Hebrews 9:11-14 – A Clear Conscience

Stations of the Cross at Holy Hill, Hubertus, Wisconsin

When the Messiah arrived, high priest of the superior things of this new covenant, he bypassed the old tent and its trappings in this created world and went straight into heaven’s “tent”—the true Holy Place—once and for all. He also bypassed the sacrifices consisting of goat and calf blood, instead using his own blood as the price to set us free once and for all. If that animal blood and the other rituals of purification were effective in cleaning up certain matters of our religion and behavior, think how much more the blood of Christ cleans up our whole lives, inside and out. Through the Spirit, Christ offered himself as an unblemished sacrifice, freeing us from all those dead-end efforts to make ourselves respectable, so that we can live all out for God. (The Message)

We all have times when we feel guilty. Guilt, in and of itself, is a good thing. Guilt is the response of our conscience telling us we have done something wrong or have not done the good we know we ought to have done. It’s what we do with the guilt that determines the trajectory of our Christian lives. There are several ways we can respond to guilt.

  1. Denial. We can deny and rationalize our guilt by not accepting the truth about what we have done. Using phrases such as, “It’s not my fault,” “It’s only wrong if I get caught,” “I didn’t hurt anybody,” “They deserved it,” and “It’s not that bad,” has the effect of searing our conscience like a hot iron so that we eventually do not feel guilty. The inevitable result of this is hardness of heart.
  2. Shame. Another inappropriate way of dealing with guilt is the opposite of denying guilt; it is to hyper-focus on the guilt by feeling ashamed. Guilt feels bad for actions done or not done. Shame, however, feels bad for who I am, as if I am incapable of being good. Shame believes I do bad things because I am bad and deserve the consequences. In other words, shame is really false guilt.
  3. Inaction. Shame and false guilt may result in despair. We become inactive because of feeling discouraged or defeated. We might reason to ourselves, “What’s the point? I screw up everything I do.” So, we do nothing.
  4. Hyperactive. Some folks become a flurry of activity, working like crazy to feel better in the hope that guilt and shame disappear. It is to impose a penance upon yourself to try and cope with the icky feeling of guilt.

            The good news is that we can experience freedom from guilt and a clear conscience because of Jesus Christ.

  • If we have been victimized in the past, we no longer have to feel ashamed as though we caused or deserved the violence done to us.
  • If we have said or done some truly egregious things that displease God and damage others, we no longer have to live with the regret and the guilt on our consciences. 
  • If we have failed others and God by not living up to who we ought to be, we no longer have to live day after day with our consciences bound with guilt and shame.

            There are three reasons from Hebrews which tell us why we can have freedom from guilt and live with a clear conscience. They all focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Christ has obtained eternal redemption for us by his blood.

Under the old sacrificial system, year after year, the priest offered the same sacrifices which never took away sin. The animal sacrifice was an act of worship in which the worshiper acknowledged guilt before God. The continuous ritual was designed to point forward to a better sacrifice.

The worshiper was purposely led to think, “Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to do this all the time?” The blood of bulls and goats were an annual reminder of sins – such sacrifices never cleansed the conscience of the worshiper. Jesus Christ, however, is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Jesus has secured, once and for all, our eternal redemption through his own blood.

The death of Christ, Holy Hill, Hubertus, Wisconsin

Dr. Samuel Weinstein is the chief pediatric cardiac surgeon for a children’s hospital in the New York City. He once traveled to El Salvador to provide life-saving operations for less-fortunate children. Dr. Weinstein and his team operated on an eight year old boy. Twelve hours into the surgery, the procedure took a deadly turn.  

Dr. Weinstein said, “The surgery had been going well, but he was bleeding a lot and there were not many medicines we would use to stop the bleeding. After a while, they said they couldn’t give him blood because they were running out and he had a rare type.” The boy’s blood type was B-negative, which is present in only two percent of the population.

The only other person in the room with a blood type of B-negative was Dr. Weinstein. Immediately knowing what he had to do, he stepped down from the operating table. As his colleagues continued their work, Dr. Weinstein set aside his scalpel, took off his gloves, and began washing his hands and forearm. Then, in the corner of an unfamiliar operating room, the prestigious doctor from one of the most advanced hospitals in the world sat down to give away his own blood. 

