Conviction of sin is not transformation. Normally, it is only its initial conception.
Oh how our flesh rebels at this reality. We wish that all the work was done when we feel the crushing weight of conviction over some cosmic crime against the will and word of God, but this is only the beginning. It is the conception of the embryo that if nurtured and fed with the manna of God’s word will one day give birth to a new and holier and humbler you. But unfortunately, much conviction ends in a miscarriage of what is conceived. It starts, it grows but in the end it is fruitless and emerges lifeless and still-born.
John Chrysostom, John the “Golden Tongued”, was one of the earliest and best expositors of the Bible after the age of the Apostles. He was so eloquent and so powerful a preacher that the congregation felt compelled to applaud his sermons when he finished. Crowds would come. The believers would be shoulder to shoulder, listening at the depth of his understanding and analysis of the text and the passion of his delivery and personal holiness.
One day, sobered by the lack of transformation occuring in the hearers of his much-appreciated messages, he stopped his congregation in mid-applause. “Stop,” he cried, “you think when you have appreciated a message you have applied it. It is not your appreciation I desire but your transformation.”*
That’s still our problem.
We tend to think that when the Spirit has brought conviction to our hearts over some sin, some encumbrance that so easily entangles us and trips us up that we have gained what the Spirit desired or what we were supposed to “have gotten” out of a preachers efforts. It is a myth and foolishness. It is only a start. There is hard work ahead, if we are to mortify our flesh and make real headway in holiness.
So how do we nurture the initial conception of our transformation into newness of being? When conviction comes, how do we fan it into a flame that results in the radical cross-bearing, cross-shaped life that we and the world so desperately need and that our Lord desires for all the reclamation projects he calls “ministers of reconciliation”?
That will be the subject of my next few posts. Until then, let’s pray for one another, that every conviction the Spirit brings to our hearts would result in real change in our lives that reflects one who has been purchased by sacrifice and resurrection of our Savior.
* I am writing here from memory of this account told in Jay Adams book on preaching which records classic messages of great expositors down through the ages for the edification of pastors seeking to strengthen their own preaching by learning from past masters.