The cure for an oversensitive conscience

“For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart and knows all things.  Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God” (I John 3:20-21).

“But I don’t feel forgiven.”

“I don’t feel saved after some of the things I’ve done.”

“I feel so bad. I know God says He has forgiven me, but my heart says otherwise.”

Every pastor gets this.  People who have grown up in sound churches and call themselves Bible-believing Christians fall prey to this malady of judging their standing with the Heavenly Father by their feelings.

Imagine that.  As though one’s feelings about anything are accurate, consistent, dependable.

Martin Luther had a word for all who find themselves tangled in the struggle with their feelings:

“Feelings come and feelings go

And feelings are deceiving.

My warrant is the Word of God–

Naught else is worth believing.

Though all my heart should feel concerned

For want of some sweet token,

There is One greater than my heart

Whose word cannot be broken.

I’ll trust in God’s unchanging word

Til soul and body sever

For, though all things shall pass away

His word shall stand forever.”

What we know about feelings and emotions….

–Good feelings are desirable.  People spend billions of dollars and risk their health and very lives in their search for good feelings. Who among us doesn’t like to feel great?  A Spring day, the brisk air, sunshine, flowers, butterflies, and a picnic under a tree on a hillside.  I’ll take that in a heartbeat. (Feels good just to imagine it!)

–Feelings are fickle.  Feelings are poor barometers of anything.  Emotions can be manipulated by the food we eat, the amount of sleep, fatigue, temper, the conditions around us, the last thing our boss said to us, and a thousand other factors.

–Feelings are often detached from reality.  You’re on the phone with someone and suddenly, you sense the line is dead or that they’ve left. You call their name. “I’m here,” your party answers.  That inner sense misled you.

–Feelings are often the very opposite of faith.  In another context, Martin Luther said, “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times.”  Pity the person asked to stake his life on the way he feels at the moment.

–Jesus once asked the disciples, “Why did you fear? Where is your faith?” (Mark 4:40).

–It is true that the lack of good feelings can seriously hold us back.  You’re about to speak before a huge assembly.  A sense of foreboding settles over you like a storm cloud.  This is not good. You need confidence, to radiate a sense that you know what you’re talking about.

–Feelings of confidence and assurance can make a great difference when facing a strong foe or formidable obstacle.

–The Lord said to Jeremiah, “You will face kings and princes and anyone else I command, and you will call them to repentance.  But you must not fear them.  In fact, if you get stage fright in their presence, I will humiliate you in front of them!” (Jeremiah 1, especially verse17).  God wanted no quivering, vacillating, nervous spokesperson, but a confident speaker who feared no one but God and nothing but disappointing Him.

Nothing serves as an antidote to our negative feelings like the Word of God.

A full half-dozen times before Joshua ascended to the leadership position over God’s people, he was told, “Be strong and courageous; the Lord is with you.”  (See Deuteronomy 31:6,7,23 and Joshua 1:6,7,9,18.)

“Whoever is fearful (as we go into battle), may go home.”  (See Joshua 7:3 and Deuteronomy 20:8.)

Fear is contagious.  “Let the fearful return and go to his house, lest the heart of his brethren faint like his heart” (Deuteronomy 20:8).

But the Word is greater than our hearts.  And even more, “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (I John 4:4).

The question then becomes whether we will believe His word above our own feelings and fears.

–“Whoever believes on the Name of the Son of God has everlasting life.”  Will you believe God’s word above your own feelings?

–“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us of iniquities.”  Will we believe we are forgiven whether we feel it or not? The answer says volumes about our trust in God’s Word.

–“And shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death to life.”  “There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”  “And they shall never perish.”  Will we believe we are saved forever even when our hearts condemn us?

Every Christian must decide whether to believe God’s Word above his own convictions, fears, ideas, and opinions.  How we decide makes a world of difference in how we will then live and work and serve and honor God.






