Is there sin in your past that keeps you from being intimate with God? You know you’re forgiven, but your little inner judge keeps bringing your sin to mind. Yes, God hard-wired you with a conscience, but not so you would be forever tormented by your sin. In this reading plan based on Hebrews 9:1-14, Pete Briscoe talks about finding freedom from the guilt, shame, and embarrassment that comes from sin.
Your little judge
If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved you, and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends. – Charlotte Brontë, The Blinding Knife
A guilty conscience is a terrible companion. No amount of rationalization or justification will absolve you of its presence. King David – the king who took another man’s wife and then had that man killed – nailed it when he described the damage done by a guilty conscience in Psalm 32:3-4,
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
Imagine doing a few hours of yard work on a hot July day in Texas. That’s the type of sapped David is talking about here.
But the king continues, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you…. And you forgave the guilt of my sin.… Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:5, 11)
How did David go from withering beneath the weight of sin-induced guilt to classifying himself among the righteous? How did he shake free of a guilty conscience?
Philo, a historian of New Testament times, wrote that your conscience is like “a little judge in your soul.” After you’ve done something wrong, the little judge says, That was wrong. Even before you do something you shouldn’t, the little judge chimes in, That would be wrong.
The conscience has a pretty simple job that was designed by God, and it’s been given to all of humanity – believer and nonbeliever alike. But we live in a fallen world, and evil has hijacked what God hardwired within us.
Before or after we sin, the little judge in our soul will simply say, That is wrong. But the Evil One jumps on this guilt and starts the internal accusations, Not only was that wrong, but you are wrong.”
Such constant condemnation keeps us from experiencing intimacy with God – it keeps us from calling ourselves upright and praising our Creator. So what we want to know is: How can we, like David, be free from a guilty conscience?
Lord, the voice of condemnation has been a close companion in many seasons of my life. Free me from seeing myself as the little judge sees me. Open me up to a new, wondrous identity that You have for me this week. Amen.
A completely clear conscience
A clear conscience is the sure sign of a bad memory. – Mark Twain
Elementary school was a difficult time for me; I was picked on quite a bit. One afternoon as I waited for the bus, a classmate ridiculed me relentlessly. My anger was building slowly; but when he said something about my mother, I walked over and kicked his kneecap. And he crumpled to the ground.
I boarded my bus feeling ashamed. All the way home my conscience told me, That was wrong. I got off the bus at home and waited for the school to call my parents, but the phone didn’t ring.
While it appeared I’d gotten away with injuring that kid, condemnation ran through my thoughts: Not only was that wrong, but you are wrong. Even at such a young age, I resisted turning to God because of my self-condemnation. Surely He wanted nothing to do with such a naughty kid.
Isn’t it heartbreaking how our conscience – something hardwired within all of humanity by our Creator – can be twisted in such as way as to distance us from Him?
Some of you are still struggling with your little judge. He’s reminding you of what you did in college. He tells you how you messed up your first marriage. The Evil One – our accuser – has hijacked your conscience, and you’re desperate to know if he can be silenced.
Yes, there is a way to clear our conscience before God – but there is only one way.
I know what you might be thinking: Jesus came to forgive our sins. This is enough. We can live with the guilt if we are forgiven.
But there is so much more to our life in Christ than this, friends!
“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ… cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death…” (Hebrews 9:14)
He wants you to be free – free from not only the acts of death, but also the guilt that results. I don’t know what guilt you live with, but I do know Jesus can silence it. All you have to do is ask Him.
Jesus, knowing You forgive all my sins was enough. But there is more? Praises to You! Yes, I want to be free from guilt and shame! Yes, I long for this abundant life! Amen.
I went to confession frequently and performed the assigned penances faithfully. Nevertheless my conscience could never achieve serenity. – Martin Luther
When I counsel married couples, I’m always amazed by the Spirit-led ability to forgive one another; and yet I’m heartbroken by the human inability to forgive ourselves. Guilt and shame have a habit of squeezing tight. And because guilt stifles intimacy, it’s not uncommon to see a marriage end.
So if you’re struggling today with guilt and shame from past sin, I want you to know a very important truth: Jesus doesn’t stop after He cancels your sin; He also desires to free you from the guilt.
He isn’t asking for penance. He doesn’t demand a sacrifice. Both are gifts available to you through His offer of salvation.
