Conscience, Guilt and Forgiveness
Scripture reading – Acts 24:16: “This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offence toward God and man.”
What is a conscience?
Greek word suneidesis = co-perception, moral consciousness
Suneido = to see completely, become aware, be conscious or informed, to know
Do all people have some general level of conscience or perception between right and wrong?
What determines the level of conscience sensitivity?
1) One’s culture and upbringing
2) Religious beliefs
3) Person’s sensitivity
4) Past experiences – awareness of what is wrong or right
5) Spiritual maturity
So, do all people have the same level of conscience?
When we step out of our level of knowing right and wrong, what happens or how do we react?
- feelings of uneasiness
- feelings of guilt or shame
- denial or covering up
- trying to appease
The pivotal cornerstone of the gospel is the message of forgiveness – dealing with our guilt
So why do people feel guilty? The answer lies in the fact that we all have
a conscience as “a moral watchdog” that tells us what kinds of attitudes, thoughts, feelings and behaviors are right or wrong. When we step out of what we deep inside know as right we feel uneasy and guilty.
There are several types of consciences:
1) Sensitive conscience – person with even a minor departure from his held moral values is quickly aware of his failures as well as of the hurts he may have caused, to others, to one’s own-self or when “sinning” against God and one’s faith. His conscience troubles him right away and affords no peace. Such person wants nothing to stand between them and God or others. Even when he/she feels uneasy he/she will seek to clear any possible wrong. Example – Psalm 19:12–14
2) Awakened conscience – person with this state of conscience is not a hardened individual. He may do wrong from ignorance and will seek how to clear the wrong done once he is convinced of his wrong. Example – Acts 2:37
3) Damaged, confused or hurting conscience – faulty upbringing, experiencing a great trauma or fanatical past influences.
Also it can happen by repeated going against one’s own moral convictions and knowledge of right and wrong. He becomes troubled from within, having feelings of unrest and guilt.
Unless this is dealt with by confession and repentance and then properly calibrating the conscience, feelings of uneasiness and suppressed guilt continue troubling the person. This may in time cause all kinds of mental, emotional, spiritual stresses and health problems. Unless dealt with it will gradually blur the conscience’s sensitivity and if not dealt with, it will lead to a callous mindset and behavior. Example – 1 Samuel 19:9.10.
4) Hardened conscience – will be the result, unless person deals with his wrongs and acts on his convictions. It will inevitably take place unless he clears the guilt and changes his thinking and lifestyle that is out of harmony with his knowledge of right and wrong.
Such person usually lives in denial, ignoring the guilt, until the conscience becomes insensitive and hardened. Guilt does not disappear but goes into the subconscious part of the mind wreaking havoc on the entire personality and will cause serious mental, emotional and physical health problems. Example – the king Saul in the OT also the reaction of pharaoh during the Exodus Exodus 7:22; 8:15.
5) Seared (branded) conscience – person with a seared conscience systematically and persistently goes against his/her moral convictions and knowledge of right and wrong. He resists convictions and God’s appeals to alert him of his wrongs. His conscience becomes totally desensitized and dead. The person can do the most horrific crimes, steal, rob, hurt others or even self and feels no remorse. (Example – hardened criminals, war criminals, sadistic people, etc.) Example – 1 Timothy 4:2 (Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin)
6) Oversensitive or “weak” conscience, improperly calibrated – person with this kind of conscience feels guilty over sins that were forgiven or over things that are not wrong of themselves. Example – 1 Corinthians 8:10–12. (Example of my gambling friend, or a person after confessing and making things right still feels guilty)
7) Clear or pure and properly calibrated conscience – this is the ideal to aspire for as taught in the Bible. This means that this kind of conscience is not only free from guilt, but has been rightly “educated” by the moral and spiritual standard of God’s word the Bible.
We like the apostle Paul need to continually strive toward such goal as he states in our opening text in Acts 24:16: “I myself always strive to have a conscience without offence toward God and man.”
Why do we need to strive?
Because as the Scriptures openly say in James chapter 3: “For we all stumble in many things.” We all offend and get offended, we all hurt and get hurt.
Our failures are not unusual dear friends! Hebrews chapter 11 gives as a list of God’s “hall of fame” heroes.
They all became spiritually strong and blameless in God’s sight in spite of their many failings, yes even serious offences and crimes! They worked out of them by faith through God’s grace!
God freely offers forgiveness and acceptance to the worst of us.
“If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
However this matter of guilt and clear conscience has another side.
Yes we need to make things right with God. Now, how about our fellowmen?
Do we harbor resentments, ill will, even hate or feelings of bitterness or revenge in our hearts toward anyone? Do you hold on grudges?
Jesus said it well: “Unless you forgive from the heart you are cutting yourself off from the flow of God’s love, grace and forgiveness.”
That includes our enemies! Is this easy or even possible on our own?
Not without looking to the cross of
How can we in the sight of the cross hold on to our sins and in comparison to Christ’s mercy to our own petty grievances?
At the Calvary cross we get strength to let go of our sins, have our guilt cleared, receive complete forgiveness and then extend it to those who hurt us.
Acts 24:16: “This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offence toward God and man.”
How about you my dear friend? Will you join in this kind of striving?