Conviction: 1. a formal declaration that someone is guilty of a particular offense; 2. a firmly held belief or opinion; 3. the quality of showing that one is firmly convinced of what one believes or says.
I don’t think that anyone is unfamiliar with the first definition. We are bombarded with it in the plenitude of popular crime dramas and the evening news. The image of the jury foreman, after being asked, “On the charge of murder in the first degree, how do you find?” and the response of “Guilty, your Honor.” is far too common. And the finality of the rendered verdict is hammered home with the crack of the gavel against the hardwood sound block.
Some of us, perhaps, are all the more familiar with it, having stood to hear the verdict delivered against them. Or perhaps you’ve sat in the courtroom while a friend or loved one is convicted. For those, the image is all too clear.
As Christians, we don’t always spend time remembering from whence we have come: guilty of breaking the Law of God, guilty of insurrection against the King of kings and Lord of lords. The gavel fell and we were sentenced to death. Maybe it’s because we don’t think we were that bad. Could it be that our tiny little sins were still enough to make the verdict simple and the sentence eternal? Fortunately, Someone intervened, taking our guilt and sentence upon Himself.
“But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:5-11, ESV).
The second definition is pretty straightforward as well. When we hold strongly to a belief it is said that it is our conviction. At the root conviction, we find the word convince. Returning to the courtroom, it is the job of the attorneys to convince judge or jury of the accused’s guilt or innocence. They present evidence and produce witnesses that either accuse or excuse the accused. In the end, judge or jury is convinced one way or another.
We were convinced, by evidence of some nature, that we were guilty; and that Jesus alone was able to make atonement for us, providing salvation when we were in need of sentencing. “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:22-26, ESV).
But what do we do with that knowledge?
The third definition begins to answer that question. What about our lives corroborates our conviction about Jesus’s sinless life, horrible crucifixion and death, and His resurrection? Do our lifestyles substantiate that which we affirm to believe? Can the person next to us in the traffic jam see in us the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7)?
Throughout history many have demonstrated their convictions by their willingness to die for them, the unflappability of their faith observed in their final stand. Some have done so for much lesser beliefs than the Lordship of Christ.
For some readers there is a real possibility that they will one day find themselves in such a spot. And while it is unlikely in Western society that we will face death for our faith, it is not impossible.
More likely, we will be in a situation where someone is bad-mouthing Christians, and we will have to choose whether we are proud or ashamed of our Lord.
This weekend spend some mindful time considering what you really believe. What beliefs are non-negotiable? Imagine yourselves in situations where you might be called upon to stand up and be counted, to share what you believe and why. “The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful–for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:11-13, ESV).