Following are several additional guidelines to keep in mind as you seek to obtain and maintain a clear conscience:
Scope of Confession
When you set out to clear your conscience, remember that the scope of your confession should be as large—and only as large—as the scope of your sin. In other words, we need to admit our wrong and seek the forgiveness of all those who have been affected by our wrongdoing.
Here are some guidelines to help you determine the appropriate scope for your confession:
Private confession: Sin committed against God needs to be confessed to God.
Personal confession: Wrongs done to another individual need to be confessed to God and to that person—for example, lying, stealing, anger, slander, immorality.
Public confession: If our sin was against a group of people or has become common knowledge, we need to seek forgiveness from all those who have been affected. Examples include public outbursts of anger, an adulterous relationship that is public knowledge and has tarnished the testimony of Christ, hypocritical lifestyles, stealing from church funds, etc.
Cautions Regarding Confession of Moral Sin
When sexual sin has been broadly known and needs to be confessed publicly, use discretion, and avoid sharing unnecessary details. In most cases, it would be wise to limit the scope of confession to God, then to spouses (if applicable), and possibly to church leaders (for accountability and discipline). However, if the offender is in a position of spiritual leadership, the scope of confession may need to be greater (see 1 Timothy 5:20).
If a man has been guilty of lusting after a woman in his heart, he should not confess that sin to the woman (though he may need to seek her forgiveness for such offenses as not treating her in a virtuous way, etc.). He should confess his sin of lust privately to God and consider sharing his struggle with one or a few godly brothers in Christ (without naming the woman).
If a husband or wife needs to clear their conscience with their mate in relation to marital infidelity, it is generally best to seek counsel from a mature spiritual leader and to have a godly third party available to walk through the process with the couple.
Dream a little. If every believer in your community purposed to have a clear conscience and to pursue reconciliation of broken relationships, how might the impact be seen and felt? How might people’s view of Christians and Christianity be affected?
Excerpt from Seeking Him, © 2004 by Life Action Ministries, written by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Tim Grissom with Life Action Ministries, published by Moody Publishers in Chicago, IL. Used by permission.