There is a defined difference between an opinion and a conviction. An opinion is a commitment to what we think is true or want to be true, based on personal feelings and perception. Opinion is relative. It may change with age, information or circumstances. Opinions are affected by how things look, what others are saying or how we feel about what we’re going through.
A conviction is more absolute. It remains constant. A conviction is a commitment to what we’re convinced is true, based on facts from a source we trust. It isn’t affected by how things look, what others are saying or how we feel about what we’re going through. Convictions remain true because the source of our trust doesn’t change.
I was surprised to find that Rick Warren and I agreed on something: An opinion is something you hold; a conviction is something that holds you. An opinion is something you’ll argue about. A conviction is something you will suffer for and, if necessary, die for.
We form opinions by collecting data from observation, circumstances, feelings, other people and logic. Though these are our feelers to help us regulate ourselves to what’s around us, they do not always tell us the truth. My eyes can deceive me. My heart can overwhelm me. What people say may confuse me. My logic can be flawed.
A man stepped on a scale that produced a card giving his weight and comments about his personality. “Here, listen to this: “You are a dynamic, born leader, handsome, and much admired by others for your personality.” “Let me see that card,” his wife said. “Oh, I see it’s got your weight wrong too."
An opinion is a preference. A conviction is a principle. Preferences change. Principles remain the same.
Faith, as you might imagine, is designed to operate on conviction, not opinion.
Heb 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Opinions do not reflect faith. They reflect the moment. How I feel today about an issue may not be how I feel about it tomorrow. If all I have is an opinion that God is faithful, I will not depend on Him. I must be convinced. My opinion may change if God disappoints me, or my pain is worse today than yesterday, or the flat tire makes me late to an appointment. My conviction stands firm because God doesn’t change. If I have a God who changes, then I can have no convictions.
Spurgeon: If I thought that the notes of the bank of England could not be cashed next week, I should decline to take them; and if I thought that God's promises would never be fulfilled – if I thought that God would for some reason alter some word in his promises – then farewell Scriptures!
If God is unfaithful in part, He is unfaithful in the whole. If God lies about one thing, then what’s to stop Him from lying about something else. Which takes us into a theological term that references God’s unchangeableness: Immutability.
One dictionary defines immutability as the quality of not being subject to or susceptible to change.
Mal 3:6 I am the Lord, I change not…
1Sam 15:29 The Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.
Heb 13:8 Jesus: the same yesterday, today and forever
Immutability is our basis for depending on the certainty of God always being God.
- We can be sure God is holy. Lev 19:2 Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, 'You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. Ex 15:11 Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders?
- We can be sure God is eternal. The same God we discover in the beginning of the book is the same God at the end of the Book. Ps 90:2 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
- We can be sure God loves us. 1Chron 16:34 Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever. Jer 31:3 I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.
- We can be sure of God’s plan for our lives. Jer 29:11 For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Ps 33:11 The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation.
- We can be sure of God’s promises. 2Co 1:20 For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us. Heb 6:17-18 In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.
Knowing God doesn’t change provides us with a life anchor. An anchor that holds us steady even in the storm. When many voices are shouting “Believe this. Think this way. Try this. This is best, We have the solution,” we can know that God’s message remains the same.
Our example today is Paul.
Act 27:1-10 When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, they proceeded to deliver Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan cohort named Julius. And embarking in an Adramyttian ship, which was about to sail to the regions along the coast of Asia, we put out to sea accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica. The next day we put in at Sidon; and Julius treated Paul with consideration and allowed him to go to his friends and receive care. From there we put out to sea and sailed under the shelter of Cyprus because the winds were contrary. When we had sailed through the sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy, and he put us aboard it. When we had sailed slowly for a good many days, and with difficulty had arrived off Cnidus, since the wind did not permit us to go farther, we sailed under the shelter of Crete, off Salmone; and with difficulty sailing past it we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea. When considerable time had passed and the voyage was now dangerous, since even the fast was already over, Paul began to admonish them, said to them, "Men, I perceive that the voyage will certainly be with damage and great loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives."
Paul, how do you know this? “I have eyes, don’t I? As I see it, this makes sense. All these conditions coming together can’t be good. We’re going down.” Paul is sharing his opinion. Adding up all these factors, he’s simply stating the obvious.
Act 27:11-13 But the centurion was more persuaded by the pilot and the captain of the ship than by what was being said by Paul. Because the harbor was not suitable for wintering, the majority reached a decision to put out to sea from there, if somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there. When a moderate south wind came up, supposing that they had attained their purpose, they weighed anchor and began sailing along Crete, close inshore.
Based on what? It just feels right. And if it feels right, then it must be right. We have come to a consensus of opinion. We all agree. Majority rules. Our opinion is more important to us than your opinion.
Act 27:14-15 But before very long there rushed down from the land a violent wind, called Euraquilo; and when the ship was caught in it and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and let ourselves be driven along.
