A Cleansed Conscience

Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:22

The immediate effect of the primordial sin committed by our great ancestors is described as follows in the book of Genesis: “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised they were naked…”

The Lutheran martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer once commented on this passage and described Adam and Eve’s experience as one of “shame”, namely that which gives “reluctant witness to its own fallen state.”

Indeed. Shame is inextricably linked to sin. If we are born into this world as sinners, as the Scriptures teach us, then we also bring with us a very real sense of guilt and shame. The problem of humanity’s struggle with feelings of guilt has been recognized by scholars from backgrounds as diverse as Soren Kierkegaard and Sigmund Freud’s. The problem cannot be denied. It is the solution that is more difficult to find.

According to the New Testament authors, the problem of guilt has been dealt with by the blood of the cross, and by the blood alone. Our legal, objective guilt has been atoned for, and as a result our subjective and experiential guilt is removed. A clean conscience is therefore the logical conclusion of our right standing with God.

Oftentimes Christians fail to understand this, and as a result they fail to draw a distinction between the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the condemnation of the enemy. They may even think there is something noble about their feelings of guilt, as though they are helping to pay for their sins.

Such an attitude defies the righteousness granted by God. As Watchman Nee once said: Let us side with God and not with the accuser of the brethren.

4 thoughts on “A Cleansed Conscience

  1. Chris Lovie-Tyler June 21, 2011 / 9:53 am

    Thanks for this post, Tobie. I wrote a very similar one a while ago.

    This is an ongoing struggle for me (aligning my view of myself with God’s, in relation to guilt),
    and I think the only antidote is to spend time in the presence of Christ and in his Word. That’s
    when I seem to make headway.

  2. naturalchurch June 21, 2011 / 5:32 pm

    Hi Chris. I read your post and found myself nodding in agreement. I’ve often wondered why some of us are more inclined to feel condemned than others. Pride may have something to do with it, but I think there is more to it than that. Lewis Smedes, in his book Shame and Grace, writes about his own struggles with feelings of shame and condemnation. His ultimate conclusion is striking: “Guilt was not the problem as I felt it. What I felt most was a glob of unworthiness that I could not tie down to any concrete sins I was guilty of. What I needed more than pardon was a sense that God accepted me, owned me, held me, affirmed me, and would never let go of me, even if he was not too much impressed with what he had on his hands.”

    I think he’s spot on. Ultimately forgiveness is a manifestation of God’s love, and hence subject to it. Seeking forgiveness is much like seeking happiness. You cannot find it by looking for it, as it is a by-product of something more primary. And so I suspect that we can only find forgiveness once we have discovered the true nature of God, which is love. Love, not as an idea or doctrine, but as a living reality. To accept God’s love is to be delivered from fear, as John teaches us, and guilt is indeed a form of fear, that is, fear of judgment. It took me years to see that the devil’s primary ministry (accusation) is nothing but a direct attack on the greatest truth of Scripture, namely that God is love and that this love is directed towards us. If he can get to us in this area, he gets to us in a big way. All the benefits of salvation are included and summarised in God’s love, and so the promise that “nothing can separate us from his love” is indeed all that we need for living victoriously. We are more than conquerers through him who loved us, not through anything else.

  3. naturalchurch June 21, 2011 / 6:30 pm

    PS: I adapted my reply above for my weekly column in the newspaper. I hope you don’t mind. I’m simply inspired by the topic!

  4. Chris Lovie-Tyler June 22, 2011 / 8:20 am

    Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed response, Tobie. What you’ve said is really helpful,
    and the quote from Lewis Smedes resonates with me. (I might have to get a copy of that book.)

    I think you’re right; it is that deeper issue of receiving God’s love and acceptance; and as you’ve said,
    some of us struggle with that more than others. I’m not sure why I do, but I trust God that he’s able
    to overcome it.

    And yes, I’m happy for you to adapt your reply for your newspaper column. I suspect you help a lot of
    people, Tobie, and I’m all for that! I hope you will post the column here.

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