Sunday, August 20, 2023

What to Do With a Guilty Conscience

 By Alistair Begg

David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. And afterward David’s heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed” … As soon as David had finished speaking … to Saul, Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. He said to David, “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil.”

1 Samuel 24:4-6, 1 Samuel 24:16-17

There is a sense in which the story told in part in these verses can be viewed in terms of conscience—a sensitive conscience, as found in David, and a hardened, seared conscience, as found in Saul.

David knew that although the Spirit of God had departed from Saul, Saul was still the Lord’s anointed king, and the anointed of the Lord should never be cursed or killed (Exodus 22:28). Because his conscience was sensitive to God and His law, he was immediately burdened by what he’d done in cutting Saul’s robe—even if he could have done much worse. So David repented of his sin before his men and prevented them from attacking Saul (1 Samuel 24:6-7).

After David spoke to Saul openly about his withheld vengeance (1 Samuel 24:8-15), Saul was moved to tears by his kindness. But Saul did not seize this opportunity for reconciliation. As genuine as his tears may have been in the moment, his response was ultimately superficial and short-lived, the result of a hardened and blackened heart. We know this because he continued to hunt David.

The Bible says the conscience is a basic building block of our humanity. The law of God is written into the human heart, whether we have heard His commandments or not (Romans 2:14-15). When we ignore God’s law to follow our own way, we experience guilt and shame. In that moment, we are faced with a choice: Will we seek forgiveness and reconciliation? Or will we allow our conscience to be further hardened by pursuing our selfish desires?

A guilty conscience is a heavy burden, but it can also be a gift. Walter J. Chantry writes, “Conscience is a friend to hurry you into the arms of the only Saviour from the broken law and its curse.” If you are experiencing the burden of a guilty conscience, do not mistake momentary sorrow for real repentance. Turn to God in repentance, turning from your sin and in His strength resolving to change. That is the way to be forgiven. For if a guilty conscience is the gift that drives you to God, a cleansed conscience is the gift that you will receive from Him.

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