Freedom from a Guilty Conscience

“At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus and said to his servants, This is John the Baptist. He has risen from the dead, and therefore the powerful works are working in him. For Herod had laid hold on John, and had bound him, and had put him in prison because of Herodias his brother Philip’s wife. For John said to him, It is not lawful for you to have her. And when he desired to put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. So he promised with an oath to give her whatever she would ask. And she, being instructed before by her mother, said, Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter. And the king was sorry. But for the oath’s sake, and those reclining with him, he commanded it to be given. And he sent and beheaded John in the prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl. And she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took up the body and buried it, and went and told Jesus.” (Matthew 14:1-12)

We have all done things in life that we regretted doing. This was very true and is typified in the life of Herod the tetrarch above. Herod had had John the Baptist beheaded. Yet, deep inside of him, he knew that what he did was wrong. In short, he had a guilty conscience. The fact that he had a guilty conscience is made very clear by verse 2 above, where Herod says of Jesus, “This is John the Baptist. He has risen from the dead.” Life is like that. Situations will surely come along to “prick our consciences” where they need to be pricked. Usually, if something gets “pricked,” as it did in the case of Herod the tetrarch, it means that we are still wrestling with a guilty conscience.

What is the answer? (What would have been the answer in Herod’s case?) Let’s examine this a little further. A woman has an abortion. She never “gets over” it, but wrestles with a guilty conscience, as Herod wrestled with his for having had John the Baptist beheaded. Part of her acknowledges it was wrong to do what she did, and yet, that “part” is in hiding, afraid to come out in the open, and confess it to others from whom she needs to receive forgiveness, and so she still continues to wrestle with a guilty conscience. The reason she cannot get over it is the same as the reason Herod was not able to “get over” his own guilty conscience. Though she has decided “never to do that again,” yet because she will not “confess her sin” to those whom she has offended (including God), therefore, she cannot get over her problem. Her problem may have even led to other problems.

Herod did not have to suffer from a guilty conscience forever. Even after having put to death John the Baptist (a terrible sin, of course, yet not unforgivable in God’s sight), he could have rejoiced to see Jesus on the scene, if only he had taken the right steps first. Those “right steps” would have included personal confession of his sin before God, as well as to all those whom he had offended. He may have had to ask forgiveness from quite a few people indeed, but at least he would have been free to worship Jesus “in Spirit and truth” after that (see John 4:24). He would have rejoiced to see Jesus, instead of fearing that “this is John the Baptist [who] has risen from the dead!”

What past sins are we struggling with that we need to make right, so that we can begin to rejoice instead of feeling guilty and condemned all the time? God wants us set free, and, if we will practice the principles that God teaches in His word, we will be “free indeed,” as Jesus said. “If you continue in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31b-32). Do you want to be free? Practice God’s word. That includes repentance from sins of the past that still need to be repented of, whether publicly (to a group of individuals), privately (to just one individual or to many individuals but each one privately), or even just to God himself, depending on the nature of the sin you committed. Bring that sin before God, and ask Him how best to handle it. Usually, you will have to repent before those whom you committed the sin against (if that is at all possible).