The Goal of a Clear Conscience
The pursuit of being right with others, at least as far as it depends on us, is what the Bible calls the pursuit of a “clear conscience.” Paul mentioned it frequently, and throughout the Scriptures we see examples of those who had to make amends for their sins, offer restitution for their wrongdoing, or publicly confess something.
Here’s the definition I use when teaching about the need for a clear conscience: The ability to say there’s no one alive that I have knowingly wronged, offended, or hurt in any way, that I have not gone back to and attempted to make things right with God and with them. Here is a simple process that I have found helpful and revealing.
CONFESS YOUR SIN TO GOD AND REPENT
A process like this always starts with God, since every sin is ultimately against him, and since he knows the depths of our hearts even better than we do. The psalmist prayed in Psalm 139: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (vv. 23-24).
SEEK FORGIVENESS FROM THOSE YOU HAVE WRONGED
It’s important that this comes out as, “Here is how I sinned against you; will you forgive me?” instead of the less-specific, “I’m sorry if I hurt you.”
WHERE NECESSARY, MAKE RESTITUTION FOR ANY DAMAGE YOU HAVE CAUSED
All of this is part of the process. It really isn’t appropriate to ask someone to forgive a debt that I could readily pay. Restitution is paying back, in part or in full, the debt that is owed – or the damage that is done. For example, if I have slandered you or gossiped about you, of course I need to come to you first. But I may also need to go to those other individuals and clear up the record – admitting humbly that I have entangled them in my sin. I would need to seek their forgiveness as well.
Remember when Zacchaeus met Jesus? He confessed him as Lord. “Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it four-fold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house’” (Luke 19:5-9).
WHERE POSSIBLE, SEEK TO RESTORE THE RELATIONSHIP
Depending on the nature of the hurt, the time that has elapsed, the damage that has been caused, or the willingness of the other party to forgive, it may not be possible to reach a point of full relationship restoration. But as Romans 12:18 explains, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
GO FORWARD WITH A SENSE OF URGENCY
Jesus suggested that before we even bother giving a gift to God, or serving him somehow, we should make past wrongs right (Matthew 5:23-24). We should go and clear our conscience, and then come to offer whatever it is we wish to offer. Why the urgency?
An unclear conscience is hindering your relationship with God
An unclear conscience means you may have become a stumbling block to another person
The longer you wait to clear your conscience, the harder it will be to finally do the right thing
This is a high priority in the eyes of God
I don’t pretend that the process of gaining and maintaining a clear conscience will be easy – for you or for anyone else. Likely, it will require humility, honesty, inconvenience, and perhaps even sacrifice. But freedom is well worth the work.