Christ and a guilty conscience

The other day, one of our boys started acting oddly. He had been pleasant, talkative, and enthused earlier in the day, but quite suddenly became withdrawn, quiet, and emotional. It wasn’t the first time this particular child had a swing like this, but it soon came to light that his actions were because he had done something wrong and felt guilty about it. His conscience was vexed, and he reacted by retreating and resisting us.

It’s hard to say exactly what was going through our little boy’s mind, but he clearly felt and knew something was wrong. Interestingly, the guilty feelings and subsequent reactions were largely brought out by my presence. Seeing me prompted him to remember he had done something wrong, and the guilt came on more strongly.

Does this sound familiar to you? I don’t mean, have you seen this with your own kids or grandkids (though I’m sure you have). I mean, does this remind you at all of your relationship with your heavenly Father? I know it does me. How many times have you and I run from God when reminded of our sin? How many times have we tried to drown out the sound of our guilty conscience speaking to us by piling on other sins or distractions?

If our answer is “yes,” then the question becomes: where has this gotten us? Has it not just made things worse? I think of my own child again. It would have been so much better for him if he would not run from me but to me. I love him, and am longing to work with him to see growth in his life. That’s easier said than done, isn’t it?

So, too, is it for us. Our guilty conscience is a gift. A gift meant to lead us to repentance. 1 John 1:9 says that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God is our Father who is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” and when we avoid Him we do so to our own peril.

The cleansing of conscience through the confession of sins is intended to be a wonderful thing, although many times we don’t see it as wonderful at all. In fact, we react against it; whether by hiding, getting defensive, or blatantly ignoring the work of the Holy Spirit in our conscience, we come up with all sorts of ways to run the other direction.

This is where a strong dose of the gospel needs to be brought in. Let me review this in detail for the sake of our hearts:

Because we are sinful, the gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed “good news!” Why? “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—everyone—to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). This leaves us with real guilt—deserving of punishment from God who is Holy. Like Adam and Eve, we know we’re stained with sin and therefore want to run and hide from God’s presence. However (and this is where the gospel comes in)… God graciously sent His blameless son Jesus to be sin for us, to take our punishment and provide His righteousness (if by faith we take hold of this gift of Christ). This gift(don’t read this too quickly or without letting it hit you), leaves us guiltless—with no shame to be found; fully accepted by God!

I’d like to list a hundred Scriptures at this point which bear this out, but I’m going to zero in on one of the best: Hebrews 10:19-22. Read with wonder:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

Did you note well the confidence that is fueled by what Christ has done? Sinful though we are, Christ has once and for all dealt with our sin such that with “full assurance” and an evil conscience sprinkled clean we can draw near to God. This is amazing! This is what we need to be dwelling upon every day! Hidden in Christ, I’m not guilty before God. You’re not guilty before God. Let it hit you, beloved!

Beloved, let us live near the cross. It does us absolutely no good to walk around beating ourselves up, thinking that because we’ve sinned we need to pay God back by moping around saturated in shame.

We all have past sins that can come back to our minds and bring accusations along with them: How could you have ever done that! That’s too much for God to forgive! This does not honor the work of our dear Savior who took our guilt and dealt with it on the cross. Let the gospel of Jesus Christ cleanse your guilty conscience for those sins. Along with this, we have sins in the present that we’ve perhaps just committed or sins in the future we will certainly commit. Here, too, we need to live “near the cross.” As 1 John 1:9 says, we must quickly confess those sins and then know and feel the wonder that they are is forgiven, we are “cleansed.”

We are amazingly and graciously not guilty. Even more, in Christ we are righteous! May that settle joyously upon your heart today. Let us not push God away due to a guilty conscience. Instead, let that guilt drive you to the cross all over again…and leave it there.

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 Savior died my sinful soul is counted free
For God the Just is satisfied

To look on Him and pardon me
To look on Him and pardon me