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Counterfeits of Conviction

By Dan Vis
July 01, 2019
Comments: 10

This month I've decided to share a series of brand new articles on various aspects of motivation. At a recent personal retreat I spent some time reviewing a ton of notes from the early days of FAST, and realized I didn't really have some of it in print anywhere today. So think of this month as "classic FAST"!

Over the years I've spent a lot of time trying to encourage believers to grow stronger in their Christian life. I've always seen that as a part of the Great Commission. But I learned early on that all the motivation in the world won't do much good, unless a corresponding inner conviction begins to grow in the heart of the person you are trying to disciple. So the formation of conviction became an important area of study for me.

I also quickly discovered that there are a lot counterfeits to true conviction. That is, people do all sorts of things for reasons that look very much like personal conviction, but when you scratch the surface you realize it wasn't true conviction at all. Being able to identify these counterfeits helped me glean some important insights into how the genuine forms.

“There are a lot of things that look like personal conviction, but aren't true conviction at all.”

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Three Counterfeits

There are at least three counterfeits to true conviction and each sheds some light on the authentic. These include:

Sometimes a person will act in a certain way because they believe something is true. They have the correct information, have been exposed to the proper evidence, and are persuaded intellectually. They may even argue and debate their position! But that doesn't mean they have strong convictions about it. We have all known people who acknowledged something to be right, but yet chose to do the wrong thing, haven't we? Beliefs look like conviction, because there's a clear discernment of information--but the difference lies in how much that information is valued. Or as someone once put it, we all hold beliefs, but convictions hold us.

In other situations a person may have a strong preference for something, and that can lead to choices that look a lot like conviction. I have a strong dislike for cooked spinach--and as a result you are probably never going to catch me eating it. Other people pursue hobbies and interests they enjoy. And just as with a personal conviction, these individuals are willing to sacrifice greatly for whatever it is they desire. The difference of course, is that convictions always revolve around some strong moral component. I don't feel guilt about eating spinach, I just don't like it. Violating a conviction, on the other hand, always leads to a feeling of guilt and remorse. Convictions go deeper than preferences.

A third common explanation for the choices people make is tradition. People follow all sorts of tradition, diligently, sometimes for years. Some were ingrained from their childhood up, and that training can be extremely powerful. In fact, the consistency of these individuals in following their habits and patterns looks a lot like someone with strong convictions. But again there is a difference. When you ask the reasons for their actions, they can't give much explanation for it, other than that's how they've always done it. Traditions can have a rigid hold on our life, but that doesn't always mean they are in fact personal convictions.

All three can lead to choices that look a lot like conviction, but something is lacking in each. Their similarities with convictions, however, help us to identify some essential elements of convictions, and suggest a guide we can use to cultivate them.

“Understanding the essential elements of convictions suggests a guide we can use to cultivate them.”

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Elements of Conviction

Consider again the similarities between these counterfeits and true conviction:

Beliefs and convictions are similar in that it is rooted in information. Both beliefs and convictions lead to choices based on facts and evidence perceived as true by the individual.

Preferences and convictions are similar in that there is a strong desire to achieve some outcome. This leads to determination, and even sacrifice, to obtain whatever it is they want.

Tradition and convictions are similar in that they become forged into a person's experience over time, through the creations of habits and patterns in life. Both lead to consistent life choices.

In other words, true convictions are rooted in information, generate a strong desire to act on them, and lead to a consistent experience over the course of life. I like to think of them as a three-legged stool. Neglect any leg, and your balance becomes precarious.

Conviction Formation

A little further reflection suggests a clear guide to conviction formation. To help a person cultivate strong personal convictions, you simply need to develop each of the three spokes. Here's how:

Information grows as we gain a knowledge of what the Bible says. Careful study of the Bible and what it teaches on a specific subject gives us a factual base upon which we can make intelligent decisions.

Desire comes when we understand the benefits of following biblical principles. The more we meditate on Scripture and discern how and why it works, the more we will want those benefits in our own life.

Experience comes through the wisdom of correctly applying Scripture to our daily life and then faithfully implementing those actions. Building consistent habits helps reinforce our commitment to the underlying principle.

