A QUESTION OF GUILT
Putting Guilt into a Correct Perspective
Q. Regarding the scripture which says that we are never tempted beyond what we can endure, I wonder if one of the lies that Satan tempts us with is that we are tempted beyond what we can endure, and that therefore in some way we are not responsible and without guilt? I know a lot of victims of abuse who struggle with questions like these. Also, how can we distinguish between true guilt and false guilt? Secularists say that all guilt which stems from a concept of sin is artificial. Could you give us the biblical teaching on this subject, please?
A. This is indeed a very large and important subject. There are people who are plagued by guilt which has been falsely imputed on them and there are people who seem to feel no guilt at all when they most definitely have done something wrong. The first category of person needs liberating from his false guilt and the second needs to be confronted with the awfulness of sin and to begin to feel some healthy guilt.
Q. I guess one of the biggest problems is that this is such a subjective thing ...
A. Yes, indeed. And one can potentially argue around in circles unless there is an objective standard of emet (truth) by which we can measure. So let's start by defining our terms - firstly, in terms of what we mean by 'guilt' in the English language, and secondly, in terms of the biblical concept of guilt. As we shall soon see, 'guilt' is not something that can be treated in isolation, any more than one can treat the word 'father' without simultaneously examining the words 'mother' and 'child'. Many concepts like guilt exist in trinities (sin, guilt and conscience), each concept illuminating the other. With that in mind, let's first define terms.
Q. According to my dictionary, guilt is 'the fact or state of having done wrong or committed an offence or misdeed'.
A. That's a pretty good definition. The first thing we learn about 'guilt' is that it is a mental, emotional and spiritual reaction to being conscious of having committed a transgression or sin. To know that we have sinned or transgressed means that we must have a prior awareness of a law which tells what is good or bad. And finally, we must believe that that law is true.
Q. False guilt would then be a negative reaction to a false law and true guilt to a true law.
A. Yes. The trouble is you find people who believe and/or accept different laws. And because as humans we have the same psychic makeup, we can all have the same experience of guilt even though we may be feeling guilt about totally opposite things.
Q. For example?
A. For example, it is a Moslem's duty to kill his relative if that relative apostacises from Islam and, say, becomes a Christian. Because his Koran tells him that it is his duty to kill that relative, and because he believes that is Allah's law, he will feel guilty if he does not do the dastardly deed. Whereas a Christian is under a divine mandate not to destroy but to save life, as Yah'shua (Jesus) taught. Yahweh sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to bring eternal chayim (life) (Jn.3:17). We are to search after the lost sheep and wait for the prodigal son. If a Christian apostacises and becomes a Moslem we don't feel obliged to kill him but to pray for him and to lovingly and patiently witness to him. Were a true Christian to even entertain the thought of killing an apostate or heretical relative, he would be consumed by an agonising guilt, more so if he carried out the grizzly deed.
Q. So what you are saying is that guilt, which comes from our conscience, is something that has to be taught? It's not something that we are born with ...?
A. We are all born with a basic conscience which gives us a limited ability to discern between good and evil. That conscience judges us. It can also, as scripture teaches, be defiled, meaning that if we no longer listen to our conscience when it instructs us, because we are tuning away from it to our own flesh, then we will no longer hear it. As a result whatever feelings of guilt we may experience will become distorted. A person who steals for the first time may feel guilty, but the more he ignores the feeling of guilt, the less guilty he feels in time because he hardens his heart. Then you get an habitual thief who is no longer troubled by guilt. Indeed, theft may actually bring him pleasure. The whole conscience becomes inverted.
Q. I think everyone - no matter who they are or in what circumstances they are born - experiences true guilt at some point of their lives. Do you think there is a set of inbuilt laws in our souls that everyone can 'know' intuitively without ever being exposed to religion or the Christian faith?
A. That is my belief, and you will remember in a couple of interviews ago (Apostolic Interviews #22, A Question of Torah) I mentioned that the whole human race, no matter what they believe or don't believe, is subject to those moral and ethic laws which are imprinted on our souls by the portion of the Light of Messiah everyone is born with.
Q. Yes, I remember.
A. Now if the whole of mankind is subject to these laws and will be condemned by them even if they have never heard of them, then either Yahweh is unjust or He has provided a means by which every human being can know that they are true or not. And since I believe in the latter (for I know from what the Bible tells me and my personal experience of El Elyon that He is just), I am forced to the inevitable conclusion that our conscience, which the apostle John tells us in the opening verses of his Gospel is called the Light of Christ which everyone born into this world receives, is the means by which we can know these unwritten (for most) moral and ethical Torah laws.
Now, as I said, I believe that we have these laws built into us, and that if we are honest with ourselves, we can all 'know' the emet (truth) of them without ever opening a Bible or hearing a minister preach.
Q. If we had no conscience, then, we would just descend into barbarity.
A. Absolutely. We would become worse than animals. I believe that moral and ethical torot (laws) are impregnated into our very soul-life, and that when we transgress them, we become spiritually defiled, and our conscience then becomes an instrument of oppression instead of blessing to self and others. All guilt that stems from disobeying these implanted torot (laws) may therefore be said to be 'natural guilt'. All other forms of guilt have to be learned.
Q. How does the Bible define the word 'guilt'?
A. Well, 'guilt' translates the Hebrew 'asham or 'ashem which is inseparably linked to the concepts of 'punishment' and to 'perish'. A person who feels guilt may therefore be said to be punishing his soul and be perishing within. In a way, it's a kind of death - a spiritual death. There is a second related word in Hebrew which is 'ashmah which we translate as 'sin', 'trespass', or 'guilt-offering'.
