Condemnation Vs. Conviction

There is a new strain of a “hyper grace” teaching in the body of Christ today that differentiates between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament, as though they are two different persons. Those who espouse this doctrine claim other preachers are using “guilt” from Old Testament law to get Saints to live holy. Instead, they should be preaching love and encouragement, grace and compassion. I am all about preaching grace and compassion, but the idea that the God of the O.T. and the God of the N.T. are different is false and misleading. The last book of the O.T. is Malachi, in which God declared: “I am the Lord, and I change not” (3:6).

Notably, this statement is preceded by a prophetic word that God will send His Messenger — Messiah (fulfilled in Jesus), as a refiner who purifies gold and silver by putting it in a pot on the fire until the impurities are removed. Then He named specific sinners that He will judge: Sorcerers (includes those who use drugs), adulterers, false swearers, those who oppress workers, widows, orphans, neglect to pay tithes; as well as the sin of divorce (2:16).

The point is, God has not changed His mind about these sins. They were sin in the O.T. and they’re still sin in the N.T. Jesus fulfilled this prophecy of God’s Refiner, and John the Baptist declared of Him: “I baptize you with water, but he that comes after me shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and fire…. And will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:11-12). Jesus actually raised the bar from how the O.T. dealt with sin. Not only did He condemn murder and adultery, but He stated that a person can be judged and found guilty for his thoughts! He said that if you hate your brother in your heart, you are guilty of murder. If you lust for a woman in your heart, you are guilty of adultery.

 No court on Earth can find a person guilty and judge him for his thoughts. But in the courts of Heaven, a person can be found guilty and judged for his thoughts. So severe is this rebuke that Jesus said, “If your eye offend you, pluck it out. If your hand offend you, cut it off. It is better to go to Heaven maimed than to go to Hell whole” (Refs. Mt. 5:21-30). Clearly, God’s standard has not changed in the N.T. However, we “speak the truth in love”! (Eph. 4:15).

“Condemnation” is a Judicial Term… Not a Feeling

A flagship verse of those who teach this doctrine is Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus…” Generally, they stop here and do not quote the rest of the verse: “… Who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” They conveniently ignore the qualifying condition of not walking in the flesh — but in the Spirit. But they may also be misinformed about what the Greek term for condemnation actually means.

KATAKRINA means “to pronounce judgment against, to pass sentence, to punish,” and often referred to the death sentence and for the worst criminals. Spiritually, it can be said, “to be on death row.” But for those who are in Christ, there is no punishment — no sentence of death passed on us, because Jesus took the penalty for us. The death sentence was passed, because the transgressions against God’s law demanded punishment, but Jesus took our punishment, and on the cross He nailed all the legal documents that found us guilty and punishable, and blotted them out with His blood (Col. 2:14-15).

We are no longer on death row! There is no death sentence hanging over our heads. We have been released from death row to walk in newness of life (Rom.6:4). Although there is no condemnation against us, it does not mean that there is never conviction upon us. However, many do not understand the difference between condemnation and conviction and may even think these are interchangeable.

ELEGCHOO means “to convince, to refute, to show to be wholly wrong,” and it is a work of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers. Clearly, Jesus did not come to condemn the world or sinners, as He said in John 3:17: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world — to pass the sentence of death on — but that the world through him might be saved.” Yet in verse 18, He explained: “He that believes not is condemned already, because he hath not believed on the name of the Son of God.”

The reason Jesus did not come to pass the death sentence on us is, the death sentence was already passed on man in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:19).

Every one of us is born with the sentence of death upon us, which can only be canceled by faith in the blood of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus said: “He that hears my word, and believes on him that sent me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24).

The difference between the O.T. penal code and the New is grace. Under the Old, there was no mercy or forgiveness. The sentence was passed, and if it was a capital punishment offense, the offender was put to death. There were no lawyers to plead to the judge: “But this is his first offense” or “He had an abusive childhood”, etc. The sentence was passed and executed without mercy. Period. And James pointed out: “Mercy rejoices against judgment” (James 2:13).

The Woman Caught in Adultery

This account in John 8:1-11 perfectly illustrates the difference between condemnation & conviction. The Pharisees had brought to Jesus while He was the teaching in the temple a woman whom they said, “was caught in the very act of adultery.” Then they reminded Him, “Moses in the law commanded that such should be stoned, but what do you say?”

The Pharisees said that she should have the sentence of death passed on her. They condemned her to die by stoning, because that’s what the law of Moses required. We know that Jesus did not reply until after He stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. Then lifting Himself up, He said to them: “He that is without sin first cast a stone at her.” Then He stooped down again and wrote again on the ground. “They heard it, and being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, and Jesus and the woman were left alone.”

So what did He write? I believe He wrote the other nine Commandments, because they had condemned the woman for breaking the seventh commandment: “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery,” which carried the death penalty. But they were convicted of sin by their own conscience — and the thing that convicted them was the Word of God — what Jesus wrote!

SUNEIDESIS is the Greek term for conscience and means “with knowledge.” These men knew the law, and each one knew his transgression as Jesus wrote the Commandments in the sand. Their consciences were working like they were supposed to! When the Scriptures reproved them, they were convicted and had to leave.

Man first received a conscience after Adam sinned in the garden. God said: “Man has become as one of us, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:22). This equals conscience. Paul also said in Romans 2:15 that everyone has “a law written on the heart that either accuses or excuses him.”

When they were left alone, Jesus asked the woman: “Woman, where are your accusers? Has no man condemned you? — Has no one pronounced the death sentence upon you?”

She replied, “No man, Lord.” Jesus said to her: “Neither do I condemn thee — Neither do I pronounce the sentence of death on thee — But go and sin no more.” This is conviction — not condemnation.

Conviction said: Do not sin! It’s wrong! Adultery is wrong! Do not break this commandment again! Jesus did not condemn — pass punishment on her, but He did reprove — convict — convince her to not sin again!

Jesus said in John 16:8-10, that when the Holy Spirit is come, He will not only be our Comforter, but our Convicter:“He will reprove the world of sin” (what is wrong), “of righteousness” (what is right), “of judgment” (the eternal consequences for those who break His laws and reject His righteousness freely given through Jesus Christ).

Apostle Paul said that the Holy Spirit speaks through us in the church by prophecy to one that does not believe or is untaught in the Scriptures, and he is “convicted and judged of all, and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest, and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth” (1Cor. 14:24-25).

Therefore, it is incumbent on all ministers, preachers, teachers, to preach about sin, so the Word can be sown in people’s hearts. The Holy Spirit will convict them when they sin by the Word, because conviction brings contrition, and contrition brings confession, and confession brings conversion:

“I have sinned… I am sorry for my sin… I ask for forgiveness… I won’t do it again.”

(For a beautiful illustration of this process read David’s prayer in Psalm 51.)