A conviction can start with information, a desire, or through experience. But for it to fully mature, it must spread to all three areas through growth in knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. There must be Bible study, meditation on relevant principles, and consistent personal application.

A Simple Example

You can see this process in just about any area of discipleship. Let's take Scripture memory for example. A person may be motivated to start because they saw or heard some verse that impressed them the practice was biblical. Or perhaps they grasp how it could help them spiritually, and so they have a desire to give it a try. Or perhaps, they were raised memorizing Scripture, and had some experience in its power in their life. All these can lead to some level of motivation.

But in none of these cases do we have strong conviction yet. There may be a clear belief it is biblical, a strong preference to memorize, or even a tradition of memorizing that's starting to bear fruit. For it to become a true conviction, this person will simply need to grow in any elements that are deficient.

That is, for the conviction to deepen they will need to combine a thorough study of the biblical case for memorization, with a clear understanding of the benefits it brings, and a commitment to doing it consistently until it is habitual--all three--for it to grow into something more firm. This is how beliefs, preferences, and traditions morph into strong personal convictions.

Essentially convictions come when we know something is God's will, we want to follow God's will, and we commit to actually doing God's will over time.

Take the Next Step

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Assess the key practices in your spiritual life. Are they rooted in true conviction? Are some lacking in information? Desire? Experience? What can you do to reinforce those convictions? Share your comments in the boxes below.

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Posted by Dan Vis on 07/22/19
Glad this was helpful Emmanuel! You are more than welcome. :)
Posted by Emmanuel Ajiroghene on 07/15/19
This is so on point and powerful. I will just copy and save it for further use. Thanks for sharing Pastor Dan Vic.
Posted by Dan Vis on 07/02/19
The fact you figured it out Qing means you are an amazing dotter. But now we're slightly off topic for here. :)
Posted by Qing Ling on 07/02/19
Dan I think I got it eventually. It took me a while. Your brain is simply too amazing. :)
Posted by Dan Vis on 07/02/19
The feeling is mutual Qing. And thanks so much for helping us with all the FAST dots. :) Get it?
Posted by Qing Ling on 07/02/19
I meant every word, Dan. ☺️
@ANNMARIE_531 and I had an absolute blast too catching up with you and the lovely Vi.
Thanks for the opportunity to check out FAST Headquarters ;)
Onwards and upwards!
Posted by Dan Vis on 07/01/19
Glad this was helpful Carole. Learning to recognize the moving of the Holy Spirit is so important, isn't it.

Thanks for highlighting that sentence JoAnn. That really does wrap the whole article up pretty nicely, doesn't it?

Wow, what I can say Qing. That was a pretty insight into the role of convictions in the process of growing into spiritual maturity. And appreciated your testimony about the role FAST has played in your life to encourage and support you. You've been an amazing part of helping us to create that community.

And thanks for a great weekend! It was REALLY fun to spend time with you and Ann Marie. Safe journeys...
Posted by Carole Bliss on 07/01/19
I know when I am convicted. I feel my heart is being tugged in a certain way. To look deeper inside wanting to be what HE wants me to be.
Knowing the truth and obeying, in His strength.
This is a good lesson.
Thank you
Posted by JoAnn Moon on 07/01/19
“Essentially convictions come when we know something is God's will, we want to follow God's will, and we commit to actually doing God's will over time.” This statement makes it very clear to me. I am praying today that God will show me His will and give me the desire to follow His will and the power to do so. I know this is a prayer He loves to answer.
Posted by Qing Ling on 07/01/19
This is a great analysis of what it takes to go from a “nominal” Christian to what I call a “solid” Christian - someone that is going to be able to remain standing when the test comes.
Whilst I have received lots of information on various “lifestyle choices”, I actually consider myself weak in that leg because I’m not good at retaining the information. I have the desire to live to a higher moral standard of life, that’s no problem. But I don’t always remember the technical biblical reason for it. This isn’t so much a focus for me unless I have to explain my beliefs to someone.
Deepening my conviction through experience is where I put my energies. And this is where FAST’s system of constant education, structured challenges, easy to use tools, and the community of like-minded believers, is my greatest resource. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the FAST training and community we have here. And it goes without saying: the greatest resource is PRAYER. Both in terms of praying for myself and others AND being prayed for by others.

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