One of the best gifts God gives to people in Jesus is a good conscience. A good conscience doesn’t just mean you feel good about yourself (like self-esteem, for example). Rather, a good conscience is what comes from the forgiveness of all your sins in the blood of Jesus Christ. You are accepted by God as his dear child and all the guilt and shame is taken away by the sacrifice of Jesus.
Compare that to the misery of a bad conscience. There are many things that will give us a bad conscience. It may be the guilt and shame of sins that we’ve been trying to hide from others. It may be that our conscience is scared that God will never forgive us for certain evils that we’ve done. It may be that others have abused us and left us with a load of shame. Even though it’s not our fault, that shame still harms our conscience and keeps us from the joy of Christ.
To put it simply, a bad conscience is one that doesn’t receive the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. You might think you don’t need his forgiveness. Or you might think you don’t deserve his forgiveness. Either way it leaves you sheltering the heavy burden of guilt and shame.
The gift of God in Jesus Christ, however, is a good conscience. When you have a good conscience, you know that you have sinned and fallen short. No excuses. No denials. Yet you also know that the blood of Jesus cleanses you from all your sins. You know that God the Father is pleased with you because you live in Jesus and Jesus lives in you.
Baptism into Christ gives us this good conscience. It unites us with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection so that we may walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). The holy communion also gives us a good conscience when we receive the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins (Matthew 26:28).
Our conscience will function properly only when it is fed by the truth of God’s word. Then we properly see our sin for what it is and we see our savior for who he is. This faith in Jesus Christ gives us a good conscience before God and others. This enlightens all of life so that we may enjoy the peace, hope, and joy that is properly ours in Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 10:22-25 (ESV) says, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
Boehne is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in El Paso. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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