Conviction and Contrition


What is conviction? To answer this, we must look at the words of Jesus. While He walked the earth, He taught that the day would come when He would leave this world, at least in bodily form, and that He would send the Holy Spirit of God to His disciples. Jesus said:

And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:

Of sin, because they believe not on me;

Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more;

Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.

 (John 16:8-11)

So conviction is when God’s Spirit impresses upon the conscience of a man or woman the truth about sin, righteousness and judgment. It is when a man or woman comes to the shocking realization that they are guilty of sinning against God; that God is righteous and that He requires righteous standards of all His creation; and that there is judgment awaiting those who do not obey Him.

The Bible records an occasion, after the death and resurrection of Christ, when the apostle Peter spoke to a crowd in Jerusalem about Christ’s resurrection and ended his address with the accusation:

 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.

(Acts 2:36)

The people’s reaction was:

 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?

 (Acts 2:37)

They were “pricked in their heart” or, put another way, Peter’s words cut like a knife deep into their very soul. God’s Spirit pressed these words into their conscience. They had crucified Jesus and now they must face it. This is conviction.

The Bible also tells us of David, Israel’s king in approximately 1000 B.C., who committed adultery with another man’s wife and even had her husband murdered. God responded to this by sending Nathan, one of His prophets, to David. Nathan told David a story about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man had many sheep. The poor man had only one. The poor man loved his one sheep dearly. Yet, when the rich man had a visitor and desired to slaughter a sheep for the feast, instead of using one of his own many sheep, he chose to take and slaughter the poor man’s only sheep. David responded to the story with anger, declaring that the rich man must die for what he had done, and for showing no pity. At this, Nathan thundered back with these words: “…Thou art the man. …” (2 Samuel 12:7) He reminded David of God’s goodness toward him in the past and questioned David, asking him how he could have despised God’s commandment  in this way (see 2 Samuel 12:9) Then he told David of the judgments that would befall him. These words were like a sharp arrow piercing David’s heart. He now realized the horror of what he had done, and that God held him fully accountable for his deed. Full of conviction, David cried: “… I have sinned against the LORD. …” (2 Samuel 12:13)

Surely, God has also searched our hearts. How do you respond to being convicted by the Holy Spirit? Are you quick to admit that you are a sinner, or have you minimized your sins believing them to be of little consequence? Perhaps you have even justified your sins saying, “Everyone does this” or, “I have my rights” or, “It’s OK, I’m a good person.”

 Oh, the piercing, probing word of God! How it tears open the human heart and searches every corner. Is there any sin here to be found? What is this sin doing in the heart of one who has been created by God to follow God? We read:

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:12-13)

A farm worker may not feel very dirty, or out of place, when he works in the presence of other workers and farm animals as he cleans out the stalls. But transport him immediately to a wedding banquet, and how does he feel? This is the effect that God’s law has upon us as the Holy Spirit awakens our conscience, bringing us to the sobering awareness of our sinful state.

One writer has said:

When the comforter is come,’ said our Lord, ‘He will convince the world of sin.’ This is the only way to give true comfort to sinners. No preaching of ‘Peace, peace,’ will do. The prodigal must be brought to himself, and see his want and misery, ere he will determine to return to his father. The whole need not a physician, but they who are sick. The Lord begins His great work, then, by sending home arrows of conviction to the heart. Thus those long careless and stout of heart fall wounded before Him. They awake out of their long sleep of carnal security, to see themselves posting on to hell. They feel as if ready to be swallowed up by the pit of destruction. The terrible sense of the awful guilt of their sin presses upon their awakened consciences. They can no longer resist the strivings of God’s Spirit. They can no longer close their eyes to the momentous concerns of eternity.2

Friend, the life of the Lord Jesus Christ has been laid down for you and me. The death of Christ was not an arbitrary act. It had specific meaning and specific purpose. The death of Christ was paying the penalty for our sins. Like the crowd which stood before Peter on the Day of Pentecost, we must face the fact that we have sinned and need reconciliation with God. Friend, your life may be commendable when compared to that of your neighbor’s, and it may be good when compared to the lives of the very worst in our society. However, this is not the standard by which God judges us. God judges unforgiven sin, (unforgiven by God) by His law. If our lives are judged by this standard, we become like the sheep after the snowfall or the stable-worker transported to the wedding. Friend, there is a great day on which we will stand before God. God wants to spare us shame and regret on that day. God wants to spare us from judgment. However, to be spared, we must respond to His way and path to making things right. King David said:

… I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah. (Psalm 32:5)

What is contrition? If conviction is awareness of sin, then contrition is remorse for sin. We read in the Bible:

For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.

