But, as I raise my head, I see the cross. Christ has taken my punishment. I have been pardoned. I see freedom.
- Anne Reed
You know those light-bulb moments when something suddenly comes into view? You’ve seen it a thousand times, but this time the fog is gone, and you see it differently.
I had one of those moments recently.
Conviction is a pretty common occurrence in my life. Sometimes it comes by invitation. Other times it comes barreling at me like a Mack truck – a most unwelcome and unexpected visitor.
As a writer, I should probably be embarrassed that I have used the verb form of the word “convict” on a regular basis without putting a great deal of thought into its analogous meaning.
My husband surrendered to Christ when he was in his late 30s before we were married. Although he had accepted Christianity as a philosophy years before, he lived a wildly pagan lifestyle. He had lived in Las Vegas and earned a lucrative income in the casino environment. But, he eventually became a homeless thief and drug addict.
Then one day he found himself standing before a judge in a courtroom. It wasn’t the first time, but this time it was different. This time, he wouldn’t be walking out the door and returning to the streets. This time, the gavel came down with an echoing crash, and he was allotted a three-year prison sentence.
The game was over. He was convicted. He had been found guilty. The shackles wouldn’t be removed. His freedom was gone. He would pay the price for his crime.
In my light-bulb moment, I realized that this form of conviction bears a remarkable resemblance to the spiritual conviction I so often experience. The charges are read, and the verdict is in. Overcome with a sense of guilt for sin that’s entered my heart and life, I can look down and see its binding shackles. But, as I raise my head, I see the cross. Christ has taken my punishment. I have been pardoned. I see freedom.
And I am left with gratefulness – both for the awareness of my sinfulness and the reality of God’s goodness that brings me out of the slavery my sinfulness imposes upon me. And, King David’s prayer becomes my own, “You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy.” (Psalm 16:11)
I recently read a startling letter of admonishment to the student body of Oklahoma Wesleyan University. Dr. Everett Piper, president of the Christian university, wrote in response to a student who had complained about a sermon from 1 Corinthians 13 on love. The student seemed to realize he missed the mark and said he felt offended, victimized and uncomfortable by the teaching. (See full letter here) Piper wrote:
Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic! Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims! Anyone who dares challenge them and, thus, makes them “feel bad” about themselves, is a “hater,” a “bigot,” an “oppressor,” and a “victimizer.”
I have a message for this young man and all others who care to listen. That feeling of discomfort you have after listening to a sermon is called a conscience! An altar call is supposed to make you feel bad! It is supposed to make you feel guilty! The goal of many a good sermon is to get you to confess your sins—not coddle you in your selfishness. The primary objective of the Church and the Christian faith is your confession, not your self-actualization!
What if rather than despising conviction, we embraced it? What if we longed for it? “Or,” as the Apostle Paul asked in Romans 2:4 (NKJV), “do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”
What if we taught our children through example about confession and repentance? Jesus said in Luke 15:10 NKJV, "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Perhaps we should respond to conviction with the same joy.