is there a difference?
i didnt used to think so. i used to be very self condemning. i grew up catholic, in a home where shame was used as the prime motivator. but before you get up in arms, this isnt anti catholicism. its just my experience of growing up in a household of a catholic grandmother and a catholic mother. and me.
my mom loved me. of that i have no doubt. but she used guilt to correct me rather than swatting my behind when she wanted to modify my behavior. i guess she thought she was protecting my psyche by not physically striking me. instead, she undermined my self confidence by striking my ego with suggestions that i was not fit as a person if i was capable of doing this or saying that. there was no real standard, and i was never given clear rules. rather, i learned how to navigate through life based on her reactions. it was her subtle expressions of distain and disapproval that got the message to me. she could show disappointment in a way that would strike my heart. only thing is, i usually felt like it was me she was disappointed in, not what i did or said. it makes remembering a clear example really difficult, because it was more a lifestyle – an environment that i lived in – than good honest discipline. it must have effected me in very profound ways, because i was always among the most unpopular kids at school, to the point that i hated school with everything in me. i was stressed most of the time, because i felt so inferior. and let me tell you, catholic rich kids can pick up on that and they will goad you till you die inside because of it. when i complained to my mother about the ridicule at school, she always quickly solved the mystery of why by telling me it was because i was too bossy. it didnt help that she was chased home by kids who threw rocks at her and called her ‘cat licker’, from the public school she went to. likely why she came up with the money to send me to catholic school.
this mind set followed me through my teens, into my rebellious era, and into my commitment to God when i gave my life to Jesus. now the Lord gave me much joy in my heart, and i could see from His word that His love was unconditional. i also started going to a very good church, where the Word was taught rather than religious concepts. also i have always been adventurous, and keen to know why things need to be this way or that way. in spite of my mothers ‘floating eyebrows’ of disapproval, she was always good at explaining to me why, when it didnt involve my discipline. so i began to have a good foundation built into my heart of Gods way, and His Word.
if only i could get rid of this shadow of constant inferiority. but it had been instilled in me that this was how good people thought, and that to have confidence was the same as being vain and conceited. and so … although i knew God loved me without condition, i never knew if He was pleased with me. i have never been a people pleaser in the usual sense of the term. yet still, who want to feel like their ultimately going to be a disappointment? thats corrosion in the soul.
well, one day i was sitting in my room, feeling actually quite terrified that i was going to lose all my reward in heaven, and maybe even be cut off from God, because i wasnt living up to His expectations, or my potential, or whatever. i was honestly close to having a panic attack over it. it wasnt called that back then – but it felt just as frightening. it all centered around the passage in the gospels about the branch bearing fruit or being cut off. i felt my life was very fruitless.
here is where the difference between the letter of the law and the Spirit of the Word comes into focus. and the difference between conviction and condemnation was made clear to me in a way i will never forget.
the Holy Spirit broke into my thoughts as i was reeling under the fear, and He said ‘the fruit of the Spirit …’. thats all he said. thats all i needed to hear. i realized at that moment it was His fruit, not mine. He would bring it forth as i yielded to Him. it was not a matter of me doing to please Him, it was a matter of me realizing my new identity in Him, and walking in it. like an apple tree makes no effort to produce apples … it is a by product of being an apple tree. as long as it is watered and cared for, it will produce apples.
not long after this i began to see that condemnation was a religious idea, not a scriptural one. condemnation is general, vague, and points the finger at the individual. therefore, there can be no solution, because there is no clear problem. you feel as though you are the problem, but have no idea how to fix it. so you are left with always trying harder, and never feeling secure that you have ever done enough. fear is the motivating factor behind it, and it keeps your focus locked on yourself. the exact opposite of what God desires for us.
conviction, on the other hand, is extremely clear and specific. it points to an action, an intent, or a purpose. something you did or are about to do. its clear about what is wrong with it, and what to do to fix it. either repent or refrain. and then the matter is done. it does not linger, or haunt you. it motivating factor is love, because when the Holy Spirit brings conviction to your soul, you may for a moment feel sorrow, but the sorrow is brief because you know its because He loves you, not so He will love you. because you know He loves you, you want to fix it. there is no nagging uncertainty that you havent done enough, or done the right thing. there is no guess work involved at all.
it makes all the difference in the world.