How much more, then, will the blood of Christ… cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
I Did It! I Did It! I Did It!
Every now and then I find myself with friends who swap parochial school horror stories. They begin with a line like “Sister Mary Theresa was so strict…” and escalate into “Can You Top This?” Somewhere in the process, they say, “Tim, you probably have no idea what we’re talking about.” That's my cue to tell them about Miss Johns, my first and second grade teacher at Chicago Christian Academy, a tiny school I attended prior to entering public school. Miss Johns wasn’t a nun, but she came as close as a lay teacher could get.
One day after recess, the janitor reported one of her boys flushed wads of tissue down the toilet. Miss Johns demanded the culprit identify himself. When none stepped forward, she said, “If you did this, you must confess your sin. The Bible says, ‘The soul that sinneth, it shall die.’” Wheels began turning in every boy’s mind: Maybe I did it and don’t know it. She modified her threat. “If don’t admit it, you’re lying. You know what happens to liars? ‘All liars shall have their place in the lake of fire that never goes out!’” If we committed the crime or not, just in case, all hands flew into the air. “I did it!” “I did it!” “I did it!” Miss Johns lined us up for paddling, explaining she had to swat all of us to be sure the guilty one got punished. When she came to me, one of the girls volunteered, “Miss Johns, Timothy didn’t go to the bathroom.” In my panic about going to Hell, that fact completely escaped me. The teacher spun me around and asked if this was true. I nodded. “Saying you did it isn’t true, is it, Timothy?” No. “What’s the word for people who don’t tell the truth?” They’re liars. “And what happens to liars?” They go to Hell, I said. So I got spanked for lying, too.
Clean Through and Through
We all stumble into situations where assuming guilt for something we couldn’t possibly have done exerts pressure on our consciences—just in case. Perhaps if we’d done this, that wouldn’t have happened. Perhaps we’re unknowingly wrong. Perhaps we mean to do harm and pretend we don’t. Such thoughts paralyze us with fear and disable us from responding honestly to situations. They predispose us to guilt rather than confidence. Worst of all, taking blame for things beyond our control or responsibility results in self-deception. And—God bless Miss Johns—that’s really wrong. False admission of guilt may spring from honest motives. But it’s still false, a lie we tell others and ourselves. In Hebrews 9, we find an amazing message about how and why Christ frees us from guilt.
The chapter offers a revealing contrast between Judaism’s animal offerings and Christ’s sacrifice. Its chief point comes down to vastly different results each achieves. Verse 9 says, “The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.” Animal sacrifices focused on making us outwardly acceptable to God as a means to reach Him in worship. But, according to verse 10, the blood of Christ surpasses appearances, cleansing “our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”
Because many faith traditions leverage guilt as a control mechanism, it takes great effort to grasp the concept of Christ’s blood as a conscience cleanser. Too often we’re taught to feel guilty for Jesus’s crucifixion and told to apologize over and over for His death. To be sure, our sinfulness necessitated His sacrifice. Yet once we claim redemption through His blood, Hebrews says we’re clean through and through—inside and out. It’s a mistake to believe Jesus’s death burdens us with guilt. He shed His blood to cleanse our consciences so we’re free to serve, rather than merely worship, God. A clean conscience makes for a fearless Christian. Absence of guilt becomes presence of grace. Purity of heart purifies intentions. Outward appearances reflect inner realities. Our love for God and others flows without reservation. Worship and service become all of a piece.
Cancel the Trip
In John 3.16, Jesus defines His role as our conduit for faith: “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” He didn’t die so we could travel roads of guilt and shame. Hebrews refers to such guilt trips as “acts that lead to death.” Christ died to remove the weight of guilt completely and lift us to new life here and unending life to come. In Acts 24.15-16, Paul says, “I have the same hope in God… that there will be resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.” Maintaining a clear conscience sustains our hope in God. But it’s also imperative we keep our consciences clean from the pollution of false guilt.
Those who question our faith in Christ steer us toward guilt. Many do so out of genuine love and concern. When anyone uses guilt to force us down their path of faith, we cancel the trip. True believers don’t focus on external appearances. They look to Calvary. The cleansing power of Christ’s blood transcends surface spot removal; it permeates our minds, dissolving stains of guilt and doubt. His death bought much more than conformity to acceptable standards. It purchased guilt-free consciences so we can go beyond reaching God to serving Him.
Too many of us are guilty of accepting false guilt. Christ’s blood is a conscience cleanser that frees us to serve God and others guilt-free.
(Tomorrow: Let’s Agree)
With total praise and thanksgiving to God, I'm amazed and humbled to report "Straight-Friendly" received its 10,000th visitor at 6:59 CDT today. When this journey began early last summer, I never imagined it would reach this point. God is so good to us. And I'm so grateful to each of you who've played such a vital role in helping S-F cross this threshold. May God reward each of you for your kindness and encouragement. May we continue to hold one another up in faith and love.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Blessings of joy and peace to you all!