the New Testament
English Translation Times Used
rebuke 9
convict/conviction 6
show fault 1
expose 3
prove guilty 1
refute 1

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament provides a suitable overall definition for elengchō when it says “to show people their sins and summon them to repentance.”2 The term finds a slightly broader use (cf. Hebrews 11:1), but since conviction of sin is our primary concern, let us seek to enhance this particular aspect. What do we mean when we say someone is under conviction?

“What is conviction of sin?” Author Paris Reidhead asks and answers the question:

It is that state of the mind and heart when the individual takes sides with God against himself.3 …[It] is God’s unique way of revealing to the awakened sinner all that lies deep within.”4

Renowned charismatic theologian J. Rodman Williams pulls no punches:

“[Conviction] is an action of the Spirit that brings about a profound inner sense of guilt before God. It is a deep conviction of one’s sinfulness and evil.”5

Since it is “an action of the Spirit,” it is essential that we first understand the role of the Holy Spirit in conviction.

The Holy Spirit and His Tools

The Work of the Holy Spirit of Truth

How does God accomplish conviction? Conviction is first and foremost the proprietary ministry of the Holy Spirit. The premier passage that speaks of this is John 16:7-11—

7But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor [Greek: παράκλητος / paráklētos / Paraclete] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. (niv)

Note that the word Counselor is used here. Kittel says of paráklētos, “In Jn. 16:7ff the idea of a trial is clearly present.”6 The concept is that of a “helper in court” or a legal advocate. This, as we shall see, is most fitting in light of the means the Spirit employs to bring about conviction. Two verses later Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of Truth” (v.13). In conviction, the Spirit reveals the truth about the condition of the human heart.

Truly this is a ministry of which only God Himself is capable. The human plight is such that we are oblivious to our spiritual condition before God. We cannot help ourselves. Billy Graham says,

One of the most devastating effects of sin is that it has blinded us to our own sin… Only the Holy Spirit can open our eyes. Only He can convict us of the depth of our sin, and only He can convince us of the truth of the gospel.7

Even if one man should desire to help another man to know his own sin, the case is hopeless, for the matter deals with the human heart, of which God has said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it? I the Lord…” (Jeremiah 17:9,10). So if in God’s mercy and grace He does not act preveniently to expose us to His Light by the Spirit of Truth, we are without hope.

The Tools of the Holy Spirit

In His sovereign activity of bringing men to conviction and repentance, the Spirit is pleased to employ several means and tools including human agency, the Law of God, the revelation of God, the human conscience, and the gift of prophecy. Primary among these (despite what has just been said about human inability!) is human agency.

Tool #1: Human Agency

Using “the foolishness of preaching” to save those who believe pleases God, says Paul (1 Corinthians 1:21). He Who charged us with the Great Commission, calling us fellow-laborers (2 Corinthians 6:1), sent us to preach “with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven” (1 Peter 1:12). Missiologist John Bavinck considers the seeming incongruity:

…the conviction of sin exceeds all human ability. Only the Holy Spirit can do this, even though he can and will use us as instruments in his hand.8

If we are yielded to Him, we are the Spirit’s agency of choice! Let us bear this in mind as we consider some of His other tools and how men may be inspired to use them.

Tool #2: The Law

Remembering that the Holy Spirit as Counselor is operating in a forensic9 capacity, it should not surprise us that He employs God’s moral law in bringing men to conviction. It would seem that today, either misapprehending the place that the Law still has in God’s economy, or fearing the charge of “legalism,” the Church has shunned the Law. Unwittingly, therefore, it has laid aside one of the Spirit’s most useful tools in bringing men to conviction and ultimately to true salvation. On this point, Walter J. Chantry observes:

Hosts of Christians have a dreadful fear of God’s law, as if it were the useless relic of a past age, the use of which in our day would keep sinners from the grace of God. Our Saviour used the law as a primary tool of evangelism. He knew that preaching the Ten Commandments was the only way to teach a sinner his guilt and thereby stir within him a desire for God’s grace.10

When we consider the inspired definition of sin laid out by the Apostle John, the place of the Law becomes even clearer:

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.

