The Value of a Guilty Conscience
The Value of a Guilty Conscience
Introduction Do you have a guilty conscience? Whether you do or don’t, let’s talk about the value of a guilty conscience. Thinking about a guilty conscience having value might sound a little strange. Indeed, some people even stay away from church and certain church functions because, they say, “I might feel guilty.” There is probably more truth in that than we might like to acknowledge. Even so, Christian people are people with a guilty conscience. They are men and women who understand that the burden of human guilt rests upon their souls. We typically think of people with a bad conscience as people who are living in obvious sin, and in one sense that is true. But in another sense, those who have a truly “bad conscience” –a conscience that doesn’t work, a conscience that is out of commission and useless—often live in a state of moral ease and complacency with self-satisfied respectability. So, having a guilty conscience may be good. But, to not have a guilty conscience may be disastrous.
King David, the God-inspired writer of Psalm 51, had a guilty conscience. It wasn’t a bad conscience, but a useful, functioning, God-given conscience. He had committed some pretty vile offenses, and if it wasn’t for the blessing of an alert conscience, he would have plunged headlong into hell. The value of a guilty conscience can be seen through the Words God caused to be written for all whose conscience is active and useful and alert. Value is seen in David’s sense of guilt,
in his understanding of sin,
In his prayer for pardon,
In his longing for renewal.
In David’s sense of guilt, David’s sense of guilt is seen quite clearly in verse 10. He cries out to God, “Create in me a clean heart.” Over and over he refers to “my” transgressions, “my” iniquity, “my” sin. He makes no attempt to dull the anguish he feels by evading personal responsibility. He might have done what many so often do. He might have focused on the circumstances that led to sin, or on the personality defects that predisposed him to sin, or on the social conditions that contributed to his sin, but David sees only this fact: “Against you, you only, have I sinned.”
Everyone has a conscience. Because God has written his law, His moral absolutes, on every human heart. Even little children know that certain things are right and others are wrong. Today, it seems that many grown-ups have a different idea. How often have we heard it said, “I can’t condemn something that I myself have done.” But, according to God’s moral standard, are we thereby overlooking what is wrong in an attempt to salve our own guilty consciences? In fact, the further away from God’s moral absolutes we remove ourselves, the more dulled and useless our consciences will be.
We see the value of a guilty conscience In David’s understanding of sin. David conscience not only reacts to his sins of adultery and murder, but also to his sinfulness, which he refers to as his iniquity. We refer to it as a sinful human nature. In his repentance, he includes the depravity of his own nature. “Surely,” he cries, “I was sinful at birth.” In other words, he was tormented not only by the thought that he did evil, but primarily by the thought that he was evil.
Sin is not just a violation of a moral code or a betrayal of self-respect and personal integrity, but a rebellion against God. Every sin we commit has to do with God. This is what makes sin so damningly dangerous. Sin is estrangement, a disconnect, between God and man. It is because of his proper understanding of sin that David cries out, “Do not cast me from your presence.”
Have you ever thought of sin like that? There are some who don’t understand sin and what it can do. Some have never cried from the depths of their soul, “Do not…take you Holy Spirit from me.” These should pray to God that he give them the gift of a guilty conscience.
The value of a guilty conscience is also seen In David’s prayer for pardon. Having a conscience that only brings a sense of guilt and an understanding of sin is of no consequence. In fact it would be evil, harmful, and vicious. Instead of a guilty conscience, it would be called a guilt complex. People try to deal with such a complex by dulling conscience with alcohol and drugs, or, suicide attempts, or, total involvement in business, or, whatever. This is how many people today try to deal with conscience.
King David did something else. He turned to God. He doesn’t ask that God forget his sin, or that God make his law more lenient. He prays for change! He asks God to make something new out of nothing. “Create in me a clean heart,” he cries.
You see, David knew the character of God. He knew God’s unfailing love and great compassion. And he knew that hundreds of years before the time of Christ. How much more should we know God’s character through His Son, Jesus Christ. God’s perfect love for us is so well displayed in the cross of Christ. He, Jesus, is able and willing to create us anew. That’s what the cross and the Resurrection are all about. Paul says it this way, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ … not counting men’s sins against them.”
A guilty conscience is good if it leads us to the cross of Jesus with a contrite heart and a broken spirit. Thus David’s confession of faith, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
Finally, the value of a guilty conscience is seen In David’s longing for renewal. It is not only pardon that David wants. He pleads also for renewal. He wanted to live a clean, decent, upright, honest life.
My friends and fellow redeemed in the Lord, God is able to renew us, as he did King David. He is able to create in us a pure heart and a steadfast spirit. To Him, alone, we must look for renewal. You see, the power is not in us. But, the God revealed in Holy Scripture has blessings to bestow which we can’t even begin to imagine. Today he comes to us again with His renewing love. Again, he calls us to participate in the body and blood of Jesus as we eat the bread and drink the cup of His presence. Again, He comes to say to each one of us, “I died for you! Now you can live in Me.” Amen.