Some things never change. Take the conscience. The problem of a dirty conscience is as old as Adam and Eve. As soon as they sinned, their conscience was defiled and their sense of guilt was ruinous. It ruined their relationship with God, their relation to each other and it ruined the immediate hope of all peace within themselves.
All through the Old Testament, conscience was an issue. As a foreshadowing of Christ, God counted the blood of the animals as sufficient for cleansing the flesh, but not the conscience.
For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 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. (Hebrews 9:13-14)
No animal blood could cleanse the conscience. They knew it and we know it.
Here we are in the modern age. It’s the age of science, technology, organ transplants and more. Yet our fundamental problem is the same: Our conscience condemns us.
No one sees the guilt-ridden heart (though we routinely see the fruit of it) but there it is, just beneath the surface, like a constant tremor under the earth.
We tremble and fret within. We are not good enough to come to the God and the idea of Him coming to us (Psalm 96:13), terrifies us even more.
We can tattoo ourselves, throw our children into the sacred river, or give a million dollars to World Vision and the result will be the same: The stain remains, and judgement terrifies.
Our conscience is tied to faith – tied to what we believe – and is a very delicate part of who we are. And so God warns us not to act against it (Romans 14:22-23). But we do.
We defile our conscience with self-pity, self-righteousness, self-approval and various other lies we tell ourselves. We defile our consciences by our lusts, our envy, jealousy, covetousness, apathy, fear, and the actions they breed.
We prefer a good reputation over a good conscience, and we suffer for it (1 Timothy 1:18-20).
A defiled conscience is crippling and unless it’s addressed, brings darkness and despair. As John Calvin once wrote, “The torture of a bad conscience is the hell of a living soul”. And don’t we know it.
By contrast, a clear conscience allows for true freedom and enables us to wield one of our chief weapons against the slavery of a corrupt conscience: Spontaneity.
As Hannah Arendt wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism,
…spontaneity with its incalculability, is the greatest of all obstacles to total domination over man. It is to follow our conscience and place morality above unjust laws, to fearlessly pursue personal and communal values, and to give voice to our thoughts undeterred by ridicule.
In short, a conscience free of guilt strengthens us to live as freely and authentically as possible.
What would life be like if you said and did nothing against your own god-given conscience for a whole day?
And when your conscience rises up to condemn you over some past sin, what might it be like to turn to Christ, confess your sin and trust in the blood-bought mercy He offers to all who come looking to be made clean?
It would be true liberty. Joy inexpressible. Delight that no man could diminish.
It would mean truth, right down to the core, and you would know it, and it would set you free.