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The Power Of A Clear Conscience

Why Lady Macbeth Didn’t Have To Commit Suicide

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | September 28, 2014

Selected highlights from this sermon

Thousands suffer from guilt, shame, and depression. Sadly, many succumb and commit suicide. But there is hope. Freedom can be found through Jesus Christ.

Because of Christ’s work on the cross, our sins don’t have to haunt us—our past has been remedied. Though we may continue to encounter consequences from our mistakes, the atonement we receive through the blood of Christ is complete, final, and effective.

In all my years of preaching, this is the sermon with the longest title that I’ve ever given a message - Why Lady Macbeth Didn’t Have to Commit Suicide and Why You Don’t Have to Either. I think about 35,000 Americans every year choose to end it. Some of them are famous like Robin Williams. Most are unknown, but many of them live with depression that seems to be endless and hopeless.

A friend of mine tried to commit suicide. He took some pills. He was rushed to the hospital and I visited him there, and he said, “You’ll never understand the blackness, the darkness, the tunnel, the hopelessness.” I’m so glad that he didn’t pull it off because while I was there his little six-year old daughter came into the room and said, “Daddy, are you sick?” She didn’t know why Daddy was in the hospital. Thankfully he’s doing much better today, and this young woman still has her daddy.

So there’s depression, but then there’s also guilt. A chaplain asked a drug addict, “Why is it that you take drugs?” He said, “You should know the answer to that question. I feel so badly about what I’ve done, and I don’t have the nerve to blow my brains out so I die slowly a little at a time. I take drugs.”

Here in the Chicago area some time ago, Christian teenagers committed suicide. One of them left a note that said, “I’ve messed up too many times.” He did not have to commit suicide, as this message will show, which leads me to Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s famous play, Macbeth. These are her words and not mine. Remember she had been an accomplice in the murder of the king, and remember we’ve learned that our consciences do not work before we commit a sin. It’s afterwards that they plague us.

So listen. “Out, damned spot. Out I say. What need we fear when none can call our power to account? (She is saying, “We are in such a position of privilege nobody is going to get even with us. Why should we fear?”) Yet who would have thought the old man to have such blood in him? Will these hands never be clean? Here’s the smell of blood; still all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, what a sigh is there. The heart is sorely charged. All the oceans of the world would not wash the blood from my hand. Rather my hands would make all the oceans bloody.” So she wanders the hallway. There is no peace. Overwhelmed by a plagued conscience, she commits suicide.

Now wouldn’t it be wonderful if we heard a message, and I hope that this will be it under the good hands of God, where we learn that we don’t have to believe depression, because depression is full of lies? It tells us lies about ourselves, lies about our value as a person, and we don’t have to believe those feelings because they are lying to us. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know, when we really do mess up as Lady Macbeth did, that there is a place where we can park our guilt (so that we need not be plagued), and why we should be able to sleep at night?

Imagine a message in which we are brought into the presence of God, received, honored and welcomed with a past completely forgiven. Imagine what a hope that is, and that’s the purpose of this message today. But in order for us to get there, we are going to have to plow through some basic ground, and then when we get to the end of the message, I’m going to be giving you very important transforming truths that I believe are going to be a means of deliverance for hundreds of people who are here today, and even more who are listening by other means. I have that much confidence in the blood of Jesus Christ. I believe it will be transforming.

In the Old Testament you know that when you begin to read it, it is so difficult because everywhere there is blood. People want to read through the Bible in a year, and they begin with Genesis. And they say, “This is pretty interesting.” Exodus is manageable, but when you get into the tabernacle (and stuff), it’s a little much, but you hang in. And then comes Leviticus. These offerings! All this blood! You do this, and you have to bring this offering. You do this; you have to… until we say, “Enough already.” Let me say this about the book of Leviticus: Either study it in detail, in which case it will be a great blessing to you, or else speed-read it. Don’t get stopped there because it is hard for us to grasp.

What in the world is going on in the Old Testament? What God is doing is He is establishing a program by which people will be able to have fellowship with Him without Him contaminating Himself. And all of those various sacrifices had no permanent answer to sin, but thankfully God says, “In the meantime I’m going to use them to set sin aside so that we can have fellowship, but the final offering is yet to come.” It would be like being saved on credit. I mean, when you go into a store you can use your credit card, and you can get a benefit from whatever it is that you buy, but at the end of the day (at the end of the month hopefully) it’s then that the payment will be made. So all of this is pointing toward Jesus Christ.

