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The Power Of A Clear Conscience

Living In The Shadows

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | September 7, 2014

Selected highlights from this sermon

The problems of shame, hiding, and blaming all began back in the Garden of Eden. When the forbidden fruit was eaten, the consciences of Adam and Eve were awakened and sin entered their lives—and the lives of every human ever since.

God went looking for Adam and Eve, just as He looks for us today. Though we may have a troubled conscience, God, through His grace and through the shed blood of His Son, offers to clear our consciences and give us joy.

The title of this series of messages is entitled The Power of a Clear Conscience, and this first message is entitled Living in the Shadows, but it could also be entitled Out of the Shadows.

It was Shakespeare in Hamlet who said that conscience makes us cowards. It makes cowards of us all, and isn’t that true? It doesn’t care what your background is, it doesn’t matter what religion you were brought up in, what tradition, whether an atheistic home or an otherwise religious home. I can tell you that you have at times violated your conscience, which sits in judgment of all of our actions and says, “Aha! You have violated what you know to be the truth.” We can be assured of that.

Now the word conscience comes from two words – con, which means “with,” and then science, which means “knowledge.” It is knowledge along with us. It is knowledge that we carry with us, and today we’re going to look at the origin of conscience, and its implications.

Now there are a couple of things that you should know about conscience. First of all, it is universal. Everyone has a conscience. In Romans 2 the Apostle Paul says that the pagans who do not have the law are going to be judged by their conscience, which is either going to accuse them or excuse them because the conscience is the rudimentary law of God written on every human heart.

Now, of course, conscience can also be determined. It can be (what shall we say?) conditioned. The Apostle Paul talks about some Christians who have conscience that they can’t do something, and other Christians who may have a conscience that they can. And conditioning is part of the conscience. For example, if you were brought up in Islam, and then converted to Christianity, you might feel some guilt for not attending prayers in a mosque. At least at some point your conscience might trouble you.

I was brought up in a very strict Christian home where we were not allowed to go to movies at all. Now, of course, movies were just in their infancy when I was young and growing up. But I’ll never forget the first time I ever was in a theater to see the Sound of Music. It was many years ago. And that dates me a little bit, doesn’t it? I expected the theater to kind of collapse on me. I expected the judgment of God. Well, judgment didn’t come, and since that time Rebecca and I do go to movies I would think maybe once a year, but the point is that conscience can to some extent be conditioned.

Now I need to remind you that conscience has tremendous power. It can destroy you. It can haunt you. It can be there day and night. The problem is that conscience to begin with does not trouble you before you do an action. It remains silent. But after you have done it, especially in the night, there it is haunting you, reminding you. It puts you to bed at night and it wakens you in the morning.

I know of a man whom I have become friends with, a man of God, whose mother was put in a psych ward of a hospital when he was growing up. She was frequently in a psych ward. It turned out that when he was 22 she confessed to him that the man whom he thought was his father was not his father at all. His father was actually a doctor in the community with whom she had had an affair. Now you can imagine what this did to this young man. There were whole questions of identity. And by the way, today he is mightily used of the Lord and holds ministries of revival in different churches, proof of the fact today, my friend, that your origin does not hinder you for who you are if you take advantage of the marvelous incredible grace of God. Aren’t you glad for that? (applause) But after his mother confessed, she didn’t have to go to the psych ward anymore.

I remember reading about a doctor who said, “I could dismiss half of my patients if I could just look them in the eye and give them the assurance that they are forgiven.” Today we’re going to talk about this, and this is what this series of messages will be about. There is tremendous power.

There is a man who is a wonderful Christian, with a very lovely wife, and lovely children. He is asked to be an elder in his church. This is not Moody Church. This is in a church in a different state. And he always said no. They said, “Why? You are gifted. You know the Bible.” The truth is that he confessed to his pastor that when he was in college he had an affair with a young woman and there’s a little boy growing up in Dallas who is his. His wife doesn’t know it. His children don’t know it, and he is always haunted by the fact of what he did in the past. He is stuck whenever he wants to make progress in the Christian life.

