As we continue to pray for reformation and revival—and it is more necessary now than ever—we have to take care not to neglect the true nature of conviction of sin.
Given the nature of the world around us, it is perilously easy for us to mistake certain things for conviction of sin that are not conviction of sin at all. Those who are living without Christ are frequently miserable. Their lives appear to them to have no point or purpose. Their conscience does bother them about certain things they have done. Their attempt to reinvent a type of humanity more conducive to their lusts is a wretched failure. They are plagued with drifting ennui—however many things they try, nothing tastes like anything. There is a feeling of aimless malaise.
But none of this is conviction of sin. It certainly presents us with the need for conviction of sin, but it is not conviction at all. There is a kind of worldly sorrow that only works death (2 Cor. 7:10). That is what this is.
Godly sorrow, the genuine article—conviction of sin—leads to a salvation that doesn’t look back, and which has no regrets. But godly conviction of sin consists of certain elements that explain why people shrink back from it, and why they would prefer to substitute an pointed malaise for a pointed conviction.
Conviction of sin consists in an awareness of the holy law of a holy God, and this conviction is also aware of the fact of this God’s presence, and is acutely aware of His displeasure. In short, God is here, God is angry, and God is right to be angry.
This experience, this sensation of conviction, is most unwelcome. There are no secret pleasures in it, the way there are secret pleasures in our self-pity, our boredom, our ennui, and so forth. Conviction of sin is entirely distasteful, and part of the reason for this is that it appears that the only legitimate way out is to run toward the God who is generating these feelings. The only lawful refuge from God is to be found in God.
When we pray for reformation and revival in the church, we are praying for this. When we pray for spiritual awakening in the unbelieving world, we are praying for this. If we want a harvest, the field must be plowed.