Hebrews 9 illustrates this truth with an Old Testament example. The author reminds us that the tabernacle was divided into two rooms – the outer Holy Place, and the inner Most Holy Place. God’s presence dwelled in the Most Holy Place.
“The priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry out their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year…” (Hebrews 9:6-7)
One person – once a year – had access to the presence of God. The high priest would enter God’s presence with goat’s blood, atone for his own sin and the sins of the people, perform his priestly duties, and then exit.
For generations this ritual was enough. And yet God sent Jesus as the final High Priest to enter the heavenly throne room of God’s presence and atone for our sin by His own blood.
Why? Why wasn’t the old way enough to cultivate intimacy?
External sacrifices don’t erase internal guilt.
Hebrews 9:9 tells us the “sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper,” but the blood of Christ will “cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death…” (9:14)
The blood of Christ cleanses our conscience; He silences the little judge that has been hijacked by the accuser. He canceled the external sacrifices and activated His internal activity – the Holy Spirit who indwells us as believers.
Lord, reveal to me the ways I’ve attempted to pay penance for my guilt. Holy Spirit, remind me over and over that this freedom is free. Help me believe that when You see me, You see only innocence! Amen.
The guilt, shame and fear that accompanied sin caused us to run and hide, but God was right where He’d always been. – Jeff Turner, Saints in the Arms of a Happy God
Perhaps the guiltiest conscience in all of literature belongs to Pip, Charles Dickens’ main character in Great Expectations. Scholars have suggested Pip might be a reflection of Dickens’ own guilt – as the author was engaged in an affair while writing that book.
A guilty conscience spills over into life.
As we read Hebrews 9, it’s clear the author has a great understanding of the temple’s construction. But moving beyond the blueprints, the author focuses on the décor – specifically directing our attention to an elaborate set of curtains.
The curtains hung between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, serving to separate God’s holiness from human impurity. Only the high priest could pass through the curtains – and only once a year.
But when Christ died, we are told “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:51).
The barrier between God’s holiness and man’s impurity was destroyed. Access to God was now available to all! Intimacy is ours for the experiencing!
But let me ask you: Is that unlimited access to God’s intimate presence a part of your everyday life?
See, I believe there are two sets of curtains that have kept mankind from the presence of God. The first was the curtain God hung in the temple and later destroyed, so that curtain is no longer in play.
But the second curtain is one that we hang – the curtain of conscience. We hang it up in our mind as a separation between the Holy God and our feeling of being unholy. We hang it up hoping to keep our guilt and shame to ourselves.
So my question to you is this: How free would you be if you allowed Jesus to destroy your curtain of conscience in the same way He destroyed His curtain of holiness?
Let him shred your guilty conscience so nothing holds you back from His presence.
Lord, I had no power to destroy the first curtain in the temple, and I have no ability to destroy the second curtain in my own mind. I invite You to have Your way in my thought life, for the sake of my free, abundant life in You. Amen.
Enter into His presence
It’s that simple
The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still and his tune is heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom.– Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
I know it sounds too easy: Tell Jesus you sinned and ask for forgiveness.
I can tell you confidently that it wasn’t easy for Jesus.
And I know it sounds so simple to just reply to the condemnation of your conscience, and say, “Yes, I know what I did was wrong – I even know I was wrong. But Jesus has dealt with it. I’m resting in Him.”
It sounds so easy, but I assure you it wasn’t easy for Him.
This simplicity – this depending upon what Jesus has already done – is the Gospel, friends. We long for the power of the Gospel, but we struggle with its simplicity.
But what if you fulfilled your longing for freedom by asking Jesus to cleanse you of your sin and cleanse your conscience? Imagine a life free from guilt and shame, and full of the presence of God!
Why? Why is this freedom so important in the life of a believer?
“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:14)
The two words so that tell us there is one huge purpose to having our consciences cleansed by Jesus. Christ cleanses us so we may serve the living God. The word serve comes from the Greek word latreuo, and it means to worship and enjoy the presence of the living God.
Jesus wants you free from sin and shame so you can enter into God’s presence. Let me ask you: What in your history keeps you from experiencing intimacy with God? Whatever the answer, Jesus wants to set you free. Just ask Him.
Jesus, thank You for making this simple. I come to You with a request today: Replace my guilt with Your innocence. Relieve this burden of condemnation. I bask in Your unconditional acceptance and praise You for it! Allow this new life to affect all areas of living and loving. Amen.