When he had given his pint, Dr. Weinstein drank some bottled water and ate a Pop-Tart. Then—twenty minutes after stepping away from the table—he rejoined his colleagues. After watching his own blood circulating into the boy’s small veins, Dr. Weinstein completed the operation that saved the boy’s heart—and his life.

It is the blood of Jesus Christ which saves us from sin, death, and hell. Our condition is so dire that we can do nothing other than let Jesus deliver us. By faith, we trust Jesus to secure a new life for us free from guilt and shame.

Christ cleanses our consciences.

For some, the greatest prison is not tangible or physical – it is the prison of conscience bound and wracked by guilt and shame. Yet, Jesus has taken care of the problem of a guilty conscience once for all through his blood. Forgiveness comes through Jesus. Christ cleanses us from the inside-out and frees us from being slaves to our guilt.

In 1811, the U.S. government began collecting and storing letters like the following note dated from February 6, 1974: “I am sending ten dollars for blankets I stole while in World War II. My mind could not rest. Sorry I’m late.” It was signed by an ex-GI. And there was this postscript: “I want to be ready to meet with God.”  The U.S. government not only collects and stores these letters, but the Treasury Department established a fund and labeled it the “Conscience Fund.” Since its inception, the fund has grown to almost seven million dollars.

A clear conscience is worth a lot. If we try and impose penance upon ourselves, how do we know when it’s enough? In Christ, we are not just outwardly clean, but inwardly clean because of his finished work on the cross. 

Accepting this reality, through God’s eternal Spirit, helps us experience forgiveness and cleansing. The Holy Spirit takes the redemptive events of Jesus and applies them to our consciences so that we are assured of forgiveness.

Christ sanctifies our service.

In the Old Testament sacrificial system, the high priest entered the temple/tabernacle to offer animal sacrifices. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) the priest entered the Most Holy Place. He slaughtered a heifer, took some blood, and sprinkled it on the altar. 

The priest had bells on his ankles when performing this ritual, along with a rope tied to one ankle. In case the judgment of God broke out on the priest and he was killed, then the other priests could reel him out of the Most Holy Place without entering themselves and being killed, as well.

There were several rituals to perform to access God. And, even then, the sprinkling of blood only outwardly took care of cleansing the people. But when Jesus offered himself once for all, the curtain separating the Most Holy Place from the people was torn from top to bottom. The way has been opened for complete purification, inside and out, a cleansing of the guilty conscience so that we might now serve the living God with freedom and confidence.

Since Christ has obtained redemption for us by his blood, cleansed our consciences, and sanctified our service, here’s how we can live into his finished work:

  • Confess and forsake known sin.

Those who hide their sins won’t succeed [shame] but those who confess and give them up will receive mercy. (Proverbs 28:13, CEB)

If we confess our sins, God will forgive us. We can trust God to do this. He always does what is right. He will make us clean from all the wrong things we have done. (1 John 1:9, ERV)

  • Ask forgiveness and be reconciled to anyone you have wronged. 

Jesus said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and remember there that another believer has something against you, leave your gift at the altar. First go away and make peace with that person. Then come back and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24, GW)

  • Make restitution to those you have wronged. 

If any of you commit a crime against someone, you have sinned against me [God]. You must confess your guilt and pay the victim in full for whatever damage has been done, plus a fine of twenty percent. (Numbers 5:6-7, CEV)

  • Don’t procrastinate in clearing your wounded conscience.

Paul said he did his best to keep his conscience clear before God and others (Acts 24:16). Some people put off dealing with their guilt, believing their conscience will clear itself in time – but it will not. Procrastination only allows the guilt feelings to fester. Unchecked guilt eventually turns to shame. Today is the day to deal with guilt.

God forgives, not because of the quality of our prayers, but on the basis of Christ’s blood. We can now take advantage of our wonderful situation of freedom to serve the church and the world because God is bigger than a guilty conscience.

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