Ordo Salutis 2: Conviction and Awareness of Sin
These initial posts on an ordo salutis certainly are fun. Last time we wrote about original sin. In doing so, we presupposed an earlier post about humanity being made in the image of God; Genesis 1-2 are the starting point, not Genesis 3. I post about sin here first because before turning to God in Christian spiritual formation, we must turn from our sin. And before we can do that, we must be made aware of our sin.
Because we are dead to God, have made ourselves into gods and goddesses, and are helpless to change, conviction of sin does not come from within. A person whose heart stops beating needs someone else to yell, “Clear,” and zap them.
It comes from without, from the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples that when he left, he would send the Holy Spirit. “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment; in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned” (John 16:8-11 NIV). At this beginning stage of the transformation process, the Spirit is at work to both make us aware that we’re living in sin and to convict us about it.
God can make us aware of sin through a variety of ways [not an exhaustive list]: a passage of Scripture that cuts us to the heart (in our own reading or in corporate reading), in hearing the story of another Christian who struggles with the same sin (similar to Nathan’s story to David in 2 Samuel 12, only a real-life story rather than a parable), from a book we’re reading, or at the moment of transgression when there’s no arguing that I sinned.
If the Spirit is truly convicting us, he will remind us of a Scripture passage that we already know, or of the nature of God, or of God’s love for us simultaneously with our realization of sin.
Conviction is generally thought of in negative terms: guilt, getting caught in sin, etc. But in its real sense, conviction is an indication that our hearts are sensitive enough for God to touch them. Conviction is a positive experience in this way. One of the key indicators that you are being convicted is that God will let you know about your sin in both grace and truth. Romans 8:1 says there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. This applies to conviction, I believe, in that God does not hammer us with how bad we’ve been, causing depression and grief, but with clarity and truth, bringing the reality of what we’ve done to the fore of our minds so we can respond to it.
Here are two places in Scripture where we read of conviction.
- In Isaiah 6, Isaiah responds to God’s holiness by saying, “Woe is me!”
- In Acts 2, after hearing Peter’s sermon, the Jewish audience was “cut to the heart” and asked, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).