The Response of a Guilty Conscience

Do you hear that voice in your head?


Intro:  Read Ezra 9:1-6 – Ezra’s assessment of the spiritual condition of Israel was accurate. Notice the last phrase of verse 6 – .  for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown up to the heavens. They were guilty before God. The word translated guilt here is interesting in its other translations. The KJV translates it trespass here, and almost everywhere else it is used to depict the sin itself, as a trespass – that which required a sacrifice. What is described in Ezra 9 and other places in scripture is the cry of a guilty conscience. The emotional response to things as they actually are before God.  What is the purpose of guilt and guilt feelings?


I. Guilt is not pleasant: If you have experienced it you know. It can have physical and emotional symptoms. It is said to be a leading cause of unhappiness, misery and even suicide. Is it therefore something that is inherently bad for us, and should it be avoided at all costs?

A. Consider the words of the popular evangelist Robert Schuller,  In an interview found in the March 18,1985 issue of Time magazine, he said: “I don’t think anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive of human personality and hence, counterproductive for the evan­gelism enterprise than the often crude, uncouth, and unchristian strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition.”

B.  some years back the Secretary’s Task Force on Youth Suicide concluded that fundamentailist religion (that you and me) were responsible for the dramtic increase in suicide deaths among young homosexuals because we created “irresolvable internal conflicts” (feelings of guilt) in those who adhere to their faith, but do not believe they can change their behavior. The report recommended that churches should begin to.. “reassess homosexuality in a positive context to avoid risking guilt feelings among homosexuals.”

C.  What is suggested here portrays the modern solution to unpleasant guilt feelings that plague many people. If you “reassess” the trespass and put it in a “more positive context”, it will lessen the guilt feeling among those who continue to commit the act. The object is to treat the feeling rather than the source of the feeling. Without an objective basis on which to judge the validity of behavior, the feelings is all that we have left.  Is this the solution to guilt feelings?


II. Guilt & God’s Objective Law: Right or Wrong

A.   We are guilty before God because our sin (trespass) is real, not imagined. The term guilt, or guilty is almost absent from the N.T., yet the condition is often described. If sin is real then guilt is real – no matter how we might feel about it.

1.  How do you plead – guilty or not guilty? Would the judge dismiss the charges & punishment just because you pled not guilty? John says that if I say I have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)

2.  Guilt is defined by the lawRom 7:7  What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” The law awoke Paul’s consciousness to the sinful behavior of covetousness, and thus defined what he should feel guilty about.

3.  What is aberrant – the guilt feelings or the unlawful behavior?  The law itself was not bad, nor were the feelings of guilt that might occur if he coveted. What was aberrant was his behavior.


III.  Guilt & Personal Responsibility – God expects me to be personally responsible for my behavior and that may be defined in how I react to guilt feelings. God teaches this lesson early on –


A. Genesis 4:4-8 – Cain was visibly upset. He had feelings that were not pleasant as a result of not being accepted by His God – he was angry and his conscience was bothering him.

  • Vs. 5-7 – and Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. 6 So the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”

1.  God’s counsel was not directed toward his feelings but his conduct.. If you do well.. But Cain let his emotions rule the day, and it became obvious that he felt no responsibility (vs. 9 – am I my brother’s keeper)

B.  God’s solution to the guilty conscience is responsible behavior. The biblical term for this is repentance.

1.  Return to Ezra’ predicament in Ezra 9. He has come to recognize that Israel is guilty before God of taking foreign wives in violation of God’s law through Moses. He also recognizes that God has not completely consumed them, but left them a remnant to return to Jerusalem. He has been merciful. Ezra 9:8-9  “And now for a little while grace has been shown from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and give us a measure of revival in our bondage.9″For we were slaves. Yet our God did not forsake us in our bondage; but He extended mercy to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to revive us, to repair the house of our God, to rebuild its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem. But the mercy of God would be ineffective of they did not respond properly to their guilt.

2.  A man named Shechaniah brings the answer: Ezra 10:1-2. “Now while Ezra was praying, and while he was confessing, weeping, and bowing down before the house of God, a very large assembly of men, women, and children gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept very bitterly. 2 And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, spoke up and said to Ezra, “We have trespassed against our God, and have taken pagan wives from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope in Israel in spite of this.” What was the hope that God had offered toIsrael? What did God expect at this point? They were sorry (guilty) for what they had done. Was that enough?

3.    Ezra 10:3-4“Now therefore, let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and those who have been born to them, according to the advice of my master and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. 4 “Arise, for this matter is your responsibility. We also are with you. Be of good courage, and do it.”

C.  Paul told the Corinthians that the regret of their guilty conscience was designed to lead them to true repentance. 2 Cor 7:9-10  Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing 10  For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.”

D.  The Hebrew writer spoke of God’s discipline that brings discomfort but ultimately is designed to produce the peaceable fruit of righteousness.. Heb 12:11  Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”


Conclusion: Do you have a guilty conscience? Do you feel the discomfort of your sin? That is good. God wants you to recognize your sin. But unless you react properly to the consciousness of your sin, all you will ever have is that unpleasant feeling. Unless you resist so long that the feeling goes away and your conscious becomes seared or insensitive to God’s word. Then there is no hope.

The only answer to a guilty conscience is the blood of Christ.

  • Heb 9:13-14  “For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, 14 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?

But how does one access that blood?


Listen to the voice of one more guilty conscience in the Bible..

1)  Acts 2:37 –  “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

2)  Peter’s answer – Acts 2:38-39  “Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

Later this same Peter wrote: 1 Pet 3:21-22  “There is also an antitype which now saves us– baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22  who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.

  • As we noticed this morning the best rendering of “answer” here is appeal or asking. In baptism the repentant heart is seeking for the good conscience that comes through forgiveness. This seeking is the natural response of a conscience educated through the words of the spirit in the preaching of the gospel – repent and be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38) He that believes and is baptized will be saved (Mk 16:16)


  • How will your guilty conscience respond to the call of repentance & baptism?
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