Copyright Rev. Stanley L. Derickson Ph.D. 1992



Conviction comes in two types. The lost experience conviction when the Lord is drawing them unto Himself. The believer experiences conviction when the Lord is drawing them unto Him. The difference is that the lost benefits, when he responds, by receiving salvation, while the believer regains fellowship with the Lord.

What is it like to be under conviction as a lost person? A man I ministered with in Denver, CO years ago told me of his talk with his father, when the father was on his death bed. The man had witnessed to his dad many times, but to no avail. The father told his son just before he died that he knew that the Gospel was what he needed. He knew that his son was right in what he was telling him. With tears in his eyes, he said, "But I just can't accept Jesus." The man knew his sin, he knew that Christ was his answer, yet even when facing death, he refused the peace of salvation.

Others when faced with their conviction, fall before the throne of grace accepting the work of Christ on their behalf.

The moments before a person accepts the Lord vary from person to person. Some are very emotional. They have lived so long under sins' domination, that they are elated when they find there is a way of freedom. Others that have lived a fairly decent life, may just move through the acceptance of the Gospel with no real emotional moving.

What is it like to be under conviction as a saved person that has sin in his, or her life? What is it like when God is leading a person into something and the person refuses to move ahead?

Again, different people react and feel differently however there are a few common items that we might mention. There will quite often be a sense that the Lord is far away. If there have been chastisements, then the person knows that God is dealing with them. There may be a feeling of dread of what might come next. There may also be a very severe loneliness, spiritually.

I will share one brief illustration. I was raised in a Christian Church, and was baptized many years before I was saved. As I was learning things in Bible College, I came to the place where I knew that I should be baptized as a believer. Being a very shy person, I did not want to go through all that. As time went by, I was very definitely aware of my disobedience. The finances went to pot, work was not going well, the family was not doing well, and all because I was saying no. Conviction is powerful!


"In evangelical PROTESTANTISM, attainment of a sense of sin and a need of salvation through the work of the HOLY SPIRIT." (Kauffman, Donald T.; "THE DICTIONARY OF RELIGIOUS TERMS"; Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1967)

Do you like his thought, that it is an attainment? I think that this may be a misnomer. It is not something that is sought after in any case that I can remember. It is something that is brought upon a person not something that one might attain. Kaufman is correct however in the thought that it is a "sense of sin and a need of salvation." He is also correct to attribute this ministry to the Holy Spirit.

"To convict, confute, refute, usually with the suggestion of putting the convicted person to shame;" (Vine, W. E.; "AN EXPOSITORY DICTIONARY OF NEW TESTAMENT WORDS"; Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co, p 239)

"CONVICT, kon-vikt', CONVICTION, kon-vik'-shun....It always implies the presentation of evidence. It is a decision presumed to be based upon a careful and discriminating consideration of all the proofs offered, and has a legal character, the verdict being rendered either in God's judgment (Rom. 3 19) [think I disagree on this ref.] or before men (Jn. 8 46) by an appeal to their consciences in which God's law is written (Rom. 2 15). Since such conviction is addressed to the heart of the guilty, as well as concerning him externally, the word "reprove" is sometimes substituted." (Orr, James; "THE INTERNATIONAL STANDARD BIBLE ENCYCLOPAEDIA"; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub., 1939, article by H. E. Jacobs pp 707,708)

"The meaning of conviction as a law term is being found guilty. In common language it means being persuaded or convinced. In theology it means being condemned at the bar of one's own conscience as a sinner in view of the law of God. It is the antecedent to repentance, and is often accompanied by a painful sense of exposure to God's wrath. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, showing the heinousness of sin and the soul's exposure to divine wrath." (Taken from: "UNGER'S BIBLE DICTIONARY"; Unger, Merrill F.; Copyright 1957, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago; Moody Press. Used by permission. p 219)

It would seem that the word convict in the Bible has a similar meaning to the word in our own day. It relates to a person being proven guilty. It carries, as well, the thought that the person realizes and concurs with the verdict.

So, now that we understand the term, how does conviction strike or affect a lost person? The lost person reacts to conviction much as the saved person. Both are proven guilty, and both agree with the verdict.

1. A feeling of guilt for the sin that he knows that he has committed. As a small child I enjoyed going into the dime store and shoplifting (I did not enjoy the buzz of the stealing, but rather the taste of the candy, or the joy of the item taken).

Very small items, usually just a piece of candy. As I was enjoying the candy I usually had regrets over what I had done. I had knowledge that it was wrong. I felt guilty - isn't that odd? I WAS GUILTY! So why should I be surprised that I felt that way?