Q. So in a way guilt is a kind of death-sentence?
A. If it is true guilt, it is a death-sentence from Yahweh. If it is false guilt, then it may be a death-sentence from self.
Q. A kind of spiritual suicide?
A. Yes, that is a good way of putting it. When you condemn yourself for something you are not actually guilty of, you are actually repudiating Torah, and therefore Yahweh, and therefore putting yourself outside the pale of His grace. And that is something Satan eagerly wants of us - he wishes us to destroy ourselves and to repudiate the emet (truth). We may not know we are doing it ... and likely most of the time we don't ... but isn't that what suicide is? It's killing yourself in ignorance, for no-one in their right mind ... with all the facts before them, would ever want to kill themselves, no matter how terrible the outer circumstances of life may temporarily be.
True guilt stems from sin. Sin and true guilt cannot be separated. Sin is failure, error, iniquity, transgression, lawlessness, and unrighteousness. Sin is missing the mark of emet (truth). And the Bible says it is an unmitigated evil.
Q. There seem to be many definitions of sin in Scripture ...
A. That is true. But its most characteristic feature in all of its aspects is that it is directed against Yahweh. In truth, we don't so much sin against one another but against Him.
Q. Are you sure?
A. Well, didn't David say:
Now David had murdered Uriah and committed adultery with his wife Bathsheba, the two greatest sins of his life. There is no doubt that he wronged them, and wronged them terribly. He sinned against them. But ultimately all sin is against El Elyon (the Most High). Paul says that the carnal mind is an enemy of Yahweh (Rom.8:7). I think we have to keep this orientation in view when we consider sin and guilt, namely, that when we sin against others, we are sinning against Him first and foremost. Any concept of sin - and the guilt which flows from it - which does not have in the forefront the contradiction which it offers to Yahweh is a deviation from the biblical representation.
"Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned" (Ps.51:4, KJV).
Q. So when we look at sin as selfishness towards others one really misses the mark?
A. Fundamentally. It betrays a false assessment of its nature and gravity. From its very outset, and its development, sin is always directed against our Heavenly Father, and this I think accounts for the diversity of its forms and activities.
Q. "Sin is the transgression of Torah (Law)" (1 Jn.3:4) ...
A. Yes. And Torah is the transcript of Yahweh's perfection. It is to this concept that our attention must continually be drawn. Torah is Yahweh's holiness coming to expression for the regulation of thought and action consonant with that perfection. Transgression or sin is violation of that which Yahweh's glory demands of us and is, therefore, in its essence the contradiction of Yahweh.
Q. Does that mean that false guilt is a sin in and of itself?
A. Of course, it must be. If I feel guilty about loving someone because they have been mean to me, isn't that throwing Yahweh's holiness back in His face? If I blame myself for an evil which someone else has done to me, about which I could have done nothing myself ... like a rape, for instance ... am I not pronouncing divine sentence on something I am guiltless off? And don't people often convince themselves that Elohim (God) doesn't love them anymore when they have been abused? False guilt is a sin too.
Q. I think it is easier to deal with false guilt if we see what this is doing to our relationship with Yahweh.
A. Yahweh loves us. He deeply cares for us. He wants us to be happy and free of guilt. We must never forget that transgression of Torah, no matter how much guilt we may suffer because of our sins, can be washed instantly away if our repentance is genuine. It needn't linger to plague us. Once the simcha (joy) of forgiven sin has flooded into us, guilt is no more. But to deal with false guilt we must also reach the point of understanding that we are transgressing Yahweh's holiness. This is not to say we should be adding or heaping guilt upon guilt - the object of the exercise is not to 'feel guilty' but to allow true guilt lead us to a place of cleansing, and so renounce all false guilt.
Q. How does one deal with false guilt? Take someone who has been raped ...
A. There is a difference between feeling defiled - which rape does - and then going to the next stage of feeling guilty. These are two different things and require two different processes to be dealt with. When one is raped (to use this example) an ungodly sexual bond is formed between the rapist and the victim, and the only way to destroy it is to invoke the cleansing blood of Messiah. Once that has happened, there is an immediate inner release. When a victim feels guilt, it is often a transferred guilt from the transgressor to the innocent victim, perhaps because of things that are said to the victim like 'you're just a whore' or something vicious like that. The guilt often comes when we believe a lie. A victim of rape is not guilty for being raped but in believing the lie that she is somehow responsible when she is not. Where repentance is needed is in saying to Yahweh: 'I'm sorry I believed the lie. Forgive me for believing the lie. I declare that I am not guilty of being raped!' Distinguishing these two things is most important.
Q. You're saying that there may be multiple causes for a victim feeling guilty and that the two are so intertwined, because of the trauma of the event, that they become confused?
A. Yes, very often. Here it is important to have a counsellor who is spiritually discerning and above all, calm. Eve's sin in the Garden of Even was first and foremost believing the serpent's lie that it was after all all right to eat the fruit. She sinned in eating to be sure, but her first sin was in believing Satan and therefore disbelieving Yahweh. When we believe a lie we are actually falling into the sin of atheism - we no longer trust Yahweh. But we can get distracted from that sin by focussing on, in this example, the rape abuse and the false guilt associated with that.
Q. Many would argue that they are not responsible for sin-acts because they don't understand or had no true free will. Take your example of the rape victim. What if she was so intimidated by the rapist before the rape took place that she was too terrified to even say no to the circumstances that led to the rape? Is she then responsible?
A. Like being hypnotised by fear?
Q. I guess. I was talking to a young woman the other day whose brother repeatedly raped her. But before he did that he so intimidated her with threats that she wouldn't dare oppose him. She had no support from her parents who didn't care about her so she had no-one to turn to. Some people would say that she should have run away, or gone to the police. But she was too terrified. She ended up cutting herself to get some sort of release for the guilt she felt. Was she guilty in any way or entirely innocent?