Now in order for us to get a grasp on how much the blood of Christ means to God, and how He values it, let’s begin by reminding you about the Passover. God said to the Jews, “What I want you to do is to kill a lamb, and sprinkle the blood on the doorpost of your houses, because I am going to pass through the land of Egypt. All firstborns will be killed by the Angel of Death except those in families that have blood on their doors.” So all of the Jewish families put blood on their doors. They killed the lamb and they put blood on the door.

Now it’s not as if God looks as the corpuscles or whatever it is that makes up blood, and says, “That’s what’s important.” What’s important is the fact that the blood symbolizes that someone, and in this case an animal, has been killed as a substitute for the firstborn. And so God says, “When I pass over you (and that’s why it’s called the Passover), I will see the blood. I will see that some animal died in the place of the firstborn, and you won’t come under judgment.”

Now think for a moment. Imagine a Jewish family and they have a teenager that struggles with depression. He’s been depressed all the time. He doesn’t know how to relate. He gives his parents a hard time, and whether or not he’ll be exempt from judgment, will that matter? It’s irrelevant. God says, “When I see the blood I will pass over you.”

Now let’s suppose that that teenager was a very bad kid. In fact, let’s suppose that he was even worse than some of the Egyptian firstborns. Does that matter? It matters, and don’t misunderstand me here. It has implications, but as far as the judgment is concerned, God says, “I’m not looking at that right now. When I see the blood I will pass over you.” It is the blood that has value to God. So God says, “I’ll see the blood and I’ll spare your son,” and then throughout the Old Testament He says, “When I see the blood, I will spare your sin. Your sin will have had a substitute,” and that’s why you have all of these animals being sacrificed. It’s to point toward the ultimate substitute.

Now when you get to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, now suddenly we’re in a different era. And suddenly His blood and His life are spoken of as precious. You don’t find that said about the blood of lambs and a lot of other animals. No, no, no! But His is the precious blood of Christ, and God says that He uses the fact that this blood has special value. I mean very special value as a substitute and as our access to God!

Now all of that is by way of introduction. We’re in Hebrews 9. Thank you so much for bringing your Bibles. That is thanking some of you for something you haven’t done, but that God wants you to learn to do. (And I have my cell phone up here, but it’s not because I’m looking at anything. It’s to keep my pages down because sometimes the air conditioner blows my notes away. Alright?)

But notice Hebrews, chapter 9, and I’m going to begin at verse 12. It’s kind of in the middle of things, but “He (Jesus) entered once for all into the holy places, not by the means of the blood of goats and calves, but by means of His own blood (that’s the precious blood), thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God (here’s the phrase), purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

Always remember that the purpose of this series of messages (and I hope you’ve memorized the verse) is 1 Timothy 1:5. “The goal of our instruction (the aim of our instruction) is love that flows from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and a sincere faith.” We’re talking about a good conscience.

So what he’s saying here as far as its value to us is concerned – the blood of Christ – is that what it does is it cleanses us from dead works. Well, what’s a dead work? A work is a ritual that you go through that you think is going to incur the favor of God so that you are accepted by Him. That’s a dead work. For the folks to whom the book of Hebrews was written, it was going back to the Old Testament sacrifices. Some of them said, “I don’t know about this business of Jesus and the fact that He accomplished it all. We have to reoffer the sacrifices,” and for those people, they were dead works. Even in the Old Testament times in a sense these were dead works because there was no ultimate assurance that forgiveness had eternally been granted. They were in a state there of flux. Yes, they had fellowship with God, but where is the final sacrifice? Well, it’s Jesus – the final sacrifice.

Now what can a dead work be? Mass is a dead work because in the mass Jesus is reoffered again and again, and somehow the work of Jesus is never seen as totally, completely finished. Baptism can be a dead work. We baptize people here but not because we think this baptism is going to gain them some special access to God. Hear me now, and don’t misunderstand. Confession can be a dead work. Martin Luther confessed his sins up to six hours in a day until Staupitz, his confessor was so sick of it, he said, “The next time come with some big sins, not all these little smidgeons, these little peccadilloes. Let it be murder, or something like that.”

Luther was a better theologian than that though. He knew that that’s not the issue. The issue was not whether the sin was big or little. The issue was whether or not a holy God had acquitted his sin. So all those years he confessed his sins, was he saved? No, because it was a dead work. He did not understand the Gospel. People go to confession. “Well, I go to confession on Sunday.” Well, what if you commit sins on Tuesday and die on Wednesday. Then what happens?” It’s a dead work.

Good works can be a dead work. I am convinced that there are people today who do charitable things because it makes them feel better, and because they think that surely God is going to look down and say, “Oh boy, you have been so generous. I think I should accept you now.” People sometimes operate out of guilt for good works. I have a friend who said that whenever he came home and mowed the lawn without being asked, his mother used to say to him, “Well, what have you been up to now?” What atonement are you making?

