Do you know the difference between real Christian conviction and mere belief? Whether you stay In God's Church may depend on your answer!
At the time of his baptism, George (not his real name) said he would never leave God's Church. He would always keep close to God and walk with Him, no matter what happened. George was a student at Ambassador College. He had waited until his senior year to be baptized because he had wanted to be sure of himself. That was eight years ago. Today George is no longer with us. Why? What caused him to turn away from the truth? What made him become an unbeliever? And how can you be sure that you won't follow his bad example? Are you convinced of your beliefs? One day the father of a sick boy came to Christ and said, "Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him" (Mark 9:17-18). The man further stated that Christ's disciples had been unable to heal the boy. "How long is it ago since this came unto him?" asked Christ. The father answered, "Of a child … if thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us" (verses 21-22). A pathetic cry from the father, beseeching Christ's help for his son! The man wasn't sure whether Christ would — or could — do anything. But when he heard that "all things are possible" with God, he immediately cried out and said, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief' (verses 23-24). Do you understand the true meaning of that request? The father wanted to believe, but needed help to dissipate his doubts. He needed help to overcome his unbelief. Every one of us at times has some doubts. We want to believe — we think we believe — but we are not totally convinced. If, for instance, you were asked, "Do "you believe this is God's Church?", your answer would certainly be, Yes, I do." But would you give the same positive answer if you were asked, "Are you totally convinced of it?" To be totally convinced you must have overcome all of your doubts once and for all. If those who have left the Church had been totally convinced that this is God's Church, they would never have left it. George, the student at Ambassador College, only believed. He was not totally convinced. That's why he is no longer with us. There is a big difference between believing and being convinced. Once you are convinced, you have passed the point of no return. You can never go back. You have overcome all your arguments and doubts.
All of us in God's Church need more conviction, not just simple belief. The difference between one who stays in the Church and one who leaves is the difference between believing with conviction and believing without conviction. The Bible defines faith as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1). A major part of faith is conviction, a quality some in God's Church lack today. Did you know that the words convicted, convinced and even confute are derived from the same root? In Acts 18 we learn that Apollos, a Jew, used the Old Testament to prove to his own people that Christ was the Messiah. Eloquent in speech and well versed in the Scriptures, "he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John" (verse 25, Revised Standard Version). Why was Apollos able to convince the people? The fact that he himself was totally convinced of his beliefs helped considerably. "For he powerfully confuted [the same Greek word is translated convinced] the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Christ was Jesus" (verse 28). Can you do that? Can you "confute" someone with the Scriptures, as Apollos did, showing that Christ is Jesus? You should be able to if you are totally convinced of this truth, and if you are conquered by the Spirit of God. Notice the Bible's simple, beautiful description of Abraham's conviction: "No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced [or, "fully persuaded," according to the King James Version] that God was able to do what he had promised" (Rom. 4:20-21, RSV). This is faith with conviction. It opens all doors and helps you resist all temptations. It overcomes all feelings of discouragement or defeat. If you have this sort of conviction, you can be sure you will always remain in God's Church.
Faith in action
Do you sometimes take the truth for granted? Don't! Make the effort to check up on things, to prove and understand them. Conviction requires action. It requires effort. Deepening your conviction requires greater effort. You have to work harder, push harder, study and pray more. Unfortunately, some in God's Church are not doing that. And their belief has no conviction! One day four men brought a paralytic to Christ. But they could not get near Jesus because of the crowd around Him. The men knew — they were convinced — that if Christ saw the paralytic He would heal him. Consequently, their task was to find a way to get near Him. They were determined to do their part. "And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay" (Mark 2:4, RSV). Imagine! They came right through the roof. Their faith stirred them to action. Removing the roof was not an easy task. It took ingenuity and effort, but they succeeded. Christ marveled and said, "My son, your sins are forgiven" (verse 5). And the man was healed. Can you neglect your responsibilities and honestly expect God to do everything for you? Conviction requires much more than folding your arms and passively waiting for something to happen. The Bible also relates the story of a woman who had suffered from a hemorrhage for 12 years. She "came up behind him [Christ] and touched the fringe of his garment; for she said to herself, 'If I only touch his garment, I shall be made well' " (Matt. 9:20-21, RSV). Notice! The woman was convinced in her mind that if she touched Christ's garment she would be made well. She found her way through the crowd to Christ and touched Him. Christ turned and said, "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well" (verse 22). And she was healed. Is your faith without conviction — without action? God's Church today is on the right track. But each one of us needs conviction to be able to remain on the right track. It is high time we all realize this! Faith requires conviction and action! Jesus gave us an example in
everything — in attitude, conviction and love. He knew why He was on earth. He was totally convinced of His mission and what His Father expected of Him. We, too, must be convinced of our calling and of our mission. The conviction of Christ must be in us through God's Holy Spirit.