1 John 3:4 nasb

Sin is “lawlessness” (Greek: ἀνομία / anomía [a = without + nomos = law]), that is, being without the Law or being outside of the Law. Should it be surprising, therefore, that the Spirit of God uses the Law of God to expose and convict of lawlessness—sin?

Of the Law the Apostle Paul has several useful things to say. First, he ignites an illuminating torch when he says, “for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20b nasb). Ever opting for “dynamic equivalence” of the text, the NIV translation interprets this “through the law we become conscious of sin.” And J. B. Phillips, in his wonderfully flagrant and memorable translation of the New Testament renders the phrase as “indeed, it is the straightedge of the Law that shows us how crooked we are.”

We would do well to remember, before we further consider Paul’s words about the Law, that he is the apostle who so vigorously opposed the legalism of the Judaizers and false brethren who sought to bring the Spirit-led Church of Jesus Christ back into bondage.11 Yet this same Paul goes on to speak about how crucial the Law was in his own conversion experience in Romans 7:7—

What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” (niv)

In the verse which follows, Paul describes how the Law or “the commandment” (in this context, Exodus 20:17) exposed sin for what it really was, awakening Paul to the true state of his heart. He became sensitized to his sin and saw that he was a dead man spiritually. Exposed by the light of God’s law, sin had become “recognized as sin…utterly sinful” (NASB rendering of Romans 7:13).

The Apostle gives us cause to think, for in this passage he also gives us his thoughts on the value of the Law (not, please note, legalism). He states that the law is “holy” (v.12) and “spiritual” (v.14), and that the commandment is “holy, righteous, and good” (v.12). And this concept he carries over into his intimate letter to his apprentice Timothy. What he says is surprising to many modern Christians, since, in context, he is giving advice about how to deal with Judaizers and legalism. In this context Paul makes a bold statement:

8We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers — and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

1 Timothy 1:8-11 niv

And in a slightly different translation:

8But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers10and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, 11according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.

1 Timothy 1:8-11 nasb

Here we see that Paul again says that the Law is good. But I believe that we also gain insight into the fact that Paul used the Law in preaching “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” Allow me to present the above passage stripped down to its basics:

  • The Law is good and it has a proper use.
  • The Law was made for all people falling under the category of sinner.
  • This use of the Law is according to God’s glorious gospel.

Why would Paul use the Law in his preaching? He understood, both from revelation and personal experience, that “by the Law is the knowledge of sin.” Men’s sinfulness must be exposed, their state before God must be revealed, before they know their lost condition and their need of a Savior from sin. Thus for the perverts, adulterers, liars, murderers, and rebels Paul mentions, the Law is the Spirit’s tool, His “straightedge” for exposing their “crookedness.” John Wesley, commenting on this same passage, concurred wholeheartedly: “the moral law is holy, just, and good in its own nature: and of admirable use… to convince12 unbelievers…”.13

The Apostle James weighs in with an important word about Law and conviction.

But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted [from elengcho] by the law as lawbreakers.

James 2:9 niv

Thus in James’ understanding also, the Law is an active force in conviction of sin.

Billy Graham gives us insight with a helpful analogy of how the Law functions in God’s redemptive purposes when he says,

To help us see that something is terribly wrong in our lives and that death—spiritual death—will result, God gives us “the law,” that is, a set of standards to sharpen our moral judgment so that we can recognize sin. The Ten Commandments form the backbone of the law. They are a giant x-ray machine to reveal the bone structure of our sinfulness.14

It is difficult to conclude otherwise than that the Holy Spirit means for the preaching of God’s moral law, with a view to bringing sinners under conviction, to be a part of the Gospel.

