How Does Conviction of Sin Manifest Itself?

How Does Conviction of Sin Manifest Itself?


The word “convict” is a translation of the Greek word elencho, which means “to convince someone of the truth.”

Throughout the Bible and human history we see God’s conviction power bring the strongest of people to their knees with trembling, shaking, and alarming distress, which is often accompanied with loud crying and pitiful groaning.

There are those who feel such emotional responses are out of order during a church service. If it would be possible, what would the below say if they were to be asked about the “orderliness” of such emotion?


Conviction Manifested: Biblical Accounts

Nathan pointing to David
and exposing his sin.
(2 Sam. 12:7)

Ask Isaiah, about when he encountered God and recognized God’s holiness and his own sinfulness: Isaiah 6.

Ask David, after being convicted of his murder of Uriah and marriage to that man’s wife, Bathsheba: 2 Sam 12 (David then wrote Psalms 51).

Ask Ezra, who along with the returning exiles were weeping bitterly due to their conviction of sin: Ezra 10:1.

Ask Belshazzar, who knew the judgement on his great sin was imminent: Daniel 5.

When Belshazzar, the proud Assyrian monarch, saw the appearance of a man’s hand writing upon the plaster of the wall of his palace, his countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed and his knees smote one against another. And the effects have never yet been deemed unnatural. Why then should it be thought strange to behold sinners who have been powerfully awakened by the Spirit of God, who are so deeply convinced of the enormity of their crimes as to apprehend they are every moment in danger of dropping into the burning lake, who imagine that hell is moved from beneath to meet them at their coming, why should it be thought unnatural for such persons to discover outward symptoms of the alarming distress and agitation felt within?” — Memoir of Wm. Bramwell.

Philippian jailer falling down
and trembling before Paul.
(Acts 16:29-30)

Ask the tax collector, who upon sensing his deep sinfulness, beat himself in the chest and begged for mercy: Luke 18:13.

Ask Peter, about his denial of Jesus, and how he afterwards went out and wept bitterly: Luke 22:54-62.

Ask those assembled to hear Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, who after hearing were “cut to the heart”: Acts 2:37.

Ask the Philippian jailer, who fell trembling before Paul and begged to know the way of salvation: Acts 16:29-30.



Conviction Manifested: Church History

Ask John Oxtoby, who frequently witnessed strong men weeping and trembling when confronted with the truth of their sinfulness.

A crowd of stalwart fishermen flocked to listen [to John Oxtoby]. Unusual power attended his address, hardened sinners wept, strong men trembled, and while he prayed over a dozen of them fell on their knees, and cried aloud for mercy and found it.

Ask Jonathan Edwards, who during just one sermon indicated that:

The Holy Ghost was so mightily poured out, and God so manifest in holiness and majesty during the preaching of that sermon, that the elders threw their arms around the pillars of the church and cried, ‘Lord, save us, we are slipping down to hell!’

Ask John Wesley, for he witnessed this many thousands of times:

Sinners were stricken immediately, and began to cry for mercy under fearful conviction of sin, and soon after, in a moment they were set at liberty, and filled with unspeakable joy in the knowledge of a present salvation.

Ask Charles Finney, for he will tell you that,

Sometimes the conviction of sin was so great and caused such fearful wails of anguish that he had to stop preaching until it subsided.

Ask those of the Irish Revival of 1858:

When the conviction as to its mental process reaches its crisis, the person, through weakness, is unable to sit or stand, and either kneels or lies down. A great number of convicted persons in this town and neighborhood, and now I believe in all directions in the north where the Revival prevails, are “smitten down” as suddenly and they fall as nerveless and paralyzed and powerless, as if killed instantly by a shotgun. They fall with a deep groan, some with a wild cry of horror–the greater number with the intensely earnest plea, ‘Lord Jesus, have mercy on my soul !’ The whole frame trembles like an aspen leaf, an intolerable weight is felt upon the chest, a choking sensation is experienced and relief from this found only in the loud, urgent prayer for deliverance, usually the bodily distress and mental anguish continue till some degree of confidence in Christ is found.

Ask Oswald J. Smith, about just one instance of the hundreds he witnessed:

At the invitation he walked forward at once and knelt down. Soon he was shaking with great convulsive sobs. Nothing could check them. He pled for mercy and soon knew his sins were pardoned. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he stood up and faced the people and told them that he was saved.

It is acknowledged that for genuine conversion experiences, the Holy Spirit’s convicting power does not have to produce emotional responses as those mentioned above. There are many biblical accounts, as well as accounts throughout history, where such emotional responses were not manifested, yet the conversion was just as real. Zacchaeus was one such individual who had a genuine salvation experience without the manifestations mentioned above (Luke 19:1-10).

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