Jesus comes and delivers us from all those dead works because of the full acceptance that we have in His presence. Now, just hang on to that thought, and your Bibles are now open to the next chapter – Hebrews 10. If you look at verse 11 it says (and here’s a contrast now between the priests of the Old Testament and Jesus in the New), “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. (Now notice this.) For by a single offering he has perfected for all time (forever) those who are being sanctified.” The work is totally done.

Now let’s look at the contrast:

Old Testament: many priests.
Jesus: one priest.
Old Testament: many sacrifices.
(That’s where the book of Leviticus comes in.)
Jesus: one sacrifice.
Jesus: one sacrifice for all time, perfecting forever!

You see, what Luther needed was an understanding that showed him that there was a work of God that was so sufficient that he could have the assurance that he belonged to God forever. And he never understood that until he was studying the book of Romans where that idea also is found. So the point is simply that there were many priests and they had to stand. It’s my understanding that when you had a priest in the Old Testament (they worked on eight-hour shifts), they were never allowed to sit, because to sit is to imply that your work is finished. And God wanted to say, “Your work is never finished. It’s endless.” You know, you try to please God by doing this, but the question is, have you done enough? It’s an endless experience. And Jesus, when He finished His work, the Bible says, He sat down because He said, “It is finished.” The work is done. The work is finished.

Now with your Bibles open, let’s continue to read here. I’m in verse 19, and I’m going to make some comments about these verses, and then we’re going to go to the transforming lessons.

“Therefore, brothers (and we might include sisters), since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus…”

You understand the imagery here. In the Old Testament the priest could go into the holy place. That’s where the altar of incense was. That’s where the shewbread (showbread) was. That’s where a candlestick was. They could go there, but to go into that area that is called the Holy of Holies, they could do it only on the high and holy day, the Day of Atonement. And according to Josephus, when the priest went in there they had a rope on his ankle so that if he did something wrong and God struck him dead, they’d be able to pull him out without them having to go in. I mean, this is the very dwelling place of God.

Now notice what the author is saying. “We have confidence (I know there’s another translation that I was looking at this week that says we have boldness. That’s another good word for the word confidence.) to enter into the holy places.” That includes the inner sanctuary where God dwelt because we come with blood that God values so highly that He says, “If you come because your faith is in the blood of Jesus, you are welcome in My very presence.” We come by the blood of Jesus.

Now notice. Continue to hang on. Stay with me here. “We come by a new and living way (new, because it was not in the Old Testament). The Greek text actually says “a freshly slaughtered way.” The imagery is that Jesus Christ died, but His death is so present that we can believe on Him immediately, and that He opened for us the curtain (that is through His flesh). Remember that when Jesus died, the curtain between the Holy of Holies and the holy place was ripped in two from top to bottom because God did it. And here what the author is thinking of is that just as Jesus Christ’s body was ripped on the cross, in the very same way, thanks to His body and His suffering, the veil that separated the common person from the Holy of Holies has been ripped in two, thanks to Jesus. So we can come into the very presence of Almighty God through the blood of Jesus.

Let’s continue to read. “And since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” We don’t come wondering and saying, “Well, now I wonder if I’ve done enough for God. I wonder if God is going to accept what I’ve done. Am I good enough? Look at my past. Look at my background.” No, that’s all-important but that’s not the basis upon which you come to God. You come to God because God says, “I so value the blood of Christ that if you come, trusting that, come boldly. Come to receive. Come to have fellowship with me, because that’s the basis upon which I receive you.”

And then it says, “With our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience (There’s the word. Hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience! This will become important in a moment because we’re talking about guilt and depression.) and our bodies washed with pure water.” Now it’s not talking about baptism there. You have to understand that he’s using Old Testament terminology.

In the Old Testament times when Moses was going through those rituals he took blood and he sprinkled it on all of the elements and so forth as a symbol of its cleansing. So he’s saying, “In the very same way, symbolically, the blood of Jesus Christ is applied to our consciences.” It’s not as if it’s literally sprinkled, but it is effective so that we might experience the freedom and the deliverance from an evil conscience, and so that our bodies are washed with pure water. In the Old Testament, you know, the priests had to do that too, so God is saying, “body and spirit.” You come to be cleansed, forgiven and received by God.

And then he goes on to say, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope.” By the way, notice the fact that he uses the words “let us” three times. Let us draw near. Let us hold fast. Let us consider how to stir one another up for good. (Some wag said there are three heads of lettuce here. Let us, let us, let us!)

