Have you ever experienced a sense of guilt despite knowing you have not violated Scripture? This is more common than you may realize.
When a person feels guilty without cause, we say they may be suffering from what Scripture calls a weak conscience. This is triggered by something other than the Word of God. Often a person with weak conscience is an immature believer, and is easily swayed by every wind of teaching both unbiblical and extra biblical. This believer is untrained in grace and law and feels guilty for all the wrong reasons. She is subjected to self-imposed standards or people-imposed standards.
Perhaps it is from having a very legalistic church background. If the particular church or denomination held to separatist views or was very intrusive into certain areas of life, a sense of guilt develops, and you are looking over your shoulder to see if you are being watched for the sake of rebuke. Yet, it doesn’t even have to be that severe. Many churches set up these ideals for people that are not wrong and are even respectful — like men should always wear a tie to church or women must always wear dresses with heels. We could also include opinions on the version of the Bible you read or the kind of music you listen to. Many of these picky areas among Christians are things Scripture is silent on. But the person who dares to step outside of the strict parameters set up by their church or group of people will experience guilt when they decide not to follow those rules any longer. One person said she felt like a traitor to her religious upbringing when she began to attend a Bible Church! I was afraid the first time I went to a different church, because the Catholic Church I grew up in said that I would go to hell if I ever set foot in a different kind of church!
The issue of weak conscience was huge among Paul’s Gentile converts. These Gentiles, in their former way of life, participated in pagan rituals and ate the meat from the temple sacrifices. Now, they are among the Jewish converts who were learning from Peter that all food is clean and can be eaten. The ceremonial law had been fulfilled in Christ, and so the dietary restrictions were now a thing of the past for everyone. Paul addressed the area of Christian liberty in Romans 14, where he said,
The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.Romans 14:22-23
In Rome, people were going against something they thought was a command of Scripture. In Corinth, the issue was eating the food from the temple. The person with a weak conscience does not act in faith (Romans 14:23) and sins when he engages in works that he believes is not of God.
Warren Weirsbe says, “If it’s doubtful, it’s dirty!” This can be a good mindset to follow. No one would drink milk or water that was possibly contaminated; nor would we accept food that might be possibly poisoned. Yet, many Christians carelessly engage in practices that even the world questions. They never face the fact that whatever is doubtful is not of faith, and therefore is sin.
If you are struggling with this, I would encourage you to put your “guilt” on paper and then seek out truth from God’s Word and see if you have committed sin. If you have, then the remedy is confession and repentance. Change your actions by renewing your mind, putting off the old sinful behavior, and taking the righteous life Christ has purchased for you with His blood.
If it is not able to be pinpointed as sin, then I would suggest you seek solid counsel from another believer who is well grounded in the Word. You may be tormenting yourself needlessly, and you are not to live as a slave to fear. May the grace of God go before you.