The feeling of guilt can only come when you realize that you are guilty. In my case I was being confronted with what I had been taught from the Word of God in church (even though I was unsaved)! I had the sense of what right and wrong was.

The lost know when they have done wrong, else why would they try to cover their wrong. Watergate is an example. The men involved went to great lengths to cover their wrong. John 3:20 may reveal something on this question - "For everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved."

The saved person may realize and submit to conviction quicker than the lost person. The believer knows immediately when they are out of fellowship with the Lord. This brings conviction quickly.

Conviction comes to the Christian through their conscience and the spoken Word.

From the conscience: John 8:9, "and they who heard it, being convicted by their own conscience," The context of this passage is the woman taken in adultery. Christ told them that the one without sin in their life should cast the first stone. The lost people were convicted by their conscience. They knew that none of them were without sin. It is quite possible that they were guilty of the same sin.

From the spoken Word: I Cor. 14:24, 25, "But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convicted of all, he is judged of all. And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest, and so falling down on his face he will worship God and report that God is in you of a truth."

Just a couple of observations from this text: a. Conviction comes from prophecy in the New Testament Church. b. The unsaved have the secrets of their hearts revealed. This is a good example of the conviction of the lost. His response was neat - he fell down to worship God!

We see this in our own worship services today. At times the unsaved enter the services, hear the Gospel, and come to know the Lord. They do this because they come under conviction through what they have heard.

If the spoken Word has this effect on a person, then we could, I think safely assume, that the written word would also be capable of bringing conviction. I have heard the testimonies of several people that were reading the Word, when the Holy Spirit brought them to the Lord, without the intervention of another person. Just the reading of the Word, is sufficient to bring people to the Lord.

The prime element of all sources of conviction, is the fact that all are dependant upon the work of the Holy Spirit within the life of the person, be they saved or lost.

We can see this in John 16:7-11. 1. The Holy Spirit will convict or reprove the world of SIN. 2. The Holy Spirit will convict or reprove the world of righteousness. 3. The Holy Spirit will convict or reprove the world of judgment.

All conviction comes to the lost via the work of the Holy Spirit. All conviction comes to the believer via the work of the Holy Spirit.


1. Mr. Unger suggested of conviction, "In theology it means being condemned at the bar of one's own conscience as a sinner in view of the law of God." (Taken from: "UNGER'S BIBLE DICTIONARY"; Unger, Merrill F.; Copyright , Moody Bible Institute of Chicago; Moody Press. Used by permission.) How do we make this practical for our own lives?

If the only possible source of true conviction is via the Holy Spirit, then why do we try so hard to bring young believers into conformity with our life styles? True, we should show them what the Scripture teaches, and help them to understand that what they are doing is wrong. There really isn't any amount of pressure that we can apply, that will bring them into a state of honest conviction? We probably should leave it to the Holy Spirit.

Why don't be seek help from the person that can help in the situation? THE HOLY SPIRIT! This may not only relate to life style, but it may well relate to bad habits, or it may even relate to baptism. We need to be sure they know all they need to know about these things, yet the Holy Spirit is the only one that can bring them to a decision to change a life style, or break a habit, or come to the church for baptism.

2. Conviction seems to be a confrontation with the evidence to show guilt no matter what the response to the conviction might be. In salvation conviction brings evidence of guilt. That conviction may be ignored, or responded to. In the believer, the conscience, Word, or possibly another believer using the Word, produces proof of sin and error. Again, that evidence can be ignored, or responded to. Matt 18:15ff illustrates this. If you go to a brother and he does not respond, you take witnesses. The person has proof given to him - he responds, and changes or continues, and suffers the consequences.

Conviction, then brings the person to the point of response/no response. It can do no more. The mind and will must take it from there. Example: In past sections the reader has been confronted with a study of the fruit of the Spirit as it was contrasted with no fruit of the spirit. All readers have been confronted. How have they reacted? Have they changed their lifestyle, or are they remaining unchanged?

The presentation of the study is like presenting the Word. It brings a person to the point of response/no response. The Holy Spirit takes over and confronts through the conscience.

It is not my responsibility to force a person to respond. The prophets presented the evidence of Israel's great sin. They did the job. The fact that Israel didn't respond was disheartening I'm sure, but the prophet had done his job.

We, as Christian's, need to go to the world and do the job. The Holy Spirit will do the convicting. The people will respond one way or another.

3. This is a judgment question, but I think it might do well to ask it anyway. What outward behaviors, or mannerisms, or frame of mind does a person present when he is under the conviction of the Holy Spirit? They may be very nervous. Many, when in church stare at the floor as if totally uninterested. They may be full of honest questions not just argumentative questions. They may at times disoriented in their thinking, and their own beliefs when they are confronted with the Word.

