For some people, it's not much of a question. Some people, after years of effort, have come very close to killing their conscience, and have arrived at a state of happy self-satisfaction in which they can look in the mirror and wink. "You're doing pretty good! You're quite a guy (or gal)!" They may not say those words audibly, or even think them propositionally, but that's their attitude. It's not exactly conceit; it's more like an utter contentment with who and what they are, with just a dash of pride thrown in. "I may not be the best person in the world, but I'm doing pretty good! I'm not as bad as that guy down the street, or that terrible woman I heard about on the news! I'm basically a good person!"
That's the way that a great many people in Western society see themselves. Maybe most people. And then there are the rest of us. Those of us who look in the mirror, and aren't completely happy with what we see. Those of us who have bad thoughts, bad memories, and bad temptations. Our tendency is to look in the mirror, or stare out the window, and think, "What's wrong with you?" Or, "You did it again, didn't you? Why can't you quit it?" Or, "You fool! How many times do you have to make the same mistake?"
We have plenty of bad habits, or weaknesses that we've never managed to control. A bad temper, for example. Screaming, or sulking, when we don't get our way. Treating our loved ones badly - - - the very people we should treat the best! And, of course, all the besetting sins and weaknesses: from tobacco to heroin, from lustful thoughts to actual adultery.
Not that these things are always present in our lives. Very often, especially for Christians, they're in our past. They're forgiven. God has, by His grace, granted us victory over them. But we Christians have a way of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, don't we? Whether our sin is ingratitude, or laziness, or physically abusing our spouse, God gives us victory .... and then we go back to it, a day or a year later. The victory is never final.
And oh, the guilt that this produces, especially for a Christian! "God, you've helped me out so many times. You've forgiven me, and helped me overcome the drinking, or the cursing, or the gossip ... but I keep doing it again. Oh, God, I'm such a failure!"
Have you ever felt that way, as a Christian? If not, you're a better person than the Apostle Paul: read Romans 7.
For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I .... For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
That's mostly true - - - although the last sentence is very false. Yes, as far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12). Thank God! And Jesus is always leading us into the future, away from the past; but that doesn't mean the past is erased. Sin has consequences. Jesus forgives our sins as soon as we ask, even if we commit them over and over again. He told us to forgive our brethren, not seven times, but seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21, 22); how much more will He forgive His children? But let's be honest. We don't always feel forgiven, do we?
We have a very active Enemy who is called "the Accuser of the Brethren" (Revelation 12:10), and he makes sure that we're reminded, on a regular basis, of our sins - - - the ones we committed twenty years ago, or the ones we just asked God to forgive this morning.
That's when we hurt. God isn't holding our sins against us any more; in fact, the Father can't even see our sins any more, because they're covered by the blood of His Son. But, in a way that is incomprehensible, we see them. We remember them. We feel guilt, even when guilt no longer exists. That's when it seems like our conscience isn't treating us very well! Of course, our conscience is a great gift from God; but our minds can twist the murmurings of conscience into the nagging and whining of guilt and shame. Our flesh is still fallen, and our brains are part of our flesh. God can forgive us (has already forgiven us, at Calvary, if we're saved), but we still lie in bed at night and feel guilty and mean and evil. We feel like the dogs and pigs we were (2 Peter 2:22), before Jesus saved us. It makes us miserable, and as a result, we sometimes make things miserable for those around us!
And, sometimes, it's not a matter of guilt over the past; it's a matter of doing battle with temptations in the present. We fight against temptation, whatever our temptation is; and although we know, intellectually, that "the battle is the Lord's" (1 Samuel 17:47), we're the ones who are down here on the ground fighting it. I want to buy the booze; I want to watch the dirty movie; I want to gossip, and spread somebody else's business all over town. My flesh is betraying my good intentions; I want to please God, but my flesh wants these other things! It's Romans 7 over and over again!
I don't know about you. But sometimes I'm plagued by memories. My brain seems to be throbbing with old hurts, old wounds. I'm troubled with temptations: my brain seems to be pulsating with the conflicting desires that Paul wrote about. I just need to fix my brain!
