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QUESTION: A few weeks ago you indicated a difference exists between preferences and convictions. Could you explain what this difference is?
ANSWER: There are limited examples of these terms in Scripture. ‘Convicted’ is found one time (John 8:9) and no other form of the English word is in the Bible. It is used to explain an awareness of personal guilt. Eight times we find the word ‘prefer,’ ‘preferred,’ or ‘preferring.’ It is always ranking one thing above another.
When I made the comment that prompted your question I was probably thinking in my mind of the current legal distinction between the two terms. The following explanation is taken in large part from comments made by Attorney David Gibbs, Director of Christian Law Association.
The US Supreme Court classifies all religious beliefs as either preferences or convictions. A belief is a preference when, under certain circumstances, that belief can be changed. A belief may be strong and intense and still be a preference. According to Gibbs, the five circumstances noted by the court that most often cause one to change his or her beliefs are: peer pressure (when the disapproval of others causes one to bend their beliefs, their beliefs are simply preferences); family pressure (if pressure from a spouse, parent, or child will cause you to change, that belief is merely a preference); litigation pressure (when one faces an intimidating legal battle, he often re-evaluates his beliefs. If a lawsuit changes your beliefs, they were only preferences); jail pressure (would you be willing to suffer a jail sentence for your belief? If not, your belief is just a preference); death pressure (the ultimate test of a belief is whether you would be willing to die for it – like many Christian martyrs have done throughout history. Would you be willing to die for your belief? If not, your belief is not a conviction).
So all of that bodes the question, when does a belief become a conviction? Convictions are self-determined (if you need other people to stand with you, your belief is not a conviction. A conviction must not be influenced by what others do or by what others think or ask of you); convictions are non-negotiable (if you are willing to even discuss the option of dishonoring your belief, your belief is not a conviction but only a preference); convictions are victorious (that is, victory is realized by standing for what you believe is right, regardless of the cost. If you need earthly victory [in court, for example] to remain true to what you believe, you do not have a conviction); convictions are lifestyles (the court held that if a man holds true to his beliefs, those beliefs will evidence themselves in a life which is consistent with those beliefs. Convictions must control a person's life. If you claim a conviction against cursing and immodest dress and yet you or your family members watch television shows that contain curse words or immodest dress, then, according to the courts, you have only a preference against them).
So in a court of law, would there be enough evidence in your life to ‘convict’ you of being a Christian or just enough to demonstrate that you ‘prefer’ Christianity? Is Jesus really the only way to get to Heaven or is He just one of many ways? According to the Bible, your answer will determine your eternal destiny.
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