A. You raise one of the most difficult questions there is, in my opinion. In dealing with such cases - and I deal with many of them as a deliverance minister - our hearts just go out to the victims and we want to cry out 'Injustice! Not guilty!' And it's true - they're usually not guilty. They are horribly mutilated mentally and emotionally and need ahavah (love), acceptance and understanding more than anything else . To launch into such a damaged person's life with accusations of guilt because she didn't run away or go to the police is not only unhelpful but positively harmful. Such a person needs, more than anything else, mercy, for only in such an environment can healing take place. Regaining one's self-worth and wholeness is the first and most important priority. And our primary tool is always bucket loads of grace.
And yet at some point - and knowing when this should be dealt with is critical - other issues have to be faced. Now would anyone deny that Job was a victim of abuse?
Q. I guess not. He was a righteous man and yet went through a nightmare.
A. He was a victim of satanic abuse and yet Yahweh permitted it. And because it was permitted, for a reason which he did not at first understand (and maybe never did in this life), he was resentful and angry at the injustice of it all. He was one of the most godly men alive. And yet what do we learn at the end of the story? We learn that he is guilty! And that blows our mind!
Q. What was Job guilty of?
A. Atheism. He did not believe that the Elohim (God) he served and loved would ever permit what was happening, for one thing, and yet He did, and for a purpose that Job did not understand.
Q. But Job didn't believe the lies of his friends, so he wasn't guilty in the same way as Eve?
A. No, but he was still guilty of disbelief ... I know, it's easy to react to that. Who wouldn't react the way Job did! Crumbs, I have had far smaller trials in my life and I have reacted far worse than Job ever did! You see, sin never consists merely in a voluntary act of transgression. Every volition proceeds from something that is more deep-seated than the volition itself, and so it is with sinful volition.
Q. I don't understand ...
A. Well, a sinful act is the expression of a depraved heart (Mk.7:20-23; Pr.4:23; 23:7). Sin, and its resultant guilt when we commit it, must always include, therefore, the perversity of the heart, mind, disposition, and will ...
A. Paul says that "by one man's disobedience many were made sinners" (Rom.5:19). The depravity which sin entails and with which all men and women come into the world directly implicates us of our solidarity with Adam and his sin. We come to be as individuals by natural generation, and as individuals we never exist apart from the sin of Adam. Thus David said:
which Yah'shua (Jesus) confirmed when He said:
"See, I was brought forth in crookedness (iniquity), and in sin my mother conceived me" (Ps.51:5, ISRV)
"That which is born of the flesh is flesh" (Jn.3:6, KJV).
There is a guilt which stems from our 'flesh nature' that causes us to transgress. True, we are not responsible for Adam's sin, but we cannot affect its effects on us, nor those of our ancestors. There is also a collective guilt which affects us all, and as such there is a collective punishment too. This may not be a very popular concept in our individualistic age but if you believe in Scripture then you know that the sins of our forefathers are inherited by us and which we in our turn pass down to our descendants unless we break them through the blood of Messiah. That 'collective guilt' can be, and is at times, very confusing. There are strange and almost alien impulses within us that make us to do things we don't want to do because of this connection we have both with our immediate ancestors and our first parents. We want to break away from it and stand alone, but this is not entirely possible, because salvation is both individual and corporate. When Yahweh is forced to judge a nation for its sinfulness, the good and the wicked suffer alike. In the same way He blesses the good and the wicked alike because of the goodness of the good! Individually we may be accountable for our own sins, but there is also this wider picture.
Q. Wow, this is complex!
A. This planet is a war zone, as I've said many times, both inside and out. Part of our problem, I think, is discovering that we can never 'settle down' here because it isn't really 'home'. Scripture says that true believers are "aliens (foreigners)" and "strangers" on many different levels (e.g. Heb.11:13). Our spiritual yearning for Zion can only be realised in Zion, hard though we may try to make it 'work' in our biological families, especially when they are not in Messiah. We are pulled simultaneously in many directions by contrary forces.
By being in the flesh we have inherited a whole bundle of mischief. Not that there is anything wrong with the physical universe or matter - we don't subscribe to the Gnostic view that all matter is evil and so the sooner we escape from it by denial or death the better - but it is to say that the flesh is a carrier of a rather nasty package called 'inherited Adamic sin' which can only really be dealt with by substituting it for the "second Adam", Yah'shua (Jesus) (1 Cor.15:45). That substitution means death of the sin-package and the acquisition of a new life package.
Q. And what is that 'sin-package'?
A. Yes, self-love. Self-love is a power that installs the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the throne room of the soul - our heart - instead of the Tree of Life. And that Tree is Yah'shua (Jesus). (See, A Garden of the Mind, Parts 1-2: The Trees of Life and Death). The Tree of Life is divine ahavah (love), and the Tree of Death is self-love. And access to that Tree of Love is through obedience to Torah (Rev.22:14).
A. You see, no matter what may happen to the Jobs and rape victims of this world, there is still the issue of inherited sin and our near universal acceptance of it. This depravity of the heart which we think is so 'normal' is pervasive and explicitly spelled out in the Torah. Left long enough, it always results in total evil. Look at what it says here in Genesis:
"Yahweh saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time" (Gen.6:5).
Now I want this to sink in, however repugnant it may be to our pride. In the next verse we read:
Yes, it hurts Him. And look here, a couple of chapters on where Yahweh says after Noah had come out of the ark and made an offering:
"Yahweh was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain" (v.6).
Are you getting the picture now?
"Never again will I curse the ground because of man even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood (youth)" (Gen.8:21, NIV).
