Certain words have, in addition to merely waltzing across the stage of time, actually propelled the script of history. In particular, the interplay between two meaning-dense words can create something like a grammatical nuclear reaction; the waves of which touch every level of human existence. How people understand their meaning, source, and relationship to one another determines the course of individual lives, nations, and eternal destinies. Yes; words contain that much power. Understanding fuels application and, in turn, application determines outcome. For example, based on the handling of the terms “love” and “hate,” governments topple or bloom; families fracture or flourish; and churches either swim in redemption or sink in deception. The systematic consigning of hate as something to be avoided at all costs displays a simplistic ignorance of the word’s true meaning. How can hate be a bad word when Scripture presents the Lord as, at times, intensely hating? (Proverbs 6:16; Isaiah 61:8; Amos 6:8; Zechariah 8:18). Furthermore, God’s Word tells us that those loving the Lord will, out of respect for Him “hate evil” (Psalm 97:10; Proverbs 8:13; Amos 5:15). Understanding the force which context exerts upon hate’s meaning produces a fuller appreciation of the term “love.” Conversely, a deeper understanding of love’s breadth magnifies the truth packaged within hate. In sum, holding a precise knowledge of each term on its own as well as their interplay makes proper application possible. Proper application then provides a manual for course correction along the path of life.
The timeless principle exposed above directly applies to the two words “condemnation” and “conviction.” In today’s church world, a great deal of misunderstanding regarding these two terms runs rampant. Mishandling of these terms continues to foster the opposing extremes of either legalism or those “claiming that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives” (Jude 1:4). Over the past few years, the flavor of teaching Jude decries has swelled in popularity. In the lives of many, the Spirit’s convicting work has begun to break down under the ego-endearing hammers of antinomianism. This relentless pounding will, if left unchecked, give way to patterns contrary to the workmanship the Spirit seeks to build. While a weighty, detailed explication of condemnation and conviction lies beyond the scope of this article, a careful distillation will provide clarification. Concerning these terms, the Church must view the picture God paints in Scripture. The Lord offers a view cut off from the traffic and tempest present in monetarily driven churchianity and untouched by the crosscurrents of dogmas and presumptions that have cluttered church history.
The Greek word krima translated; “condemnation” in the New Testament proves both straightforward and forceful. In secular Greek, the term finds both its most numerous and fullest expressions as a technical term used in legal settings. The term conveys the idea of separating or making a distinction of one thing from another. Along these lines, at times, writers employed it in realms beyond the courtroom. It presents the concept of distinguishing what is approved as beneficial from what remains unprofitable. Thus, it provides a fitting term for “dividing” wheat from chaff. Considering all of the above, the word connotes a thorough, careful investigation of the facts at hand. After sifting these facts numerous times, a judge weighs what remains, and issues a potent, binding decision.
In the Septuagint, krima often takes on a decisively more negative slant. Writers use it to translate the Hebrew word din (a term meaning “to punish with severity”). (1)
Throughout the Old Testament, God stands as the only dispenser of absolute justice. The one judging every nation of the earth (Psalm 67:5; Amos 1:2; Joel 4:2) will decree a severe judgment on the “Day of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:12-18; Jeremiah 46:10; Zephaniah 1:7-18). (2)
Of course, this connotation carries over into the hands of New Testament writers. To them, krima did not simply drop from the sky into their theology. They, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, grabbed hold of this word in order to convey the concept of “condemnation.” We see a synthesis of both agricultural (sifting of wheat and separation of wheat from tares) and legal metaphors. Paul runs hard with the concept of condemnation. The judge of all the earth (both Jews and Gentiles) has carefully scoured the facts pertinent to humanity’s case. After weighing this material against His righteous requirements, God has issued a legal judgment. There “is none that receives a clear verdict; not one” (Romans 3:10). Surprising to many, condemnation is not, in and of itself something bad. In fact, the justice of God demands it. The Lord maintains a perfect, unbending standard carrying negative sanctions for all not measuring up to it.