Tool #3 of the Holy Spirit: The Attributes of God

When Paul mentions that the Law is “holy,” “good,” and “spiritual,” we know this is true because the moral law is an expression of God’s person, His holiness and righteousness. Therefore it logically follows that proclaiming the attributes of God Himself would also be used by the Holy Spirit to effect conviction of sin. Walter Chantry, in his fiery and challenging little book Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic?, is unshakable in his insistence on this point:

Evangelism always requires preaching on the attributes of God…. [The Gospel] tells men that they have offended a holy God, who will by no means pass by sin. It reminds sinners that the only hope of salvation is to be found in the grace and power of this same God. …Preaching on the attributes [of God] is essential to the conversion of a man. Without a knowledge of God, a sinner does not know whom he has offended, who threatens him with destruction, or who is able to save him. …Evangelists today are making the dreadful miscalculation that sinners know who God is….15

In both one-on-one encounters and open-air preaching in the New Testament we see precisely this happening — messengers declaring Who God is. For instance, in dealing with the woman at the well, after Jesus broaches the subject of the woman’s relationship with the Law (John 4:16-18),16 He goes on to declare some truths about God. God is Father (vv.21, 23-24). God must be worshipped only on His terms and in the way He declares acceptable—in spirit and in truth (v.23). God is Spirit (v.24). In the same way, Paul declares God’s nature on Mars’ Hill in Athens (Acts 17:22-31). The Apostle declares God to be the self-existent, self-sufficient Creator of all men (vv.24-26) and the Sovereign of the world and its Boundary Setter (v.26). The apostle further points to God’s immanence17 (vv.27-28), His Fatherhood of all men (vv.28-29), His mercy and righteousness (v.30), and His role in the judgment of all men including listeners (v.31).18

Tool #4 of the Holy Spirit: Human Conscience

We would be remiss if we did not at least briefly consider the human conscience as a means that the Holy Spirit can use to aid and abet His cause. In the story of the woman taken in adultery (John 8:2-12), the passage makes a remarkable statement. In response to Jesus’ challenge,19 the religious leaders react in a most guilty fashion:

And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

John 8:9

They were convicted, says John, by their own consciences. The Holy Spirit quickened Jesus’ remark and each listener in his conscience knew conviction of his own sin.

That the conscience is active without the Law is evidenced by Paul’s argument in Romans 2:15. But seeing that it is a human conscience, it is subject to the Fall and therefore more than fallible. Indeed, the conscience can be corrupted (Titus 1:15; “defiled” in KJV) and even “seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:2) so that lying and hypocrisy become second nature. (Given the context of 4:1, this latter state may be caused or exacerbated by demonic influence.) Nevertheless, a Spirit-awakened conscience is one of the assets available to the Holy Spirit in bringing a man or woman to conviction.

Tool #5 of the Holy Spirit: The Gift of Prophecy

Largely lost in what are usually considered the more important matters regarding the charismata is the truth in 1 Corinthians 14:

24But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; 25the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.

1 Corinthians 14:24,25 nasb

The Holy Spirit can choose through His gifts to give such prophetic utterances as to convict sinners, even unbelievers, of the state of their hearts and cause them to worship God! Oh, for more of that kind of true, substantial, exciting, sobering prophecy in our assemblies, instead of so many vapid, saccharine, well-intended but self-imagined “words” that give this gift a bad reputation!

