Your conscience is that part of you that knows you deeply. The word conscience means a “knowing with” or “self-knowledge.” This is the part of you where God protects you from wrong choices, but also convicts you when you sin.
When we have sinned against someone, the Bible has a very clear process for resolution. Jesus commanded this in Matthew 5:23-24, and the account of Jacob in the Old Testament illustrates the beauty and rightness of this approach.
Jacob had deceived and cheated his brother out of his birthright and blessing. Esau was not innocent in this encounter, because he had also vowed to kill his brother.
Years went by, and now Jacob, married and prosperous, was told by God to return to Israel. But along the way, his worst nightmare came to pass—he encountered his brother, the one he had wronged years before.
The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and furthermore he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and the herds and the camels, into two companies; for he said, “If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the company which is left will escape.”
Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you,’ I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. “Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children. For You said, ‘I will surely prosper you and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be numbered’” (Genesis 32:6-11 NASB).
We all sin, and we hurt others in the process. Our sin is not only against God, but against those we have wronged.
The path to a clear conscience is to humbly admit your sin and seek forgiveness from the one you’ve offended. Also, we should make restitution where needed.
Until that is done, you will carry the unbearable weight of guilt, and rightfully so.
What if I see that person? What if they take revenge? What if others discover my past sins? What if my unresolved actions bring reproach to God and hinder the gospel?
God’s legitimate conviction can paralyze you; it’s like a heavy burden around your neck. It is designed by God to drive you to action.
When there are people in your life that you have sinned against, the best thing to do is to face it by the grace of God.
A Humble, Courageous Response
Jacob took the hard but necessary step. He admitted his past sins and sent a gift of restitution to his brother. Esau graciously forgave him, and their relationship was restored.
As Jacob’s conscience was cleared, the fear and distress disappeared. Even if Esau had not forgiven him, Jacob had taken the right step. He knew that, as far as it was possible, he had sought to make things right.
It’s always the best approach when you have hurt someone—no matter how far in the past—to seek to be reconciled to them when God brings it to mind. God has much to say about this, for He longs for His children to walk together in righteousness and peace.
Charles Spurgeon said that a man can only be used again when his “confession is as notorious as his sin.”
Is there anyone you have sinned against that you have not tried, to the best of your ability, to seek their forgiveness and make things right?
If so, make the call. Go see them, if appropriate. Call or write to them, and do it TODAY. Enjoy the liberating result of being right with God and right with man.
Father, is there anyone that I have sinned against that I need to approach? Places where I need to clear my conscience with You and others? If so, bring them to mind, and then give me the grace and courage to face the situation humbly, regardless of their response.
(If you have questions or want to pursue this further, I’ve written a small booklet called Lifting Life’s Greatest Load: How to Gain and Maintain a Clear Conscience.)