Is There a Difference Between Conviction and Condemnation?

 I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us– 2nd Corinthians 7:9 NIV

We live in a very judgy world.

Cancel culture is just one example. Canceling is an increasingly common practice that can be done in either a global or private kind of a way. 

 It works like this: 

Canceling happens globally when someone gets caught doing something or saying something a person or group of people do not like. The disapproving person or group goes after the “sinner” and punishes them for their language and/or behavior. The poor schmuck is then publicly disgraced and shamed. They lose their job, reputation and social status. They essentially become an outcast or a social pariah. 

A person is privately canceled when a friend or family member cuts them out of their life and gives them the silent treatment without explaining why they are giving them the silent treatment. 

Sigh. 

Supposedly, the whole point of cancelling someone is to get them to a place of conviction in their lives, where they acknowledge their misdeeds so they can grow.  Anyone who has actually been cancelled (either in a global or a personal way) will tell you being canceled feels more like hardcore condemnation without any mercy whatsoever. 

For the record.

I am not an advocate of cancelling. It is, in my opinion, perhaps the least healthy, least virtuous thing we do in this raging-dumpster-fire of a culture. However, the nature and stated purpose of cancelling raises an important question for believers:

Is there a difference between condemnation and conviction?

This is a question that needs answering.  

Both are biblical concepts (Romans 5:16, 1st Thessalonians 1:5, 2nd Corinthians 7:10-11). However, the Bible teaches there is a difference between the two. It matters because our view of these issues has a massive impact on how we see God, work out our salvation and treat other people when they sin against us (Philippians 2:12, Luke 7:47, Luke 6:37, 2nd Corinthians 2:9-11).   

So. 

Condemnation can be defined as a decree or sentence of guilt.  It is always accompanied by a sense we have failed and are unworthy of forgiveness. 

Condemnation always leads to hopelessness.

Conviction, on the other hand, is something the New Testament calls “godly sorrow” (2nd Corinthians 7:10-11). Conviction is a little different. It’s more like a deep and heartfelt sense we have gone off the rails and missed the mark. It is always accompanied by a sense we need to correct our course in some way. 

Conviction can be every bit as painful as condemnation. However, conviction is good because without guilt it is impossible to experience repentance and the spiritual restoration repentance brings. 

Here’s the struggle:

Condemnation and conviction sound a lot alike and condemnation can look a lot like conviction and conviction can feel an awful lot like condemnation. This is especially true if we’ve been up to no good in some area of our lives. 

Because condemnation and conviction feel so similar, some Christians are inclined to write off any guilty feelings they experience as condemnation and therefore irrelevant (Romans 8:1). Ignoring feelings of guilt is a profoundly bad idea because the Bible teaches ignoring our conscience is a spiritually risky thing to do (1st Corinthians 8:7-12) because it can lead to a hardening of the heart (Ephesians 4:18). Therefore, it is always best to pay attention to feelings of guilt. Guilty feelings should drive us to seek the Holy Spirit so we can figure out if there’s something we need to deal with in our lives before sin takes root and produces chaos and pain. 

Condemnation is a tool the enemy uses to discourage us. Therefore, it is not uncommon to experience condemnation AFTER we have already confessed our sin to God and corrected course. Condemnation will sometimes come from an unexpected source like an off-handed comment from a friend. It can come from our own hypersensitive conscience. Condemnation never gives hope. Instead it leaves us with an overwhelming sense of despondency and hopelessness. Condemnation screams into our souls that God will never be happy with us again. Condemnation almost always leads to more sin rather than less.

The whole point of spiritual conviction or godly sorrow is to facilitate change. Therefore, it is often accompanied by a feeling that we are guilty and have offended God. However, conviction also always comes with an understanding of what we need to do to get things right. God never leaves us in the dark or wondering where stand with Him. Godly conviction never leaves us feeling hopeless, despondent or like we will never be good enough. The path to repentance and healing is sometimes difficult. Repentance always means making some sort of a change. It might mean breaking off a relationship, changing a behavior, apologizing, making restitution but the path to a pure conscience is always clear. Conviction (godly sorrow) always leads to repentance.  

It is critical Christians understand God only condemns those who refuse to embrace Jesus as their Lord and Savior (Romans 8:1, Jude 1:4). It is equally important to understand guilt is good as long as we know what to do with it (Acts 3:19). 

