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Pastor to Pastor

From Humility to Conviction

We mustn't skirt the issue of sin.

Advice for Preachers and Teachers (11)

For in You, O LORD, I hope;
You will hear, O Lord my God.
For I said, “
Hear me, lest they rejoice over me,
Lest, when my foot slips, they exalt
themselves against me.”
For I
am ready to fall,
And my sorrow is continually before me.
For I will declare my iniquity;
I will be in anguish over my sin.
Psalm 38.15-18

“Then it follows that the student will discover in the Scriptures that he has been enmeshed in the love of this world, or of temporal things, a love far remote from the kind of love of God and of our neighbor which Scripture itself prescribes. Then, indeed, that fear which arises from the thought of God’s judgment, and that piety which can do nothing except believe in and accede to the authority of the sacred books, will force him to lament his own situation. For this knowledge of a good hope thrusts a man not into boasting but into lamentation.”

  - Augustine, On Christian Doctrine

Aim to convict

We have seen that Augustine wants all preaching and teaching of the Word of God to result in increased love – love for God and love for our neighbors. To achieve this, we must aim our preaching and teaching at the whole person – heart, mind, conscience, and life. But we will only do this when we submit to the Word ourselves, out of fear and love for God, humbly yielding to His will, so that Christ, Whom we preach, may be formed in us increasingly.

Augustine is marking off a path to love for us, a path that begins in the fear of God, and works through humility to bring conviction and repentance. We’ll never increase in love so long as we ignore or refuse to excise the sins that linger in us. And this is true for those we serve as well. We must allow the fear of God to lead us to humility before Him, and humility to lead us to conviction of our sins. And as this process works in our own lives, so we must include it in all our preaching and teaching.

Tears of sorrow for our sins should frequently flow as we strive with wisdom to understand the Word of God. For Scripture is like a mirror, showing us the very depths of our souls, and, as we submit humbly to its teaching, it will discover in us deep recesses of world-love that we have not known. How can we be so churlish as to harbor such affections, knowing that Jesus died to free us from them? We cannot. Thus, humility leads to conviction, and conviction – as we shall see – to hunger for righteousness.

Get real!
Stan Gale writes, “Humility is the posture gained by living in the fear of the Lord. Like Job was humbled before God’s revelation of Himself, the more we magnify God, the more realistic we become in our self-estimation. The practice of humility is humbling ourselves. We adopt the mindset of our Lord Jesus who had glory to grasp but did not. Love for God exalts Him and humbles us. Love for neighbor esteems others better than ourselves. It is by the humility of self-awareness as created beings and debtors to grace that we decrease and Christ increases.”

Many Christians act as if being convicted of sin were some kind of offense against their faith in Jesus. Jesus loves them just as they are, they reason; why should they have to make a big deal about any little sins in their lives? And why should they have to put up with preachers and teachers who keep calling them to confess their sins and repent?

Because that’s the way true Christian life is realized. We’re not being real if we refuse to deal with the sin that yet lingers in our lives. Preachers and teachers who do not declaim against sin, and call people to repent of it, aren’t being real. They imagine that the purposes of faith are better served by not mentioning sin or the Law, and looking instead on the bright side of things, emphasizing only positive messages, and seeking more to comfort people than to convict them.

But that’s not the reality of every believer’s life! The law of sin continues operating in each of us, and each of us must be continually on guard against sin gaining a foothold in any area of our lives. If we truly fear God, we will fear to offend Him by harboring sin in our lives (Ps. 66.18). And if we’re truly humble before Him, we’ll listen and agree as His Word brings our sins to light, and conviction rises within our soul.

Leading into conviction
Only when we are truly convicted of the awfulness of sin will we realize that we are “ready to fall”, that our foot is slipping, and we are drifting from the moorings of our salvation. Then we will be “in anguish” over our sin and will “declare” our iniquity before the Lord. This opens the way for us to be renewed in the hope of salvation and to grow in Christlikeness.

Paul called on the Corinthians to search themselves as to their true condition (2 Cor. 13.5). The writer of Hebrews upbraided his readers for the sin of drifting from Christ (Heb. 2.1). We must not simply take for granted that God will convict people of their sins quite apart from our having to do so in our preaching or teaching. He can of course, and very often does. But when we “blink” at these important steps in spiritual growth, people may conclude that they aren’t all that important; then, when God convicts them, it will be easier for them to shrug Him off.

But if – in the love of Jesus, and for the love of Jesus – we preach and teach that sin is the enemy of our soul, that it keeps us from increasing in the Lord, does harm to ourselves and others, and thus must be faced and forced to submit, we are preaching for the kind of humility that leads to conviction, and that clears our arrow-strewn path (Ps. 38.1, 2) of every obstruction to increasing growth in the Lord.

the godly differ from the wicked, that, being admonished of their transgression by adversity, they humbly sit themselves before the judgment-seat of God.

- John Calvin, Commentary on Psalm 38.18

For reflection

1. The Holy Spirit is given to convict us of sin (Jn. 16.8). What is the role of preaching and teaching in His work of conviction?

2. Why must one be humble before the Lord before he will be convicted of sin?

3. How can we put conviction of sin in a positive light, as crucial to increasing in the Lord?

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Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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