By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him;20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. – 1 John 3:19-20
The imaginations of the human heart can inspire almost anything – from sacrificial love to vicious acts of violence. A Navy Seal takes a bullet for his fellow soldiers. A raging gunman cuts down 5 people in a newspaper office. The heart is at the root of both. That’s why it is so vital that our hearts are centered on Jesus, and sustained by the Holy Spirit.
We might wish to justify ourselves by appealing to the rightness in our hearts. But anything other than pure love motivates us, we will find no justification there – at least before God. Debbie Boone once sang, “It can’t be wrong if it feels so right.” Oh contraire! God is bigger than our hearts. He will judge to see whether we are truly righteous.
On the other hand our hearts may accuse us falsely. Our actions may be acceptable to God and purely motivated (by the presence of God’s Holy Spirit and in faith in Jesus). Not only do our hearts not accuse us when they should, sometimes our hearts accuse us when we have done nothing wrong.
This does not mean that we ever outgrow the need for the cross of Jesus; it simply means that we don’t have to be paralyzed by the specter of sin or carrying a load of guilt for simply taking a breath (after all, we breath so we can live; isn’t that selfish?). Jesus told the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” She still needed Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness. But she was freed from her life of sin – just as we are freed from sin’s hold on us.
When we feel the tug of a guilty conscience we can be confident that Jesus’ death has atoned for that sin and live in freedom and grateful love to God and our neighbor. That is a gift of the Holy Spirit for which we can thank God.