There are two very difficult lessons that I have learned in ministry: the first tells me that the state of “personal conviction” is a very dangerous thing and must not be entered in too lightly, and the second tells me that those who avoid personal convictions will sink into a state of “personal apathy” and become cowards in the face of opposition.
Let me explain.
Collins English Dictionary defines “conviction” as:
1 the state or appearance of being convinced 2 a fixed or firmly held belief, opinion, etc
The reason the state of personal conviction is such a dangerous thing is that once entered, the convinced individual becomes firmly fixed in their beliefs and cannot easily change or reform their position.
Those who enter into this state of conviction too easily may become entrenched in error and will defend their errors to the death, becoming unresponsive to sound wisdom. This, in turn, leads them into greater and greater folly:
Proverbs 12:15 (CSB) — 15 A fool’s way is right in his own eyes, but whoever listens to counsel is wise.
This self-assurance characterizes those whose conviction comes from within themselves rather than from above; they are certain that they are right because it seems right to them. They have not been convinced by God, though they may feign such noble virtue, but have firmly fixed themselves in their own beliefs. Any pretense given towards God is used merely to reinforce their own position.
I do not write any of this as someone who is immune to this folly – indeed, I have never met anyone who was. At the height of my youthful zeal, I was firmly fixed in numerous errors. I was destructively confident in my own positions and beliefs. But I thank God for his rod of correction because by his discipline he teaches humility so that those who follow Christ may walk faithfully after him.
Looking at the severity of my past mistakes, I was tempted to avoid ever entering the state of personal convictions again. I hoped to find safety in not being firmly convinced of anything – save Jesus Christ himself. Indeed, many people look at the potential for error found in the state of “conviction” and think that being firmly convicted of anything is wrong.
This, too, is error:
James 1:7–8 (CSB) — 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord, 8 being double-minded and unstable in all his ways.
1 Kings 18:21 (CSB) — 21 Then Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him. But if Baal, follow him.” But the people didn’t answer him a word.
When the Lord has spoken, it is incumbent upon his people to enter into a state of personal conviction about what the Lord has said, to be fully convinced of their calling from God, and to be firmly fixed in their worship of the Holy One. And those who are too afraid, or too lazy, to become wholly convicted of the things of God will surely wax and wane between God and the world, between truth and error, and between what is right and what is convenient.
Today’s Church desperately needs Christians who live under the conviction of God’s word, being fixed firmly in God’s good and precious will. There are far too many apathetic Christians who do not care enough about the truth to be convinced thereof; they casually hold the doctrines of God and go back and forth between God and the world:
2 Kings 17:33 (CSB) — 33 They feared the Lord, but they also worshiped their own gods according to the practice of the nations from which they had been deported.
The ultimate point that I am making here is that we cannot escape our responsibility to learn and become wholly convinced of the truth. Our postmodernist world says that we should accept all truths as equally valid, and in so doing they have become convinced of nothing except what seems right to them in the moment. Christians must learn from the word of God by the illumination of the Counselor, and we must allow God’s truth to wholly convict us – spirit, soul, and body – so that we might follow the Man of Truth by the Way of Truth!
God expects people to learn and believe the truth.
We cannot escape our responsibility to the truth.
And we must not be too hasty in becoming convinced about anything, lest we become convinced of error and begin to oppose the truth.