Tool #6 of the Holy Spirit: Any Means That Strikes God’s Fancy

The items listed above are by no means an exhaustive list of things the Spirit can use to bring conviction. He is sovereign and can do as He wishes. Routley acknowledges this:

Nothing whatever is disqualified from being an instrument of the Holy Spirit in His work of conversion. Anything may shock a person into going back and taking the road toward Christ’s kingdom.20

No one should charge God with caprice in this matter. Much of the reason for His manifold methods may be simply to work in each heart in the optimum way. Reidhead surmises as much when he states:

Because God is omnipotent, literally everything and everyone in all the world is at God’s disposal for use in convicting sinners. The ways God uses to convict sinners are as varied and unique as the individual with and in whom He is drawing to himself.21

Results of Conviction

Preparation of the Heart for Salvation

The exposure of sin in the heart, the activation of a deep sense of guilt, and a “godly sorrow” are not the end in themselves. True and deep conviction of sin is but “the first step in salvation,”22 part of that “preventing grace” which “leads to ‘convincing grace’.”23 There is a deep sense of the need for salvation, and one is inclined to believe that the ejaculation of a true sinner’s prayer—God, be merciful to me, a sinner! (Luke 18:13)—will obviate the need to be “led” in a prayer. Repentance is at hand, which, by God’s grace, is followed by regeneration—the New Birth!

True conviction lays a foundation for a fruitful Christian life. One who has experienced a deep and sobering revelation of inward sin and evil finds sin “exceeding sinful” and is repulsed by it. Such a person is far less likely to dally with it in the future. Indeed, theologian J. R. Williams goes so far as to say that true conviction leading to regeneration in Christ is nothing less than circumcision of the heart.24

Other Aspects of Conviction

Because of the narrow scope of this article, it is necessary to focus on the role conviction plays in the revelation of guilt and sinfulness. But we should mention, at least in passing, that conviction of sin does a metamorphosis in the regeneration process. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, Who convinces of the truth of inward depravity, broadens His ministry. He convinces the sinner that the Good News is true as well. In the Hebrews 11:1 definition of faith, the Scriptures declare that “faith is…the evidence of things not seen.” Once again we come across that word now familiar, for the word evidence in this verse is none other than elengchō. The sinner moves from the conviction of sin to the conviction of faith. From the viewpoint of the Holy Spirit, perhaps, it is all a matter of being convicted of truth—the truth of sin and great need, the truth of the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Along this same line, this same Spirit of Truth is the One Who bears witness of sonship once the New Birth has been truly experienced. As Paul says,

The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.

Romans 8:16

We praise Him for the glorious consistency of His ministry!

Working with the Holy Spirit

The last of our original questions remains to be answered: How may we yield ourselves to God to see true conviction of sin (and thus true and real conversions) through our ministries?

Personal Application and Personal Ministry

Since we are co-laborers with the Holy Spirit, it behooves us to walk uprightly before Him, walking in obedience to God and “keeping short accounts” when we do sin. We must walk before God in such a way as to be very responsive when the Spirit of Truth points out areas in our lives with which He would like to deal.

Furthermore the relationship presupposes that we are growing in sanctification. Since it is true that we are becoming more like Jesus (1 John 3:2), is it not also true that as we respond to the Holy Spirit we shall become like Him, that is, holy?

May we grow in sensitivity to His leading, especially in this area of conviction of sin. This means learning to “walk in the Spirit” and following the leading of the Holy Spirit when dealing with sinners. It is so much a part of our human (fallen?) nature to seek for a comfortable set of “rules” or “principles” by which to operate – they require much less moment-to-moment faith. How much easier to say, “Always follow these steps: preach the moral law, be hard on sin, proclaim the attributes of God….” To do so would quickly become legalism, laying out what we consider to be a “norm.” Legislating a carbon-copy experience for everyone, says Routley, would drive even Christians

half-frantic by the conviction that they have not been converted simply because they can find nothing in their past life to correspond to the Damascus Road [Acts 9:1-9]. There won’t be.25

Only the Holy Spirit knows what is right for each individual. We must follow His lead! In this regard Jude leaves us with an exhortation worthy of consideration:

But you, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost,21Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. 22And of some have compassion, making a difference: 23And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.

Jude 20-23

Verses 22 and 23 show that there are various ways of dealing with sinners: have compassion on some (“be merciful” says the NIV here); snatch others “from the fire” and save them (I take these to be sinners with whom the Spirit has been “merciless” in His prosecution of sin); and there are those who fall between the two extremes, with whom a balance (mercy mixed with fear) needs to be struck. All of this is in the context of growing personal faith, prayer in the Spirit, and abiding in God’s love on the part of the one ministering.