I think the story in John 8 may indicate an uneasiness to truth and possibly an uneasiness to be close to a man of God - in this case Jesus Himself. Note also should be taken that these were unsaved men who were convicted by their conscience. They were so convicted that they left!

It has been said of the lost, "You can't repent too soon, because you don't know how soon it will be too late." It has been said of the saved, "True repentance has a double aspect. It looks upon things past with a weeping eye, and upon the future with a watchful eye." (McKenzie, E.C.; "14,000 QUIPS AND QUOTES FOR WRITERS AND SPEAKERS"; New York: Greenwich House, 1980, p 446)

4. What about the person that has sin in their life - maybe has had for several years. Can you guess what they are like? They are unhappy, they have no peace, they are full of guilt, and they are critical of everyone else's sin. (At times super sensitive in areas of their sin.) They are quite often involved in covering up their own sin. That is one sad case. If you run into this type person, suspect unconfessed sin.

David Brainard searched for peace for twenty years. He was constantly plagued with conviction in his life. He finally found peace with the Lord. I would like to quote from his diary.

"I was from my youth somewhat sober, and inclined to melancholy; but do not remember any thing of conviction of sin, worthy of remark, till I was, I believe, about seven or eight years of age. Then I became concerned for my soul, and terrified at the thoughts of death; and was driven to the performance of religious duties. . . ."

"Sometime in the beginning of winter, 1738, it pleased God, one Sabbath morning, as I was walking out for secret duties, to give me on a sudden such a sense of my danger, and the wrath of God, that I stood amazed, and my former good frames presently vanished. From the view which I had of my sin and vileness, I was much distressed all that day, fearing that the vengeance of God would soon overtake me. I was much dejected; kept much alone; and sometimes envied the birds and beasts their happiness, because they were not exposed to eternal misery, as I evidently saw that I was. Thus I lived from day to day, being frequently in great distress: sometimes there appeared mountains before me to obstruct my hopes of mercy; and the work of conversion appeared so great, that I thought I should never be the subject of it. I used, however, to pray and cry to God, and perform other duties with great earnestness; and thus hoped by some means to make the case better."

He mentions a night when he felt that the earth would open up and swallow him, sending him to his grave and his soul to hell. "I was wont to tell God in my prayers, that now I had those very dispositions of soul which he required, and on which he showed mercy to others, and thereupon to beg and plead for mercy to me. But when I found no relief, and was still oppressed with guilt and fears of wrath, my soul was in a tumult, and my heart rose against God, as dealing hardly with me."

"At some turns, for a few moments, I seemed to myself lost and undone; but then would shrink back immediately from the sight, because I dared not venture myself into the hands of God, as wholly helpless, and at the disposal of his sovereign pleasure. I dared not see that important truth concerning myself, that I was 'dead in trespasses and sins.' But when I had, as it were, thrust away these views of myself at any time, I felt distressed to have the same discoveries of myself again; for I greatly feared being given over of God to final stupidity. When I thought of putting it off to a more 'convenient season,' the conviction was so close and powerful, that the present time was the best, and probably the only time, that I dared not put it off."

"After a considerable time spent in similar exercises and distree, one morning, while I was walking in a solitary place, as usual, I at once saw that all my contrivances and projects to effect or procure deliverance and salvation for myself were utterly in vain; I was brought quite to a stand, as finding myself totally lost. I had thought many times before, that the difficulties in my way were very great; but now I saw, in another and very different light, that it was for ever impossible for me to do any thing toward helping or delivering myself."

"At this time the way of salvation opened to me with such infinite wisdom, suitableness, and excellency, that I wondered I should ever think of any other way of salvation; I was amazed that I had not dropped my own contrivances and complied with this lovely, blessed, and excellency way before. If I could have been saved by my own duties, or any other way that I had formerly contrived, my whole soul would now have refused. I wondered that all the world did not see and comply with this way of salvation, entirely by the righteousness of Christ.

"The sweet relish of what I then felt continued with me for several days, almost constantly, in a greater or less degree. I could not but sweetly rejoice in God, lying down and rising up. The next Lord's day I felt something of the same kind, though not so powerful as before. But not long after, I was again involved in darkness, and in great distress; yet not of the same kind with my distress under convictions. I was guilty, afraid, and ashamed to come before God; and exceedingly pressed with a sense of guilt; but it was not long before I felt, I trust, true repentance and joy in God."

I suspect if the American public experienced this type of conviction, we would see some sudden changes in our country. I also suspect that if American Christians were to view sin as this man viewed it, we would see drastic changes in the Church and in the world.