What to do with a Guilty Conscience

What do you do when you struggle with a guilty conscience?

We all “flee to a fountain” for cleansing, if you will. We try to soothe a guilty conscience with good deeds or acts of charity. We try to drown our guilt with drugs and alcohol. We try to explain a guilty conscience away as mere psychological feelings. But sometimes psychological guilt is not merely that, but actually pointing us to real guilt. The Christian teaching in 1 John 1:5-10 is that we have true moral guilt before a pure and holy God, that God graciously and lovingly supplies the blood of Christ to cleanse us of our true guilt, and that we should apply the blood of Christ to our consciences whenever we sin through confession. Confession (homologeo, literally “same speech”) is calling sin sin. Confession does not occur whenever we downplay sin, divert conversations away from sin, distract from our sin by pointing out the sins of others, or whitewash sin with the language of spirituality and virtue. Confession is calling sin sin.

“Martin Luther, in his commentary on Galatians, shows a great understanding of the fact that our salvation includes salvation from the bondage of our own conscience. It is, of course, natural and right that as we become Christians our consciences should become ever more tender. This is a work of the Holy Spirit. However, I should not be bowed down by my conscience year after year over sins which are past. When my conscience under the Holy Spirit makes me aware of a specific sin I should at once call that sin sin and bring it consciously under the blood of Christ. Now it is covered and it is not honoring to the finished work of Jesus Christ to worry about it, as far as my relationship to God is concerned. Indeed, to worry about it is to do despite to the infinite value of the death of the Son of God. My fellowship with God is restored…

“I rather picture my conscience as a big black dog with enormous paws which leaps upon me, threatening to cover me with mud and devour me. But as this conscience of mine jumps upon me, after a specific sin has been dealt with on the basis of Christ’s finished work, then I should turn to my conscience and say, in effect, ‘Down! Be still’ I am to believe God and be quiet, in my practice and experience” (Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality, p. 104).

Conscience can feel like this, except without the smiling and happiness.


In many cases, we do not just sin against God, but also against neighbor. We should seek reconciliation with God, and then seek reconciliation with those we have wronged.

“If I know that somewhere back in my life I have dealt with some Christian, or some non-Christian, on less than a really human basis, I must go back if possible, pick up the pieces, and say, ‘I am sorry'” (Schaeffer, p. 159).

“On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness” (Zechariah 13:1, ESV).


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