A Celebration of Conviction
We live in an age where conviction is considered a bad thing. I'm not talking about the conviction to do something nice. I'm talking about the kind of conviction where we feel guilt and a need for repentance or change. It's not popular to talk about sin, guilt, shame, or even just taking responsibility for mistakes.
A pastor, such as myself, will be much more popular if he preaches about success, blessing, prosperity, or love. He'll be perceived as loving and kind if he talks about how much God loves and accepts us "just as we are." Talking about the need for change or an admission of wrongdoing is considered judgmental and perhaps even cruel. Some theologies even suggest that preaching about obedience and change is heretical. "The gospel is good news," they shout, "Not bad news!" These folks label anything but the gospel message as "legalistic" and destructive.
Yes...today, the "Old School" preaching of what's often dubbed, "hellfire and brimstone," is no longer acceptable in most circles. The message is, "I'm OK...You're OK," and not much else....
But here's the problem.
Change, real healthy change and growth, doesn't normally happen without conviction. Several years ago, I wrote a book called, "Champion That Change!" You can access a copy by clicking HERE. The book provides some healthy steps for leaders who want to facilitate healthy change in their organizations or in their personal lives. The first of these steps is perhaps the hardest. To succeed, we must foster an absolute sense of discontent! In chapter one I write, "...the fear of change will override the most beautiful and well-cast vision…UNLESS, there is an absolute and unrelenting dissatisfaction with the status quo!"
The first sermon given in the history of the Church was Peter's sermon in Acts chapter two. A careful analysis of the sermon shows that what Peter did was create conviction in the hearts and minds of over 3,000 people that day. In essence, he told them, "Look! You waited centuries for the Messiah. He came as prophesied. AND YOU KILLED HIM!" Their response is one of despair, guilt, and emotional acceptance of responsibility for this crime. In verse 37, we see this:
37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
Now I agree that if Peter just did a mic-drop and walked away, this would be a negative, hurtful situation. Leaving them in their sin and conviction would be harsh. But I've often said that we can't appreciate the good news unless we've heard the bad news first. We can't value the gospel unless we know why we need it! It's like the man whose doctor called and said, "Hey Jim, I've got good news and bad news--which do you want to hear first?" "Oh," Jim responded, "I need some good news today Doc...let's start with that." "OK," the doctor replied, "You've got 24 hours to live." "What?" Jim exclaimed, "That's the good news??? What in heaven's name is the bad news then?" "I'm so sorry," the doctor apologized, "I forgot to call you yesterday...."
But the Apostle Peter did NOT leave the crowd in their guilt and shame on that Pentecost Sunday, 33 AD. Notice he's response to their conviction:
38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the [a]remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
As Paul Harvey would say, you know "the rest of the story." Thousands were saved and baptized that day. The Church of Jesus Christ was born! But let's remember that it didn't start from a feel-good, self-help, positive-thinking, prosperity gospel approach. It started with conviction...and that's still important today
So let's remember that a good spiritual diet will include encouragement and instruction. It will include sermons where we are reminded of how loved we are--even in our sinfulness. It will cast a vision of hope for this life and for eternity. HOWEVER, that balanced diet will also include the preaching of repentance and conviction--the need to change. The New Testament is FILLED with this balanced approach. As Paul told Pastor Timothy and all pastors since, "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching (2 Timothy 4:2)."
To That End,