Later on in this series of messages we’re going to talk about things like that. We’re going to talk about reconciliation. What are the principles by which we can be reconciled, because my goal is that all of us will have a clear conscience without offense before God and before man? Could you imagine what Moody Church would be like if that were true, if we could look everyone in the eye, knowing that we have done all we possibly can to make things right? This series of messages is going to deal with the question even of whether or not Lady Macbeth had to commit suicide because of all the guilt that she had. Young people today are committing suicide, and in the future in these messages we will tell them where to park their guilt and why it’s not necessary.

We’re going to deal with impossible people. There are those who harden their conscience. Some of them live with you. Some people here today have married impossible people. How do you live with an impossible person who does evil and has no twinge of guilt?

Well, all of that by way of introduction, and by the way, the end result is going to be joy and gladness. I was reading in the book of Acts the other day where it says the early church had joy and gladness. You cannot have joy unless your conscience is free. You cannot believe God for the things you want to believe Him for unless your conscience is free. The Bible says, “If our hearts condemn us not then we have confidence toward God.” If you are here today with a condemning heart, you can believe, but not with a lot of confidence toward God.

I want Moody Church to be a safe place. That’s why we have various communities and various opportunities where you can share your need, where you can share your heart and where you can even share your past, and know that you will not be shamed. You are going to be helped because the truth is, my friend, as someone has said, we are either in denial or we are in recovery. All of us have issues with the conscience.

Well, that’s the introduction. Take your Bibles and turn to where the conscience began, namely Genesis 3. You know, of course, the story, that Adam and Eve are here in the Garden, and they have a perfect environment. Can you imagine that they have all of the beauty that they want? They have all of the food that they want. They have fellowship with God who comes walking with them in the cool of the day.

Eve had no insecurities. She didn’t have to compete with the supermodels that are on newsstands, or as we check out our groceries at the checkout counter. She didn’t have to lie awake at night wondering whether or not she had really married the right man. She didn’t have those problems, and yet for all of that, she and her husband decided to sin, as you well know.

And we’re going to go right to the decision that they made. In chapter 3 the serpent comes to them. He gets them to doubt God’s Word, and they have this dialogue. And I assume that you know about the dialogue. “But the serpent said to the woman (in chapter 3, verses 4-5), ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it (that is, the forbidden fruit) your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” The implication is that you are going to know good and evil and you’re going to make your own decisions as to what is good and what is evil because you are going to take the place of God.

What he said to Eve was, “Feel, and don’t think. Don’t you see that the fruit is beautiful?” And sin always comes to us looking very beautiful. And so what she did was she partook of the tree, and her husband was there, standing in the Garden with her, and he let her do it. I have often thought that the first sin might not have been Eve actually eating the fruit of the tree. It might have been Adam abdicating his responsibility as her husband, to watch her do it and participate with her in her act of disobedience.

Well, you know the rest of the story. Suddenly they experienced what we could call the unexpected, the unplanned response of circumstances, and the unintended consequences. All of that happened, and of course, we know that they could not predict what those circumstances would be. When God said, “Don’t eat of the fruit of the tree, for in the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die,” they had no experience of death, so they said to themselves, “We can handle the consequences. It won’t be that bad. And furthermore, if we don’t eat of the fruit of the tree we’re always going to wonder what it would have been like if we had, and we can’t live with that curiosity. So what we’re going to do is to make sure that we eat of the fruit of the tree.”

They did not know that they were beginning a series of dominoes. They could have never predicted that someday they would have a son by the name of Cain who would kill his brother, Abel. And all of this evil would now go into the human race. All of the evil would flow throughout history. They had no way to predict that. And my friend, today you and I have no idea. We cannot predict the consequences of our disobedience either. Sometimes those consequences are like a basketball in an ocean. You push them down over here and you think, “At last, I’m rid of them,” and then they pop up somewhere else, and you still have to deal with them because all consequences of sin are unintended, but oftentimes ongoing.