Well, you say, “Pastor Lutzer, that was sure a quick tour. So how does that relate to my depression? How does that get me to where I want to go? What does that say about my guilt and the sense that I am constantly held back because of my past, or because of the guilt that has been laid upon me?”

As you know, a couple of weeks ago I spoke about false guilt. Well, we draw near into the presence of God. We are welcomed into the presence of God (catch this) as if we are Jesus. As if we are Jesus because we are coming on the basis of His blood and His sacrifice! We’re sure a long way from Him in terms of our personal experience and our sin, but God says, “When I see the blood I’ll pass over that. I won’t bring you into judgment. Come near but come through the blood of Christ.”

So here are some transforming truths that I hope will help us.

The blood of Jesus Christ gives us full, unfettered access to God, and it’s for you. Today I may be speaking to some young person who struggles with same-sex attraction. You say, “Well, you know, I’m different. I don’t really fit.” Listen, you come. You come! God will deal with that issue, and we can have that discussion some other time, but you come on the basis of the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, and you come to God if you are trusting the blood of Christ to get you there.

There was a very famous evangelist. He was an evangelist. He was a scholar. He was a Bible professor. He was well known. I won’t give you his name. I met him only once in my short life, but I read an account of how he died. He was in great distress because you know, there’s something about eternity that is a little frightening. Even people who write books on One Minute After You Die realize that there’s a lot of mystery there, and that might make a good title. And so they said to him, “Think of the fact that you are the president of this school. You were the pastor of this church. Think of all the good things that God has done for you and through you.” And he continued to wrestle and there was no peace. And then somebody had the good mind to say, “The only basis upon which we receive entry into God’s presence is through the blood of Christ, and it is enough.” And he died in peace. (applause) Remember that the blood is the only basis upon which we come to God.

Secondly, we must reject (This is so critical.) any notion of self-atonement. If you ask me what the greatest mistake is that many people make when it comes to coming before God in prayer, it is this. It is that they look at their lives and they try to find some reason why God should accept them. So they are looking. They say, “Lord, You really ought to receive me today because I had a warm time in my devotions.” “Lord, you ought to receive me because I’m not as bad as other people. Do you know what So-and-So did, Lord? Now that I can really understand, but I’m better than that, and Lord, you know that I’m trying, and I’m giving.”

You know there are people who actually whip themselves and they do all that because they want to somehow atone for sin. I’ve seen this on television, and it’s enough to make grown people cry. It’s as if God says, “Oh, I see that you are cutting yourself and you are whipping yourself. After all that, I think that now I ought to really receive you.” And it doesn’t work, and what is the characteristic of everything when they are finished? It’s uncertainty! Have I done enough? Has God accepted me?

You know, it’s like one guy on a plane said to me one time. “You know what my big fear is when I stand before God?” I said, “What is it?” He said, “I fear standing behind Mother Theresa in the Day of Judgment and overhearing the Lord say, “Now Lady, I think you could have done more.” In other words, “What does God demand? What must I do to finally receive His complete approval?”

So many people say, “Well you know, I hate myself. I cut my wrists. I do all these things because I am so full of self-hatred,” believing that lie, of course. “I need to suffer. I just can’t receive God’s grace because I expect to suffer. I deserve to suffer, and that’s what I expect.”

The answer is this, my dear friend. Suffering happens. I understand it, but what you must do is to realize that all that is nothing. God says, “When I see the blood I’ll accept you. When you trust the blood of Christ, that is the basis of My acceptance, and I don’t only accept you, but I elevate you as a child of God, as a daughter of God, and a son of God. And someday you are going to be an heir of God, and a joint-heir with my blessed Son, because if you receive what I did for you, you will be saved.”

There’s a third important lesson, and that is we must distinguish forgiveness from the consequences of sin. This is very important. We must distinguish forgiveness from the consequences of sin. Here’s a young woman who lives an immoral life, and she receives God’s forgiveness, and then she discovers that she is pregnant. There’s a baby on the way, and when the baby comes every time she looks at him she thinks of her sin. “Look at what I’ve done.” What she needs to do is to recognize that she can be cleansed, forgiven, and rejoice in God, and have the freedom to raise this child for the honor and the glory of God, now that he or she has been born. And the fact of the ongoing consequences does not need to debilitate the fact that she can have joy in God.

You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, where are you getting that?” You students at Moody Bible Institute should always ask that question. “So where is he getting that?” I was preaching this week elsewhere and perhaps I told you this already, but if I have, it’s because it’s clear to me that you need it one more time. Okay?

