Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience, Christopher Ash Part 3
During lent my family uses diminishing lights each week alongside guided readings to reflect on the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. The diminishing light is mirrored in the changing light of the season. Moving into Autumn the light shifts, darkness begins to creep in, the light is no longer harsh and strong, but takes on a softness from the sun sitting lower in the sky. As the season progresses, we reflect on the darkness of sin and on God’s continual mercy to his people; and then finally, on Good Friday, we snuff out the final candle and are plunged into darkness. In some ways as we enter the mid-point of Ash’s book I feel as if we have been plunged into darkness. We are forced to reflect upon our guilty consciences that convict us of our sin. And confronted by that we are forced to consider the effects of this on our consciences.
On Palm Sunday, walking through the graveyard that surrounds my church, I was reflecting with a friend on this book. We were talking about how so many people can struggle with feeling distant from God; and even though objectively their relationship with God is secure these feelings impact and affect their relationship with him. This issue is often at the heart of why some people walk away from their faith- often while still believing the gospel message to be true, because they feel distance from God, because their consciences convict them of their sinfulness. As Ash writes in the first chapter of this third section: ‘The Choice We All Face,’ it is seen by some as easier to harden their heart, their conscience, than to feel the full weight of their sin, and turn to Christ in repentance and faith.
Yet, there is hope.
Having felt the full weight of our guilty consciences and the lure of the hardened conscience in the previous chapters, Ash then turns to ‘The Cleansed Conscience’. This chapter is probably the most important of the book, and is significant to Ash’s thesis, as we move from darkness to light.
In this chapter Ash focuses on an exposition of Hebrews 9:1-10:22 to examine “how real Christianity can make their consciences clean” (130). He unpacks the writer to the Hebrews’ argument, which contrasts the new way of relating to God because of Christ to the system of relating to God with the tabernacle that the Israelites had when they were journeying from Egypt to the Promised Land. Again, Ash is winsome and clear, outlining how the inner room of the tabernacle and the whole sacrificial system reminded the Israelites of their guilty consciences-
We too need to grasp that a guilty conscience is, objectively, a very serious thing. If I feel guilty, I dare not and will not enter the presence of God. For, if I have any sense, I will know that God is absolutely pure, and his burning purity will consume me. My guilty conscience warns me. It is necessary to grasp this objective truth before we can grasp and enjoy the wonder of a conscience made clean. (135)
Ash then looks at how, through Jesus’ death (the perfect sacrifice, the great High Priest), we can now “draw near” to God (Hebrews 10:22). We can enter the inner room of the tabernacle; the curtain split in two on that first Good Friday. And we can continue to draw near, even as we continue to struggle with sin in our lives, knowing that Jesus’ blood was shed for us, including our consciences: “having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience” (Hebrews 10:22). Like the writer to the Hebrews, Ash wants us to know and feel this. And he warns both the proud and the despairing Christian that both are rooted “in a reluctance to bow before the grace of God” (146).
At Easter, we remind ourselves, and each other, of Christ’s sacrifice and victory over sin and death. We light all the candles. And the darkness, which seemed to overwhelm us, is gone. Christ’s blood has made us clean, cleansed from our sins and from our guilty consciences. And so we can sing,
Jesus, my great High Priest,
Offered his blood and died;
My guilty conscience seeks
No sacrifice beside.
His pow'rful blood did once atone,
And now it pleads before the throne. (Isaac Watts)
About this month's contributor - Sian Lim
Sian loves Jesus, her family and books. She loves teaching and studying English literature and sharing Jesus with people. Sian enjoys good coffee, photography and going to the beach. She is always ready to discuss a great book or two. Sian loves being a mum but at the moment she would really like some more sleep.