I have had a couple of conversations with people lately where I have heard them struggling with the same thing I have so often. We'll be talking about they'll be talking about how worthless they feel because of their past sin, and how they've confessed it to God and repented of it and yet they're still beating themselves up over it. I've done it many times. But, I think when we do such a thing we're getting two word that sound similar, but have very different meanings confused.
Condemnation and conviction are two words I have heard a lot. I was at Bible college when I first had someone explain the difference in the meanings of these words to me. It made sense then, and I hope that it makes sense to you reading this today.
Condemnation is the feeling of guilt and of being worthless because of past sin that I mentioned above. Its whole purpose is to keep you trapped in your guilt because of your shame over your sin.
Conviction is the guilt you feel for sin that causes you to confess it, repent of it, and move on. Its whole purpose is to get your life moving in a direction that is pleasing to God.
Conviction is something that comes from God. It challenges us to get things right in our lives. It may come with feelings if guilt, but these feelings are what cause you to turn to God ad seek His help to change your ways. Condemnation brings with it feelings of shame and worthlessness that keep you trapped.
One of the books I just finished reading helped to remind me of the difference between the two.
When God speaks to us, He doesn't point out our sin to condemn us or burden us with guilt. His desire is to lovingly reveal our sin and encourage us to confess it, so He can cleanse and change us. He never wants us to act out of guilt or fear of rejection but rather out of a love relationship with Him. . . . There's a difference between God's convicting voice and the Enemy's condemning voice. Condemn means to consider something worthy of punishment. Convict means to bring something to light in order to correct it.
(Priscilla Shirer, Discerning the Voice of God, Moody Publishers, Chicago, pg. 155-156)
Romans 8 makes it pretty clear that condemnation is not from God.
"Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1, NIV)
Shirer goes on to say the following in the book, when talking about how we are not condemned.
God has the right to condemn us because He is without sin, but He has chosen to bestow grace on us despite what we have done. . . . God's voice will convict us (point out our sin); but it will also express His love for us. It won't condemn us or burden us with guilt. It will offer us the grace to leave the sin behind and continue on in righteousness.
(Shirer, Discerning the Voice of God, pg. 157)
Our past sins do not have to define what we can do in the future! Our past sins do not limit us in what we can do in the future! Our past sins do not need to keep us bound in shame and feelings of worthlessness! Condemnation is not from God - it from the enemy! Conviction allows us to move beyond our sin with God's help.