David! I mean here he is. He has committed adultery. He takes another man’s wife. He kills Uriah to kind of “cover it up.” And the cover doesn’t go very, very well at all. Nathan comes to him and David says, “That guy who stole the sheep should receive sevenfold.” You know (catch this), David was more concerned about a rich man who stole a lamb than he was about a powerful man who stole someone else’s wife. That’s just human nature. And then Nathan says to him, “Ata to'tach!” You are the man!

And David finally pours out all of his heart to God, and he goes on to say, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”

By the way, if you take a bucket of snow and you melt it, there will be a little residue at the bottom. David says, “Wash me so that I am whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation.”

We say, “David, come on! You wrecked your family. The consequences go on. You’ve lost all moral authority over your sons, all of whom are going to go bad. There’s no way you can bring back the purity of Bathsheba. You can’t have Uriah raised from the dead. And you are going to rejoice in God!”

And David would probably answer this way: “I left a terrible mess, but God’s forgiveness is so great that I can still rejoice in the God of my salvation. The consequences do not say that I can no longer rejoice in God.” Distinguish consequences from forgiveness and acceptance.

Number four, your conscience must be retrained to accept God’s Word as truth, and not your feelings, because feelings tell you lies, lies, lies about yourself. They lie to you. “Oh, there’s no hope!” “You are so bad that the world would be better off if you were to end it!” A lie!
When this world is going to be better off without you, God will call for you and He’ll take you home. (applause) And He knows your name, and He knows your address. He knows exactly where you live, and He knows what plug to pull. Let Him make that decision. Alright?

So what you need to do is to confront these lies, and you have to retrain your conscience. I’ve been doing some work on Martin Luther, writing some things, and I’ve been fascinated by his belief in the devil and how he dialogues with the devil so to speak. He said that one time the devil came to him and showed him all of his sins. And Luther said, “If you are showing me all of my sins, why is the list so short? Don’t you know that you missed this, this and this? And there are other things that God knows about. Is your knowledge really that limited, Devil, that that’s the best you can come up with? I can add to the list.” And then he writes across the list, “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.” And he says, “Devil, how does that make you feel now? What do you have to say in light of that?” He had to retrain his conscience to accept the fact that his guilt was now a lie. His depression, and he suffered from depression (The German word is anfechtungen), was a lie. And he was not going to believe that. He was going to believe God’s Holy Word.

Now, of course, confession becomes important. I might say for those who know God, who have accepted the sacrifice of Christ (because it maintains fellowship with God, and Luther understood that), that there is a place for confession, but it’s not in order to be saved again. The Bible says that the work of Christ was so complete that through one offering He perfected for all time those whom He is sanctifying, those who have believed in Jesus. Imagine that! I don’t have to believe these lies. I don’t have to do that because God’s Word says that I’ve come on the basis of blood, and God, through the blood of Christ, has accepted me.

It’s too late for Lady Macbeth, you know. She went her way in Shakespeare’s play. It’s too late for those teenagers, you know, who wrote a thing that said I’ve messed up too badly. If they had come to God through the blood, that mess could have been cleansed and forgiven. They could have had fellowship with God. Well, you say, “I know, but they were using drugs.” Yeah, I know, and that’s a separate issue. That’s why the next message in this series is on addictions. That is a separate issue. But the fact is that the basis upon which we come is always the blood of Christ.

This is a lesson that I have learned throughout the years. In my discouragement, in times when I think, “Oh, you know I just really blew it there,” I always have to say, “God, I’m just so thankful that the basis of my acceptance is Your Son’s blood, and I accept that blood as my cleansing and my forgiveness.” And in a future message we’ll talk about the difference between cleansing and forgiveness.

So I conclude today, borrowing some words from the great civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, using them in a different context. If you understand this you can say, “Free at last! Free at last! Free at last! Thank God, I’m free at last!” (applause)

And what about you who have no assurance of salvation? You can’t draw near with the assurance (What is the text actually telling us here?), through complete assurance of faith because you’ve been committed to dead works. You can receive Christ as Savior right now. You can call up and say, “Today I believe that Jesus died and that He finished it, and that I bring nothing to the table except my sin. That’s my contribution.” It all has to do with Him and His matchless grace. And you can believe on Christ. And we will have prayer partners up here who are willing to pray with you to help nail that down. And if you receive Christ as Savior, tell a staff member. Tell one of us because we are always delighted to hear what God does through the preaching of His Word.

Father, we thank you today that when we woke up some people perhaps felt ill. Some people felt discouraged. Some are plagued with regrets. We thank you today that the record player that has skipped a groove, that continues to play the same song in our minds and hearts, is stilled when we understand the Gospel, and we understand the truth of Your Word. Today we stand on the basis of our High Priest and His shed blood. Amen.

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