Q. Are we that bad?
A. When we compare ourselves with each other I guess we must often seem like angels, but compared with YAHWEH we are "evil from childhood (youth)". Our problem is that we have little or no idea as to what the holiness of El Elyon is. We have no idea! Instead, we compare ourselves with each other and say: 'Look, these are good people, and these are evil'. And we smugly go around and assume that everything is fine and dandy with the people whom we have categorised as 'good'. And then when Yahweh has the effrontery to dare tell us that our children's inclinations are evil, we take offence!
Now because we don't 'see' how depraved we are, and because we judge - not according to Torah but from our own feelings and thoughts ... and guess where they come from ... we automatically conclude that we are a lot better than we are. And once we are on that track we are fast on the road that leads to Satanism which says that we are all 'christs' and 'gods'.
Q. Oh my.
A. Our view of holiness is not Yahweh's. That is why Yah'shua (Jesus) says that if we want to find our true self we have to lose the old one!
Now this may be strong medicine for most Christians/Messianics (let alone unbelievers) but we really can't afford to dance around this emet (truth) and pretend it isn't there. Only with this perception of self - of how utterly obnoxious it is, in spite of its cleverness in weaving a garb of respectability and goodness around itself - can we really ever cultivate a desire for Yah'shua (Jesus) to put it to death in the first place? If we really think self, and the 'love' that stems from self, is wonderful in any way, then we simply aren't going to want to nail it to the cross, are we?
"He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal chayim (life)" (John 12:24-26, NKJV).
Q. But who would ever accept such a teaching?
A. Those who have met the living Yahweh and His Messiah, and love His Torah. Look, we need to confront this sin-issue, and the guilt stemming from it, again. I am going to repeat this in another way. The wickedness that Yahweh deplored in the passages from Genesis we have just read was not just the outward acts of violence and evil generally, for even if we have these under some measure of control, there is still the "imagination of the thoughts of the heart" - not just really big thoughts like how to murder one's neighbour, but even the most rudimentary movement of thought is evil! When you read these passages you are aware of the totality of the unsaved human condition - it's not just a question of the occasional wicked urge, but the whole root system of thought and feeling. Yahweh says "every inclination of his heart" - every aspect of it - is bad. The condemnation is total - and what's more, it's not occasional but constant - Yahweh says "all the time" or "continually" (KJV). Worse still, there is the exclusiveness - Yahweh says "only evil", and finally, there is its early manifestation "from his youth" (KJV).
Now in case you think that indictment of the human race was just for the period before the flood, you'd be wrong - Yahweh said the same thing after the flood right after Noah offered sacrifice. The eight survivors had the same inner disposition and we have inherited it. This is a permanent mortal human condition that no catastrophe can remedy. There is no escape from the implications of this witness inscribed in the early pages of divine revelation.
Q. I had no idea it was so bad ...
A. No, most don't. And there are no loopholes - you can't say that our generation is 'better' than theirs because it isn't! Didn't Yah'shua (Jesus) says that the conditions on earth when He returned would be exactly the same as those before the flood (Mt.24:37)?
A. We are left with no other verdict other than to declare the "desperate wickedness" of the human heart apart from Messiah - it is total both intensively and extensively. It extends to the deepest movements of the human heart and characterises all mankind. And any doctrine that teaches otherwise is Satanism - because Satanism and all its manifestations teaches that we are basically 'good'. We aren't.
Now I don't intend to pursue a deep study of this through a study of the rest of the Bible but you will find the same assessment made by Yahweh again and again. Yahweh searches our heart and tries the reins (Jer.17:10). And what is His final judgement?
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer.17:9).
Well, I don't want to know it. I know that if I probe it, I will only be disappointed. I will only feel guilt at my imperfection.
Q. So what's the solution?
A. We have to understand that since sin is against Yahweh, He cannot be complacent towards it or indifferent to it. He must react against it. And this reaction is specifically and pre-eminently His wrath. The frequency with which Scripture mentions the wrath of Yahweh compels us to take account of its reality and meaning. (See, Is There Place for Righteous Anger?).
Now this wrath is not the kind of fitful passion that we identify with humans. It is the deliberate, resolute displeasure which the contradiction of His holiness demands. Neither is it vindictive but must be seen as qadosh (holy, set-apart) indignation - there is no malice in it. It is not malignant hatred but righteous detestation. Finally, we cannot reduce the wrath of Yahweh to His will to punish. Wrath is positive outgoing of dissatisfaction as surely as that which is pleasing to Yahweh involves complacency. And we must not eliminate from Yahweh what we call emotion, because the wrath of Yahweh finds its parallel in the human heart, exemplified in the perfect way of Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself (Mk.3:5; 10:4).
You see, sin is never impersonal. It exists in, and is committed by, persons in the same way as the wrath of Yahweh consists in the displeasure to which we are subjected: we are the objects. And the penal afflictions which we suffer are the expression of Yahweh's wrath. The sense of guilt and torment of conscience are the reflections in our consciousness of the displeasure of Yahweh.
Q. Most atheists would accuse you of deliberately creating a guilt trip for people.
A. And not a few Christians too [smiles]. Look, the bottom line is reality. We can't afford to play games with eternal issues such as sin and redemption. And we can't just leave it at this either. For we must never forget the miracle of forgiveness.
Q. But if our heart is so corrupt, then no matter how we reform, we will continue in the same vicious cycle of sin, guilt, repentance, forgiveness, and more sin.
A. Fortunately, if we do things the right way, there is no need for that. Yahweh said through the prophet Ezekiel:
"Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies," says Yahweh-Elohim. "Therefore turn and live!" (Ezek.18:31-32, NKJV).
Q. But how?
A. Well, let's see in a few chapters on:
"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Ruach (Spirit) within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgements and do them" (Ezek.36:26-27, NKJV).