Application in Public Ministry

1. Understanding the Times

It was said of the men of the tribe of Issachar in David’s reign that they “understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). Precisely the same kind of people are needed today in proclaiming Christ’s Gospel, men and women who understand that we are dealing with a Biblically illiterate audience among the unsaved. The ground needs to be plowed before it can be planted with Gospel seed. Friberg declares:

Since [our] age is unresponsive to the pre-eminently evangelical note of the Reformation, it must be readied for the Gospel. The biblical prescription for such preparation is Law…. To preach the Law biblically is, among other things, to represent it as spiritual and unrelenting as Jesus does in the Sermon on the Mount.26

And Chantry agrees:

They are not convicted of sin because they don’t know what sin is. They have no concept of sin because the law of God is not being preached. You cannot improvise a hasty sop, “All men have sinned.” You must dwell on the subject at length. Exposit the Ten Commandments until men are slain thereby [Romans 7:11]. When you see that men have been wounded by the law, then it is time to pour in the balm of Gospel oil. It is the sharp needle of the law that makes way for the scarlet thread of the Gospel.27

2. Counting the Cost

In a day notorious for easy-believism, this kind of public ministry will be costly. Charges of “legalism” seem unavoidable. Making the commitment to allow the Holy Spirit as much time as He wishes to do a complete work of preparation and conviction will no doubt engender comparisons with other ministries that seem more (numerically) successful. The cost may be counted in painfully measurable ways such as decreased attendance and giving. Counting the cost must be a prerequisite in this matter.

The greatest cost may be the prayers and tears offered up while “tarrying in Jerusalem” to receive “power from on high.” Without the empowerment, guidance, and blessing of the Holy Spirit, all of this will come to naught. We need an experience of Pentecost that energizes our lives and preaching so that men and women come under the dynamic, convicting power of the Holy Spirit. Then sin will be known for what it is. “When sin is known for what it is,” says Friberg, “the issue of salvation or damnation becomes a burning reality, and the Gospel will get a hearing.”28 May it be so with us, O Lord.

3. The Ministry of Reproof and Conviction in the Church

This ministry of conviction needs to be active in the Church among the saints. Jesus says that we are to “convict” brothers who sin against us (Matthew 18:15). Elders who sin are to be publicly rebuked or “convicted” (1 Timothy 5:20). Of a particularly difficult church, Paul encourages Titus to rebuke (“convict”) sharply (Titus 1:13; see also 2:15) so that they remain “sound in the faith.” Obviously, as the Holy Spirit deals with our personal sin, His desire is to cleanse God’s house and people. Having purified His people, He wishes to keep us pure, so that He can then use us far more effectively in bringing the lost into true conviction, repentance, and regeneration.

The Aspect of Love

Cover of Jim Kerwin's message 'That Uncomfortable Word - Conviction!'Available in e-book format for
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What a spirit of criticism and legalism would be unleashed by the concepts in the last paragraph unless they are done in love! We are to “speak the truth in love” says Paul (Ephesians 4:15), so that we may grow up into Christ our Head. Where is the balance? How can we minister effectively in this ministry of conviction and still operate in the love of God? “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16) Only the Holy Spirit can show us the way, causing us to understand and experience in “real time” something of the balance in the nature of God Himself, holiness and love in perfect harmony. This is all the more reason to seek Him, for with the empowering must come humility and the heart of God for sinners.

