Everyone knows what it feels like to be caught with your hand in the cookie jar, to do a forbidden thing (by whatever rules are imposed) and get caught in it. We feel guilty and maybe ashamed that someone else noticed we were breaking the rules. But that is not conviction of sin.
And when he (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment... (John 16:8)
Oswald Chambers says that very few know anything about conviction of sin. We know what it feels like to be disturbed about doing wrong and about getting caught, but conviction of sin goes far deeper. It is not about our human relationships, about mother catching the cookie thief, or falling short of the boss’s rules, or failure to meet the expectations of others. In my experience, conviction of sin is so powerful that it blots out every relationship on earth as Chambers says, leaving one relationship only, the one I have with God.
King David sinned by taking another man’s wife and arranging that man’s death. When his sin was exposed, he didn’t deny it or make excuses for it. instead, he spoke to God about it and said,
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. (Psalm 51:3–4)
David knew what he had done affected the lives of another man and a woman, even his own family and the nation, but it was a sin against God. David wanted the forbidden, and instead of confessing his lustful desires to God, he took matters into his own hands and went after what he wanted. Only afterward, did he seek forgiveness.
To understand how God could forgive him, I need to know that God is holy and righteous. He cannot overlook sin or excuse it. He can never say, “It really isn’t so bad” or “Everyone does it” or “Don’t worry about it.” God is just and righteous. He “will by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:7), yet as that same passage says, He is a God “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin . . . .” (Exodus 34:6–7). How can this be?
In the Old Covenant, God instructed the people of Israel that when they sinned, a blood sacrifice must be made to atone for their sin. This sacrificial system was in place as a promise of an eternal sacrifice to come. That is, they must trust God, looking ahead to His promise and demonstrating their faith by keeping His commands as they offered lambs without blemish on His altar. This was the only way they could satisfy the hatred of God against sin.
Then Christ came. By grace, God forgives sin because of the death of His Lamb, Jesus Christ. It is by that great sacrifice that God is able to forgive and remain true to Himself while doing so.
Some say God forgives us because He loves us. While He does love us, this is not the basis for His forgiveness. The only basis is that Jesus died, nothing less. God’s love sent Jesus to die, but His actual death enabled forgiveness. Love alone is not the foundation for it. Only at the Cross of Calvary is the conscience of God satisfied.
Those who are convicted of sin know that. We know that God sent His Son to die and our sins are truly against God, even the reason Jesus was crucified. Those who are convicted in this way are ready to hear the good news that Jesus died for sin, was buried, and rose again the third day. By His death, the penalty for sin is satisfied.
Forgiveness also means more than being saved from sin’s punishment, now and in hell. It is more than being cleaned up to be ready for heaven. Rather, it means that I am forgiven into a relationship with God, into identification with Christ, into a new birth. Forgiveness isn’t merely wiping the slate, but giving the life of Christ to sinners. God, in the miracle of redemption, turns unholy sinners into new creatures by putting into us a new life, the life of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
His salvation and His forgiveness go much farther that the offering of bulls and lambs, for in Him, we are set on a new path to eventually become transformed into the image of His Son. It happens as He convicts us of sin and as . . . we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9). For this good news, He is teaching me that when the Spirit comes to convict, I need to pay attention.