One week ago, I heard a sermon that left me thinking…and thinking. The sermon itself had many points that continued to poke at me as the rest of the week passed, but a brief comment exchanged between me and the pastor as I left the sanctuary and we shared the customary hand shake pulled together the illustrations and theme into a clear take-away message for me. I thanked the pastor for his sermon, and I told him that it was “both convicting and uplifting.” He replied, “What’s one without the other?” and he thanked me for my feedback. I could not get that idea out of my head. As I drove home alone (The kids were under the weather last Sunday, so Daddy stayed home with them.), the idea of conviction as a source of being uplifted rolled around in my mind. Here are some of my thoughts.
:: If we didn’t feel or know God’s conviction of our failures (our sin), we would wallow there. We would live rather casually in our own filth, unaware of our stench. We would never be more; we would never grow. We might feel something was off, but I don’t think we would care very much without the discomfort of conviction.
:: When we are convicted, we are in a really fertile spot. We can accept the sting of conviction–and with God’s grace–let that sting be a sort of growing pain. We can be lifted from a dirty, mucky place and reach skyward–a growth spurt that we would never have taken if we hadn’t known that we were stagnant and broken.
:: If God didn’t promise to lift us but merely pointed an angry finger at us and shot us to the ground, His conviction would not be fruitful. Being the sovereign God of all, his conviction would be just and right, but it would produce only punishment. Conviction without grace is like stamping on new plant’s first shoots every time they break through soil. God doesn’t OWE us His grace; He could stomp all He wanted and leave no room for growth, but fortunately, God is a loving, compassionate father, and His conviction comes with an unimaginable dose of mercy and the promise of help to be more than our sinful little selves.
:: In our judicial system, we convict criminals. A conviction is an official declaration of guilt. In theory, a conviction and a sentence to prison or service carries the possibility of rehabilitation. In the best of situations, a conviction is a chance to turn a wrong to right, a crooked path to a straight one. That happens sometimes. Unfortunately, the system is endlessly flawed with potentially unjust convictions and other complicated factors that work together to create a culture of anger, bitterness, mistrust, and entitlement inside the prison walls. Rehabilitation seems like a very unlikely result. It’s imperfect, but even this literal, judicial conviction pauses the cycle of crime and potentially reverses it. How much better, then, is God’s conviction of us in His perfect justice, mercy, and grace?
:: The opposite is worth considering as well. What does it mean to be uplifted without having been convicted? We could believe that Jesus came and died on the cross simply as a nice thing to do. We could even recognize the beauty of his selfless act. But Christ’s act isn’t redemptive if we weren’t in sin to begin with. The story of Jesus would only be drama–just a bunch of fireworks, and the sense of peace and hope that believers possess would be empty. Faith would have no power because the source of our faith would all be show. We cannot truly be uplifted if we were never guilty. The “lifting” is also meaningless if we are guilty but never convicted of that guilt. We can’t have all the joy of the faith if we don’t want to look at our sin. We would be raised from where? If we don’t know that God’s love is unmerited, we can’t understand that we need His salvation and are powerless on our own.
:: And here is where I’ve been all week: I can lift my children up by praising their every little act, word, or creation. I can let them live in a big puddle of empty praise that does nothing to help them better themselves. In time, when the world shows them their faults and they realize that they cannot be the champion in every race, they will distrust me and fall embarrassingly into a heap of humiliation. I can also convict my children of their mistakes. I can shout at them for leaving their toys all over the place, dropping one shoe at the door and the other under the couch, hitting a sibling in the heat of a disagreement, and forgetting their manners at the table. I can issue a punishment for their disobedience, send them to their room for talking back or lying or neglecting a chore. But if I only convict and never teach, I leave my children in a place from which they can never rise. They must know their failures but see the opportunity to rise. That will only happen if I extend them grace, teach them what to do instead of yelling what not to do, and welcome them into a place where it is safe to fall and to stand again. I will aim for that balance, all the while giving thanks that God has the equation just right as He parents me.
When I think about this “convicting versus uplifting” dichotomy, I realize that the pastor was quite right. One is nothing without the other. A conviction is an end. A sense of being uplifted is just an elevator ride. When in balance, conviction is discipleship–the learning, the awareness, the launch pad for salvation.
(Note: The actual sermon focused upon Luke 20: 19-26. Jesus tells his listeners to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and render to God what is God’s. The sermon asked us to consider what is truly God’s (everything!) and what we fail to give Him. It pushed us to examine ourselves for the sin that lingers in us and to rejoice that we can be set free from those sins by Christ who pays our debt and covers our shortcomings.)