Let’s clarify a common misunderstanding regarding conviction. In some cases, a person hears the gospel as a child and understands the basics of sin, judgment, and the need for a Savior (mind). The individual is convicted by the Spirit (affections) and believes in Jesus, trusting in Him to save (will). This is salvation. God says so!
When you believe in Jesus, depending on Him to save you, you have eternal life (John 3:15, 16, 36; 5:24; 6:47), forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:43), and credited righteousness (Rom. 4:5; 10:4). The Bible is repeatedly clear. When you believe on Jesus as Savior, Jesus saves!
But sometime later, perhaps in church, at a camp, or in college, a “gospel” message is preached and some become uneasy, sensing a “conviction” they are not saved and need to be saved. This can be puzzling as they recall getting saved as a child. However, the present conviction seems real and the conclusion of many is that it is the Holy Spirit signaling they are not saved and need to get saved—even though they thought they had already been saved.
We must be careful not to err while accurately addressing such a dilemma. If someone has never understood the gospel, understood but never agreed, or understood and agreed but never depended on Jesus as Savior, then an apparent conviction to trust in Jesus is indeed the work of the Holy Spirit. (Remember, John 16:8 marks the Spirit’s work toward the unsaved world as conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment.) But when someone has understood, agreed, and depended on Jesus as Savior, that is salvation. For such a one to later experience “conviction” about not being saved is a work not of the Holy Spirit, but rather of the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10).
As we observed in the first article, if you doubt your salvation, joy is lost because you’re rightly troubled about eternal destiny. A victorious life is beyond reach because faith is the victory that overcomes the world—but you are stuck on a position of doubt (1 John 5:4). And ineffective is the best you can be in leading others to Christ due to personal uncertainty over whether you’re saved yourself. Given these grim realities, would it be to the enemy’s advantage to tempt saved people to doubt their salvation? Obviously, yes. A person with lingering doubt is joyless, defeated and ineffective, and for the cause of Christ, such a person is largely sidelined. While Satan attempts to distract or make lost people think they are saved, he will try to make the saved think they’re lost, leaving them sidelined and posing no threat to what he believes is his turf.
Not all perceived conviction is from the Holy Spirit; sometimes, it’s the accuser. The devil is a deceiver. He is a liar and the father of all lies (John 8:44). He misleads. He comes as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). He sometimes feigns “conviction” to confuse and discredit. While the Holy Spirit brings conviction to nurture faith (John 16:8; Phil. 2:13; Heb. 12:2), the enemy counterfeits conviction to inject doubt (Gen. 3:1). Therefore, when conviction leads to doubt and despair, it’s the enemy. When it leads to faith and hope, it’s the Holy Spirit.
Doubt often leads to discouragement and despair. Satan is a destroyer. Therefore God’s Word exhorts the saints to be on the alert because the devil prowls like a roaring lion ready to devour by arousing fear. So, be vigilant to resist the enemy by faith in God, based on His sure word (1 Pet. 5:8-9). If counterfeit conviction comes, recognize it as from the enemy. Reject it and stand on the truth that you have eternal life. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
John Van Gelderen