How Christians can be an Influence in the age of Cancel Culture-

When I stumbled, they gathered in glee; assailants gathered against me without my knowledge. They slandered me without ceasing– Psalm 35:15 NIV 

It was a bewildering week. 

First, it looked as if Dr. Seuss was the latest target of “cancel culture”. Then I was told this was simply not so.  Forbes and Newsweek reported Seuss Enterprises had simply “evolved” and chosen to stop publishing six of Dr. Seuss’ books due to “racist undertones”. It was clear: only unenlightened buffoons too dumb to grasp the nuances of the situation actually believed Dr. Seuss was being canceled. 

However.  

 President Biden did not mention Dr. Seuss or any of his books in his kickoff speech for National Read Across America Day. Which was unusual considering it usually coincides with the celebration of Dr. Seuss’ birthday on March 2nd. Then Amazon stopped selling Dr. Seuss books. Additionally, a number of school districts and libraries made it clear they would no longer use his books.  On top of all that a number of commentators have been quite busy throwing shade on the memory of Dr. Seuss.  

I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure this means Dr. Seuss got cancelled. 

Sigh. 

For the record: I do not have an issue with individuals who choose NOT to purchase products from companies or individuals whose values or business practices do not jive with their own values. Quietly choosing not to buy products from businesses who use your funds to promote causes that tear down the values you hold dear is not the same as cancelling someone. 

It’s called “wise stewardship”. 

Cancelling is a relatively new practice. It takes the concept of a boycott to a level not seen in polite society since the Salem Witch trials. Cancelling is when a very public effort is made to thoroughly disgrace a person, remove their influence entirely, obstruct their ability to make a living and ruin their reputation. The cancelling is not complete until any good the person has done in this world is completely disavowed and then forgotten. The quickest way to get cancelled is to publicly support conservative ideas or not be “woke” enough. It is also possible to get canceled for espousing racist or sexist opinions. However, it should be noted standards on these issues are constantly evolving. Speech regarded as perfectly acceptable today may very well be deemed unacceptable tomorrow.  

Sigh. 

Anyone can get cancelled. Historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Dr. Seuss and Teddy Roosevelt have all been victims of cancel culture. Some well-known actors and actresses, the My Pillow guy and some random people who said racist things on camera when they were too young to know better have also all become unwitting victims of cancelling madness. Nor, is being cancelled limited to actual human beings. Pepe le Pew (a cartoon skunk), Peter Pan (a fictional character), and Dumbo the Elephant (another cartoon character) all found themselves on the old chopping block this past week.  

Those who endorse cancel culture obviously don’t understand that standards of what is socially acceptable change over time. They also fail to grasp the reality that social growth is almost always made in small increments that tend to build on previous small increments of social change. Smart people understand that historic figures and even fictional characters should always be judged in the context of the time they lived in or were created rather than by current values. For example, by contemporary norms the fifteenth century church reformer Martin Luther was a chauvinist-jerk-pig-idiot who should be roundly condemned for espousing sexist positions. However, in his time he was thought to be a flaming-liberal-hell bound-heretic because he argued equal education should be given to little girls. His belief that young girls were capable of understanding theology and should therefore be given the same education as boys was radical at the time. Girls receiving and education was also an incremental social change that paved the way for women’s rights in the Western world. By twenty-first century standards Martin Luther was a sexist loser. In actuality he was an incredibly open-minded, insanely progressive product of his time. 

Anyway.

It’s not my job to judge the culture. God will do that in due time (Galatians 6:7, 1st Corinthians 4:5, Revelation 20:12-13). It is my God-given calling to encourage Christians to live in a way that glorifies God and points unbelievers towards repentance and eternal life. The weird cultural moment we find ourselves in demands Christians live radically different lives than the rest of society. It is critical we avoid the harsh, judgmental tone culture has adopted and gently remind people that ultimately, we will all be judged by the same standards we place on others (Matthew 7:2). We must constantly remind our friends, neighbors and co-workers that God, the most powerful, purest being whoever existed or who will ever exist did not choose to cancel or condemn anyone for their evil behavior, sin or mistakes. Even though He would have been entirely justified in doing so. Instead God offers us redemption and grace through the death of His son. All He asks is that we believe in Him and offer others the same grace and mercy we have been freely given.  

That message would effectively end cancel culture forever.