A person is made up of three primary elements: heart, mind and body. The body is the outward appearance. The body is everything that you do or do not do. The mind is everything that you think. It is man’s knowledge and ability to reason, logic. Your heart is your attitude and your feelings. Man has the ability to control his body in order to not appear in sin. The Pharisees, where they misunderstood sin, made great progress in this area, as do many professed Christians. We can appear on the outside to be free from sin. But, it is not enough to be free from sin in body, but we must also be free from sin in mind. Christ said that if we are angry with someone, we are guilty of murder (Matt 5.21,22). This is still not enough. Christ said that the root of our sin is in our hearts (Matt 15.17-19). Not only that, but if we recognize sin in our hearts, then God turns his ear from us (Ps. 66.18). He will not act on our prayers if we are harboring sin. How do you know if you are harboring sin? You know by your convictions.
The most common use of conviction is used in a legal sense. It is a declaration of guilt or innocence made by a court. It can also be described as a strong belief or something that you have become convinced of. To convict is to declare blame and to condemn. Based on these definitions, conviction can be summed up as, ‘An action which a person is convinced will result in condemnation.’ The Bible is consistent with this definition. Proverbs says, “The guilty are convicted” (Prov. 24.25) and the guilty are convicted by the Holy Spirit (John 16.8). Therefore, when we form a conviction, we should become convinced that the Holy Spirit will condemn us for an action. Moving forward, remember that the most important part of forming convictions is becoming thoroughly convinced that something will result in God’s condemnation. For most, ‘because the Bible says it’s sin’ will not be adequate to be thoroughly convinced.
Why form convictions?
The obvious response is to avoid God’s condemnation, but there is a bigger reason. It is a reflection of our heart. God is more concerned with our hearts than with our actions. Romans 14.22,23 gives an accurate answer to this question.
The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God.
Our free will cannot be a reason to sin. All are at liberty to sin, but as Christians, our faith in Jesus Christ should be demonstrated to God through our forming of convictions, our agreement on what is sin.
Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.
The idea is that we will find joy in Christ if we do not approve of things that are sin. Notice that it says ‘approve’. Convictions are not just a list of don’ts, they are also a list of dos. Do not be solely concerned about what not to do, otherwise you live fearful, timid lives. Instead fill your life with what you should do, what you approve of, which with proper convictions will result in joy.
But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin
This passage has to do with the context. Gentile Christians were eating meat which was sacrificed at the temples of Pagan gods. This is not a sin, but the Jewish Christians believed it was. What Paul is saying here is that if they eat the meat, they are sinning by eating the meat from the temple if they have not formed a conviction on the matter, even though eating the meat is not sin. The application is that we cannot simply assume something is sin simply because Mom said so or because our Sunday school teacher said so. We must form a conviction, in order to be absolutely convinced, so that we can exercise our liberty without condemnation.
In summation, we must form convictions in order to not sin. We cannot avoid sin accidentally. Why? God knows the heart. If our hearts do not reflect a desire to follow Him, then our actions are immaterial. For example, honesty can be a sin if it is done out of pride rather than faith. God desires that we have a heart to obey Him, that we form convictions about His will, then our minds and bodies follow suit.
As discussed earlier, it is not sufficient for most to read God’s word and call something sin, because scripture suggests it is. It’s like this:
A man opens the Bible to find God’s will. He opens his Bible and reads of Judas, “Then he went away and hanged himself” (Matt 27.5). The man then flips to another scripture and reads, “Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise’” (Luke 10.37).
There are many areas which people argue as to the meaning of a scripture and ultimately what conviction should be derived from it. There are also areas of scripture that seem to contradict values (Ex. Story of Rahab in Joshua 2). There are other factors which must be taken into account, namely, the Holy Spirit and general revelation. God has provided us with multiple sources which will guide us to form convictions and we should make use of them all.
Before forming a conviction, we have to be presented with a situation. This can be a ‘what do I do’ or a ‘what don’t I do’. For example, a conviction can be, ‘I am convicted that lying is evil’ or it can be ‘I am convicted that God wants me to become a missionary.’ In reality we should be forming both types of convictions, dos and don’ts. Scripture is a great place to start for either type of conviction since “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3.16,17). All of these elements are related to dos and don’t, but the purpose is to do God’s work and that is our ultimate goal.
Example: It is not enough to read the book of Acts and decide that it is God’s will for you to become a missionary simply because Paul was a missionary. If you read Acts and are challenged to become a missionary, it is likely the work of the Holy Spirit which is calling you to it. In order to form a conviction on your calling you have to spend time in prayer over the matter and ask God to confirm it for you. This brings up another dilemma though. How do you know when and how it has been confirmed?
Sometimes the confirmation is easy, because doors open and God makes it really obvious. Sometimes it’s not so easy. This is where general revelation comes into play. General revelation is our ability to discern good and evil, whether an action is in accordance with God’s will or against it. General revelation is the knowledge of good and evil that was obtained by Adam and Eve when they ate the fruit in the garden. So when we are making a decision, we can look at our evidence and use our God given discernment to begin to form a conviction. Back to the example: if you are trying to confirm whether or not to become a missionary, you have to look at God’s work in creation in order to determine if that work is confirmation or not. If God opens all the doors to go into missionary work, then your natural ability to discern should tell you that is His will for you. If there is no feasibility in it, then your discernment should tell you that it is not your will.
Three main elements are required in order to discern God’s will, but there is one other of vital importance. The “gospel [the message of salvation through Jesus Christ] did not come to you in word only, but also…with full conviction” (1 Thes 1.5). We should always form convictions based on the benefit of the gospel. By nature, a Christian should do this since this conviction was put in us at the time of salvation, but it is an important tool in discerning God’s will. Specifically, you can ask, “How will this benefit or discredit the Gospel?”
Sin is only sin because it’s against God’s will. Similarly everything which is against God’s will is sin. So we are not so much looking to figure out what is sin, but what is for or against God’s will. Let’s return to the story of Rahab. She had a choice to lie or to go against God’s plan to have the Israelites conquer the land of Jericho by giving up the Israelite spies. Since Rahab recognized God’s plan, she hid the spies and God’s plan was done. It is uncommon that we will be faced with such a paradox, but the principal remains the same. Seek God’s will to form convictions.
Without convictions we condemn ourselves out of ignorance. If you do not form convictions by faith them you sin, even if that act is in accordance with your liberty. To obey God’s commands blindly and legalistically without forming convictions based on faith is to bring eternal condemnation upon you. But to discern convictions through scripture, by the Holy Spirit, for the purpose of expanding the Gospel is the hearts demonstration of true faith in Jesus Christ by which we are saved from condemnation.