Why do you get up in the morning? Why do you serve at church? Why are you studying or working in your current job? These are some of the most fundamental questions we can ask. At the heart of “Why?” questions are our convictions – core beliefs that shape who we are, how we see the world, and the kind of decisions we make.
As Christians we realise the importance of living a purposeful life shaped by our core beliefs. We admire those who do this well – whether it’s the missionary who uproots their life to tell people about Jesus, or a Christian whose faithful everyday life reflects the beauty of God's character.
What is convictional intelligence?
In recent years we have become aware of multiple types of intelligence beyond simple IQ (such as emotional and moral intelligence). I have recently been challenged about convictional intelligence and Christian leadership from R. Albert Mohler’s book The Conviction to Lead.
Convictional intelligence is about having mental reflexes that correspond to biblical truth, so that we can live and lead faithfully. It is about the extent to which our core convictions shape every part of our daily lives. Asking, “Are we actually living what we believe?” This is a key question in the mind of preachers on Sunday. They want their congregations to not just understand what God’s word is saying but apply it in their lives on Monday.
Ideas connected with convictional intelligence include obedience, consistency and faithfulness. While this isn’t a new idea, I’ve found it helpful to bring it into the forefront of my thinking and my conversations with others as I seek to live in wholehearted obedience to God.
Why is it important?
While in theory we know this is important to living a God-honouring life, it takes time to develop and doesn’t happen by accident. It happens with intentional focus through the work of the Spirit and by God’s grace.
We can see the importance of good convictional intelligence most clearly when it is missing. At best it can look inconsistent and hypocritical as we operate (sometimes unintentionally) out of a different set of convictions to the ones we articulate. At worst it results in disobedience and sin.
What might it look like?
Here are some examples:
- We know God is trustworthy, sovereign and good, but when a pandemic hits we often worry rather than trusting him (Matt 6:25-34).
- We know we are beloved children of God (1 John 3:1), so why do we still doubt ourselves, lack confidence, or seek significance from social media?
- We know Jesus is the world’s only hope (Acts 4:12), so why do we spend so little time sharing the gospel with family and friends?
My own capacity to live with and ignore these contradictions in my life astounds me. There are many things vying for our attention and our passions. While we live in this fallen world our struggle with sin, the world and the devil will continue until we see Christ face to face. Until then, how can we grow in convictional intelligence?
Be clear on convictions that are central – in the Bible, this is the gospel itself. The story of God’s determination to glorify himself by saving sinners through the atonement accomplished by his own Son. As Christ himself made clear, every word of Scripture serves to tell this story.
The gospel is at the centre of the Bible story and so, as a Christian, it should be at the centre of my life. I need to know it clearly, preach it to myself regularly, and daily centre my life in its key truths. If I am not regularly in God’s word, my focus will easily drift to other things.
Clarifying gospel convictions does not mean our focus is solely on gospel proclamation, or word-based ministry in church. Scripture shows us how the gospel applies to every part of our lives. The gospel is where we find our identity and meaning. The gospel brings us into a relationship with our heavenly Father and continues to be the framework for how we live as followers of Jesus, living a life worthy of the gospel (Phil 1:27).
A simple and practical way to connect it to our daily lives is to ask, “What does the gospel say to this?” Michael Bullmore’s talk “The Functional Centrality of the Gospel” is helpful for identifying scriptural examples of truths and behaviours that flow from the gospel.
We also need to grow connections between our head and heart as we respond to the gospel. After many years following Jesus, it can be easy sometimes to listen to a gospel-centred sermon and “spiritually yawn” because we have heard these truths many times and no longer sense their power.
The gospel is earth-shattering news that is to stir our hearts with thankfulness and joy, not just fill our heads. While we don’t want to be led by our emotions as they can so easily deceive us, we also don’t want to ignore our emotions and give only intellectual assent to the good news of Christ.
If you aren’t being moved by gospel truths, take some time to pause and check what is happening. Drill deeper into all that Christ has done – or imagine what your life would be like without Jesus – then stand back to wonder again at all he has done on your behalf.
Convictional intelligence is not something we’re born with; it develops over time. While I’ve focused on things we can do to grow in this area, it’s important to remember that God is at work – through his Spirit, by his word, within our Christian communities – shaping us into the likeness of his Son (Eph 4:13).
So, let’s be in prayer, asking for God’s help, and let’s encourage one another. If we cross paths, I encourage you to check how I’m going in this and ask that key question: “What does the gospel say to this?”
The Rev Jo Gibbs is CEO of Anglican Deaconess Ministries.