After growing up for nineteen years in the same neighborhood with the same people in the same church, I was accustomed to the same lessons and ideas and in many ways thought that I had life ‘figured out’ in terms of being a Christian, that I didn’t have anything left to learn. Settling into my dorm this past August, that mindset shifted real quick. Adapting to community bathrooms and living without mom’s cooking was no easy task, let alone stepping out of my comfort zone to meet new friends and find a new church. In every way I was uncomfortable. But slowly, I got used to life outside of my bubble, found my people, and became a member of a church. As the dust settled, I began to appreciate the variety of people and perspectives in my life and how different they were from what I had grown up knowing. Day after day it felt like I was learning something new about God and myself. It was exciting and chaotic at the same time. Because though I loved being a student in my spiritual life, it was hard for me to wrap my head around the overall season I was in, what I was supposed to focus on.
Then one night as I was trying to process it all, the Holy Spirit reminded me of Moses and the burning bush. As Moses was getting ready to step into God’s presence, he had to take off his shoes because he was about to step onto holy ground. Though we don’t have to be perfect for God because by the cross, we are clean, when we step into a relationship with God we are called to repent from sin and to no live no longer in our sinful nature (Galatians 5:24-25 and 2 Timothy 2:15). Just as it says in Matthew 6:24, we cannot live for both God and the world. So just as Moses took off his shoes before God, if we want to step into life with God, he’s going to call us to take off our sin.
All that to say, my first semester was a season of refinement.
Daniel 11:35 says “the wise will fall, so that they may be refined, purified, and made spotless.” Realizing that I wasn’t perfect and that there were still areas I needed improvement, I began praying that God would open my eyes to my sin, that he would break my heart for what broke his. This was a dangerous, but wise prayer. It helped highlight parts of my life that didn’t line up with God’s will (Psalm 25:4). All of a sudden, cursing, listening to too much explicit music, putting social media before my time in the word, and all sorts of bad habits that were hidden in plain sight came into focus. Conviction became more common in my daily routine and where I would once act or say things without thinking, my movements slowed as I processed things through the Holy Spirit’s lens, questioning “Is this bringing glory to God?”
In the process of being refined, I found conviction was the Holy Spirit’s tool to help us walk the narrow path and live in constant sanctification (John 16: 5-15).
Crucial to conviction is understanding the difference between guilt and conviction (1 John 4:1-3). Guilt is not from God. It places power in the sin we commit and lessens the power of the cross. It is full of shame and tells us lies that because we have sinned and fallen short, we are weak, we aren’t worthy, or we aren’t working hard enough. It makes us believe that we are sinful people rather than children of God who sin. And after being beaten up by satan’s lies, we are too tired to repent and end up falling back into the very sin that we felt guilty about. Conviction, on the other hand, is from God. As we read the word, go to church, and people speak truth into our lives, the Holy Spirit applies what we’ve learned and uses it to convict us (Luke 8:9-15). It holds up what God says and what our lives look like, compares, and reveals to us how we should change. It doesn’t shame us but rather frees us. Our sin should still break our hearts, but once we acknowledge it and ask for forgiveness, we don’t have to keep thinking about it or let it hinder us. Seeing where we fall short, through conviction we are given the chance to ask for forgiveness and change our ways.
Sin by sin the Holy Spirit showed me ways in which I needed to change. Each time I saw something that didn’t bring glory to God, I altered the way I did things. The girl who once cursed now and then and worried about what time she would exercise suddenly spoke with intent and woke up wondering how she could serve others that day. I remember halfway through the semester I called my mom and at one point said “Mom, when I come home, I’m going to be different than what you remember.”
To many, conviction and refinement are intimidating topics. For the person that is a little unsure, to the person who’s curious, or to anyone who is questioning “why?,” Jesus in John 15:1-15 explains how we are branches attached to Jesus who is the true vine. If we want to abide in him, do life with him, and serve him, we must good bear fruit. Living a life deaf to what the Holy Spirit is calling us to and instead living for the world, we end up bearing bad fruit. But if we let God refine us and let the Spirit use what we learn to shape us into sons and daughters that look more like Christ, we can live lives that are more glorifying to God and in turn, reap a harvest. Verse 11 says that in your efforts, you are uplifted and that “ I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” After facing the flames we become refined tools that God can use. He rewards us with joy and uplifts us in this process.
Living a life on the narrow path, in line with God’s will for us, is difficult. But how rewarding that as we become more like Christ we can love others better and love God better and in turn bring glory to the Kingdom.