Conviction
MacArthur
by John MacArthur
Published on June 9, 2024
Categories: Spiritual Growth

Conviction

Imagine your body without a skeleton. There would be nothing for your muscles to attach to—nothing to protect your heart, lungs, and other internal organs; nothing to hold you together. With no recognizable structure, you’d lack any definition—in fact, there’d be precious little to distinguish you as a person at all.

The same could be said of many men in our society today. Their lives lack the structure that defines and directs their conduct. Put simply, they have no conviction. And without it, the other qualities of biblical masculinity have no foundation.

Conviction is the resolute commitment to a belief, or set of beliefs, that determines the actions a man will take. It is being convinced of the truth to the point of guiding your life by it—even at great expense to yourself. A man’s convictions, or lack thereof, will determine the kind of man he will be. Conviction underlies courage, strength, endurance, and purpose. It gives a man a backbone, it sets his direction, it makes him useful, and it maintains his integrity. Without it, a man will vacillate between opinions; he will change his mind when it’s convenient; he will stand down whenever the price is too high. Therefore, conviction is essential to manliness.

Because of its controlling nature, it is critical that a man has the right convictions. The Bible must dictate what a man believes, and thus, what he is committed to.

A man with the wrong convictions will have a direction, but it will be the wrong direction. Like a person navigating with a malfunctioning compass, he will set off with determination down a road that dishonors Christ. On the other hand, the man without conviction will stand at a fork in the road hemming and hawing between two paths. Every Christian man, then, ought to occupy himself with forming and solidifying biblical convictions.

Men of Conviction

The Bible contains example after example of manly, godly conviction. Joshua and Caleb were two such men in Numbers 13–14­. Although the people of Israel were too cowardly to trust their God and take the land of Canaan (13:27–33), Joshua and Caleb responded, “If the Lord is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us” (14:8–9). They were up against formidable cities and massive armies, but they believed the promise of God. So they were willing to risk their lives for what they believed—that’s conviction.

Later in Israel’s history, David was convinced that God would give Goliath and the Philistines into Israel’s hands. Although the people were afraid, Goliath’s might was irrelevant to David, and he said to the soldiers of Israel, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God? . . . Let no man’s heart fail on account of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:26, 32). David’s concern was not his size against Goliath’s—he had the conviction that God would deliver on His promises (1 Samuel 17:45–47). The Lord would defend His name and His people. Nothing could stand in the way of that.

It was because of their conviction that three young men were able to face the threat of an excruciating death in Daniel 3. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were committed to the exclusive worship of the one true God, so they would not bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol. They knew that doing so would result in them being “cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire” (Daniel 3:6), but they were resolute in their conviction. They were willing to die for what they believed.

Daniel himself showed that same kind of conviction in Daniel 6. Despite the King of Persia’s decree that prayer must be made to him alone, Daniel was as persistent as ever in his supplications to Yahweh (Daniel 6:10). Daniel knew that the penalty for breaking the law was consignment to the lion’s den, but he would rather die than stop worshiping his Lord. His firm belief in the one true God and his unbreakable allegiance to His law gave Daniel the backbone to disobey the king’s orders, even when his life was on the line.

The Conviction of Paul

The apostle Paul stood in the line of those saints who held such strong convictions. In Acts 21, Paul was completing a critical mission to deliver relief funds to the Jerusalem church from the Gentile churches in Asia Minor and Greece. This served two purposes: first, to show that the Gentiles loved the church in Jerusalem, and thus strengthen the unity of the church; second, to meet the needs of the poor saints.

Paul saw the Jerusalem church as a beleaguered garrison. It was weary and cut off from supplies. It had been through famine and persecution, and its spiritual strength was draining. Paul believed that going to them with this gift would not only relieve their physical need but also inject spiritual life into this suffering church.

Of course, it wasn’t a safe thing to do because the hierarchy of Jerusalem hated Paul. They were continually trying to kill him. But now he was jumping from the frying pan into the fire by walking right into the main headquarters of his most hostile enemies.

Paul was aware of this danger. As he went to Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit was testifying to him that bonds and afflictions awaited him (Acts 20:23). His companions, likewise, kept warning him of the fate he might meet there. But as much as he realized the danger waiting for him in Jerusalem, he did not stop. He had a conviction that he must complete his mission—no matter the consequences.

There are four obvious facets of conviction in the account of Paul’s journey to Jerusalem in Acts 21. These allowed him to fulfill his ministry despite the opposition.

First, conviction knows its purpose. As the famous saying goes, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” Acts 21 begins with a brief account of Paul embarking on his mission from Miletus, with short stops along the way, until he reached Tyre (Acts 21:1–3). He set out with the divine priority of meeting the needs of the poor believers in Jerusalem and unifying the church at large. This was the objective moving him to action. Thus, he pressed on to meet the goal without delay.

You will only have the courage to undertake a task, duty, or mission once you are deeply committed to a God-glorifying objective. Paul’s mission in Acts 21 is proof of this—he was convinced that God had given him this goal, and so he was going to fulfil it.

Joshua and Caleb were convinced God had given Israel the land of Canaan. David was convinced God would judge Goliath and preserve Israel from the Philistines. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were convinced that the true God was to be worshiped instead of idols. In each case, their conviction involved knowing the purpose God had for them.