Q. Even in Tanakh (Old Testament) times?
A. Of course. The Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) has always been available. It was possible to live a godly Ruach/Spirit-filled life then too. The only difference between the Old and New Covenants was the nature of the blood sacrifice - in the Old it was made yearly with animals and so was temporary, and in the New it was done once and for all at Calvary by Messiah, our Cohen Gadol (High priest), and is eternal.
Notice particularly that it is not we who walk in the Statutes of Yahweh of Torah in our own strength but it is the Ruach (Spirit) within us which "causes" us to do so. Walking in Torah is a natural fruit of possessing the Ruach (Spirit)! It isn't something you have to force. Possessing the Ruach (Spirit) creates within you an ahavah (love) of Yahweh's Torah (Law). It gives you a positive vision of it, not a negative one.
Q. What if our vision is negative?
A. Then it is because there are a number of sin issues that have not been confronted and repented of yet. It is because there is a spirit of lawlessness. See what Paul said: ""Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom Yahweh shall not impute sin."" (Rom.4:7-8, NKJV).
Q. It seems to me that everything comes back ultimately to Torah or Law.
A. Yes, it does. Our universe is an orderly one on every level of existence, from the material world with its laws of physics and chemistry, to the spiritual with its moral and ethical laws. Without Torah (Law) there would be no guilt. Even ahavah (love) is a torah (law) - we are commanded to love! Ahavah (love) is the apex of Torah - it is what Torah is pointing to. Therefore guilt is in fact a witness to us that we are not loving as we ought to ... or not loving at all. To be guilty of sin is to be guilty of failing to love Yahweh and our neighbour. To be without ahavah (love) is to be torahless (lawless).
Q. So guilt is, in a way, the absence of ahavah (love)?
A. Not so much the absence of ahavah (love) (which is indifference or hate) but the warning signal to our psyche that there is an absence of ahavah (love). The conscience, which leads us to experience either shalom (peace) or guilt, is a spiritual barometer.
Q. Am I right in thinking that the concept of a 'conscience' is a Greek and not a Hebrew one?
A. I'm glad you raised that point. The Greek syneidésis, from which we get our English word 'conscience' (itself from the Latin conscientia) is probably better rendered as 'co-knowledge' or as one theologian put it, it is the faculty of 'fellow-knowledge with oneself'. It is more than mere awareness since it always includes the concept of 'judgement' too, and specifically, moral judgement upon a conscious act. The conscience may therefore be said to be the faculty by which we ourselves judge our conscious actions which leads to the peace or shalom that comes from self-acquittal (innocence) or guilt (self-condemnation).
Q. What would be the Hebrew equivalent of 'conscience' and what word do you think the Greek translators were translating when they rendered it syneidésis which we than translate as 'conscience'?
A. There is no Hebrew word for 'conscience' but there are expressions which convey the same sense. For instance, when David felt bad after cutting Saul's robe while the latter was asleep, the scripture says: "the heart of David smote him" (1 Sam.24:5). Here the heart is clearly the seat of conscience. It is a feeling or emotion. The Hebrews and Greeks were in complete agreement as to what this phenomenon was. A 'bad conscience' (a 'smitten heart') was understood by both to be the pain suffered by man as man when his actions, begun or completed, transgress the moral limits of his nature.
Q. So would we be justified in translating 1 Samuel 24:5 as "David had a bad conscience"?
A. Absolutely. The meaning is exactly the same. There would have been no hesitation on the part of the Greek translators of the original Hebrew or Aramaic New Testament books in using this term.
Q. How would you define 'conscience' using the New Testament?
A. Well, I think Romans 2:14ff is the best definition we're going to get. In this passage Paul teaches that Yahweh's general revelation of Himself as good, and demanding goodness, causes man to face moral responsibility. These divine demands were made clear in Torah to the Hebrews whilst the Gentiles, who had no knowledge of Torah, perform "by nature" what Torah demands.
Q. The moral and ethical Torah, you mean?
A. Foundationally, yes. But I also believe that Yahweh works on the conscience of those who are basically good to go even further, revealing Himself degree by degree to those who are open to Him even if they don't know Him personally. I think this must be true to some extent because as you look at the various pagan religions you see that some of them are closer to Yahweh's Torah than others. And the same would be true of individuals within those religions.
Q. This would be the Torah, or parts of it, already written on their hearts?
A. Yes. Those without Torah, never having heard it before, are judged on the basis of the "natural law" which was implanted in them at birth in the form if the Light of Messiah, "the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (Jn.1:9, KJV). Everyone, as I said, is required by the default of incarnation to obey the moral and ethical Torah and will be judged by it on the basis of the response of their conscience to this 'natural law'. So irrespective of our knowledge, or lack of knowledge, of Torah, we recognise qadosh (holy, set-apart) obligations within by individual apprehension within and, according to our personal response, are morally judged (for "their conscience also bears witness" with the understanding of their heart - Rom.2:15). And although 'conscience' belongs to all men and women, and is the means by which we appreciate actively the divine character and will, since it also presents man as his own judge, it may be regarded as simultaneously a power 'apart' from man himself:
Or as the Aramaic version puts it better:
"I speak the emet (truth) in Messiah - I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) - I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart" (Rom.9:1-2, NIV).
"I speak the emet (truth) in the Messiah and I do not lie, and my mind bears witness concerning me by the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit)" (ibid., HRV).
