Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. Romans 8:1-2 (HCSB)
In 1859, with his groundbreaking book titled, On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin launched the theory of evolution by natural selection into scientific prominence. A large part of the scientific community has since argued that our natural existence came into being apart from divine influence, and that Darwin’s theory provides a credible explanation for how that came to be.
Parts of the theory of evolution by natural selection make sense. For example, evidence abounds showing how particular species change and evolve to adapt to current environments. The theory, however, also has significant holes. One of the most glaring involves the development of the human conscience.
Merriam-Webster defines the conscience as “the sense or consciousness of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one’s own conduct, intentions, or character together with a feeling of obligation to do right or be good.” Several languages translate the word to mean “with knowledge” or “knowledge within oneself.” From my perspective, the conscience is an internal awareness of moral standards—a personal moral compass so to speak.
Origins of the Conscience
To my knowledge, scientific naturalists have provided no evidence to how the conscience—let let alone consciousness in general—would have developed. Not only does the existence of the conscience create a massive gulf between animal and human life, it also propels us into ethical territory that science struggles to navigate. The Christian faith, on the other hand, has much to contribute in this regard.
The forbidden tree that Adam and Eve ate from was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. After eating, their eyes were opened, which means that they suddenly became aware of standards of good and evil. Do you see it? This was the birth of the human conscience—an internal moral law that is guided by standards of good and evil.
There is nothing wrong with the conscience in principle, but it does have some serious shortcomings.
First, the conscience has no power to help us do good; it only tells us the difference between good and bad. Second, the conscience can be “programmed” by human influence. While some basic morals are universal, others can be influenced by our surrounding culture. And third, once we violate our conscience, the resulting sense of guilt can condemn us for the rest of our lives. The only way that a person with a guilty conscience can be at peace is to sear that conscience by casting off any sense of right and wrong.
Christianity Is Unique
Several different religions advocate the need for people to forgive one another. But when it comes to finding forgiveness from God to cleanse a guilty conscience, Christianity stands alone. Contrasting the old covenant with the new, the writer of Hebrews tells us:
For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow, sprinkling those who are defiled, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of the Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to serve the living God? Hebrews 9:13-14 (HCSB)
This is fantastic news for the guilty soul! We can find complete and absolute forgiveness for all our transgressions. And better yet, through faith in Christ and His righteous work on the cross, we can live free from the guilt and condemnation that cause so much unrest in our hearts. If we are to break the cycle of sinful, spiritually exhausting living, we must first break the stronghold of condemnation.
Living Beyond the Conscience
Guilt is not just a matter of the bad things we have done; it also involves the seemingly good things that we are “supposed to” be doing. Why do I use the term “supposed to”? People often try to inflict guilt upon us for not doing what they think we should be doing. Or maybe, we inflict guilt upon ourselves because we do not believe that we are living up to the expectations that our conscience demands.
As heretical as it might sound, a person’s conscience is not to be the primary guide for daily living. In fact, the Christian life will often be “unfriendly” to the conscience. When we are conscientious and caring, we tend to carry the weight of obligation of all the things we should be doing. For example, your internal moral law might compel you to meet every need that comes your way, but that is impossible to do—especially in light of the global nature of media.
God calls us to live “beyond the conscience”—not by hardening our hearts, but by obedience to Him. This is one reason why a relationship with the Lord is so important. He is the head who directs each member of the body to serve its unique purpose.
How many of us have overwhelmed ourselves by taking on more burdens and responsibilities than the Lord Himself has called us to? Jesus Himself set the perfect example by declaring that He only did what He saw the heavenly Father doing (John 5:19-21).
The fact that I am an ordained minister somehow instills within people expectations about how I should be spending my time. But my life belongs to God, and the stewardship He has given me revolves around the purposes for which I have been created. I say “no” to various requests more than I want—and sometimes it is really hard—but what joy I find when I loose myself from people’s expectations to accomplish the work that He has called me to do.
Free from Condemnation!
Once again, we return to the beautiful simplicity of the gospel. Through faith, we are freed from the burdens of guilt and condemnation. And motivated by love, we accomplish the good works that God calls us to do.
There is no condemnation for those who abide in the Lord’s Sabbath rest through Jesus Christ! The nagging sense of guilt, the heavy hammer of condemnation, the weight of shame, the tears of desperation, the fear of falling short—from these we can rest because “It is finished!”
If the Lord had a mind to, at any moment He could condemn us for a long list of selfish and sinful tendencies. But He does not do that. Instead, He clothes us in Christ’s righteous perfection. And it is out of the security of that relationship that He works to transform us into Christ’s image.
To live by faith is to live beyond the conscience. By cultivating faith and love, we can move into a life of freedom, peace, and joy that only Jesus can provide.
*Bob Santos has authored several books, and this post is drawn from an upcoming work titled The Search for Rest.