From unshakable conviction, which knew its purpose, came indomitable courage. Christian men ought to arm themselves with a commitment to biblical objectives if they also wish to demonstrate this kind of conviction.

Second, conviction cannot be diverted. Once Paul had arrived in Tyre, the believers there foresaw by the Spirit the suffering the apostle would endure when he reached his goal. Naturally, they tried to dissuade their beloved brother from going to Jerusalem, in order to protect him (Acts 21:4)—just as some of his older friends would soon do (Acts 21:12). The Spirit’s message to Paul in Tyre did not prevent his mission because it was not a prohibition. Rather, it was a forewarning of the perils Paul would certainly face.

After a week of fellowship and ministry at Tyre, it was time for Paul and his group to leave. The local believers escorted Paul and his companions out of the city and held an impromptu prayer meeting on the shore before saying farewell (Acts 21:5). Then Paul and his companions boarded the ship, and the believers from Tyre returned home (Acts 21:6).

Neither the threat of persecution nor the pleadings of well-meaning fellow believers could divert Paul from fulfilling his calling. He retained the courage of his conviction despite the repeated warnings of severe persecution (Acts 20:23). Nothing could dissuade him from carrying out the task the Lord had assigned him.

This is a mark of true conviction. Even the guarantee of hardship will not divert a man of conviction from what he knows God has called him to do.

Third, conviction pays any price. After passing through Ptolemais, the apostolic party came to Caesarea and stayed for some days in Philip’s house. While they were there, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea (Acts 21:10). Agabus prophesied to Paul, graphically depicting his impending arrest at Jerusalem. In a dramatic enactment reminiscent of the Old Testament prophets (cf. 1 Kings 11:29–39; Isaiah 20:2–6), Agabus took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands. He then explained the significance of his actions: “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles’” (Acts 21:11). Agabus’s dramatic actions and words were a warning to Paul of what awaited him in Jerusalem, and a test of his conviction.

Like the believers in Tyre, the Caesarean Christians were dismayed when they learned of Paul’s fate. Along with Luke and the rest of the apostle’s companions, the local believers began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. Their love and concern for the beloved apostle caused them, in view of his inevitable capture, to try to dissuade him from risking his life.

Paul’s response reflected his willingness to pay any price required to complete the task the Lord had assigned him. To their appeals, Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13). Paul would not be turned aside from his goal, even by the concerns of well-meaning friends or the possibility of death.

There are many men today who are willing to abide by their convictions until the cost is too high. As long as there are no challenges to the truth, they adhere to it. As long as there are no severe temptations, they retain integrity. They may stand for a while, but as the cost of their conviction increases, they crumble. We need men with unbreakable, biblical convictions. Men who cannot be bought. Men who will pay any price for the cause of Christ, for truth and for righteousness.

Fourth, conviction motivates others. Unable to dissuade Paul, his companions got ready and started on their way up to Jerusalem (Acts 21:15). Amazingly, despite their forebodings, some of the disciples from Caesarea also came with Paul and his party to Cyprus, where they were to lodge (Acts 21:16). Instead of their fears affecting Paul, his conviction motivated them. They knew he would be a marked man in Jerusalem, facing hatred, imprisonment, even death. They also knew that by identifying with him they put themselves at risk. Yet they were willing to accept that risk because the apostle was. His conviction and courage were contagious.

The Civil War battle of Antietam was one of the bloodiest days in American military history. On that September day in 1862, nearly six thousand Union and Confederate soldiers were killed, and seventeen thousand others wounded. Some of the fiercest fighting on that awful day took place in a part of the battlefield known as the Cornfield. Some Union soldiers, their ranks decimated by heavy Confederate fire, fled toward the rear in wild panic—only to be stopped by the contagious courage of one man. Historian Bruce Catton describes the scene:

The Pennsylvanians broke and ran again—to be stopped, incomprehensibly, a few yards in the rear by a boyish private who stood on a little hillock and kept swinging his hat, shouting: “Rally, boys, rally! Die like men, don’t run like dogs!”

Strangely, on that desperate field where men were madly heroic and full of abject panic by turns, this lone private stopped the retreat.[1]

Like that nameless soldier, Paul had the conviction not only to face the enemy himself but also to inspire others to do likewise. Believing men are called to do the same. To abide by their stalwart convictions, and in doing so, instill courage into their fellow believers.

Paul had a backbone because he had conviction. He remained faithful to a dangerous mission because he was convinced it was God’s will—just like the faithful men of the Old Testament. He knew his purpose, he could not be diverted, he was willing to pay any price, and he motivated others to the same.

May he continue to stand as a motivation to Christian men today—to solidify biblical convictions that fortify us for any challenge.

(Adapted from The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Acts 13–28.)

John MacArthur is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, chancellor of The Master’s University and Seminary, and featured teacher with the Grace to You media ministry. Grace to You radio, video, audio, print, and website resources reach millions worldwide each day. In more than five decades of ministry, John has written dozens of best-selling books, including The MacArthur Study Bible, The Gospel According to Jesus, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (thirty-four volumes), and Slave. He and his wife, Patricia, have four married children and fifteen grandchildren.

This article, and series, is used with permission, and is available here under copyright law, online, COPYRIGHT ©2024 Grace to You. Photo of John MacAuthur used with permission from Grace To You Ministries at gty.org

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