God still says, “Every living soul belongs to me…the one who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). Indeed, “sin is [still] the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power” (1 Corinthians 15:56). We have not entered into an age wherein the Judge has abrogated this verdict. Instead, the Father pronounced the fullness of the verdict, with all its sanctions on the Son. At the cross, Jesus approached the judgment seat, heard the verdict pronounced, and drank the cup of judgment to the dregs. Therefore, now, condemnation has no place in the life of a believer. One has no right to take up what Jesus has already taken on and taken out of the way. Believers can remain confident that any condemnation coming their way does not originate from God. The disobedient believer now has an advocate, face to face with the judge, pleading the illegality of condemnation (1 John 2:1). God is now faithful (he will do it every time) and just (he is right in doing it) to forgive and cleanse from anything threatening to condemn (1 John 1:9). In the heart of Romans, Paul thunders from the heart of God: “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us” (Rom 8:33-34). Condemnation stands as term having no place in the life of one under the new covenant.
In addition to shielding believers from the death-dealing sentence of condemnation, God places his life-giving Spirit within them. In other words, Jesus “did this [took the sentence of condemnation] so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit” (Romans 8:4). While the law judged from without, the Spirit now convicts from within. This elencho or “conviction” serves as one of the believer’s greatest assets.
Secular Greek writers employed elencho to speak of gathering both copious and cogent evidence for the purpose of convincing one to change a position. In addition to philosophical matters, this concept often translated to the issues of everyday life. Like the word translated “condemnation,” elencho concerns the careful examination of facts. However, the facts are marshaled for the purpose of correcting one’s course rather than issuing a negative sentence. Interestingly, “both Philo and Josephus use elencho in terms of the correction which men receive both from their own consciences and the Logos.” (3)
An examination of every New Testament usage of elencho presents the term as signifying “an expression of strong disapproval, based on evidence amounting to proof, bringing to light something out of character for a believer.” The Spirit uses conviction to say, “Pay attention; you need to make a change!” In the new covenant, God not only exhorts believers to change; He also empowers them to make the adjustment. Under the curse of the Law, condemnation proclaimed “You have been weighed and found wanting. Your life does not measure up.” Under grace, the life-giving Spirit of brings conviction saying, “This ungodly behavior does not fit you. You are now a child of the King. Let me help you act like it.” The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God as an instrument of conviction. Whenever a believer approaches Scripture with an open heart, the transformation afforded by conviction takes place. In fact, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). In this passage, elencho translates to English as “rebuking.” Many view a rebuke as something to avoid. In truth, a godly rebuke can both deliver one from and keep one out of trouble. Jesus states, “I correct (elencho) and discipline everyone I love” (Revelation 3:19). Elencho often pairs up with paideuo (the word used for parents correcting children). The writer of Hebrews exhorts his audience to not “make light of the Lord’s discipline (paideuo), and do not lose heart when he rebukes (elencho) you” for, “the Lord disciplines (paideuo) those he loves” (Hebrews 12:5-6). Conviction flows from the heart of the Father rather than the finger of a legalistic preacher. Thus, instead of viewing conviction as a restriction to recoil against; one should embrace it as a help to hold tightly to.
Jesus placed within the church what some call the “five-fold ministry gifts.” He entrusts these ministers to, at times, bring conviction to the members of His body. Such conviction must always spring from Scripture instead of personal preferences. Paul told Timothy to “preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching” (1 Timothy 4:2). Ministers preaching and teaching with conviction often have the charge of “preaching condemnation” hurled at them. However, examining the usage of both condemnation and conviction, glaringly reveals the fallacy of such an assertion.
Drenched in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul exclaims that people should “notice how God is both kind and severe” (Romans 11:22). His severe adherence to justice reveals itself in unfaltering condemnation. Conversely, his unfathomable kindness manifests itself in Word-fueled, Spirit-empowered, life-correcting conviction. Thanks be unto the Son for receiving and removing the Father’s judgment and passing along the Spirit’s conviction!