A positive attitude
Look how Christ prayed before Lazarus was brought back to life. He lifted His eyes and said, "Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me" (John 11:41, RSV). What a positive way to start a prayer! That's total conviction. Before asking anything of God, Christ stated, "I thank thee that thou hast heard me." How did Christ know God heard Him? Because of His conviction: "I knew that thou hearest me always" (verse 42). Then Christ added, "I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me." That was Christ's whole prayer. The only thing left for Him to do was to order Lazarus to come forth. And Lazarus came forth. If you ever hear Herbert W. Armstrong's prayer when he anoints someone, you will know what prayer with conviction is. Humbly, but boldly and forcefully, Mr. Armstrong claims God's promise of healing. He reminds God that when we repent of our sins and turn to Him in faith, He promises to heal us. All of us need this type of conviction in our prayers.
Some don't want to be convinced
Some people pass by the truth without noticing it. Others stumble on it. Still others learn something about the truth but are not willing to be convinced by it, for fear of having to change their way of life! King Agrippa was in that last group. He didn't want to be convinced. He felt he had no need of conversion. When Festus asserted that the apostle Paul's great learning had driven him mad, Paul answered: "I am not mad … I am speaking the sober [simple, plain] truth. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak freely; for I am persuaded [convinced] that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this was not done in a corner" (Acts 26:25-26, RSV). Then Paul asked: "King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe" (verse 27). Yes, indeed, King Agrippa believed, but was not willing to be convinced. "In a short time you think to make me a Christian!" he argued (verse 28). He was happy to be a king, happy to live the way he did. No need for him to change anything — certainly not to become a Christian, which would have meant giving up many things in his life, turning away from lust and observing the teachings of the Bible. All that was too much to ask of King Agrippa. Could this be your attitude? Do you sometimes deceive yourself, hoping God will "understand" when you know you are neglecting your part? Do you close your mind to certain aspects of the truth that would require changing things in your life that you don't want to change? James wrote, "Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (Jas. 2:17, RSV). The "works" mentioned in this verse refer to your part in faith. These "works" may require changing your habits, your ways of thinking and living. It may mean, for you, praying more" studying more or being a better example. If you're not fulfilling your part, you cannot be convinced that God will answer your prayers. "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder" (verse 19). Yes, even demons believe, but they are not convinced to obey God! The disciples of Christ, before their conversion, were not really convinced. They only believed in Christ. Think of it! After spending three and a half years with Him, after hearing Him teach day and night, they still had doubts in their minds. They were not totally convinced of the truth. They lacked God's Spirit. They could go no farther than the limits imposed by their human minds. The disciples were indignant when Christ told them that soon they would all fall away because of Him, and that "the sheep of the flock will be scattered." Peter objected vehemently to this pronouncement. "Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away," Peter assured Christ (Matt. 26:33, RSV). Peter was sure of himself, wasn't he? Yes, but not fully convinced, even though he thought he was! He believed with his carnal mind, without having the spiritual strength to back his belief. Christ told him, "Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times" (verse 34). Once again, Peter didn't agree with that statement. He would prove his Master wrong! "Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you," he answered (verse 35). Ironically, all of the disciples said the same thing to Christ. Nevertheless, when the Roman soldiers came to arrest Christ, they all "forsook him and fled" (verse 56). However, the disciples' attitudes totally changed after their conversion. They became men of courage, faith and conviction after receiving God's Spirit! Today in the Church of God we, too, have received this Spirit of faith and courage and conviction. We must allow it to convince us. Unfortunately, some just aren't using God's Spirit to help them grow in conviction. Do you perhaps believe that if you personally witnessed a great miracle you would be convinced? Humans are prone to forget — even a miracle! You have read many times the parable
of the rich man and Lazarus. When the rich man saw what was happening to him, he cried out for help for the other members of his family: "I beg you, father [Abraham], to send him [Lazarus] to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment" (Luke 16:27-28, RSV). Abraham answered, "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them" (verse 29). The rich man wanted a miracle, hoping it would help his five brothers to be convinced. "No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent." That's human reasoning! That's what the world wants to believe. Christians, today, think they would repent and believe if they saw Christ return with power and glory! But they are mistaken. Miracles by themselves cannot convince anyone permanently. As Abraham said, "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead " (verse 31). Likewise, if you cannot be convinced with what is already revealed in the Bible, no miracle can ever convince you! Actually, conviction requires that you do something — not that a miracle or anything else be done for you.
The miracle of your calling
The greatest miracle in your life took place when God called you and gave you His Spirit after your baptism. As John wrote, "Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent" (Rev. 3:3). Yes, indeed, remember the way you were called, how it all happened, the miracle of being among the very few chosen ones! Read and study the Bible with this in mind. Learn how the men of God fought, how they endeavored to overcome their doubts and difficulties. Yet, in the final analysis, it was always God who led them to victory. They didn't win their battles — God did. He wins all of our battles. But we must be convinced of it and do our part — fulfill our obligations. If you are completely convinced and convicted of God's truth, nothing can make you turn away from God. You won't have any doubt that you are in God's Church and that Christ is the Head of the Church. You can trust Him implicitly! As Paul wrote: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything... will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:35-39, RSV). This is full conviction. It is living faith!