Conviction Vs. Condemnation

April 29, 2014
by Michael Brown

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[Editor’s Note: For those myriad ostrich Christians who rarely pull their heads out of the sand for a quick gander at what’s going on in Christendom, and find themselves—miracle of all miracles—reading this article, nascent in this hour are several of what could be called “doctrine wars” going on in the Body of Christ. Our view is that such über-discussions, if you will, are a good thing, because for the most part, purporting Christians as a whole in these last days tend to be an apathetic, uninformed, and far from a studious lot, particularly when it comes to the study-requiring and tedious task of doctrine-formulation. As a whole, they seem to basically not much care about much of anything going on in the Church, the nation, or the entire world, for that matter, except maybe in the “Cliff Notes” version. Regrettably, statistics gathered by professional researchers have over and over proved this to be the case. One of these controversies between cessationists, primarily fundamentalist Baptists (albeit, certainly, other Evangelicals identify with that camp as well) who seemingly out of nowhere (though it does suspiciously coincide with reported precipitously declining Southern Baptist adherents) began an all-out assault against the continuationist camp, comprised chiefly by Pentecostals and Charismatics. The cessationist aggression has been spearheaded by prominent Baptist Pastor, John MacArthur, who authored a book, Strange Fire, and convened a mega-conference of the same name. Charismatic scholar, apologist, and author, Michael L. Brown, whose coming to prominence was augmented by his association with and contribution to the so-called, Brownsville Revival, that evolved primarily from his friendship with the now late evangelist, Steve Hill, with his book, Authentic Fire, along with the inveterate former pastor of Westminster Cathedral, R.T. Kendall, with his book, Holy Fire, are two at the top of the list of authors in terms of notoriety countering the unfounded claims of the cessation combatants. The other spiritual maelstrom is between an ever-increasing spate of recently emerging “hyper-grace” teacher-authors and a number of teacher-authors countering the hyper-grace theories with monographic treatises demonstrating the utter fallacy and falsity of the hyper-grace claims. With his book, Hyper-Grace: Exposing the Dangers of the Modern Grace Message, Brown, perhaps, leads the latter cadre of apologists. At the core of the hyper-grace posits is the matter of the need for repentance that inures from what the Holy Spirit, in the Word of God, terms “conviction” and “godly sorrow.” Hyper-grace teachers adamantly assert there is no need for either, and that claims to the contrary are simply false and unbiblical. The following article, excerpted from a section of the same title of Brown’s book captures the essence of the counter-argument.]

Conviction vs. Condemnation
By Michael L. Brown, PhD

Unfortunately, some believers confuse conviction with condemnation, and the moment the Spirit speaks to them about something wrong in their lives, they feel hopeless and condemned, which only drives them further from the Lord. This is a lie from the enemy that must be exposed, and I stand with my colleagues in the hyper-grace camp when they seek to expose this destructive notion. Let the truth be shouted from the rooftops: the Holy Spirit never speaks condemnation to a son or daughter of God.

As I explained in my book Go and Sin No More, “If you are a born-again believer, a blood-washed child of God, you are not damned and doomed. God is not saying, ‘To hell with you! Depart from Me, you wicked one.’ Absolutely not! He is saying, ‘You are Mine! I accept you fully through My Son.’”[18]

What then is the difference between conviction and condemnation? Conviction says to the believer, “You have sinned, so come to Me!” Condemnation says to the lost and damned sinner, “You are pronounced guilty. Away from Me!”

Conviction is good, not bad; it’s something sent from heaven, not manufactured in hell. We should thank God when His conviction breaks our hearts, helping us to yield to the Spirit, since heeding His rebuke always brings life. In fact, the Spirit’s work of conviction is part of His ministry to “guide [us] into all truth” (John 16:13). As the nineteenth-century theologian Charles Hodge wrote, “There is no form of conviction more intimate and irresistible than that which arises from the inward teaching of the Spirit.”[19]

“But,” you say, “from what I can see, according to the New Testament, the Holy Spirit only convicts the world of sin, not believers. That’s what John 16:8 says, and I don’t see anywhere else in the New Testament that the word convict is ever used with reference to the Spirit’s ministry to the church.”

Let’s take a look at this and see exactly what God’s Word says, searching things out in the original Greek. The Greek word translated “convict” in John 16:8 is elencho, which can mean “convince, convict; reprove, correct; rebuke, discipline.” It occurs seventeen times in the Greek New Testament, and we’ll look at every verse where elencho is found. In each citation I have highlighted the English word that corresponds to elencho so you can see for yourself exactly how it is used in the English Standard Version.

We’ll start in the Gospels:

  • “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matt. 18:15).
  • “But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by [John] for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done” (Luke 3:19).
  • “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:20).
  • “Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?” (John 8:46).
  • “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).