Q. I can see how this scripture could be terribly abused by someone with an impure or defiled conscience.
A. I agree. There are potentially great dangers. The line is a thin one. And we must never forget the context of Scripture when an appeal to conscience is being made. Here Paul is agonising over the fact that his fellow Judeans won't receive Yah'shua (Jesus) - it is this revelation that Yah'shua (Jesus) is the Son of Yahweh, which can only come from the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit), in the same way that Peter (Kefa) obtained it, that Paul is talking about. In spite of the sophisticated arguments made by his fellow Judeans that Yah'shua (Jesus) was not the Messiah, he knows within - and his conscience is absolutely pure in this regard. He has no guilt about making a proclamation which was considered blasphemy by most of his contemporaries. He is in shalom - at peace - even though his heart is cut to pieces because his fellow Hebrews will not receive this emet (truth).
Now please notice that Paul's conscience isn't the revelation itself! The revelation he received that Yah'shua (Jesus) was Elohim (God) came from the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit). The conscience is not a source of revelation beyond the moral and ethical Torah (Law)! It is prophetic only within these constraints! People who sit around listening to their hearts for 'revelation' beyond this are going to be deceived, and big time! It is the Ruach (Spirit) who is the Revelator to man when it comes to anything beyond the moral and ethical Torah inscribed by nature on the hearts of those who have not defiled their conscience.
Q. But presumably the Ruach (Spirit) also bears witness of the moral and ethical Torah?
A. To those who have received the Ruach (Spirit), yes - that is, born-again, spiritually regenerated believers.
Q. You talk about the 'Light of Messiah' - what exactly do you mean by that? Is this 'light' the same as the Ruach (Spirit)?
A. The word 'light' is used in a rather special way in the Johannine writings (see Light and Love in the Johannine Epistles) that distinguishes its use elsewhere in scripture. Whereas 'light' invariably references Yahweh's holiness through the rest of the Bible, in John's writings it refers to the revelation of Yahweh's ahavah (love) in Messiah (Christ) and the penetration of that ahavah (love) into lives darkened by sin. This light shines into the hearts of everyone birthed into our physical world, giving everyone who will not move out of its rays a basic knowledge of Yahweh's holiness in moral and ethical Torah. This aspect of Torah then becomes the stepping stone for those who will go further into the fullness of Torah that is in Messiah (Christ), the "light of the glorious Besorah (Gospel) of Messiah" and to Yahweh Himself who has Himself "shined in our hearts" (2 Cor.4:4-6, KJV). This light we are born with is a kind of spiritual bank trust which pays out a small dividend to enable us to live the Noahide Laws. Our option, when we are able to recognise it through hearing or reading the Davar (Word), is then to receive the full payment - the deposit - which is salvation in Messiah (Christ).
Q. All of this presupposes that people are living with pure consciences, does it not?
A. To a greater or lesser extent, yes.
Q. What of those whose consciences are so darkened because of rebellion against the moral and ethical Torah?
A. Then you have reached a situation not at all unlike the one we are rapidly entering today, where conscience is dimmed and guilt almost non-existent owing to the programming and brainwashing of the atheistic media. People are idolatrous, blasphemous, sexually perverse, dishonest, abuse justice, are cruel to animals, and so on. And they don't care anymore because there isn't even a national consciousness to speak of. The New Age-occultic media encourage self-worship (Satanism), the media regularly blasphemes Yahweh's Name, perverse sexuality is actually taught and encouraged in schools, some countries have laws that to all intents and purposes permit pedophilia (the legal age of consent is 13 in many lands). And those who oppose these things are now lone voices here and there. The vast majority don't want to know the moral and ethical law of the Creator.
Q. So how are these darkened people to be penetrated - who have little or no conscience or sense of guilt?
A. By the only means available - by mighty miracles and judgment ... or not at all.
Q. So the age of conscience might be said to be almost past?
A. Not entirely - there are still many decent people but they are a diminishing minority.
Q. So maybe we could summarise what you have been saying about 'conscience' as it relates to guilt ...
A. OK. The Pauline sense of conscience means the pain suffered by man when he has done wrong, as when he says:
He is of course referring to civil rulers here. We are to be subject to them not only for the sake of syneidés (conscience) but also orgé - that is, the personal and social manifestations of the judgement of Yahweh. Even though pagan civil authorities may be unrighteous - and there may be times when we may have to defy them if we art forced to choose between Yahweh and the state - nevertheless they provide order which is always better than anarchy and chaos.
"Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience" (Rom.13:5, NIV).
We are delivered from the guilt that comes from a bad conscience by dying to sin through incorporation into Yah'shua (Jesus):
At the same time, it is possible for man's conscience, the faculty by which we apprehend the moral demands of Yahweh, and which causes us pain when we fall short of those demands, to be inadequately disciplined and informed ("their conscience is weak, it is defiled" - 1 Cor.8:7), to become weakened ("wound their weak conscience" - v.12) and even defiled ("to the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure" - Tit.1:15 - also 1 Cor.8:7). Finally, our conscience can become seared and ultimately insensible (1 Tim.4:2).
"I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate to do ... through Messiah Yah'shua (Christ Jesus) the Torah (Law) of the Ruach (Spirit) of life set me free from the torah (law) of sin and death" (Rom.7:15; 8:2).
Q. So the conscience isn't something static?
A. Clearly not. The conscience has to be properly educated by Torah in cooperation with the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit). The conscience has to be trained up. This is why 'conscience' and 'emunah (faith)' cannot be separated. By repentance and emunah (faith), which come about as a result of being educated in Torah, man is delivered from the conscience as 'pain' ('guilt'); but emunah (faith) is also the means by which his conscience is quickened and informed.
