To Give us a clear conscience - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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To Give us a Clear Conscience


To Give us a Clear Conscience

"how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God."

Have you ever known what it is like to have a guilty conscience?

I’m sure you have because you are all imperfect human beings and your conscience speaks to you whether you like it or not and it passes moral judgements on you, on your thoughts and on what you have done.

A guilty conscience has been described as a hell on earth and there so many people in the world who know only too painfully how true that can be. They say things like:

"I can’t forgive myself" or "I can’t forget what I’ve done"

A bad conscience is like a raging sea; it is like a worm gnawing away at our bones. Many would love to enjoy the soft pillow of a good conscience but find sleep hard to come by because their conscience won’t let them rest.

The problems are very real and proposed remedies abound on the internet, in self-help books and in the psychiatrist’s chair but where are we to turn for help?

The Bible has an answer – the problem of a guilty conscience can be resolved. The answer is not in self-help theories or the power of positive thinking but it is to be found in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. The death of Christ is far-reaching in its effects. This evening we are focusing our thoughts upon this aspect: Jesus died in order to purify our consciences.

The first thing to say is that we all have a conscience. Although the Bible does not often employ the word "conscience" it does speak a great deal about its workings and its effects. Other words such as heart or soul are at times used as substitutes where the idea of conscience is plainly present.

But what is conscience?

Although some writers have referred to conscience as God’s voice or God’s preacher speaking within us we must be careful not to equate conscience with God’s voice. Conscience is a person’s own voice which speaks independently, bearing witness to us about our moral state.

It saying it speaks independently we mean that while being a part of us it is not completely under the control of our will or our desires. The voice of conscience will interrupt us and speak to us whether we want it do or not.

Sometimes the voice of conscience makes itself heard immediately. As soon as we have done something our conscience passes judgement on us. On other occasions a matter may have lain dormant and forgotten in the memory for years but then all of a sudden the voice of conscience cries out – and make no mistake, a guilty conscience can cast a long shadow!

Now all of us possess a conscience. It is part of our human make-up. It is the moral working of the soul. But that does not mean that it functions in the same way in each of us. In none of us does conscience function perfectly – sin has affected every part of man since the fall of Adam and that includes our consciences. Sometimes are conscience remains quiet when it has reason to speak out – a conscience that is asleep is not to be confused with a clear conscience for example. In others the conscience may be functioning more or less well while in yet others it may be over-active and ready to condemn us for no good reason.

We speak about a good conscience or a clear conscience and we mean a conscience that doesn’t condemn us. A bad conscience or a guilty conscience on the other hand is one that does. But the conscience is not static. If we continually refuse to heed the voice of conscience we will find its voice becoming quieter and quieter. Ignoring or rejecting its claims will lead to its voice becoming more and more inconsistent. If however we respond quickly and appropriately this will lead to a growing sensitivity of conscience which, if fed with the Word of God, will speak more and more accurately to us.

A good conscience (or a clear conscience) has been described as follows: It "is the best treasure ever held, the best pleasure ever tasted, the best honour ever conferred."

Effects of a Guilty Conscience
There are many effects than are caused by having a guilty or unclean conscience. Just think for a moment about the experience of the first human couple, Adam and Eve.

From a position of sinless perfection Adam and Eve fell into sin as they decided it was better for them to trust their own perception of reality than it was to trust God’s. Their sin instantly defiled their conscience a fact that is made evident in the steps they immediately took:

  • They hid from God – up to that moment they had not been afraid of God and had enjoyed free and open fellowship with him but with their consciences now condemning them they only thing think of doing was to run for cover and to hide themselves from God.

But God knew where they were of course and had no trouble in finding them out and with confronting them.

  • With sullied consciences the first human couple were no longer untied harmoniously one to the other. When Adam had first met Eve he instantly recognised in her the helpmeet he had being looking for – he had seen all the animals God had created but none was a suitable helper for him. Then Eve was brought to him and Adam joyously cried out:

Gen.2:23 ""This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh..."

But when God began to question Adam how his appreciation has changed. He criticises his wife. Rivalry and competition have disturbed this first marriage and sadly this is not the last marriage to suffer in this way.

Instead of owning up and coming clean Adam and Eve condemned by their own consciences tried to pass the blame on.

This second attempt to deal with a guilty conscience failed too.

  • Having sinned and having been made aware of their failure the first couple experienced shame, something they had never experienced before. They had tried to hide from God, they had tried to pass the buck, and now they tried to hide from each other with the flimsy cover of a few fig-leaves.

God in his wonderful mercy didn’t destroy them straightaway but instead he provided them with a much more suitable and effective covering. Yes, they were expelled from the Garden and yes they were not going to be allowed to work out their own way back but the covering provided did point towards a better covering to be one day provided. If the death of an animal was needed to provide skins to cover their physical nakedness so the death of another yet to come would provide a covering for sin, a complete cleansing from sin.

Were we to consider other examples in Scripture we’d find that having a guilty conscience can be a heavy burden to bear.

The story of Joseph, for example, is full of conscience matters.

