Monday, September 05, 2011

Cleanse Your Conscience

For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 09:13-14, NKJV).
Anxiety and guilt are closely related, but originate from different sources.
In a certain sense anxiety is amoral, or at least morally neutral. It just is, however painful it may be, and while it is often due to lack of faith, it is not necessarily the direct result of some sin.

Guilt is inescapably moral. Guilt is the function of that God-given part of the mind, called the conscience, that inflicts you with unease or shame when you go wrong. The conscience has gotten a bad reputation over the last 150 years, starting with the advent of Freudian psychology and culminating in modern modes of therapy founded on the propagation of self-esteem. 

The product of the conscience, guilt, has been relegated to the ash heap of culture. It has become the first casualty of the feel-good epidemic that has wiped out the absolutes of morality (the "you shall nots" of the Ten Commandments), and replaced them with puff and situational vapor. 

Guilt has been relabeled Toxic Shame, and like all sustained and appealing marketing efforts, this propaganda effort has rebranded a once venerable commodity into something worthy of manufacturer recall. Inflicting guilt under all circumstances is now a thought crime. In the near future, I suspect it will become an actually crime, especially when perpetrated against someone who is actually guilty of some tangible crime.

Unless, of course, the alleged perpetrator is a conspicuous Christian, then he or she will be deemed GUILTY no matter what.

Such is the way of the world for now, but try as it might, grit its teeth and strain as mightily as possible, the world will not ever completely eliminate conscience, nor its progeny, guilt. They are part of our original equipment, like personhood and intestines.

Even before God codified His moral laws to the Children of Israel, He gifted fallen man with a conscience. It is our inbuilt moral sensor that sends a jolt of perception to even the most hard-hearted miscreant that SOMETHING IS WRONG. The message can be subverted, the conscience can be seared into virtual disfunction, but the underlying framework of guilt generation remains. Thank God.

Because at some point, if a human heart is sufficiently softened by life or love (a work of the Holy Spirit), then it is the conscience that will relentlessly drive a man, woman or child to seek its cleansing.

And the only effective solvent is forgiveness.

This is a hard nut to crack in the modern world. We have been conditioned by the culture, education, our intellectual betters, and our own flesh, to pretend we are accountable to no one morally except ourselves. This, despite being a guaranteed recipe for societal disaster, is the snake oil we have imbibed almost since birth. And it makes the work of the conscience that much harder.

But when it does start to work, the torment of a guilty conscience can be intense. Thank God again. At full force, it drives us to seek some kind of remedy, some kind of guilt-easement. We can "try to make up for things", or "attempt restitution", or "begin to tip the scales so that our good works outweigh our bad". 

In fact, it is quite common in the annals of human history to discover a person who has gone from practicing demonic evil to selfless philanthropy - from Mr. Hyde to Dr. Jekyll. I wonder how many Nazi Death Camp doctors became angels of mercy after World War Two? Probably more than we know.

But in the end, despite Herculean human effort, the guilty conscience remains stained and smelly because there is only one means of true cleansing - forgiveness. And the only true forgiveness is from God, because it is against Him and Him only that we sin. Yes, others are damaged and hurt by our sin, sometimes whole nations, but it is the Holy God Himself, the Eternal Lawgiver, who is the sole target of our sin.

We know this inherently, like we know how to breathe or sneeze.

It is only the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, [that can] cleanse your conscience from dead works. It is only through your acceptance of that fact that you can obtain forgiveness, the kind that lifts the burden of guilt from your heart, mind and soul forever.

And while that acceptance may seem too easy, too good to be true, it is, in fact, one of the hardest things a human can do, for it entails the setting aside of ALL thought of self-worth and self-reliance, and acknowledging God's Lordship over your life, and your absolute dependence on Him for everything - especially forgiveness.

Unless you have experienced the lifting of this burden of guilt for yourself, all these are just words, like imagining a new color.

But Christ came to give this world a gift that only He could give for the express purpose of obtaining your forgiveness.

Remember that and praise Him with all your heart.

But it doesn't stop there. Forgiveness is only the miraculous beginning. It is the opening of the door into a life of joy and hope no matter how bleak a future on this earth is before us.

It is the beginning of the greatest vocation imaginable: to serve the living God.