March 10, 2008
A Clear Conscience
by Sarah Jennings, Crosswalk.com Family Editor
Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.
This time of year tends to inspire a certain level of introspection among people – especially as we get closer to Holy Week. The other night I attended a Bible and catechism study at a friend’s apartment. To kick off our evening, my friend’s husband read an “examination of conscience.” After opening with prayer, Keith read what Jesus said was the greatest commandment: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind“ (Matthew 22: 37). He then proceeded to read a litany of ways we can potentially fail to love God. The list was achingly thorough.
I didn’t feel terribly comfortable as I felt my perceived “goodness” melt away before my very eyes. As a side note, I don’t recommend this activity as an ice-breaker for parties.
“Sin” is not a common term used in our culture today. It’s much easier to speak of our shortcomings in the context of psychology or environmental influences or biological predispositions. But the truth is, as creatures of free will, sometimes we just decide to do the wrong thing. We act selfishly when we could have been selfless. We get angry when we should have shown mercy. We seek personal gain at the cost of another.
But the point of this exercise was not to shame us. We listened to Keith read the list with full knowledge that:
a) All present in the room are guilty of falling short.
c) As creatures with free will, we can make better choices tomorrow.
b) God’s mercy and transforming grace is available to us every moment of every day to help us shed the “old self” and put on the new.
The most profound result of doing an examination of conscience had little to do with feeling guilty – instead, it renewed our appreciation for God’s great love for us. Romans 5: 8 sums this up beautifully and for that reason it’s quoted often: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Christ, with full knowledge of our darkest moments, died out of love for you and me when most of us wouldn’t sacrifice half as much for a virtuous friend.
But we can’t stop with this realization – we can’t presume on God’s mercy, doing as we please thinking “Oh, I can just repent later….” This attitude would be a terrible sin in it of itself. With full knowledge of Christ’s sacrificial love, how we live our lives now matters more than ever. So, what if we took this time before Easter to tackle sin more intentionally in our lives? What if we identified our sin, confessed it to the Lord, and committed to practical ways of replacing each sin with a virtue?
Of course, it would be daunting to try to achieve perfection – we simply can’t “acquire” holiness purely with our own efforts. But I am seeing in my own life that a more purposeful approach to sin is an integral part of maturing as a follower of Christ. Not to mention, “coming clean” with God can feel incredibly freeing.
Intersecting Faith & Life: Honestly examine your life in light of God's Word. A good way to start an examination of conscience is by praying Psalm 139, verse 23-24: "Search me, O God…" Then, hold up your life to the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20: 2-17). Don’t forget to consider what resides in your heart, not just what you’ve physically done (example: “Thou shalt not murder” -- consider if you’ve held lingering hatred for someone. Or “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods” – consider if you, out of envy, spread gossip about someone). Confess, perhaps even to your pastor or an accountability partner, the ways you've sinned against God, thank God for His forgiveness, and ask Him for the grace to change. Don’t get discouraged if you have many areas that need change – we’re all works in progress.