You’ll remember that Joseph’s own brothers sold him into slavery and then told their father a cock-and-bull story about finding Joseph’s blood-stained cloak. They had to live many years with a heart-broken father knowing that they were responsible for his grief. They go to Egypt and meet with Joseph but don’t recognise him whereas he does recognise them. After keeping them in prison for three days under suspicion of being spies Joseph sent them away so the truthfulness of their words could be ascertained. The brothers talk amongst themselves and it becomes apparent that the events of long ago were still fresh in their troubled consciences:

Gen.42:21-22 "Then they said to one another, "In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us." And Reuben answered them, "Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood."

They had tried to cover their tracks, they had hoped to forget but they hadn’t given any thought to their consciences. I guess they didn’t reckon with the pain and distress that a troubled conscience might bring. And indeed their consciences remained greatly troubled - how else do you explain this sudden reference to what they’d done so many years earlier?

Sometimes when we are confronted by temptation we too can imagine that we can get away with it, that no-one will know, but we fail to remember that conscience may cry out against us.

And problems of conscience are not easily dealt with. At most we may succeed in pacifying a nagging conscience for a while and indeed something may lie dormant in the memory for years but then all of a sudden conscience brings it to the fore again.

And as Matthew Henry commented on the story of Joseph’s brothers: guilty consciences are very likely to read providence wrongly. God had overruled their wickedness and turned it to good but they don’t see that at all and when their father died they fully expected Joseph to finally get even with them.
What distress can be caused by a guilty conscience!

But the Guilty Conscience can be Cleansed
We have said earlier that the conscience speaks as an independent voice – it is our voice but we cannot totally control it.

Yes, it is perfectly true that we can refuse its judgements and we can quieten its claims against us by refusing to heed what it has to say. We can feed our minds with the trash of ungodly wisdom and values and so induce our conscience to err further and further from the truth. But it remains an independent voice for all that. It remains possible for conscience to suddenly speak unwanted yet piercing, penetrating convicting words and in this sense conscience can be described in certain circumstances as God’s preacher within.

Of course not everyone who is troubled by conscience will be brought into a biblical conviction of sin which is designed ultimately to bring the rebel sinner in repentance to Christ. Charles Haddon Spurgeon suggested that many people do have enough of a run-in with their conscience so as to be scared in their sin but not yet enough of a run-in to be saved from sin.

Such folk being troubled by the judgements their conscience have pronounced against them will turn perhaps to one of those remedies to be found on the internet. They may well swallow enough of that poor advice to imagine that all they have to do is to remind themselves they are human, that humans are prone to make mistakes and that the solution is to be found in forgiving yourself.

Maybe they find some help, some temporary help, in these folk-remedies but denying the truth is not the answer we need, no more than is papering over the cracks in a shaky building in an earthquake zone a solution.

But there is a solution to the problems of a guilty conscience and it is to be found in the death of Christ. In the words of our text:

Heb.9:14 "how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God."

The OT contained no final solution for the problem of an unclean conscience. The repetition of countless animal sacrifices was designed to deal only with outward or ceremonial uncleanness – the blood of an animal could not touch the human heart and renew it from the inside out. No, at best the OT sacrifices pointed the worshipper forward in time to a moment when a new and a great and a spotless High Priest would come and offer a better, more valuable, more effective sacrifice.

Jesus was and is that great High Priest. His offering was not of a lamb or a goat but, as Peter put it:

"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree..." (1Pet.2:24)

When Satan tempts me to despair,
and tells me of the guilt within,
upward I look, and see Him there
who made an end of all my sin.

Because the sinless Saviour died,
my sinful soul is counted free;
for God the Just is satisfied
to look on Him, and pardon me.

So if God the just is satisfied to look on him and pardon me then my conscience too must be satisfied – I don’t need to give way to despair or any other of the threatenings of conscience! No, what I have to do is to inform my conscience and remind my conscience that God is the One who must have the last the final word:

1Jn.3:20 "for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything."

My conscience can be cleansed and made clean because any sin for which I might be charged or held accountable has already been fully paid by another, by my Saviour when he died for me!

Keeping your Conscience Clean
If having an unclean or guilty conscience is so painful and so distressing it is great to know that there is a solution – the death of Jesus.

Having come to him for cleansing we surely won’t want to return again to being harassed by a guilty conscience and will want as Christians to maintain a good conscience, a clear conscience.

Such a conscience will give us strength and confidence and joy enabling us to reach out in loving, gentle, respectful sincerity to others.

Having been to Christ for cleansing will not however be a one-off experience. Every time we slip up and make a mistake we will need to go again to him for cleansing else our conscience will start accusing us all over again. But having found cleansing in Christ let’s keep on going to him. Let’s learn to keep short accounts with God being prompt to run to the Christ we need rather than by trying to resolve matters some other way or by pretending that there is nothing to be resolved.

As we grow as Christians learning more and more about God - what he has done and what he likes and values - through reading his Word and listening to it we will nourish our consciences enabling them to serve us better and more in conformity to God’s plan and purpose. As we grow we will find our consciences becoming increasingly sensitive to sin and to the dishonour this brings to our God. We mustn’t interpret such sensitivity as weakness or as an indication that we are getting worse and worse.

In another of the hymns we sometimes sing we find the words:

and they who fain would serve Thee best
are conscious most of wrong within.

These are the ones who are the sweetest Christians on earth, the ones you most value being with. And why is that the case? It is because they are always going back to Jesus and spending time with him.

May it be said of us as it was said of Christians of old: "they have been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13).


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