Jesus says, “As many as a I love I rebuke (or convict, again from elengchō) and discipline” (Revelation 3:19). We praise Him that His faithful ministry to us is in love! May our hearts and minds be opened in a new way to the Spirit’s ministry in conviction. If we have been treating Him as the “Spirit Emeritus,” instead of the glorious Third Person of the Godhead, let us repent. It is time to face the fact that, uncomfortable or not, true and deep conviction is part of God’s all-wise plan, an essential part of an uncompromised Gospel. May we be willing to use the tools He provides, under His clear guidance in faith and love, in order to see deep and true conviction of sin occurring in and through our ministries (and our own hearts!). May we be willing to pay the price to seek God for Spirit-empowered, love-filled hearts, usable by God for His outreach to lost mankind.



[Readers interested in the subject of “What is the Gospel?”
may also wish to pursue the topic in an article entitled
Letting In or Getting In:
Have We Got the Gospel Backwards?

Some scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

Some scripture quotations taken from holy bible, new international version® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by international bible society used by permission of Zondervan. all rights reserved.

and Background Reading

________. The Analytical Greek Lexicon. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.

Bauer, Walter, et al. A Greek?English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1957.

Bavinck, Johan H. An Introduction to the Science of Missions. Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1960.

Brown, Charles E. The Meaning of Salvation. Salem, OH: Schmul Publishing Co., Inc., 1982.

Buswell, James O. A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1962.

Cannon, William R. The Theology of John Wesley with Special Reference to the Doctrine of Justification. Nashville, TN: Abingdon?Cokesbury Press, 1946.

Chamberlain, William D. The Meaning of Repentance. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1943.

Chantry, Walter J. Today's Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic?. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1970.

Eldridge, Charles O. A Popular Exposition of Methodist Theology. Salem, OH: Schmul Publishing Co., Inc., 1982.

Friberg, H. Daniel. “Reformation–Then and Now.” Christianity Today XIII, no. 2 (Oct 25, 1968), 51-53.

Graham, Billy. How to Be Born Again. Waco, TX: Waco Books, 1977.

________.The Holy Spirit. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1978.

Hesselgrave, David J. Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally: An Introduction to Missionary Communication. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1991.

Hewitt, Glenn A. Regeneration and Morality: A Study of Charles Finney, Charles Hodge, John W. Nevin, and Horace Bushnell. Brooklyn, NY: Carlson Publishing Inc., 1991.

Horne, Charles M. The Doctrine of Salvation. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1984.

Kittel, Gerhard and Gerhard Friedrich. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume. Trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985.

MacArthur, John F. The Gospel According to Jesus. Panorama City, CA: Word of Grace, 1988.

Miller, C. John Repentance & Twentieth Century Man. Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1980.

Pearlman, Myer. Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1981.

Phillips, J. B. The New Testament in Modern English. New York, NY: The Macmillan Company, 1958.

Pryor, Kenneth F. The Gospel in a Pagan Society: A Book for Modern Evangelists. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1975.

Reidhead, Paris. Getting Evangelicals Saved. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1989.

Reisinger, Ernest C. What Should We Think of the Carnal Christian?. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, nd.

Routley, Eric. Conversion. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1960.

Smith, J. B. Greek-English Concordance to the New Testament. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1955.

Snyder, Howard A. The Radical Wesley & Patterns for Church Renewal. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980.

Thayer, Joseph H. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1889.

Tournier, Paul. Guilt and Grace: A Psychological Study. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1962.

Turner, G. A. “Convict, Conviction.” The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.

Vine, W. E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. n.a.: Oliphants Ltd., 1940.

Watson, Thomas. Body of Divinity. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979.

Wesley, John. Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament. Salem, OH: Schmul Publishers, 1976.

Williams, Ernest S. Systematic Theology, Volume III. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1953.

Williams, J. Rodman Renewal Theology, Vol. II: Salvation, the Holy Spirit, and Christian Living. Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1990.



