“The plan of salvation is designed for sinners. None are saved by that plan who are not regarded as such. The gospel has no significance unless it be supposed that men are violators of the law of God. It has no peculiar adaptation to men except on that supposition. It seeks to excite the conviction that he is a sinner in the bosom of every man whom it addresses, and it is certain that no one will appreciate its provisions, or be saved by it, who does not feel and admit that truth in regard to himself. If there is, therefore, anyone who is unwilling to admit, in the proper sense of the term, that he is a sinner, he should not entertain the hope of being saved by the gospel, and should not feel himself specially addressed in any of its communications. It is indispensable that a man, if he would be saved, should be convinced of sin. The two preceding discourses were, respectively, on the state of man as the gospel finds him, and on the condition of the mind when it begins to reflect on the subject of religion. We advance a step further in unfolding the way of salvation by considering the state of the mind when under conviction for sin. I shall explain what is meant by the term; consider the law of our nature in accordance with which conviction for sin is produced; and show what it is that the sinner is convinced of in that state, or what constitutes genuine conviction of sin.” – Albert Barnes; The way of Salvation (1855)
Conviction is a state of mind in which the guilty sinner willingly acknowledges the reality that their choices and responses to God, human relations, moral obligations and the affairs of life are the source of their guilt and condemnation.
Gordon Olson describes conviction as “…the painful cloud of self-discovery.” Conviction is not pleasant. As we prepare to consider characteristics of the convicted sinner, I suggest reading Dt.30:11-14, Ro.3:20, 1 Ti.1:8-11, Mk.10:17-22, Jn.4:16-18 and Dt.5 as sample passages of Scripture that contain concepts that are useful for moving an awakened sinner toward conviction. While you read Scripture, look for more passages that can be used to stir conviction, to convince concerned sinners that their problem is not external (though there are many external problems) but to be located in their own choices, generated from within.
The Convicted Sinner
The awakened sinner, disturbed by sin, attempts to locate the problem somewhere other than his or her own choices and behavior. The convicted sinner has yielded under the weight sin in an attitude of brokenness (Ps.51:17). They see themselves as a moral criminal before God and man, as the perpetrator of evil and wickedness with regret. Their regret is not merely due to the negative consequence they suffer, but because they have offended God and hurt others, because sin is wrong and destructive. It might immediately be recognized that this is a rare state among men. Recognizing their sin and guilt as self-generated, they do not attempt to blame God, Adam, parents, society or genetics.
Dealing with the Convicted Sinner
Be careful not to hinder conviction with bad doctrine that removes guilt or with untimely and inappropriate comfort. The convicted sinner needs a clear presentation of the gospel, declaring the loving-mercy and goodness of God and the wisdom in His atoning sacrifice. They need to be encouraged to repent of and forsake their sin, confessing, seeking forgiveness and placing their faith in the Person and work of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. However, there is no guarantee that they will do so. If they humbly return to God as a servant, He will make them sons and daughters (Lk.15:18-24). If they repent and enter into a trusting relationship with Christ, they become a converted sinner, otherwise known as a saint, Christian or convert.
People can live in any stage of this process (Careless, Awakened, Convicted) for long periods of time, or they can move through each stage very quickly. Once a person experiences conversion, they become a candidate for discipleship as they are trained in righteousness and equipped for ministry, growing in the truth and gaining life-giving principles through study of Scripture (Ep.4:11-12, 2 Ti.3:16-17). God’s agenda, in the life of a convert is to conform him / her to the image of Christ. Future posts will consider various aspects of the discipleship process and important foundational information needed for becoming mature believers; vessels fit for the Masters use (2 Ti.2:21).
 This is the problem with a shallow perspective of Christianity that wants everyone to feel good. Surely, we want to see people find relief from their guilt but this will not happen if we simply attempt to make them feel better in the midst of conviction. We are to aim for the highest good of people, which can only come about once reconciled to God through repentance and faith.