A Clean Conscience
The Power of the Gospel to Serve God
by Steven Shepard
“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 9:13-15
In the Old Covenant the High Priest offered the blood of a bull and a goat once a year on the Day of Atonement as a sacrifice for sins. These offerings only sanctified for the purifying of the flesh, providing an outward and merely temporary cleansing from ceremonial uncleanness. They could not, however, cleanse the conscience inwardly from guilt. Rather, they served as an object lesson pointing to the blood of Christ, which actually does cleanse our conscience from “dead works”.
Sin has separated the human race from its Creator, with the result that all human works apart from Christ are dead works. Guilty of willful rebellion, we deserve the condemnation of God, who is infinitely holy and just. God opposes everything that is contrary to His own perfect moral nature. Therefore, He must punish sin. If He did not, He would be denying the essence of His own justice and holiness. (Eph 2:1-3; Rom 8:7-8; Is 64:6; Rom 1:18; 2:5-8)
The conscience is the God-given inward awareness of the rightness or wrongness of our conduct, based on the existence of God’s objective moral standard to which we are held accountable. But our sinful hearts deceive us into making excuses for ourselves in order to deaden this acknowledgement of guilt. Today’s society even says that we shouldn’t feel guilty and that having a sense of guilt is really a sickness. But guilt is a very real indicator that something is dreadfully wrong with our lives. Being in denial does not make it go away. We may spend huge amounts of time and energy trying to make up for guilt or trying to suppress it, but this sense of condemnation remains inside. Unless we find deliverance, we will bear its crushing load our whole life and bear its punishment in eternity. Nothing we do can help — whether acts of charity, prayers, church attendance, baptism or other sacraments. Our works will never be enough to take away the guilt of even one sin. (Rom 1:19-20; Gen 3:6-13;Prov 16:2; Is 5:20-21; Prov 8:13)
But our text says that the blood of Christ shall cleanse your conscience. This is not so much a promise but a statement of fact. Christ offered Himself “without spot” to God. He offered Himself “through the Spirit”, or in accordance to God’s will. It was God’s will for the sinless and spotless Christ to satisfy the justice of God on our behalf, to bear the punishment that we deserved, and to take away our guilt. Through Jesus’ blood, all believers are completely and continually justified, redeemed, brought near to God, and forgiven of all sins — past, present and future. Through Jesus’ blood we can now experience the cleansing of our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Is 53:5-6; Rom 3:24-26; Eph 1:7; Rom 5:9; Eph 2:12-13; Heb 10:19)
Our text teaches that only when we have a clean conscience can we really serve God. When our conscience is not clean, our focus is on ourselves; and our works are motivated by our guilt. On the other hand, when we have a clean conscience we are set free to serve God out of love, joy and gratitude. This is the only way that our lives can glorify God, and the only way we can grow in godliness.
What should be our response?
1. First, we should renew our minds concerning the cleansing blood of Jesus.
2. We should ask God to help us avoid the things that defile our conscience. A defiled conscience weakens our faith and undermines our assurance.
3. If we do sin, we should acknowledge it and then return to trusting in the blood of Jesus.
4. We should go forth boldly with a clean conscience to serve the living God and proclaim to others the Good News of what Christ has done. (Rom 12:2; 2 Tim 1:5; John 6:55-56; 1 John 4:19; 2 Cor 5:15)