The difference between conviction and condemnation
What is conviction? In modern legal terms, it is when someone pleads or is found guilty of a crime. In the KJV the word appears as convince (-eth, -ed). (Job 32:12, Jn 8:46, Acts 18:28, 1Cor 14:24, Titus 1:9, Jam 2:9, Jude 15). A classic example of conviction is in Jn 8:3-11. The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus, and reminded Him that the law of Moses required her death. He stooped down, wrote on the ground, and offered not a word. When they persisted, He said for him that had no sin to cast the first stone. He returned to writing on the ground. One by one, beginning at the eldest, they all went away, being convicted by their own conscience. Jesus then asked the woman who condemned her. She said no one. He said he did not either, and told her to go and sin no more. These men were not sincere about the sin issue. They only wanted to trap Jesus. They thought if He said to execute her, they could find fault; and if he said not to, they had Him again. Jesus used their own consciences against them. It can be asked just exactly how the woman was caught in the act of adultery in the first place, but this story shows how we all have sinned (Rom 3:23). Our own conscience convicts us.
What is conscience? It is the awareness of right and wrong, and the motivation of our soul to choose right. Adam and Eve first experienced it after they sinned (Gen 3:1-11). When God asked Adam who told him he was naked, Adam could have answered it was his conscience had the word been invented. Before that they did not know sin. God’s word and our conscience bring us conviction of wrong, and motivate us to do right (Rom 2:11-16). We cannot rely solely on our conscience. It must be guided by the word of God, which is the true measure of right and wrong. We tend to think of conscience as it pertains to wrong, but it also pertains to right. God can give us a good conscience (1Tim 1:5 & 19, 1Tim 3:9, Titus 1:15, Heb 9:9 & 14, Heb 10:22, 1Pet 2:19, 1Pet 3:16 & 21). The apostle Paul was a persecutor and murderer of Christians before he was saved. Yet he was able to have a clear conscience (Acts 23:1, Acts 24:16, Rom 9:1, 2Cor 1:12, 2Tim 1:3, Heb 10:22, Heb 13:18). This is the power of true repentance.
What is condemnation? In modern legal terms, it is a death sentence. It means there is no hope of getting past the sentence. There will be no life after the sentence is complete. It is final and inescapable. There will be no pardon or commutation. Judgment will be hanging over your head until you die. Spiritually it is a general feeling of rejection, unworthiness, separation from God, and hopelessness. It does not point out specific sins. It does not motivate to repent. It is just a sense of judgment that seems to have no way out. Conviction specifies what is wrong, and says “make it right”. God gives conviction in order to lead us to repentance. He does not desire us to be in condemnation (Lk 23:40, Jn 3:17-21, Jn 5:24, Rom 5:16, Rom 8:1, 2Cor 7:3 & 10). Jesus gave the Pharisees conviction, but did not give the adulterous woman condemnation (Jn 8:3-11). The devil uses condemnation to make us think we cannot come to God and make things right with Him (1Tim 3:6). It is a snare to our souls. We can only have confidence toward God when condemnation is not in our hearts (1Jn 3:20-21). Conviction drives us to God, condemnation drives us from Him.
The night before Jesus died, all the apostles failed Him (Mk 14:15). Jesus knew this was going to happen. It was prophesied (Zech 13:7, Mt 26:31). However, there were 2 in particular - Peter and Judas. Jesus knew all along Judas was going to do more than just run away. He was going to be an active participant in His arrest. He was going to betray Him to His enemies (Jn 6:70-71, Jn 13:21-26). This was also prophesied (Ps 109:2-8, Acts 1:20). When Judas lead the posse to where Jesus’ special prayer place was, and betrayed Him, Jesus called him His friend (Mt 26:50). He is not willing that any perish, but that all come to repentance (2Pet 3:9). Jesus did not condemn him. He condemned himself. He repented himself, returned the money to the priests in an attempt to make it right, and confessed he had sinned (Mt 27:3-5). These are all key ingredients in repentance. Judas could not overcome the condemnation, and went out and hanged himself. God knew the power of condemnation would destroy him (Acts 1:25).
