That 38th Psalm is filled with the feelings of a guilty conscience:
For Your arrows have pressed deep into me,
And Your hand has pressed down upon me.
There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your indignation;
There is no health in my bones because of my sin.
For my iniquities go over my head;
As a heavy burden they weigh too much for me.
My wounds stink and rot
Because of my folly.
I am bent over and greatly bowed down;
I go mourning all day long.
For my loins are filled with burning,
And there is no soundness in my flesh.
I am faint and badly crushed;
I groan because of the agitation of my heart. (Psalm 38:2-8)
Quite a contrast to what the apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 1:12. Paul, very much at the other end of the spectrum from the Psalmist, says, “For our proud confidence is this, the testimony of our conscience that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom, but in the grace of God we have conducted ourselves in the world and especially toward you.” Paul was enjoying a clear conscience; the psalmist was feeling the agony of an accusing conscience.
The conscience produces guilt, anxiety, fear, doubt, physical illness, pain, and other depressing experiences when the highest known standard of moral conduct is violated. The conscience is given to warn us about what devastates the soul. The Apostle Paul was living a holy life, and thus he had a clear and non-accusing conscience. He wasn’t perfect, but he was victorious over the sin in his life.
No Christian can honestly claim that when he became a Christian sin was erased. It’s not so. Even though we’re saved, we still sin; and worse, we still derive pleasure from our sin. We still struggle with sinful habits, not just sinful isolated acts. Sometimes we fall into shameful, scandalous sins. Our thoughts and our words are not always what they ought to be. Our minds and our affections are often set on things that will pass away. Our hearts often grow cold to things holy and evangelistic.
We might ask, why is this so? If we go back to Romans 6, we might conclude that everything should be different. Verse 14 says, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” Verse 17 says, “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching to which you were given over, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” If indeed sin does not have dominion over us and we are no longer its slaves, why can’t we live a pure life and enjoy a clear conscience? Why does this battle go on?
The answer is: There is yet remaining sin within us. We have been saved from the penalty of sin, which Christ took Himself in dying on the cross. Sin’s powerful mastery over us is broken, and we do not have to obey it. The presence of sin is no longer with us at all times in all ways. And some day we will be saved from its presence altogether. But though we have been saved, and redeemed, and forgiven, there is still remaining sin within us. The Scriptures, however, give us hope that we can battle and enjoy victory over this sin — something that will be the topic of this series.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 1993, titled “Hacking Agag to Pieces.” In addition to serving as the pastor of Grace Community Church and the voice of Grace to You, Dr. MacArthur is the chancellor of The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, Calif. You can learn more about TMU at www.masters.edu.
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