God’s Solution for a Condemning Conscience (1 John 3:18-20)

20 February 2011 by Wes Bredenhof

Maybe you can imagine how she felt.  After all these years, the woman came to her pastor and confessed that she had two abortions when she was a teenager.  She had asked God numerous times to forgive her, but she was still nearly paralyzed by the guilt.  The guilt was overwhelming and negatively affected her personal and spiritual life.  Not only that, but it was causing problems in her marriage.

And then there is the brother, now a senior citizen and an active member in the church.  He came to his pastor one day and confessed a sexual sin he’d committed over 60 years ago.  At one level, he knew he was forgiven because he’d confessed this sin numerous times to God.  Yet he couldn’t break free from the feeling of condemnation.  He didn’t really know what it was like to live in the joy of faith.

Those are real stories from real people, though I didn’t know them personally.  There was someone I did know.  She was a widow, nearly 100 years old but sound of mind.  A godly woman who has since been promoted to glory.  I was one of her pastors and she called me one day to come and visit her.  Something was burdening her.  This dear sister was overcome with guilt because her rent had gone up and her pension didn’t and there was no wiggle room.  She was a wreck because she could no longer give 10% to the Lord.  “Am I really God’s child if I don’t give him 10%?” she asked me through tears.

All of these folks illustrate a problem which some Christians seem to struggle with.  We could call it a malfunctioning moral thermostat.  You see, that’s what your conscience is:  just like the thermostat in your home controls the temperature in your house, so also your conscience measures and regulates the guilt you feel in your heart.  And just like your thermostat can malfunction, so also can your conscience.

There are several ways that can happen.  One of those is what Paul calls a “seared conscience” in 1 Timothy 4:2.  The conscience is no longer affected by violations of God’s law.  The sense of guilt is nearly or completely gone.  However, we’re not concerned with that kind of conscience malfunction this morning.  Rather, we want to see how God’s Word addresses an overly sensitive or hypersensitive conscience, one which feels overwhelming guilt when there’s no need for it.   We want to see what God has to say about the conscience which condemns and accuses a person for small errors, forgiven actions, and just plain human failures.  What does God’s Word say about our situation if we have vague feelings of guilt and just don’t know why?  What does Scripture say when we don’t feel acceptable to or accepted by God?

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