Q. This emunah (faith) not being passive, but active, right?
A. Right. This is emunah (faith) which leads to works of holiness. It is emunah (faith) which leads to obedience of the mitzvot (commandments) of Yah'shua (Jesus) - to obedience of Torah. If we are not obeying Torah and have no guilt about not doing so then our conscience is defiled. We are spiritually ill and in need of reformation and rehabilitation! To walk in "newness of life" (Rom.6:4) implies a living, growing emunah (faith), through which the believer is open to the influence of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) (Rom.8:14) and this in turn is the guarantee of a "good conscience" (1 Pet.3:16).
Q. What are some of the signs of a bad conscience?
A. They are many. But to give you a typical example, when I confront people with the necessity to be Torah-observant, they reveal their defiled conscience by typical remarks as 'it's a matter of choice' or 'taste'; 'you do it your way and I'll do it mine.' These are all evidences of rebellion because there is only one Besorah (Gospel), one Torah, one Chayim (Life), one Derech (Path, Way, Road) to holiness, one Messiah (Christ), one communion of the qodeshim (saints, set-apart ones) one Messianic Assembly or Church. This 'diversity' excuse is the evidence of defiled conscience, or people wanting to do things 'their way' instead of Yahweh's. And their conscience is defiled because they are rebels.
Q. And feel no guilt about their path ...?
A. There are always pangs of guilt - however weak or brief - but largely guilt has been suppressed under will. One of the laws of Satanism is that you should "love under will" - that is, according to the wants and dictates of self. Aleister Crowley's Thelma Society teaches this and it is common to Wicca. But when ahavah (love) is defined relative to self in any way, it is corrupt, because self is not only corrupt but dead. To love properly is to be under Yahweh's will, and the only way you can know what that is is by obedience to Torah.
Q. Is it true to say, then, that a defiled conscience actually prevents us from coming to Yahweh?
A. No doubt about it. Anything imperfect prevents us from coming to Yahweh. See what Paul says about the Old Covenant:
"...the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshipper" (Heb.9:9, NIV).
Q. You mean the Torah (Law) of Moses actually frustrated people's access to Yahweh?
A. Yes, that is what Paul says. But deliverance has been made possible by the work of Messiah (Christ) under the terms of the New Covenant:
"... the blood of Messiah (Christ), who through the eternal Ruach (Spirit) offered Himself unblemished to Yahweh, cleanse[d] our conscience from acts that lead to death ..." (Heb.9:14).
Q. Only the blood of Messiah can cleanse our conscience and guilt because of sin!
A. Amen! A conscience without Messiah is defiled. A conscience which does not recognise, let alone apply, the blood of Messiah, is defiled! And its ability to distinguish between emet (truth) and error is impaired.
Q. So how practically speaking do we appropriate the blood of atonement for the cleansing of our consciences and the wiping away of guilt caused by sin?
A. The way Paul and Peter said:
"Let us draw near to Yahweh with a sincere heart in full assurance of emunah (faith), having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure mayim (water)" (Heb.10:22, NIV).
"Messiah suffered for you, leaving you with an example, that you would follow in His steps" (1 Pet.2:21, NIV).
Now these passages will provoke a lot of questions, I think, for they indeed contain much of importance:
- 1. Firstly, we have to be completely honest and transparent. The conscience can never be cleansed if we play games or don't put all the cards of our life on the table. Nothing can be kept back.
- 2. Secondly, we have to truly believe - have confidence in the Word of Yahweh and in the atoning work of Yah'shua (Jesus). We have to believe every word of Torah and not play around with it. We can't pick and choose. We have to be as honest with ourselves as we are with Yahweh's Davar (Word), the Bible. It means we can't go inventing doctrines of our own or ignoring scriptures we don't like - we have to accept everything, even if at first we don't like what we read. It is for Yahweh to explain to us what His Davar (Word) means, not for us to explain it away! And that explanation is accomplished by the Davar (Word) itself - every part of it is a part of a whole. It's one Besorah (Gospel), from Genesis to Revelation, not two, or three or more. It's all One Davar (Word) - not 'Old' Testament (Tanakh) and 'New Testament' - these are artificial designations invented by men. It's all one Bible. Torah has to be seen as a whole. Yah'shua (Jesus) never dismissed the 'Old' Testament (Tanakh) but merely 'filled it up', bringing it to completion of wholeness by the shedding of His own blood. Those are the first two points.
3. Thirdly, we have to be cleansed - first, through the blood of Messiah, and second, through the ritual washing of our bodies which is called 'baptism'. There are many who refuse to be baptised insisting that we are cleansed inside and not outside. That is only a half truth: the half that is true is that cleansing is indeed inside, but the lie is that we needn't be obedient to Yahweh's outer ordinances. When we say we don't need baptism, the Sabbath Day, the Annual Festivals, the New Moon, observing the correct calendar, gathering as believers, and other outer actions, we are declaring our independence from Yahweh and claiming to be Elohim (God). What right does anyone have to tell Yahweh what He should do?! This attitude of making everything 'inside only' is just an excuse for rebellion and selfishness - it is the proclamation of Self that the Besorah (Gospel) is going to be an entirely private affair. It isn't. The Besorah (Gospel) of Yah'shua (Jesus) is about as communitarian as you can get. That is why we are connected to our ancestors, as I mentioned earlier, and why we are also burdened with generational sins that cause us to do things we don't want to do - sins that need breaking. There is no such thing as a solo-Christian. Such is a contradiction in terms.
So we need to be cleansed and obedient both inwardly and outwardly. Anyone who denies these things still has a defiled conscience and has not been properly cleansed. The rituals or ordinances which we have been given are not only teaching aids and the means of forming communal bonds but are a test of obedience. It is not for us to reason why but to obey. If we obey, the understanding will come ... but not before.
