Text: Acts 24:16
I want to begin by sharing with you a quote from John MacArthur Jr. in his book, The Vanishing Conscienc. John writes,
“We live in a culture that has elevated pride to the status of a virtue. Self- esteem, positive feelings, and personal dignity are what our society encourages people to seek. At the same time, moral responsibility is being replaced by victimism, which teaches people to blame someone else for their personal failures and iniquities.”
What is more disturbing to me than this cultural trend is the way in which the Church has openly embraced this philosophy, or ideology.
MacArthur goes on to say,
“The Church as a whole is growing less concerned with sin, and more obsessed with self-exoneration and self-esteem. Christians are rapidly loosing sight of sin as the root of all human woes. And many Christians are explicitly denying that their own sin can be the cause of personal anguish. More and more are attempting to explain the human dilemma in wholly unbiblical terms: temperament, addiction, dysfunctional families, the child within, codependency, and a host of other irresponsible escape mechanisms promoted by secular psychology.”
And what are the consequences of such a philosophy, especially as they relate to the Church?
• Remove the reality of sin, and you take away the possibility of repentance.
• Abolish the doctrine of human depravity and you void the divine plan of salvation.
• Erase the notion of personal guilt and you eliminate the need for a Savior.
• Obliterate the human conscience, and you will raise an amoral and unredeemable generation.
To give you an idea as to what our society thinks about guilt, consider this article written by Ann Landers in her advice column:
One of the most painful, self-mutilating, time-and energy-consuming exercises in the human experience is guilt.... It can ruin your day--or your week or your life--if you let it. It turns up like a bad penny when you do something dishonest, hurtful, tacky, selfish, or rotten.... Never mind that it was the result of ignorance, stupidity, laziness, thought-lessness, weak flesh, or clay feet. You did wrong and the guilt is killing you. Too Bad. But be assured, the agony you feel is normal....Remember guilt is a pollutant and we don't need any more of it in the world.
Let's examine what God has to say about guilt in the Bible .
First let me say that there are two kinds of guilt:
1) OBJECTIVE GUILT (The absolute reality of guilt)
2) SUBJECTIVE GUILT (“Feelings” of guilt) Both...
Secondly, I would say that guilt serves a God-ordained purpose :
It is the mechanism by which we are made aware of any wrongdoing.
(Wrongdoing is here understood as that which is wrong based upon the teaching of God's holy word. For it is God alone who is the absolute Law-Giver, who determines, by virtue of His holy character, what is right and what is wrong.)
Why do you suppose that Abortion, Homosexuality, Adultery, Fornication, and other acts of sinful behavior are so readily tolerated and even embraced by today's society? It is because we have removed God from almost every area and aspect of life, and thus we have lost our sense or understanding of what is right and wrong.
If there is no Absolute Law-Giver, One who is perfectly holy and just, and omniscient, who alone determines what is right or wrong, then it becomes the task of humankind to make this determination, and morality and virtue and right and wrong become merely relative ; i.e., what may be right for you is not necessarily right for me.
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts.
And because such a determination is made by sinful men, men whose hearts are totally corrupt, quite often we completely reverse the truth (absolute truth; God's truth) and call good evil, and evil good.
As Isaiah said:
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)
But this is exactly what we have done in this day and time!
The Bible and Guilt
1. We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23)
We are all objectively guilty before God. As the Scripture says:
Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. (Romans 3:19)
2. God will by no means clear the guilty (Exo. 34:5-7)
5 And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.6 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, 7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.
3. Ignorance is not an excuse for sin (Leviticus 5:17)
17 And if a soul sin, and commit any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the LORD; though he wist it not, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity.
4. God has given to each of us a conscience (Rom 2:14-15)
Our conscience serves as an indicator of sinful behavior; it either accuses or excuses us.
Again, John MacArthur writes:
Guilt feelings may not always be rational, but they are nearly always a reliable signal that something is wrong somewhere, and we had better come to grips with whatever it is and make it right. Guilt functions in the spiritual realm like pain in the material realm. Pain tells us there is a physical problem that must be dealt with or the body will suffer harm. Guilt is spiritual pain in the soul that tells us something is evil and needs to be confronted and cleansed.
The Bible speaks of the Conscience:
• A Defiled Conscience - Titus 1:15
• An Evil Conscience - Heb 10:22
• A Seared Conscience - 1 Tim 4:2
• A Purged Conscience - Heb 9:14; 10:2
• A Good Conscience - 1 Tim 1:5, 19; Heb 13:18; 1 Pet 3:16,21
• A Pure Conscience - 1 Tim 3:9; 2 Tim 1:3
5. Salvation is the only true relief for our conscience (1 Peter 3:21)
21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
Heb 9:14 (TCEV)
But Christ was sinless, and he offered himself as an eternal and spiritual sacrifice to God. That's why his blood is much more powerful and makes our consciences clear. Now we can serve the living God and no longer do things that lead to death.
Thus, concerning sin we must:
1) Recognize our Sin
2) Express Remorse for our Sin
3) Repent of our Sin
Once we have recognized our sin, felt remorse for our sin, and repented of our sin, God has promised to forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Only then can we have a conscience that is truly void of offense toward God (Acts 24:16). Only then can we be free from Guilt, both objectively and subjectively.