Psychology of Conviction

Most people recognize that one of the definitions of the word “conviction” refers to a solid assurance of something that withstands reasoned arguments. There are people who reject or simply don’t understand how it works, and they allege some kind of willful truculence. We can’t help such folks, and it’s immoral to try. People who are entertained by debate are free to engage, but nothing of moral significance is ever decided through debate. You can hold your opinions, but convictions hold you.

For example, my affinity for the biblical teaching on God’s sovereignty was not a matter of instruction. I knew God was sovereign by conviction before I understood intellectually what it was. At no point in my life did I ever doubt it; it was always there from birth. That doesn’t make it a universal truth. That makes is something I am unable to doubt and see no need to defend. It has nothing to do with people who might have some contrary conviction; that’s their problem. I have enough problems of my own (Romans 14:4).

No human agency can create convictions. I can’t help you get some, only help you discern them by teaching about the common psychological processes. Some people have no room in their psyche for them. That’s not to say they never will, because the Holy Spirit does the most amazing things. We get to see miracles when we give Him room to work in our lives, but the real issue is our perception of God’s hand in our lives. So we have to learn the boundaries of what we can do without getting in His way, and that typically means we don’t argue with people about what ought to be the contents of our convictions or theirs. Convictions create boundaries, but need not create enemies. Don’t read everything in life as a linear binary division between this-n-that. See it as a range of proximity and how it affects communion and fellowship in context.

It can take some time for folks to begin discerning the difference between firm belief, notions that have never been questioned, tribal-like traditions, and genuine conviction. The exercise begins with obeying your own conscience — conscience is the mental awareness of conviction, not conviction itself. When you begin to obey your conscience, you are quite likely to face a lot of harassment and suffer some internal turmoil and doubts. Still, the willful choice to face the storm and cling to the one piece of bedrock you can identify internally is the path to overcoming doubts and disputes. Know that your conscience will change it’s interpretation of your convictions. That’s because the matrix of awareness in your mind typically needs renovation.

A part of this is learning to see below the surface. Someone like Peter (prior to the Resurrection) was notorious for expressing conflicting commitments, highly variable in the sense of, “What’s his new hobby horse now?” He was so very confident and loquacious in laying out the reasons for his assertions, only to be equally confident and loquacious on a contrary assertion the next time you saw him. He must have been hard to bear with endless chatter on his new “thing” in social settings. Yet it remains possible to scrape away his fairy tales and see underneath a certain consistency that Jesus saw. That rock solid reliability was underneath, and anyone with moral discernment could see it with their hearts. The problem was not that Peter was unreliable, but that he was confused about what his mission in life was. He felt a dependency on external affirmation. He was a champion back-pedaler when embarrassed. He didn’t know himself, yet took himself too seriously. All of his bluster was aimed at helping others; he just went about it wrong. When he went through the trauma that exposed his fairy tales to his own sight, he was able to change his behavior. He was able to distrust his own fleshly mind and look deeper to the bedrock of his convictions. He became a pivotal leader far greater than he previously imagined he could be. (See Peter_Rehab for more.)

Peter falls into a widely recognized personality type; there are other types, not to mention vast variations within each type. But we do know one universal: Those who seek God’s face cannot avoid coming to a sense of conviction sooner or later. Indeed, the one portal for all human souls is the conviction of our need for redemption, a sense of penitence. Nobody can demand we all manifest the same behaviors in passing through that singular portal to Christ, but we can learn to discern a genuine sense of conviction when we see it. It requires we have our own first.

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About Ed Hurst

Disabled Veteran, prophet of God's Laws, Bible History teacher, wannabe writer, volunteer computer technician, cyclist, Social Science researcher
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