132. Feeling Guilty? Is It Conviction By The Holy Spirit Or Condemnation By The Devil?

A friend remarked recently that the motivating factor in the incredible change in his life came through a deep conviction by the Holy Spirit. The experience  gave him a sense of his lost-ness and a feeling of guilt from deliberately living life without God. He also shared that when he first started going to church, a sense of guilt remained for some time. But it raises the question as to whether new believers (or sometimes more mature believers) are suffering from unnecessary guilt.

We need to remember that we live in a fallen world and that none of us are, or ever will be, perfect. One of the ministries of the Holy Spirit of God whom we received at our conversion to Christ, is to convict us of our sin. Jesus said in John 16:8, And when he (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. The word for “convict” here is  ελέγχω (elegchō). It has meanings in the New Testament such as these, to convict, expose, reprove, rebuke, show fault, to prove to be wrong. It is used in a similar sense in Jn 3:19-20, where it is said that light “exposes” darkness,  Jn 3:19  And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.Exposed” here is our word (elegchō).

As many have discovered, the Holy Spirit exposes the sinfulness of sin to human hearts. However humans by and large have no great desire to change. That is why light is so threatening to many people. They believe that if they get close to the light, their sins might be exposed and they don’t want to be unmasked in that manner.  By contrast believers are not afraid of the light because they want to walk in the light, in ways that honour God.  They welcome the light that exposes any sin in their lives, so that they can repent of it and then can ask and receive God’s forgiveness and cleansing.

It raises the question however whether believers should have feelings of guilt? Of course they should if they are guilty in any way. But the Christian life is meant to be an ongoing growth in maturity and in holiness. The Holy Spirit can and does convict believers of their guilt when they transgress or step out of the will of God for them. In spite of our growing likeness to Christ, there will never be a time when we can go it alone. We will always need the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to bring about that transformation. He shows us our faults (convicts us). But He also empowers us to overcome those faults by His grace, love and power.

Throughout my ministry I have come across many believers who were weighed down with guilt. Why? Because they had failed to recognise the difference between the ministry of the Holy Spirit in convicting us of sin and the strategy of the devil in seeking to make us feel guilty. I once put in a diagram to show the difference.

What is the difference between:-  Conviction by the Holy Spirit?  Condemnation by the accuser? (Reading across the columns from left to right). 

The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin  so that we might repent of our guilt and sin So that we turn to God to ask for and receive God’s forgiveness The end result. So that we might walk in freedom from guilt by the grace of God
The Devil (as Diabolos the accuser) accuses us and condemns us of our sin so that we might feel guilt and remorse (but not repentance) So that he may entice us to turn away from God in our guilt, feeling worthless and useless and “dirty” The end result. So that we might be held captive in our “guilt” to the Devil.

It was quite amazing when I taught this truth in large seminars that so many attendees suddenly realised what was going on in their minds and in their lives.  Some of them later admitted that they had been having troubling thoughts. They were rejoicing in their salvation, but were often plagued with condemning thoughts. Sometimes this had led to thoughts of self-condemnation. Other times they had felt that they were too unworthy to keep on serving God. Many of these folk realised that there was a battle going on in their minds.

We need to remember that our thoughts come from various sources. The Bible teaches something that many of us have come to realise. That is, the Satan, the Devil (Diabolos)  is able to plant thoughts in our minds. He can do that in the realm of temptation as he sows tempting possibilities in our minds. But he is also known as the “accuser” which is the meaning of  the word “diabolos”. As the diagram above shows he accuses us so that we begin to feel condemned and guilty, so that we come more under his power. That is why we need to take stock of what is going on in our thinking.  We need to learn to recognise the origin of the thoughts that form in our minds. Are they from God, from Satan or just our own reflections? Is God trying to convict us of something in our lives that is not according to His will for us? As we respond to Him, we learn to walk in greater freedom. Or is it Satan having a go at us to lead us away from God.

Well, how do we discern what is going on in our minds? St Paul shows us the answer in 2 Corinthians 10:5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. It means not allowing our thoughts to get out of control. Rather we are to take every thought to Jesus to let Him rule on it so that we continue to live in obedience to Him. If we continue to dwell on our thoughts  we can begin to “own” them as the product of our minds, when in fact they may have been thoughts planted by Satan. The German reformer Martin Luther  saw the danger of dwelling on our thoughts. He said regarding temptation, “You can’t stop the birds flying over your heads, but you can stop them building nests in your hair.”  In other words, temptations are sure to come to all of us. It is inevitable in a fallen world where the Devil is opposed to God and to His children. But what we can and must do is to stop those tempting thoughts from taking root in our minds. Otherwise we give them power by feeding them by dwelling on those thoughts.

If you have a troubling thought in your mind you are able to do something about it. You don’t have to remain a “victim”of a diabolical attack. You can take the thought to Jesus for Him to deal with. You could pray a prayer like this one.

“Dear Lord Jesus. I thank You that You know everything about me. You know every thought I have. I confess that I have been focussing on this particular thought ….. . I want to obey you in all that I do. If this thought is from You then give me peace about it and the grace to act on it. If this thought is not from You, I ask that You break the power of that thought in my mind so that I don’t continue to focus on it. Please renew my mind so that You become the Lord of my mind. I ask this so that I might bring glory to your name in all I think, say and do. AMEN.” 

Blog No. 132.  Jim Holbeck. Posted on Saturday 23rd November 2013

About Jim Holbeck

Once an Industrial Chemist working for the Queensland Government but later an Anglican minister in Brisbane, Armidale and Sydney. Last position for eighteen years before retirement in 2006 was as the Leader of the Healing Ministry at St Andrew's Cathedral Sydney.
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