In our walk with God, we will experience conviction from God when we sin as He lovingly leads us. However, we may also experience condemnation, which—for believers—does not come from God. Conviction and condemnation are sometimes difficult to differentiate. When we mistake condemnation for conviction, it can cause discouragement, shame and guilt to hinder our relationship with God and our outlook on life.
Conviction Versus Condemnation
An important truth we must know is this: Believers have accepted Christ and are no longer under condemnation from God for their sins (Romans 8:1-2). Unbelievers, however, remain under condemnation unless they accept what Jesus has done in paying the penalty for all our sins. God’s desire of course is that they would come to Him and receive eternal life (John 3:16-17).
Conviction is a normal experience for believers; condemnation can be felt by believers, but is not from God Himself. When we experience condemnation, it origins either from our own flesh, the enemy or other people. In a sense, condemnation is like a trespasser on private property because as believers we are no longer under it.
It’s helpful to understand that conviction is specific rather than a general feeling of foreboding—the sin will be easily identifiable and focused on a wrong you have done or something right left undone. Condemnation is broad or general—it is often an overall feeling hanging over you.
2 Corinthians 7:10-11 is another helpful verse for understanding the difference between condemnation and conviction:
“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, but worldly grief produces death. For consider how much diligence this very thing—this grieving as God wills—has produced in you: what a desire to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what deep longing, what zeal, what justice! In every way you showed yourselves to be pure in this matter.”2 Corinthians 7:10-11 (CSB)
Conviction Is a Blessing
Conviction is a good thing. It is when God, in His loving care for us, brings us into awareness of our sin. His goal is to bring us to repentance and to draw us closer to Him. He doesn’t just leave us in our sin without seeking to lead us out of it. This is a very good thing!
“Conviction is when God, in His loving care for us, brings us into awareness of our sin. His goal is to bring us to repentance and to draw us closer to Him.”Tweet
Hebrews 12:5-7 says that God also shows His love for us by disciplining us:
“My son, do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly or lose heart when you are reproved by Him, for the Lord disciplines the one He loves and punishes every son He receives. Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline?”Hebrews 12:5-7 (CSB)
This shows us how conviction is a blessing to us as believers. It reveals that we belong to God and are loved by Him as His sons and daughters.
Conviction can even feel like relief to a believer, especially with a sin we did not realize we were engaged in. God’s Spirit opens our eyes to something we need to repent for, and we do. In this we grow in devotion to God as we say “no” to that sin and “yes” to obeying God. It feels freeing because it is no longer unknown to us and we respond to God’s conviction.
Condemnation Is a Discouragement
Condemnation on the other hand comes from either the enemy, other people or even our own hearts. We may feel guilt over something, and this may or may not be something we’ve actually done wrong.
Condemnation can discourage us as we go about our lives. It can lead us to focus on who we are apart from applying what Christ has done for us on the Cross in cleansing us of our sins. It can even cause us to want to give up altogether. Don’t let it win!
Put Condemnation in Check
Believers have a defense when it comes to accusations that feed condemnation. We can take our stand against condemnation’s pollution of our minds and emotions. Romans 8:1-2 says,
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.”Romans 8:1-2 (CSB)
Christ Jesus has taken the penalty for our sins, washing us white like snow. We are no longer under judgment for our sins because of what He has done for us. We can remember this truth when we feel condemned or accused, letting our trust in God trump our feelings.
When we do fall into sin, we can recall what John wrote regarding our faithful God:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”1 John 1:9 (CSB)
Whenever your heart condemns you, remember: “God is greater than our hearts, and He knows all things.” — 1 John 3:20 (CSB)
Try This When You’re Still Unsure
When you still feel confused by whether you’re being convicted or feeling condemnation, simply take it to God:
Explain what’s going on. Then try this prayer, asking Him to show you the truth:
Father God, I’m not sure if this is conviction or condemnation. I’m going to let this go for the moment, but I ask that if this is You convicting me, please show me clearly and specifically at another time when my emotions and thoughts are not causing confusion. I trust You and know You care for me, and that You aren’t angry with me for being unsure. Thank You that You will make all things clear to me if and when You decide it is the right moment, in a way that I will no longer be unsure of whether it is conviction or condemnation. Thank You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.