Are you getting a feel for how the word is used? And did you notice that it was used with reference to a brother reproving another brother who sinned against him? Let’s go to the Epistles now to see how elencho is used, first with reference to sinners in the world, then with reference to an elder who continues in sin:

  • “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all” (1 Cor. 14:24).
  • “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. . . . But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible” (Eph. 5:11, 13).
  • “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1 Tim. 5:20).

Did you catch that? The same Greek word that is used with reference to convicting an unbeliever of his sin and exposing the darkness of the world is also used with reference to rebuking a sinning elder. But there’s more. Paul calls on Timothy to be sure to elencho—convict, rebuke—his hearers when he preaches the Word (and the context makes clear he was speaking of his ministry to the church in Ephesus): “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2).

If Timothy’s congregation had read some of today’s hyper-grace teaching, they would have protested: “But Timothy! You’re not supposed to reprove us and convict us! We’re already righteous, and God doesn’t see our sins. Why then are you reproving us?” In fact, they would have told Paul himself he was wrong. “Paul, it’s obvious you don’t understand grace! You’re giving Timothy some very poor advice!”

Well, he gave the same counsel to Titus. Speaking of the requirements of elders, Paul wrote, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). And speaking of some of the challenges involved in discipling the local population, Paul wrote, “This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (v. 13).

Of course, it’s possible that some of the people Titus was ministering to were not believers, but Paul made clear to Titus, just as he had to Timothy, that he was to convict and rebuke as a fundamental part of his ministry to the saved and lost alike: “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (Titus 2:15). How ironic it is that the very style of ministry Paul insisted upon is the very style of ministry rejected today in the name of Paul!

The letter to the Hebrews takes things one step further. Speaking explicitly to believers, the author of Hebrews writes, “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him’” (Heb. 12:5). Do you see that? Divine reproof is a sign of the Father’s love for His children! Indeed, “If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (v. 8).

Jacob (James) also has an explicit word for us as believers: “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:9). Yes, as believers we are convicted. And note well: it is by God’s Law that we are convicted—the very Law that hyper-grace teachers want to throw under the bus as dangerous and destructive, rather than recognizing its life-giving role of conviction. How many times I have been convicted of sin while reading the Torah—the Law—gaining a deeper revelation of God’s holiness and perfection, causing me to run to Him and fall at His feet, wanting to be more like Him. (See chapter 12 for more on this.)

The verb elencho is used two more times in the New Testament, first in Judah (Jude) 15, speaking of the coming judgment on the ungodly: “to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” Hyper-grace teachers would have no problem with this verse at all, since it’s speaking of the world, not the church.

But what do they do with the words of Jesus, identified explicitly with the voice of the Holy Spirit, in Revelation 3:19? There Jesus says, “‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. . . . He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’” (Rev. 3:19, 22). The Holy Spirit is still convicting believers of sin!

Joseph Prince wrote, “The bottom line is that the Holy Spirit never convicts you of your sins. He NEVER comes to point out your faults. I challenge you to find a scripture in the Bible that the Holy Spirit comes to convict you of your sins.”[20] It looks like that challenge has been met![21]

The foregoing is an excerpt of Hyper-Grace: Exposing the Dangers of the Modern Grace Message (pp. 74-77), Brown, Michael L. (2014-01-07). Charisma House. Published by permission.

End Notes:
18. Michael L. Brown, Go and Sin No More: A Call to Holiness (Concord, NC: EqualTime Books, 1998, 2013), 131. Used by permission.

19. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, (accessed September 3, 2013).

20. Joseph Prince, Destined to Reign: The Secret to Effortless Success, Wholeness and Victorious Living (Tulsa, OK: Harrison House, 2007), 134

21. Also in Destined to Reign, 151, Prince writes, “Remind yourself that the Holy Spirit was sent to convict you of your righteousness apart from works.” Similar statements, apparently going back to Prince, are commonly found in hyper-grace circles. For a clear and relevant study, see Roger Sapp, Grace in the Gospels 3: Understanding a Healthy Consciousness of Sin (Springtown, TX: All Nations Publications, 2013).###

Books by Michael L. Brown — via AMAZON.COM

Dr. Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University and has served as a professor at a number of seminaries. Dr. Brown served as a leader in the Brownsville Revival from 1996-2000 and birthed FIRE School of Ministry in 2001. He has preached throughout the United States and in more than twenty nations and has written twenty books on revival, holiness, radical discipleship, and Jewish-Christian issues, along with scholarly works in Old Testament and Hebrew studies. He is also president of FIRE School of Ministry and director of the Coalition of Conscience. He hosts the nationally syndicated, daily talk radio show, The Line of Fire, he is a featured columnist on TownHall.Com et al., and he is the author of many books, one of the latest of which is Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur\’s Strange Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.

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