Then there was Peter. Jesus knew Peter was going to deny him. He even told him in specific details how it was going to happen (Mt 26:33-35). It would be 3 times before the rooster crowed twice. Peter did not want to believe it. Then in the garden Jesus specifically appointed Peter, James, and John to watch and pray. He caught them sleeping on guard duty 3 times in less than an hour while He was going through agonizing prayer preparing to face the punishment for our sins through a gruesome torture and death. (Mk 14:32-42). When they came to arrest Jesus, Peter misunderstood the situation, and cut off a man’s ear in an attempt to fight back (Lk 22:36-38, Jn 18:10-11, Lk 22:51). Jesus healed the ear. After Jesus was arrested, Peter followed afar off even to the palace to watch the end (Mt 26:58). Then Peter did the thing he could not believe was in him to do. You would think after the first rooster crow, he would have realized what was happening. When the rooster crowed the second time right after the third denial came out of Peter’s mouth, he made direct eye contact with Jesus (Lk 22:61). Can you imagine the condemnation that swept over Peter at that moment? Jesus had given him the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Mt 16:16-19). He was one of the 12. He was a leader of the leaders. He was one of the inner circle of 3 (Mt 17:1, Mk 5:37, Mk 13:3, Mk 14:33). He had vowed in front of the others to give his life for Jesus. He went out and wept bitterly.
Yet there was something in Peter that kept him from following the path of Judas. He could have gone out and killed himself too, but he didn’t. He could have let shame drive him away, but he didn’t. Jesus had told him Satan wanted to have him, but He had prayed for him, that his faith fail not (Lk 22:31-32). Jesus knew Peter would recover, be converted, and be a strengthener of the brethren. The very next words Jesus and Peter exchanged in Lk 22 were about his denial. Jesus has more faith in us than we do in Him. We don’t see Peter heading back to Galilee at that moment. He stayed around, as hard as it was. Even when he did return to Galilee later, it was with the brethren. After Jesus rose and appeared to Mary Magdelene, He told her to go tell the disciples and Peter (Mk 16:7). Jesus wanted Peter specifically to get the news. She ran to Peter and told him (Jn 20:2). When he heard that, he ran to the place Jesus had been buried (Lk 24:12). He did not yet believe Jesus had risen (Mk 16:11-14, Lk 24:11-12 & 36-41, Jn 20:8-9). Why then did he run to the tomb? The disciples were afraid of the Jews, and had barricaded themselves into a room (Jn 20:19). The Jews had placed a guard at the tomb (Mt 27:62-66). This was not a safe place for Peter to go. Was there some hope somewhere in his heart that he could reconcile with Jesus?
Later that day, Jesus appeared to the disciples and proved He was risen (Jn 20:20-31). After that, the disciples returned to Galilee like He told them to. Jesus had appointed a meeting with them there (Mt 26:32). Peter decided to go fishing (Jn 21:1-17). The others decided to join him. This was more than just a men’s fishing trip to kill time while they were waiting for Jesus. 4 of the apostles were professional fishermen before Jesus called them (Mt 4:18-22). They had left their businesses to follow Him. They were going back to what they used to do for a living before they met the Lord. They fished all night and caught nothing. This was not due to lack of expertise. Jesus was standing on the shore watching them. He asked them if they had anything. They said no. He told them to throw the net on the other side of the boat, as if all the fish were only swimming in the water on one side of the boat. Nevertheless, they did it. They caught more fish in that moment than they could draw into the boat. This should have been strangely familiar to them, especially to Peter. This is exactly what Jesus did when He called him to follow Him in the beginning (Lk 5:1-11). It was probably even the same lake. John realized it was Jesus, and told Peter. Peter wrapped a coat around himself and jumped into the lake. This is reminiscent of what he did the first time this happened. He fell at His feet and asked him to depart from Him, because he was sinful.
When they all got to shore, Jesus already had a fire going, and some fish cooking. He told them to bring in their catch. Peter got the net, drug it in, and counted the fish. There were 153 very large fish, yet the net did not break. Jesus then fed the disciples with the fish he had cooked. Jesus was making a very clear point. Afterward, Jesus asked Peter a question. He asked him if he loved Him more than the fish. Peter said he did. Jesus said, “Feed my lambs”. This exchange occurred again. Then Jesus asked him a third time. It really made Peter uncomfortable that he asked a third time. This conversation was occurring in front of the others. Jesus, Peter, and all of them knew that Peter had denied the Lord 3 times. Jesus was having him affirm his love for Him 3 times, not to humiliate him, but to restore him. Each of the 3 times Jesus responded by telling Peter to feed His sheep. Jesus arranged this whole event, even planned it ahead of time and told them so, for the purpose of bringing Peter out from his shame, condemnation, and failure; and his attempt to give up on his relationship and calling with God. Jesus restored Peter just like He said He was going to before Peter ever failed. Peter was uncomfortable and convicted when Jesus questioned him, but his conviction gave him restoration, and brought him out of condemnation. Peter led the meetings in Acts 1, preached on the day of Pentecost, all over Jerusalem without fear of the Jews, did miracles, preached to Samaritans and gentiles, wrote 2 books of the Bible, and is remembered not for his failure, but for his success. His name is on the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:14). Judas had condemnation. Peter had conviction. That is the difference between conviction and condemnation.