People speak of ‘shallow’ conversions and ‘deep’ conversions, but Scripture knows nothing of such language. In God’s Word you are either converted or you are not. Externally the change may appear the more dramatic with some, but internally the transformation is the same. It is from death to life, from darkness to light and from idols to God. If I am really converted, then I am just as deeply converted as Saul of Tarsus.
Now conversion flows from conviction. As a result of the Holy Spirit’s work, the sinner’s heart and mind become convinced of the Truth. The Word of God is applied to the soul and it finds itself unable to escape from the certainty of what God has said. I may then go on to conversion, and give in to God’s demands, or sadly, walk away from my moment of opportunity. We see this distinction in Scripture. The young man of Matt. 19: 22 was convicted but not converted. He did not doubt what the Lord said, but he could not allow it to change his life, and thus “went away grieved”. Contrast this with Acts 16 where the Philippian jailer not only became convicted but also got converted and so “rejoiced with all his house” (v34).
I repeat, conviction is essential for conversion. A ‘conversion’ that is not based upon conviction is not a conversion at all. Persons are attracted to things Christian for all kinds of reasons, but unless it is the Spirit of God that has led me in the way then I am not saved at all. Intellectual arguments may persuade, works of power entice, and emotional fervour incline, while conviction is unknown. Conviction puts me in touch with the reality of God and His Word.
Conviction is not simply admitting that I am a sinner. Anyone can do that. I am convicted when I realise the horror of being a sinner in the presence of a holy, sin–hating God. Conviction is not the glib acknowledgement that I am on the road to hell. Wicked men will cheerfully admit that and continue on their sinning way. I am convicted when the Spirit of God lays upon my soul the unspeakable terror of what it means to be lost. Conviction is not the flippant declaration that Christ is the answer to my troubles. How many have said that, yet proved by their subsequent lives that they have never met Him! I am convicted when like a drowning man I will stop at nothing to reach safety.
Conviction also leads to committal. A man that has been convinced of the truth of a matter does not surrender it. If he does, he was never convicted in the first place. The Jews cried “Hosanna to the Son of David” one minute, “Let him be crucified” the next (Matt. 21: 9; 27: 22). The first cry was plainly not the result of deep conviction of heart. Sadly, those who take up Christianity ‘easily’ (as it appears), often give it up just as easily. On a wave of emotion or sentiment they ‘come to faith’, and when the wave is passed and gone, the emptiness of their profession is proved by the barrenness of their lives. The solemn truth is that they have never known anything of the convicting power of the Holy Spirit.
In John 6: 66 we read that “from that [time] many of his disciples went away back and walked no more with him”. They gave up Christ. This is not the same as being a secret disciple (John 19: 38), or to follow “at a distance” (Mark 14: 54), or to entertain doubts (Matt. 11: 3). Many of us, regrettably know something of these things, yet our love for the Lord is nonetheless real. No, these were those who did not truly believe (John 6: 64), though they followed Him in the way for a while. Alas, how many there are like this today! Profession of Christ is loudly made, but there is never any fruit. They are but “for a time” (Mark 4: 17), and when things get difficult, they quietly slip away. Thus it was with those in John 6. They were “willing for a season to rejoice in his light” (John 5: 35), but then His word became too “hard” (John 6: 60), and they went back to what they had left. Had these men ever been convicted? No. Their allegiance to Christ was superficial and ultimately worthless.
It is imperative that we are convinced of what we claim to believe––a conviction wrought by the Holy Spirit in the soul. Thus when the Lord says to the twelve “Will ye also go away”, Peter answers “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast words of life eternal; and we have believed and known that thou art the holy one of God” (John 6: 67–70). He was convinced of the Lord’s claims. Of course Peter was later among those that “left him and fled” (Matt. 26: 56), yet crucially was able to say on his recovery “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I am attached to thee” (John 21: 15). The bedrock of genuine faith had remained unshaken throughout. How could Peter abandon his convictions about Christ, when those convictions were the fruit of God’s work in his soul? He could not. His belief in Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” was not based on anything skin–deep and superficial. As the Lord said, “flesh and blood has not revealed [it] to thee, but my Father who is in the heavens” (Matt. 16: 16, 17).
Observing the carefree and flippant lives of some so–called Christians it is questionable whether they are convicted of anything, let alone convicted of sin. It is not enough to realise we are sinners––we must feel it. Where there has been true conviction then sin becomes an awful and horrible phenomenon. Listen to Peter “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, Lord” (Luke 5: 8). Hear the thief on the cross “Dost thou too not fear God, thou that art under the same judgement? and we indeed justly, for we receive the just recompense of what we have done” (Luke 23: 40, 41). Hearken to the repentant prodigal: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee; I am no longer worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants” (Luke 15: 18, 19). This is not mere admission of sin. This is something deeper and substantial. This is conviction. Oh yes, a Saul or a Balaam can say “I have sinned” (see 1 Sam. 26: 21, Num. 22: 34), and then proceed on their godless and sinful way with scarcely a qualm. Contrast this with David. “Thou art the man!” said Nathan, (2 Sam. 12: 7) and the shaft of conviction bore deep into David’s heart. Psalm 51 is the powerful and affecting result of that man’s repentance and grief.
The soul that is convicted of sin regards it not as a triviality, but as a thing of deadly importance. Thus in John 8: 9, in the incident of the woman taken in adultery, the woman’s accusers, having been convicted of their own guilt by the Lord’s word are not able to bear His holy presence, and “went out one by one beginning from the elder ones until the last”. These are men forced to admit their own deep and terrible sinnership. Of course in this instance, conviction did not lead to conversion, but it does not alter the fact that without this experience there will never be an genuine conversion. Regrettably some of today’s deluded ‘converts’ (for that is what they are), appear never to have trod this road at all.
Of course in saying all this I do not mean to pour scorn on anyone’s profession. It is the Lord that “knows those that are his” (2 Tim. 2: 19). Yet the fact remains that “every tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6: 44). This is not an attack on my fellow men; rather it is a heartfelt plea for each and everyone of us to ask himself in all seriousness whether his religion is founded on genuine experience with God, or whether it rests simply on the transient sand of human persuasion. In this regard the position of some of the adherents of the Christian faith is positively fearful. Their words, their deeds, their friends and their ambitions all testify to their faith being but a sham. What about you? “Come now, let us reason together, saith Jehovah” (Is. 1: 18)––get into the presence of God, get conviction of sin, get all settled and get converted. It matters not that you have been to church or meeting all your life, that friends and family have always regarded you as a Christian, that until now you yourself, in Satan’s delusion, also thought yourself ‘saved’. No, this is a question you MUST face and face NOW. Your eternal welfare depends on it.