What basic steps should be taken in order to gain a clear conscience?
When you have offended others, gaining a clear conscience involves taking responsibility for your actions, seeking forgiveness, and making restitution. The following steps provide guidelines for examining your heart and making things right with people you have offended.
1. Identify those whom you have offended.
Consider your actions toward other people. Based on the standard of God’s Word, evaluate your interaction with others.
- Have you stolen money or other items from stores, family members, neighbors, employers, or others? (See Exodus 20:15 and Ephesians 4:28.)
- Have you lied to anyone? (See Exodus 20:16 and Colossians 3:9.)
- Have you lost your temper with anyone? (See Ephesians 4:26 and James 1:19–20.)
- Have you damaged the reputation of anyone by participating in gossip, backbiting, or slander? (See Psalm 101:5 and Ephesians 4:29.)
- Have you been ungrateful for what others have done for you? (See Colossians 3:15 and Psalm 100:4.)
- Have you held a grudge against anyone? (See Colossians 3:12–13.)
- Have you rebelled against people who are in authority over you or been disrespectful toward them? (See Romans 13:1 and Hebrews 13:17.)
- Have you harbored a prideful spirit? (See I Peter 5:5 and Romans 12:3.)
- Have you failed to show genuine love when others reacted to you? (See I Peter 2:21–23 and I John 4:20.)
Consider others’ attitudes toward you. When others react to you, they actually might be mirroring wrong attitudes you have had toward them or others.
- Do your authorities think that since you want to be your own boss, they might as well let you do whatever you want to do? (See Hebrews 13:17.)
- Do family members or others observe a lack of gratefulness for all they have done for you? (See Hebrews 13:7 and I Thessalonians 5:18.)
- Do people avoid you because they feel you don’t need them and they are a bother to you? (See Ephesians 4:32.)
- Do others feel that you are too busy for them and are not interested in their problems? (See I Peter 4:8–9.)
- Does your employer feel that your heart is not really in your work? (See Colossians 3:22–23.)
2. Carefully choose the right wording.
When the prodigal son decided to return home and ask for his father’s forgiveness, he chose the wording of his confession ahead of time. (See Luke 15:17–21.) You should carefully and thoughtfully select the best words to use in asking for forgiveness. Make sure that the following insights and attitudes are true of your heart and are expressed clearly in your words:
- Identify the basic offense.
Put yourself in the other person’s place. Relive the offense through his eyes, considering what he must have felt and thought. The offense usually involves an underlying attitude such as ungratefulness, disrespect, dishonesty, self-centeredness, pride, or laziness. Confess your sinful attitudes and specific actions, and ask for forgiveness for them.
- Demonstrate sincere repentance and humility.
Before you go to another person to seek forgiveness for an offence, repent before God and ask for His cleansing and forgiveness. Then as you go to the offended person, let your attitude and manner reflect the humility of one who is asking for something he does not deserve. Be careful not to hint that you “weren’t so bad” or that “they were wrong too.”
Avoid making the following prideful statements:
- “I was wrong, but you were too.”
- “I’m sorry about it, but it wasn’t all my fault.”
- “If I’ve been wrong, please forgive me.”
- Be prepared to make restitution.
Your confession should be accompanied by restitution for any personal loss that the offended one encountered in the situation. If you’re unable to make full restitution at this time, share your plans to do so as soon as possible.
Here is a sample of an excellent request for forgiveness: “God has convicted me of how wrong I’ve been in _______________(basic sinful attitude and offense). I’ve come to ask, ‘Will you forgive me?’ ”
3. Determine the proper time to ask for forgiveness.
Make a phone call or personally visit the offended person to ask when you can talk with him alone at a time that is convenient. Be considerate of his needs and schedule. Don’t jump into the confession until he is able to give his full attention to what you have to say.
When you have asked him to forgive you, give him time to express forgiveness verbally. Hearing the words “I forgive you” is an important part of gaining a clear conscience. If he forgives you, express gratitude for his positive response. Let your attitudes and actions reflect your genuine repentance by not repeating the offense.
If the offended person is not able to forgive you, respect his decision. It is possible that he needs time to think about what you have said. He may have an emotional balance of guilt and blame that would be upset if he forgave you, or he may doubt that you are truly repentant of your attitudes and actions.
Respond to him graciously, and with the passing of time, demonstrate that you are genuinely repentant of your wrongdoing. As you seek God’s direction for your part in the relationship, you can enjoy the blessing of a clear conscience, knowing that you did what you could to restore the relationship.
Whatever it takes, seek to gain the treasure of a clear conscience. The Apostle Paul understood the importance of a clear conscience and he challenged us with this instruction: “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18).
This material is adapted from the Basic Seminar Textbook, pages 65–71.