I’ve often said that good preachers leave you saying, “What a great sermon!” While great preachers leave you saying, “Wow, what a Christ!”
On that score, some churches have created a culture of guilt. Every sermon preached is judged by how guilty it makes the listeners feel. The more guilty, the better. And if there’s no guilt, the sermon was a dud. In these churches, the guilt is described by the term “conviction.”
Let me illustrate. Jim (25), Bill (28), and Tom (32) are members of one of these churches.
Bill missed Sunday service because of work. On Monday night, he called Jim. Listen to the conversation:
“Hey Jim, bummed that I missed church yesterday. How was it?”
Jim responds, “Dude, it was awesome. I was SOOOO convicted. What a great sermon!”
Bill says, “Oh man, I have to listen to it online.”
Bill calls Tom, “Tom, Jim told me about the sermon yesterday. It sucks that I missed it!”
Tom replies, “The sermon was incredible. I was SO freakin’ convicted!!!”
What’s really going on here is that Jim, Bill, and Tom are addicted to feeling guilty. That’s their motivation for following Jesus Christ.
What they are calling “conviction” is really guilt.
Without a guilt-kick in the pants (which usually boils down to “God is holy, you’re not, so try harder”), their spiritual life would be completely sterile.
Contrast this to a stunning unveiling of Jesus Christ that produces a genuine love for the Lord. And that love becomes the drive and motivation for following and serving Him.
When Christ is unveiled, there is no guilt or condemnation. Sure, there will be times when the Spirit will shine His light on Christ and put His finger on an area of our lives that needs adjustment. Our conscience will be awakened and we’re given the power to adjust it by the Spirit. But that’s not guilt (which is often dubbed “conviction”). That’s the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit convicts those who don’t know Christ (John 16:8). The Spirit enlightens those who are in Christ.
This is far more than semantics. The revelation of Christ through preaching will produce the freedom of the Spirit, a cleansed conscience, weights lifted (not added), and a heart stirred to love Jesus because of the sighting of His beauty and glory.
This is something radically different from the culture of guilt.
As I argued in Jesus Now, the only people in the world who should NOT live in guilt are Christians. The Christian hangover of guilt and the addiction to it is merely a sign that we haven’t really seen Him who is LIFE and LIBERTY.
In closing, give a listen to Rethinking Discipleship. I trust that your heart will be set free and stirred to love your Lord like never before. Without guilt or condemnation.