(This post should be read as a continuation of the previous post entitled—The Stability of the Christian Faith.)
When we speak of conviction we refer to the direct result that positive knowledge has on the mind. By positive knowledge I mean true knowledge or valid knowledge. Consequently any mental position falling short of such knowledge should not be called a conviction; at best it might be an opinion, and at worse a deception—the latter being a state of mental certainty bereft of positive knowledge.
The question I will attempt to answer in this post is the following: Why is there a lack of moral convictions among evangelicals nowadays?
Since all convictions are the result of positive knowledge, the question can be worded as follows: Why is there a lack of positive knowledge—in the realm of morals—among evangelicals nowadays? After all, the Bible schools are proliferating and we are, at least it seems, living in an age of epistemological progress.
Lack of Commitment: the problem with conviction
I suggest that the difficulty we evangelicals are facing is related to a lack of Christian commitment. The Scripture plainly declares that Christian knowledge cannot be found on the surface. A superficial approach can only yield data and information, not breathing knowledge. Consequently, if a Christian wants to reach the knowledge of God, i.e., the knowledge God has, he will have to go beyond evangelical shoals and dare to enter into the depths of God’s sea.
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33).
Here we are told where positive knowledge is to be found. It dwells in the depth of Jesus Christ. That is why a shallow Christian life cannot produce convictions.
Christian conviction: the full assurance of understanding
Writing to the Colossians, Paul sets forth one of the most fundamental principles of Christian learning.
For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:1–3).
Let me begin with the second verse where Paul attests the possible existence of Christian convictions: “… and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding…” The words full assurance stand for the Greek word πληροφορία (plērophoria), which means firm persuasion, settled conviction.
Obviously it is the Holy Spirit who inspired the apostle to use this word. He could have written: “and attaining to all riches of understanding,” but God wanted to say more than this. He wanted to make it clear that a Christian can go beyond mere understanding and reach the absolute certainty that what he understands is true.
Christian conviction: the foundation of certitude
Paul’s testimony mirrors the principle mentioned above. To the Romans he wrote: “I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself” (Rom. 14:14). Not only Paul knew, but the Lord had validated his knowledge to the point of absolute conviction. And as I have explained in my last post, Jesus doesn’t change His moral views every other decade. If He convinces you of a moral truth today, He will not change His mind twenty years later.
The instability of moral beliefs, which marks a large number of evangelicals nowadays, is triggered by a lack of divine instructions. Paul told the Ephesians:
But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus” (Eph. 4:20,21).
When it comes to moral truth we need more than the teachings of men. Granted men can teach, and possibly present valid knowledge, the only way you can be certain that knowledge is true is by hearing the Voice of the Master. Only that Voice can validate your knowledge and convince you that what you have learned is really true. Once this is done, your moral beliefs (so validated) will be as stable as Jesus’ moral beliefs, for He cannot convince you differently later on since His moral views never change.
The grace of conviction
The positive knowledge a disciple can obtain is one of the most amazing treasures grace can bestow upon a man. It enriches the one who receives it with absolute certainty.
The one who sets his face as a flint; who digs deep; who proceeds beyond the valley of Baca with hymns and sounds of victory; this one and no other will reach the profundity of God’s counsel and find the treasures of darkness (Isaiah 45:3). For these pearls are found in scary depths, in places where the lover will daringly descent, and this, in a time in which most Christians search the way of ascension. Only in humility can one penetrate this full assurance of understanding and taste the flavor of absolute certainty. There is no other way.