Well, now let us look at exactly what happens here in this context. Shame begins. Genesis 2 ended in the last part of verse 25 with, “They were naked and not ashamed.” Verse 8 now says, “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said (Notice that man has the responsibility) to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked?’” That’s a very good question. “How did you know that you were naked? Did I tell you that you were naked? Was there a little bird in the trees in the garden that shouted, ‘Hey, you’re naked, you’re naked?’ Who told you?” It was conscience. You can underline that phrase in your Bible. That’s where it all began.

And now suddenly shame is going to be huge in terms of the consequences of sin. That’s why the next message in this series is actually entitled It’s Not All Your Fault because, you see, some of you were brought up in a shame-based home. You were taught to lie for your parents. You know the shame not only of poverty, but also of alcoholism and addictions and brokenness and abuse, and that shame you carry. But that’s not your shame. What you need to do is to get rid of it and that will be the next sermon in this series. Shame is going to be huge. Hiding! Oh, this is where the compartmentalized life begins – right here.

Hiding! Here it all begins. In compartment A he is a Sunday school teacher. He is well thought of. He is respected in the community. In compartment B he is an abuser. He’s an alcoholic. He’s an addict.

One time some children of a rather prominent Christian who was highly respected came to me and they said, “We just want you to know that even though our dad is great in the community, he’s an alcoholic. There isn’t a night that he does not have to drink. Every single night! What do we do that he’s able to hide it?” And that’s why you have men studying computers to try to find out how they can erase everything from their hard drive because, you see, it has to be hidden above all things, the shame and the sense of inadequacy, but over here they are well-respected.

And all of us have a private life. I wouldn’t want you to know all of the thoughts that I had this past week. Many of you listen to James Vernon McGee on the radio. He’s been dead for many years but he’s still speaking, and having a great ministry. But from this platform at Founder’s Week, I recall he said this. I almost was going to impersonate him in his gravelly voice but I don’t know if I’m going to do that or not. But he said this. He said, “If you knew my heart, the way I know my heart, you wouldn’t listen to me.” And then he paused and said, “Now before you run to the exits, if I knew your heart the way you know your heart, I wouldn’t even be talking to you.” (laughter)

Listen, the Fall has affected all of us. And so what happens now is we have the compartmentalization of our lives because there is that which we want to hide, and then what you have is blaming. Do you remember God said, “Adam, why did you eat?” And what did he say? The first person to blame is God. He said, “Lord, this woman, this weak-willed woman, whom You gave me, she took of the tree, and what’s a guy supposed to do? He’s got to eat. I mean his wife is eating! If You had given me a better wife this wouldn’t have happened. She’s to blame.”

Now you’ve heard me say this from the pulpit a number of times, but I need to say it again, and that is that Adam blamed his wife even though there wasn’t a chance in the world that he had married the wrong one. (laughter) Do you notice that? And then, of course, God comes to the woman and says, “Why did you eat?” And she says, “Well, the serpent beguiled me.” The man blamed the woman. The woman blamed the serpent. And the serpent didn’t have a leg to stand on. (laughter) And the whole history of the human race is being written. As soon as sin is exposed, it’s his fault, it’s her fault, it’s the kid’s fault and it’s the employer’s fault. It’s never my fault. People are going to defend themselves right to the last farthing. Camus, the secular philosopher, said, “Each of us insists on being innocent at all costs, even if he has to accuse the whole human race and heaven itself.” We’ll defend ourselves. We’ll dig in our heels. If we need to lie, we’ll lie. If we can’t lie, we’ll tweak. We’ll blame because we have to hide ourselves from God, from others and even from ourselves. The problem is the conscience does not forget.

