Have you ever been praying and suddenly your conscience says something like this to you:
“Look at you! Who do you think you are to come before God and ask anything from him! Why just this week, you did things and said things that would disqualify you from ever receiving anything from God. Don’t you remember that attitude you had yesterday? Don’t you remember how you got angry with your wife for no reason last week? What about that unclean thought that passed through your mind three days ago? You passed someone broken down on the road and you could have stopped to help, but you didn’t. You’re sure not much of a Christian, are you? What right do you have now to come to God and ask him for anything?”
Thoughts such as these can shut down your prayer time in a New York minute. It’s hard to pray when you don’t have assurance and confidence that God welcomes you and is willing to hear your prayers.
John has something very vital to say about this situation in 1 John 3:19–24. The center of this passage is John’s appeal in verse 23: we should believe in Jesus and love one another. This appeal is flanked on both sides with a motivational basis. Verses 19–22 provide the first motivation: when our conscience condemns us, God is greater than our conscience, giving us assurance that we receive what we ask from him in prayer.
Verse 24 constitutes the second motivation: we can be assured that God lives in us and we abide in him. The topic of this paragraph is confidence. Notice John’s use of words like “know,” “reassure,” and “confidence.” Confidence is based on the fact that we have believed in Jesus and are thus in the family of God. Since we are in the family and since we love others in the family, we can come to our Father with our prayer requests with confident assurance that he will hear us.
A clear conscience provides us confidence to approach God at any time in prayer and worship. John Wesley said the conscience functions in three ways:
“First. It is a witness, —testifying to what we have done in thought, or word, or action. Secondly. It is a judge, —passing sentence on what we have done, that it is good or evil. And, Thirdly, it, in some sort, executes the sentence, by occasioning a degree of complacency in him that does well, and a degree of uneasiness in him that does evil.”[i]
Cars have a number of digital warning lights. One warns that the emergency brake has been left on. Another reminds the driver that the engine is running hot. Another warns that the alternator is not charging properly.
God has given us a built in warning signal called conscience. Just as the warning lights in your car have to be properly wired so to speak in order to function properly, so your conscience must be properly schooled in the truth of God’s Word in order to function as God intended. But this is not at all. Even your conscience in good working order cannot force obedience! The driver may disregard the red lights of warning. If he does so, he may burn out the brakes, ruin the battery, or crack the motor block. Christians who disregard their conscience are headed for trouble.
Trust and obey . . . and with a good conscience send your guilt trip packing!
[i] John Wesley, “On Conscience,” Sermons, Volume III, in The Works of John Wesley, 3rd ed., vol. 7 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979 reprint), p. 188.