“…when the Gentiles instinctively do what the law demands, … they show that the work of the law is written on their hearts. Their consciences confirm this. Their competing thoughts will either accuse or excuse them” (Romans 2:14-15).
Even though we have been designed in God’s image, forgiven, declared innocent, justified, given a new nature, and indwelled by the Holy Spirit, we continue to sin. But “Christ has liberated us to be free” (Gal. 5:1). Today we will look at God’s provision to liberate His children from the bondage of guilt, setting us on the freedom trail. Identify a particular sin that holds you in bondage and brings relentless feelings of guilt.
The first step on the freedom trail is to confess sin. First John 1:9 tells us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Confessing means agreeing with God about our sins, stopping the rationalization and the other ineffective methods we studied yesterday, and facing up to our guilt. Of course, that means confessing with a view to change — repent, we might say. The result? He will set us free! Instant sin, instant confession, instant forgiveness.
But there’s a problem. We’re so adept at covering our trail that we may not even recognize the sin. So what happened to our conscience? Isn’t it supposed to alert us to guilt?
Paul wrote that when Gentiles “instinctively do what the law demands… they show that the work of the law is written on their hearts. Their consciences confirm this. Their competing thoughts will either accuse or excuse them” (Rom. 2:14-15). Did Paul have in mind a function of the soul or maybe a separate entity designed to monitor human behavior? I think not. Notice that he connected conscience with heart and thoughts. Conscience is simply human judgment in moral matters. Conscience is to the health of the soul what nerve endings are to the health of the body. A deadened conscience is a death-dealing malady; a quickened conscience, a precious gift to be nurtured. So to have a reliable conscience — judgment in moral matters — we need to reprogram our thinking by the Word and by sensitivity to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Romans 12:2 tells us how to reprogram our thinking through the Word; “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”
It’s very important to work constantly at renewing our minds so that our moral judgment becomes ever more reliable. A malfunctioning conscience or deafness to the Spirit is deadly. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom from misleading moral judgment.
Taiho, a beautiful collie, was the most marvelous pet we ever had. But Taiho wasn’t a reliable watchdog. A stranger was greeted with excited tail wagging and dog kisses to the extent permitted. But when one of us returned home, the barking was deafening. Some Christians seem to have a Taiho conscience — friendly embrace of the deadliest enemies and wild alarms at the most innocent conduct. Is your judgment in moral matters reliable?
How do I distinguish among the various voices I hear? Is my conviction of sin the voice of the Spirit or the yapping of my own malfunctioning moral judgment? Perhaps it’s neither. Maybe those impulses are from the Enemy, the Accuser, the Liar. How can I tell?
Learn what the Word of God says on the subject. Is this desire a temptation to sin as defined by Scripture, or is it something I’ve picked up from tradition or from a hyperactive, guilt-ridden conscience?
The conviction of the Spirit is specific, not a general sense of unease or guilt. He puts His finger on the spot with scriptural truth, either directly or through someone else. Another difference from Satan’s promptings is that the gentle Spirit doesn’t harass me. He’s persistent, but His is a gentle, perhaps intermittent pressure, not constant, indiscriminate, accusing agitation. I accept the accusation, treat it as a sin, confess it, and forsake it.