Well, God takes the initiative. Adam and Eve probably thought this: “You know what we’ll do? We’ll eat of the fruit of the tree, and if it doesn’t work out very well, if it turns out bad, we can just stop eating from the fruit of that tree, and we will go back to the good trees in the Garden. You know, we’ll handle those consequences.” Well, one of the things that God did at the end of the chapter (you can read it there in verse 24) is He drove out the man and at the east of the Garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the Tree of Life. He did not want them to eat now of the fruit of that tree or forever they would have been sinners. Forever they would have lived in their earthly body. So God says, “You can’t go back to Eden.”

You can’t go back to innocence, and my friend, today you can’t go back. You cannot get your virginity back. You’ve had an abortion. You cannot have the child back. You can’t go back to the beginning. You can’t get your reputation back in certain circumstances. You can’t redo your parenting so that your kids turn out better. You can’t pray like the teenager did, “Oh God, I pray that this accident might not have happened.” The past is past, and you can’t go back. God says, “I’m going to drive you out.”

Now the question is this: What is the answer to this? What is the conclusion to this? God says, “I come looking for you.” Do you notice this? Adam and Eve weren’t in the Garden saying, “Oh, I wonder where we can find God. Let’s run to see if we can find Him.” God comes looking for them, and the Bible says that there is no one who seeks after God. No, not one! You say, “Well, I sought after God.” Yes, you did. It’s because God took the initiative, and God began a search, and He found you, and He found me in our own garden. God came looking for us. “You have not chosen Me. I have chosen you,” said Jesus. (applause)

And so what we find is God comes looking for them. And what was their condition when He came looking for them? Verse 7 says, “Then the eyes of both were opened.” What Satan said was partially true. They now experienced evil, and their eyes were opened and they knew they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And ever since that time, man is looking for fig leaves, fig leaves that drive people to success, fig leaves that say, “Nobody is ever going to see me as inadequate.” It’s not just that I’m going to dress nicely. I’m going to be a success in my business. I’m going to trample on anybody that I need to trample on to get my way because I want to ascend the ladder. I want people to look at me and to see how significant I am. And I will pay any price. I will destroy my family. I’ll do whatever I need to do, but I need to look good, and I need to personally be satisfied because I need these fig leaves to cover my own sin and my own inadequacy.

Search for fig leaves! There are even those who say that our worship should be for ourselves, not for God. The desire to say, “I’m number one! Just worship me and we’ll get along well, but in the process I’m going to do all that I can to discredit you so that I look better than you do.”

Fig leaves! And so the whole process of human nature goes on. And then because of the hollowness of the fig leaves, and the emptiness, they don’t know where to turn, so it’s alcoholism and drugs, and for many people suicide because all of the fig leaves don’t work. Well, that’s man’s answer to his shame and to his nakedness.

God has His answer. Notice in verse 21 it says, “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” Wow! So, where did God get the garments of skin? Well, obviously God killed animals. He had created some, and he killed some. What God is saying right at the beginning is this: “There is no cheap covering for sin.” You can’t cover your sin, no matter how well it is hidden. Only God can do that, and He does it through the sacrifice ultimately of Jesus Christ, who sheds His blood as a ransom for sin. That is going to be God’s answer to sin, and it’s not cheap. It cost Him the death of His Son, and the whole drama of redemption. What that means now is that sin can be covered. The mess cannot be cleaned up oftentimes. The consequences are going to be there.

I remember, as a boy, when we spilled some oil on a concrete floor out on the farm. You know, we couldn’t really clean it up. We tried to and the patch was still there, but if you wanted to do something on that concrete floor you just put a tarp over it. You covered it. But God’s covering is going to do more than just simply throw a covering over it and pretend it never happened. God is now going to work more deeply in the human heart so that it is not just that we are legally forgiven. But it is because of the fact that our hearts are actually cleansed. And we’re going to talk about that in this series of messages because God is going to purge the conscience, the Bible says, so that you not only are forgiven, but you know the forgiveness so that you can look into God’s face and the face of everyone else with joy and openness and freedom because your conscience has been made clear.