6 thoughts on “The cure for an oversensitive conscience

  1. Dear brother,

    Thank you for those words that you wrote 5 years ago. I believe that I deal with a hyper-sensitive conscience. While reading this, I just had some quality moments with our Lord and I hope this helps me moving forward to have faith in God’s word and promises, even when my conscience and mind may condemn me. Thank you.

  2. I actually feel worse after reading the Bible. I read what it says, and then I feel as though I am not doing enough to meet these high standard. And then I practice them, say by being honest, and the reaction I get from others is often negative. It is as if the “standard” lie is accepted as perferable because it is the “normal” behavior which is expected.

    • I have no idea what it’s like to read the Bible and come away feeling worse. Sorry, wish I could feel what you are experiencing. And those “others” who respond negatively. Is that one or two people? or a lot of folks? Because it were many people, I’d suggest you change your friends because the ones you have are no help. Read Psalm 103 and think about it, then come back and tell me if you feel worse.

    • I can relate. I also only see condemnation and God’s wrath on me when I read the Word. I am constantly terrified that I’m not saved, that I’m actually a goat and not a sheep. Jesus’ parable about the three servants, where the one buries his mina for fear of his harsh master also haunts me constantly. I’ve been married for two years now and getting married has crushed me. You always know you are a sinner, but when you get married you realise just how absolutely vile and wretched you are. My husband is so discouraged with me because of my negative view of the Christian faith. I want to be better for him and be an encouragement to him, but it is a daily battle I fight alone to tell myself that Jesus will by no means cast out anyone who comes to Him and begs Him for help and forgiveness.

      • Hi Samantha,
        Your right standing with God has nothing to do with your perfection and your actions but only through what Jesus has done and you simply putting faith in what he has done alone. Our righteousness is like filthy rags. So if you get thoughts and accusations that you aren’t measuring up in any area you can admit that you aren’t perfect, but Jesus is, and your righteousness is in Jesus alone! Satan, the accuser of the brethren, wants you in this place of condemnation where you are ineffective, if he can get you focused on all of your failures and that God‘s upset with you, this will push you away from God. We have to take every thought captive. If the voice is accusing, condemning, comparing you to others who are seemingly better, you have to take them captive because so a man thinks so is he. We are transformed by the renewing of our mind, make sure you’re renewing your mind with what God says about you! That you are the righteousness of God! You have been freed from darkness and have been brought into His Kingdom of light! And so on. Jesus is not the one who is condemning you. There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the spirit. You walk according to the spirit if you believe his word that he alone is your righteousness. Ask God to help you take thoughts captive. I’ve asked for a reinforced helmet of salvation So I know that I know that I know I am saved and will not be deceived with the onslaught of thoughts. If your thinking is pushing you away from God, your thought aren’t from God and you must recognize they’re from your unrenewed mind or from satan. The more you meditate on these negative condemning thoughts you will spiral down and it’s very difficult to get out of it. Here are the scriptures that have helped me.

        1 John 3:20
        Hebrews 10:22
        2 Corinthians 10:5
        Colossians 1:13
        Ephesians 6:10

  3. Jeff and Paul, I want to encourage you…you are not alone in these feelings and struggles you have regarding reading the Bible, etc., and how that can wreak havoc, triggering your brain with traumatic thoughts and feelings. If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to look into Scrupulosity or Religious OCD and see if it might fit or if you can relate to at least some of it…see if you can find a Christian therapist who knows how to address trauma as well, as many times, these issues can come from genetic inclinations and past trauma. Past trauma can be many things…not just “being abused” in childhood as we tend to think of it. Early church experiences can breed trauma and a trigger response regarding prayer, church, reading the Bible, etc. You are NOT alone and you are loved. God knows your heart…even if you need to take a break from reading the Bible and just bask in God’s grace and love for you, I would encourage you to do that as well. I am a therapist who is a Christian and I’ve had to go through much healing and therapy to work through my religious trauma. Blessings and grace to you….

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