And it's not just me. Maybe you don't have these feelings, but millions do. Since the 1970's, the "healing of memories" has become a large and profitable subdivision of the Pop Psychology and Pop Religion fields. There are "ministries" devoted to nothing but "emotional healing." These tend to come in two varieties: Pentecostal/charismatic, which contain enormous dollops of Eastern occult practices; and liberal, "global consciousness" "Christians" who believe that we can "heal the planet" by healing our own memories and hurts.
But I'm not trying to heal the planet. I'm just trying to live a consistent Christian life, and get some sleep at night!
I need to fix my brain. Specifically, I need to wash it. It's not that I've got a "dirty mind;" it's that the grooves and ridges of my brain are dirty, clogged with the emotional and psychological sludge of decades. I need to have my brain washed clean!
So God has offered to do exactly that ... as immediately, and as often, as I need it. He's offered to wash my brain. Not "brainwashing," like putting thoughts in my head; but cleaning out the sludge and the grit from all those years. (Hebrews 9:11-14)
But He can't do it with psychology, although psychology can be useful in some areas. He can't do it with medication, although medication has its place. And He sure can't do it with soap and water! There's only one substance in the universe that's strong enough to clean my brain, and give me peace, and a good night's sleep.
But it's only possible for, and available to, God's children: those men and women, boys and girls, who have received Jesus Christ by an act of the will, and been born again, according to John 1:12. This remedy is for Christians only: it simply isn't offered to anyone else.
You think your brain needs washing? God thinks so, too. But He has to wash our brains with blood - - - the most powerful cleansing agent known to Heaven or earth, the blood of Jesus Christ:
But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
In this context, your "conscience" is not that wonderful "fire alarm" that God gave us, to keep us from sin. In this context, the conscience is the consciousness of what's there, in our life. (I'm not correcting or revising the scripture; "conscience" is the right word! I'm simply explaining how it's used in this verse.) It's that consciousness of the past, or present, that needs to be washed clean by the blood of Christ.
What "dead works" is God talking about in this verse? Well, it's spelled out in Gal. 5:19-21:
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
These are the "dead works" that clog the grooves and ridges of our brains. They're the "works" that some of us did, or wanted to do, before coming to Christ - - - or, all too often, since coming to Christ. They're "dead" works, in that they've lost their power over us; they can't damn us any more, and the Holy Spirit can give us victory over them. I don't have to buy the whiskey: at one time, maybe I did. But now it's just a "dead work."
That list of sins, of "dead works," sounds pretty dramatic, but you fit in there somewhere: only you know where. You should look up each of those words, like "emulations," and see what they mean: it's not just a matter of barroom brawls and sex orgies! ("Emulations" can be anything from competitiveness, to pretending to be something you're not.) These are some pretty subtle sins. "Variance," for example, can be anything from a grumpy, disagreeable spirit, to actual destructive disunion: like splitting a church over some stupid little non-issue. It can mean a bad argument. You see, all kinds of human misbehavior is included in that list of "dead works!"
We only need to get saved once. Our sins were judged at Calvary, and don't need to be judged by God again. But, just as Jesus reminded the disciples that they needed to wash their feet regularly, we need to wash our brains regularly - - - especially in today's society, with all the things we're exposed to.
Has your conscience been treating you badly? Have you been carrying a load of guilt and powerlessness that you weren't meant to carry? Then you need a blood bath. You need for God to cleanse your poor, tired, sinful brain with the pure blood of His Son - - - not once or twice, but as often as you need it.
He wants you to be clean: He gave His life to make it possible. But He also wants you to feel clean, to have the joy of His salvation, and not be constantly beset and besieged by doubts and guilt and temptation ... and the self-hatred that comes from those things.
If you're saved, ask your Father to purge your conscience from dead works, by the blood of His Son. You'll find it to be a source of power and cleansing and renewal that you never dreamed of.