So what God says here is that eventually (as we work through this series) the accusations will stop. You’ll be able to sleep at night. Oh yes, there may be reconciliation issues most assuredly, but God is going to lead us so that we are actually at peace with Him, and with others.

Now, when Adam and Eve received God’s covering, did that mean that everything would go well from that time on? No, I can imagine that they had a huge argument that evening, and they’re still arguing over whose fault it is.

“Well, you did it first.”

“Yeah, but you were standing there.”

“Okay, sure I was standing there, but who actually took the first bite? And how is this going to be resolved. And look at the mess.”

“Now don’t look at me. Look at yourself, Adam. Didn’t God say that you are to be the head of my home? You know, He’s going to hold you responsible?” (And God does hold Adam responsible.)

“So what were you doing in the Garden? How come you were standing beside me? Why didn’t you say something?”

Can’t you just imagine it, because the covering of God meant that they could now have fellowship with God again? But all of the human issues that relate to conscience were still boiling within their home. And then eventually “they raised Cain.” And what an experience that was. And then,

“Oh, Adam, look at what ‘your’ son did today.”

“Eve, you’re the one that bore him. You spent more time raising him than I did. I was out in the field.”

Now look at what happened. Cain kills Abel and the whole history of the human race falls apart as evil has its way. And you and I are caught in that huge vortex of evil. Born with a sin nature! Coming into this world under condemnation! Struggling with conscience issues! Struggling with integrity! But the good news is that Jesus came to rectify the mess and to give us hope.

And the big issue today is not the greatness of your sin. You can be here today and have committed the biggest sin imaginable. Someday I’ll tell you about a book I read this summer where several of Hitler’s cronies came to saving faith in Jesus Christ as a result of the witness of Chaplain Gerecke. Would that be okay with you when you get to heaven and find out that some of Hitler’s men who did such atrocities are in heaven? Or would you say, “What are these guys doing here?” And they might come up to you and shake your hand and say, “Could you tell me something? What are you doing here?” (laughter) Grace is now going to be offered to a fallen human race.

At every message that I preach in this series I am going to give you something to memorize. I want you to know by next week Psalm 32:1 and 2. It was actually read to us this morning and I memorized it in the King James Version where it has all the “him’s” and the “he’s,” but of course, that refers also to women and to children. That’s the way it was in the Old Testament. And I’m going to quote those verses to you because they were written by a man who committed murder and adultery. He couldn’t clean up the mess, but God restored the joy of his salvation because he dealt with his conscience.

The words are:
“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile (deceit).” I want you to know that despite his terrible, terrible sin, and the consequences, David ended with a clear conscience, and so can you, and so can I.

Jesus went into the Upper Room and He said to the disciples before His death, “Take and eat. This is My body. This is the cup that I give you, symbolizing My blood which is going to be shed for sinners, because I’m going to cover your sin. I am going to rejuvenate you so that you can have a clear conscience, and you can rejoice regardless of your past.” That’s the agenda for the next messages.

And now, if you’ve never received Christ as Savior, and you are here at The Moody Church, or you are listening online, by CD, by radio, or whatever, you can receive Christ right now because the teaching of Scripture is that there is nothing that the serpent could do to keep God from rescuing humanity and showing grace. Isn’t that wonderful? There’s nothing that the serpent could do. (applause) He had to stand by and watch God cover sin, and He can cover yours today. You pray with me.

Father, we ask in Jesus’ name, that You might use these messages to bring about transformation and hope to all. And we pray, Father, for those who have never received Christ as Savior. Draw them in. May Your grace draw them, as they realize that despite their past You can cover their sin, and they can know You. Thank You for the preciousness of the blood that does it.

If you’ve believed on Jesus even where you are listening now, you may do that now. Say, “Jesus, I accept Your offer of Grace.”

In His name we pray, Amen.

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