Embracing Spiritual Conviction, Part One

Sending Church Element 02:   Embracing Spiritual Conviction

The church is convinced of their need to personally engage this lostness through the truth of the Scriptures and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. 

The Sending Church Elements are a framework for growing as a sending church. They point out the strengths and weaknesses of churches in missions. Embracing Spiritual Conviction describes a transformation of the sending church, in which a theology of mission flows from the peoples' minds into their hearts. This series will address why spiritual conviction is important and explain the means God gives us to grow in conviction.

To get at the center of the mission of God, another way we could ask the question is: what is God’s purpose behind everything he does? This is what the Creator-God says to his covenant people: “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols” (Isaiah 42:8).

Even for God’s own church, which he loves and bought at the price of his own Son—we are God’s own glorious inheritance (Ephesians 1:18). God will one day wear his people like jewelry (Isaiah 49:18), ultimately highlighting his own beauty.

God is after his own glory.

As the church, we do not ever graduate and move on from this basic doctrine. We must constantly remind ourselves of this truth in the face of life’s endless burdens, which grasp for our attention. Instead of always thanking God for his total goodness, for every good gift that descends from heaven, we question God—“How could you allow us to experience this pain? Don’t you care about us?” and “Why won’t you help us succeed? Why are we experiencing frustration?”

Our problem, however, is not our circumstances. Circumstances draw out what is buried in the heart. Our problem is that we are in the midst of a worship war, often finding ourselves on the wrong side of the battle—our lives, our goals, our small kingdom.

To grow as a sending church, it is not enough to have a good understanding of theology and the Bible. Devils are excellent systematic theologians, but they have no love for God or any desire to serve him. In order to bring ourselves in line with the heartbeat of God’s mission, we are in desperate need of a heart transplant.

Embracing spiritual conviction happens when God’s people have their hearts transformed. There is no neutral ground when it comes to worship—either we will be filled with the Spirit, praising God’s name among the peoples of the earth, or we will worship something else, joining them in willful, truth-suppressing unbelief.

The Conviction of the Spirit

The Holy Spirit goes wherever he wills, making God known according to Jesus’ work on the cross. In any evangelistic endeavor, believers do well to pray for those who will hear, asking God to prepare their hearts and minds to be transformed. Many Christians understand that they have no actual power of persuasion over the human heart to change what a sinner delights in. This is because the human heart is desperately sick with sin (Jeremiah 17:9). Without God, no one is righteous or seeks God (Romans 3:10-11). In fact, as long as anyone is abiding in their sin, they are not alive, but dead (Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13).

Yet it is the Holy Spirit who opens the eyes, unstops the ears, and breathes life where there were only dry bones and fossils for hearts. He is the Spirit of Truth, who convicts with the law and holy character of God (1 Timothy 1:8-11) and arrests the heart with the good news, which is the power of God (Romans 1:16). The Spirit works as we foolishly preach the message (1 Corinthians 1:21), without which preaching the Spirit will not work and save (Romans 10:14-15).

Dependence through Prayer

Believers need the gospel. Just as soon as we understand the principle that unbelievers need the gospel, we tend to forget that believers need to sit under the Bible’s message as well. Without being constantly watered from the inside by the life of the Spirit, we quickly dry up. This is why Paul commands us, “Be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18), and elsewhere says, “Therefore, as you received Christ, so walk in him” (Colossians 2:6).

Not only is the gospel for believers, but the gospel does its work best in community. We grow when we speak the truth in love to each other (Ephesians 4:15), and when we speak the truth about our own sin and pray for each other, we are healed (James 5:16). In other words, our faith is not privatized, but the Holy Spirit works in and through us as a people. God moves among us when we pray and fast as an interconnected body.

This is all a roundabout way to get to this point: missions is first and foremost a work of God. If we wish to share the same missionary pulse as our sending God, we cannot muster an ounce of true affection toward God’s mission in and of ourselves. Instead, we only form real spiritual conviction for mission in proportion to our attention to prayer and dependence on the Holy Spirit. These two parts, prayer and dependence, are necessary to obey Jesus’ commission for his church to make disciples.

You Cannot serve Two Masters

If any of us paused to make an honest assessment of ourselves, we would all admit that we are not perfectly living out the great commandment: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). By definition, then, we are also not perfectly loving God’s image-bearers, our neighbors. We do not always find it so easy to look out for the interests of others. We do not always find Christ’s commands easy and his burden light. A likely explanation is that we are still serving another master, still worshiping something else.

Confession and ongoing repentance go hand in hand. We do not turn to God without turning away from something. When it comes to embracing spiritual conviction for God’s mission, we must ask God to show us where we were not seeking his kingdom but a worldly kingdom. Have we really made ourselves available? If we are too busy to obey God, then our priorities must be wrong. If we feel that we have no opportunity, is that the truth, or have we not asked God for opportunity? Ultimately, if we do love God, then we will delight to obey him. Keith Green got it right in his song “If You Love the Lord”. He wrote:

“If you love the lord, you will love his will for you.
Instead of questions why, there'll be praise for all he brings you through.
And if you love the lord, you will love his holy commands.
Delight yourself in them, and everything you do will surely stand.”

THIS ARTICLE IS BY ANDY JANSEN, AN UPSTREAM INTERN FOCUSING ON CONTENT MANAGEMENT