That Sermon Was Really Convicting...Now What?

Does this sound familiar? You hear a sermon that exposes some moral failure in your life. It hurts and you feel a strong sense of shame that you sinned and let it get this far. At that moment you resolve that things have to change; it can’t go on like this. You quickly shift into action mode and begin making a list of what you need to do to correct this problem.

For many people, this translates to responsibility and wisdom. Wouldn’t we rather have someone urgently seeking to clean up their mess than someone who doesn’t even see the mess in the first place? Perhaps, but what if the person seeking to clean up their mess is going about it in the wrong way so that it only looks clean? I remember as a kid learning that cleaning up spilled soda on the kitchen floor required more than just drying it up with paper towels. I had to get out the cleaning solution too, or else we’d constantly hear the sound of sticky shoes after the dried soda was transferred to our soles.

For the person grieved over his sin to move directly to change after being convicted will only result in change that is temporary and external. Think of Paul’s words to the Colossians about the limitation of their religious rituals:

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23, emphasis mine).

Paul admits that a religious to-do list looks wise when it comes to pursuing holiness, but looks can be deceiving. There is a spiritual need inside each Christian that a to-do list cannot reach. Like trying to quench your thirst with salt water, in trusting your to-do list, you will find that the problem remains.

But if that’s not the answer, what is the right way to respond to the pain of having your sin exposed? We find that David demonstrates the first step for us in Psalm 51. After his sin with Bathsheba has been uncovered, he turns to God in humble prayer. An important aspect of this prayer is David’s God-centered confession. Though he has certainly sinned against Bathsheba and her husband, Uriah, David understands that, first and foremost, he has sinned against God Himself: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (v. 4). Such a step may feel heavy, but it is full of hope, because God “opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). And for those who are in Christ, confession of sin is received by the One who “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Another aspect of this prayer is for us, like David, to request divine aid. In verse 10, David pleads, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” And, in verse 12, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit.” He understands that the only hope of him walking faithfully in the future is found in the transforming and sustaining power of God. There is no spiritual power in self-reliance. Leaning on your own understanding is not what makes your paths straight, it’s God who does this as you “trust in [him] with all your heart” and “acknowledge him” in all your ways (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Once you have confessed your sin to the Lord and requested His divine aid, then you are ready for the second step. Responding correctly to having your sin exposed also calls for trusting God to give you the help you just prayed for, the help you need to experience true change. Your trust in God for this can be fueled by the fact God has provided forgiving grace and transforming grace through Christ. Paul makes this clear in Titus 2:11-12 when he writes, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (emphasis mine). With this truth resonating in your heart, you are now prepared to take practical steps of change in whatever area of your life where sin has previously taken root. And in these steps, you can expect God to work through your efforts, because Paul says in Galatians 5:16, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh”.

Responding this way to conviction of sin may seem like it will slow the process down, but it is the only way to respond that puts God at the center… and it’s the only way to really clean up the mess.

Note: This article originally appeared on We encourage you to visit the Center for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship where you can find helpful, biblical resources by a number of trusted pastors and authors.

Brent Osterberg




no categories