 (Isaiah 66:2)

Contrition is a deep regret for all the wrongs we have done against God and against our fellow man. It represents deep heart-felt grief, an inner agony that mourns over our sinful condition.

Remember King David, of whom we spoke earlier, and of how he was confronted by Nathan over his sins of adultery and murder. Nathan’s rebuke, “Thou art the man.” rang over and over in David’s mind until his conscience was completely overwhelmed with the guilt of what he had done. David spoke of his burden of guilt in the following passage:

When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.

For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah.

I acknowledge my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah. (Psalm 32:3-5)

Scripture also records how Peter, Jesus’ disciple, pledged to follow Christ even to prison or to death. However, Jesus, Who knew the future, replied, “…   I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.”

Luke 22:34)

As the events of Christ’s trial unfolded, Jesus’ words proved true. Peter denied knowing Jesus. As Christ was led away, their eyes met one last time before the crucifixion. It was then that Peter was overwhelmed with remorse and sorrow at what he had done. Convicted over what he had done, he was filled with contrition :” And Peter went out, and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22:62).

Dear reader, have you found this place of contrition? Has God’s truth penetrated deep enough into your soul to affect you in this way? Or have you presumed that you have little to mourn over, that you have not much need of God’s grace. One writer has said:

Presumption hinders mourning because it is really a form of pride. It recognizes the need for grace, but not much grace. It is satisfied with cheap grace, expecting God to forgive little because it sees little to be forgiven. Sins are bad, but not bad enough to be confessed, repented of, and forsaken. 3

To find this place of contrition we must look to the cross of Christ, and understand in our hearts how great a price was paid for our sins.

Two thousand years ago, a brilliant light shone into this dark world, a gift from heaven, the Lord of heaven Himself. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth, full of kindness. He grew up like a tender plant. He taught the people about the kingdom of God and healed them of their diseases. But His purpose for being here extended beyond this. The day would come when He would die for your sins and mine. God’s justice required a penalty to be paid for all the sins of humanity. Thus, the pure Son of God took upon Himself the sins of the entire world so that we could be set free and forgiven. He was despised and rejected by men. He was tortured and sentenced to death. With painful wounds in His body and nails in His hands, He alone paid this awful price. (See Isaiah 53).

All sin requires enormous penalty. This was the price:

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

Friend, if you do not know the Lord’s forgiveness, or salvation, then respond like King David. Confess your transgressions and sins to the Lord. Call out for His forgiveness. Perhaps the greatest sin that we commit against God is our own self-rule. God has commanded that we have no other Gods before Him. This is the first of the Ten Commandments. Let the first sin that you confess and repent of be this one. Determine that you will lay down your own will, and your self-rule, to the Lord. Surrender your life completely to the Lord, to follow Him. Make this commitment to Him in prayer. I encourage you to pray in your own words.

I also offer this prayer:

Father in heaven, how can we see our own sins and our own rebellion and not weep at the hardness of heart that we have? And yet, our hearts are hard until You have brought conviction to them. Oh Lord, bring conviction of sin. Bring contrition. Let us grieve and lament. Let it break our hearts. Then take our broken hearts and clean them through and through. David confessed his sin to You and You forgave him. Multitudes of others have also confessed their sins and sought Your forgiveness. Now, Lord, it is our turn and we come to You. Forgive our self-rule and our many sins. We lay down our lives to follow Your way. We need Your forgiveness and grace. Jesus died for our sins and then rose from the grave. We believe and express this belief, this faith, to You in prayer. Our prayer is one of surrender to You. Our prayer is one of confession to You. Now, as we receive Your grace, let our lives go on to be an open confession and testimony of Your love and salvation. Amen.

Shawn Stevens



1 Michael L. Brown, From Holy Laughter To Holy Fire, America On The Edge Of Revival (Shippensburg: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc., 1996), 91-92.

2 Ibid., 94.

3 John F. MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1 Matthew 1-7(Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1985), 163.

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