  1. “Uncomfortable man” image is copyright by and used under license from keeweeboy / 123RF Stock Photo.
  2. Gerhard Kittel, et al, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume. Grand Rapids, MI; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 1985, pp. 221-222. (This work is known affectionately among scholars as “Little Kittel,” since it is a one-volume abridgement of Kittel’s larger work. Hereinafter we will refer to it as TDNTA.)
  3. Paris Reidhead, Getting Evangelicals Saved, (Bethany House Publishers: Minneapolis, MN, 1989), p. 66.
  4. Reidhead, Getting, p. 63
  5. J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology, Vol. II: Salvation, the Holy Spirit, and Christian Living, (Academie Books: Grand Rapids, MI, 1990), p. 42.
  6. Kittel, TDNTA, p. 786. It goes on to say, “The meaning ‘comforter,’ although adopted in some renderings, does not fit any of the passages” (viz., John 14:16-17,26; 15:26; 16:7 kjv).
  7. Billy Graham, The Holy Spirit, (Word Books: Waco, TX, 1978), p. 53.
  8. David J. Hesselgrave quotes John Herman Bavinck (from Bavinck’s book An Introduction to the Science of Missions) in Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally: An Introduction to Missionary Communication, (Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, MI, 1991), p. 582.
  9. forensic: relating to courts of law or the work of a lawyer in court
  10. Walter J. Chantry, Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic?, (Banner of Truth Trust: London, 1970), p. 39.
  11. See especially the Epistle to the Galatians.
  12. Wesley here uses “convince” no differently than the King James translation does (cf. Job 32:12; John 8:46; Acts 18:28; 1 Corinthians 14:24; Titus 1:9; James 2:9; Jude 15), in the sense of convict (which was, in fact, its old English definition).
  13. John Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, (Schmul Publishers: Salem, OH, 1976), p. 538.
  14. Billy Graham, How to Be Born Again, (Word Books: Waco, TX, 1977), p. 85.
  15. Chantry, Today’s Gospel, p.25.
  16. Think for a moment how the woman’s marital track record and her current “live-in boy friend” relate to the Seventh Commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14), as well as numerous laws relating to divorce, remarriage, and fornication. Jesus had but to mention her sin, and the Law (with which she seems to have had more than a passing familiarity, albeit flavored with Samaritan distortions), though unmentioned explicitly, brought about immediate conviction and guilt. See how fast she changed the subject! (John 4:19ff)
  17. immanence: God's permanent presence through the universe everywhere (not to be confused with imminence, which means “about to occur” or “threatening to happen”
  18. Note the spectrum of God’s attributes and qualities that Paul shares. He doesn’t merely concentrate on God’s righteousness and justice (though he does end up on those two points in his address). This is in keeping with the understanding Paul shares in Romans that “the goodness of God” can lead to repentance (Romans 2:4).
  19. “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). Is it just my imagination, or could the Greek phrase ho anamártētos humõn, prõtos tòn ep’autēn balétō líthon (ὁ ἀναμάρτητος ὑμῶν πρῶτος ἐπ̓ αὐτὴν βαλέτω λίθον) also be rendered “The Sinless One among you, let Him cast the first stone”? Though I’m certain that the Jews never would have heard the phrase this way, the possibility of the double meaning has always intrigued me.
  20. Eric Routley, Conversion, (Fortress Press: Philadelphia, PA, 1960), p. 30.
  21. Reidhead, Getting, p. 63
  22. Ernest S. Williams, Systematic Theology, Volume III, (Gospel Publishing House: Springfield, MO, 1953), p. 32.
  23. William R. Cannon, The Theology of John Wesley with Special Reference to the Doctrine of Justification, (Abingdon-Cokesbury Press: Nashville, TN, 1946), p. 113.
  24. J. R. Williams, Renewal Theology, Vol. II, pp. 43-44.
  25. Routley, Conversion, p. 30.
  26. H. Daniel Friberg, “Reformation—Then and Now”, Christianity Today, (Christianity Today: Washington, D.C.,), p. 53.
  27. Chantry, Today’s Gospel, pp. 42-43.
  28. Friberg, “Reformation”, p. 53.
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