Finally, as Peter (Kefa) tells us, we are to imitate Yah'shua (Jesus) by walking in His footsteps. We are to copy His Torah and Ruach-filled lifestyle. The desire to do this is further evidence of a clean conscience. The desire not to - as with refusing to submitting to Yahweh's ordinances - is testimony that self is still on the throne of the heart to one degree or another.
So in terms of growth in the Christian/Messianic life, therefore, the worshipper's conscience may be described as 'good' in the sense which I have just mentioned. The appropriation of the blood of cleansing through emunah (faith) which leads to obedience to Torah is what gives me a 'good conscience'.
Q. So there are essentially two functions of conscience?
A. It is the means of moral judgement, painful and absolute since the judgement is in fact divine, upon the actions of an individual completed or begun. Also, it acts as a witness and a guide in both the negative and the positive aspects of the individual's sanctification.
Q. This has been an extraordinary exploration and I feel as though I have only just scratched the surface!
A. People everywhere these days are seeking for revelation and mystical experience and they are going about it in the wrong way and getting it from the wrong sources - 'Christians' and 'Messianics' no less than pagans. As a result people are mentally and emotionally confused. The conscience of one contradicts the conscience of another which, though no problem to an occultist who believes that everyone is their own truth and god, is a major problem when it comes in the search for the Emet (Truth), which is Yah'shua (Jesus), who is the embodiment of Yahweh's Eemet (Truth) in human form made easy for everyone to relate to and understand. There is, in truth, only one pure conscience, and it is the same in everyone no matter what their personality. Emet (Truth) is not subjective and it is not individualistic. Yahweh's Emet (Truth) does not manifest itself in different ways to different people. Like the Elohim Themselves, Emet (Truth) is echad or One.
The Emet (Truth) is actually very, very simple. As I have said a thousand times, the Emet (Truth) is that Yahweh - and Yahweh alone - is Ahavah (Love). To obtain this ahavah (love) - which every single human being deep down wants - is obtained by doing two things:
- (1) Loving Yahweh with our might, mind and strength as our primary and all-consuming purpose; and
- (2) Loving our neighbour - that's everyone - in the same way we deep down want to be loved ourselves ... in the way that Yahweh loves us.
But how do we so love Yahweh and mankind? That is explained in the Ten Commandments. Devarim (Words) or Categories:
- (i) Worship Yahweh alone;
- (ii) Don't commit idolatry;
- (iii) Don't misuse the Name of Yahweh;
- (iv) Keep the Seventh Day Biblical (not Roman) Sabbath qadosh (holy, set-apart) by resting from ordinary work and devoting your time to study, prayer, and corporate worship;
- (v) Respect your parents;
- (vi) Don't murder;
- (vii) Don't commit adultery;
- (viii) Don't steal;
- (ix) Be truthful - don't bear false witness; and
- (x) Don't covet/eagerly desire things which aren't yours.
If these Ten Categories had been enough, Yahweh wouldn't have given us more torot (laws). But He did, and Yah'shua (Jesus) upheld them, and taught believers to uphold them, and actually added some more of His own to bring Torah to completion (Mt.5:17-20).
We can measure all emet (truth) in terms of these torot (laws). We can know what it is to have a clean conscience relative to these torot (laws). We can know whether we are guilty or innocent from these torot (laws). That is what they are for. They are given to us to show us the path to perfection, to be perfectly human, perfectly imaged in and by Messiah:
If you want to have eternal chayim (life), obey the mitzvot (commandments), like Yah'shua (Jesus) said:
"Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matt.5:48, NKJV).
If you want to be perfect (complete), do what Yah'shua (Jesus) tells you to do, and don't be sorrowful if what He tells you to do goes contrary to your fondest desires (vv.21-22).
"Now a man came up to Yah'shua (Jesus) and asked, 'Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal chayim (life)?' 'Why do you ask me about what is good?' Yah'shua ( Jesus) replied. 'There is only One who is good. If you want to enter chayim (life), obey the mitzvot (commandments)'" (Matt.19:16-17, NIV).
Everything we think, feel, say or do must be measured against Torah. It is Torah that must train up our conscience. It is Torah that must strengthen our conscience. The spirit of man must be educated in Emet (Truth) - the only part that is built into us as natural law is the Moral and Ethical Torah. But even these will not be apprehended if we don't get our conscience cleaned up. Are you offended by Yahweh's Torah? Are you looking for excuses not to believe in any part of it? If you are, your conscience is defiled and not pure. Yahweh establishes purity, not you or I, and if His Torah says something is pure, then it is. If your conscience is offended because of blood atonement, theocratic rule, capital punishment, male-female distinctives and gender rôles, divine tavnith (pattern), the biblical covenantal marriage forms mandated by Yahweh (heterosexual monogamy and polygamy), Sabbath assembly and worship, the Hebrew Sacred Festivals, a six-day working week, the condemnation of pagan traditions, servanthood, the pre-eminence of Messianic Israel, salvation through Yah'shua (Jesus) alone, the incarnation, virgin birth, the call to purity and holiness, or anything else in Torah, then it is you who are defiled, not Yahweh! And if this is true, then the obligation is on you to repent and change, not Yahweh!
Q. What would your final word of counsel be?
A. Pauls's words to Timothy:
"Remind them of these things, charging them before Yahweh not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to Elohim (God), a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Davar Emet (Word of Truth). But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer" (2 Tim.2:14-17, NKJV).
We have to be Torah-faithful. Anything that claims to supplant it is mere "babblings", a "cancer" or "gangrene" (NIV) in the Body of Messiah (Christ), that leads only to "ungodliness". You will be despised and hated for doing so, as Yah'shua (Jesus) promised, but you will at least be right with Yahweh, have an undefiled conscience, be free of guilt, and be on the path that leads to perfection and eternal chayim (life).
This page was created on 4 October 2002
Last updated on 6 June 2017
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