Opinions can’t withstand the strength of the forces against them. This storm is more than their opinions can handle. Amazing how quickly our confidence can faulter in a storm.
Act 27:16 Running under the shelter of a small island called Clauda, we were scarcely able to get the ship's boat under control.
They’ve lost control. Actually, they lost control when they left Crete. They lost control when they acted on their opinion. A rule for steel workers on high rise buildings: don’t trust the wind.
Act 27:17-18 After they had hoisted it up, they used supporting cables in undergirding the ship; and fearing that they might run aground on the shallows of Syrtis, they let down the sea anchor and in this way let themselves be driven along. The next day as we were being violently storm-tossed, they began to jettison the cargo;
They lost their purpose – the cargo. The merchandise they were shipping was their purpose to be on this journey in the first place. The cargo held highest value. But realize, value changes in a storm. What was once most important now is worthless. Opinion cannot support a person’s purpose.
Act 27:19 and on the third day they threw the ship's tackle overboard with their own hands.
Ship’s tackle was the hoists and ropes that helped them sail the ship. When you’ve lost control, you find what you used to rely on for direction no longer works.
Act 27:20 Since neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm was assailing us, from then on all hope of our being saved was gradually abandoned.
Hope was the last thing thrown overboard. Hope, like faith, cannot function on opinion. It needs something more dependable.
Act 27:21-22 When they had gone a long time without food, then Paul stood up in their midst and said, "Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail from Crete and incurred this damage and loss. Yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.
“Paul, you told us before we’d all die. Now you say we won’t. What’s the deal? Can’t you make up your mind?” No, Paul is adjusting himself and his circumstances from opinion to conviction. How?
Act 27:23-25 For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.' Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told.
There it is! I have a word from the Lord, I have God’s promise and I will stand on it. Paul found solid ground in the midst of a storm-tossed sea.
Act 27:26 But we must run aground on a certain island.
But I thought a word from God would free us from the consequences of our actions or the actions of others against us, or stop what’s going on. Remember, sometimes God takes us out of the storm, but more often, God takes us through the storm.
Act 27:27-31 But when the fourteenth night came, as we were being driven about in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors began to surmise that they were approaching some land. They took soundings and found it to be twenty fathoms; and a little farther on they took another sounding and found it to be fifteen fathoms. Fearing that we might run aground somewhere on the rocks, they cast four anchors from the stern and wished for daybreak. But as the sailors were trying to escape from the ship and had let down the ship's boat into the sea, on the pretense of intending to lay out anchors from the bow, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, "Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved."
This is God’s doing and self-effort will not save the day.
Acts 27:32-34 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship's boat and let it fall away. Until the day was about to dawn, Paul was encouraging them all to take some food, saying, "Today is the fourteenth day that you have been constantly watching and going without eating, having taken nothing. Therefore I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation, for not a hair from the head of any of you will perish."
Paul, you are so sure of things you cannot control. How can you guarantee no one will drown? Because God, who doesn’t lie, has spoken and said we’d all get safely to land. I’m standing on that promise.
Act 27:35-44 Having said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all, and he broke it and began to eat. All of them were encouraged and they themselves also took food. All of us in the ship were two hundred and seventy-six persons. When they had eaten enough, they began to lighten the ship by throwing out the wheat into the sea. When day came, they could not recognize the land; but they did observe a bay with a beach, and they resolved to drive the ship onto it if they could. And casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea while at the same time they were loosening the ropes of the rudders; and hoisting the foresail to the wind, they were heading for the beach. But striking a reef where two seas met, they ran the vessel aground; and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern began to be broken up by the force of the waves. The soldiers' plan was to kill the prisoners, so that none of them would swim away and escape; but the centurion, wanting to bring Paul safely through, kept them from their intention, and commanded that those who could swim should jump overboard first and get to land, and the rest should follow, some on planks, and others on various things from the ship. And so it happened that they all were brought safely to land.
Paul started with an opinion that was reasonable. Circumstances agreed. The consensus of the passengers supported it. No one would have disputed it. That’s what it looked like, yet it wasn’t true.
He changed his opinion when He received God’s Word. Once he had God’s word, because of his confidence in a God who doesn’t change, Paul switched from opinion to conviction.
Faith can only work when driven by conviction of God’s unchanging faithfulness – His immutability. Whenever we say, “I can’t believe that, I can’t do that, I can’t accept that,” we’re operating from opinion rather than conviction of who our God is. We cannot stand on opinion. We must stand on our conviction that God’s promises are true.
Anne Graham Lotz, Billy Graham’s daughter, wrote in Storming the Gates of Heaven: The key is not to view God through the lens of our circumstances, but to view our circumstances through the lens of God love and purpose – which do not change.
- If we were honest, many of our beliefs are opinions rather than convictions.
- As a result, our belief system is weaker than it should be.
- Confidence cannot operate from opinion. It must come from conviction.
- What we believe we do. All else is religious talk.