Is there a healthy guilt and an unhealthy guilt according to the Bible? Is there a biblical difference between condemnation and conviction? Does the Bible say Christians should still experience condemnation, conviction, both, or neither?
In short, there are many differences between condemnation and conviction. When the two are confused, great harm can occur in the Christian soul.
Condemnation Leads to Death. Conviction Leads to Life
One main difference between condemnation and conviction is where they will lead you. Condemnation leads you further away from God towards death. Conviction leads you closer to God and towards life.
Biblical condemnation is more than a feeling. It is a state of being that defines your relationship with God. When you stand before God condemned, it means your current eternal home is away from God in hell. To be condemned means you have been found guilty and have been sentenced to death.
Conviction, on the other hand, is when our wrongs have been identified and revealed. The Bible explains that Christians can be convicted of sin while not condemned. We can be found guilty of sin and yet not be sentenced to the just judgment for those sins.
In love, God makes Christians aware of sin (conviction) without giving us the sentence (condemnation) for that sin. He sent his Holy Spirit to bring conviction and to allow humans to escape condemnation. God doesn’t just remove the penalty of our sins without bringing conviction. Rather, through a loving conviction of sin God draws us to himself, causes us to repent, and leads us towards life.
Condemnation Is for the Unbeliever. Conviction Is for the Believer
We must be careful to not over apply biblical truth into contexts which the Bible does not place those truths. While God is love and desires every human to repent of sin to be saved (2 Peter 3:9), and while God does save people from condemnation when they put their faith in Jesus Christ and repent of sin, God does actually condemn people. God is a loving God. But God is also a condemning God. If God did not condemn people for their sin, there would be no reason for him to have sent Christ. (Read: How Does Hell Glorify God?)
Often times we want people to experience the love of God so bad that we try to help them escape their feelings of condemnation by telling them that God does not condemn them because he loves them. This is not right. While the heart behind such a statement may be good, the truth is that God does condemn people. The reason many feel condemned by God is because they are condemned by God.
The way to escape condemnation is not to believe God does not condemn you because he loves you; rather, you must realize God sent his Son to receive your condemnation because he loves you. God redeems us (Ephesians 1:7), which means he purchases us out of our slavery through the price of his Son. God loves us, but his love is not expressed through pardoning without punishment. The crucifixion, that cosmic event that actually happened in history, is the redeeming act of love that makes it possible to escape condemnation, the penalty of our sins.
What is true is that once you become a Christian you will never be condemned by God ever again. Romans 8:1 gives us this beautiful promise, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Notice the limits of this verse, “for those who are in Christ Jesus.” John 3:17-18 also explains:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
So one major difference between condemnation and conviction is that condemnation is for unbelievers while conviction is for believers.
All Christians Will Experience Regular, Healthy Times of Conviction
One of the primary jobs of the Holy Spirit is to bring conviction to the Christian. When we are veering from God’s path, our conscience will convict us because the Holy Spirit now lives within our hearts. John 16:8 states, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”
Even if you feel condemned, as a Christian you are not, “for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:20). It is easy to confuse feelings of condemnation with feelings of conviction. But there are differences even in the feelings associated with these two different concepts. 2 Corinthians 7:10-11 says:
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what readiness to see justice done!”
Other differences are that conviction focuses on your behavior while condemnation focuses on your identity. Conviction leads you towards repentance and a stronger relationship with God. Condemnation leads you towards hiding, shame, and a weaker relationship with God. If you feel like God hates you, you are experiencing an unbiblical condemnation. God loves you, and one of the ways he shows that love is by disciplining us.
Discipline is a corrective action meant to change hurtful behavior. Punishment is a punitive action meant to make you pay for something you did in the past. Conviction is about discipline. Condemnation is about punishment. (For more on this read, “The Biblical Difference Between Discipline, Punishment, and Consequences.”)
Humans Bring Condemnation. The Holy Spirit Brings Conviction
We must leave the work of the Holy Spirit to him. He may use your words of truth, he may use your biblical judgment of someone you are trying to lovingly correct, or he may use your holy life to convict the ungodliness in the lives of others. But he alone will bring conviction.
Often times the harder you try to convict someone, the more condemning you will be. Our job is to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), to correct people gently (Galatians 6:1), and to love people the best way possible.
God alone works on the human heart. Sometimes we are his tools, but always remember he is the only one who can produce true, biblical conviction. As I talked about in the blog, “What Does the Bible Say About Blind Spots,” we need the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sins:
Spiritual blindness is a huge topic in the Bible. If we were to boil it down to just the nuts and bolts, however, the Bible says that without the Holy Spirit, we are all spiritually blind (1 Corinthians 2:6-16, Luke 4:18). Our spiritual blindness not only hinders us from seeing God accurately, it also hinders us from seeing ourselves properly. We think our sinfulness is not that bad and that our goodness is better than it really is.
Blind spots cause us to misjudge our sinfulness, and thus we need the Holy Spirit’s help in bringing biblical conviction to our lives (John 16:8). Psalm 139:23-24 states, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me,and lead me in the way everlasting!”
When the Holy Spirit is in our lives, there will be regular epiphany moments about our own issues. Suddenly we will see negative patters in our character that have been their our whole lives. But without the Spirit we could not see those blind spots. We will wonder, “How have I missed this for so long?”
We need God’s loving correction even when we think there are no problems in us because we all have blind spots the Holy Spirit is seeking to expose to us in his timing.
Summary: What Is the Difference Between Conviction and Condemnation?
The Bible explains that there are many important differences between conviction and condemnation, between godly sorrow and ungodly sorrow, between discipline and punishment.
In short, conviction differs from condemnation because it leads to life for the believer. We must never ignore the Holy Spirits loving discipline. Conviction may hurt in the moment, but unlike condemnation, it will lead to more joy in the end.