Finding Freedom From Your Past
About the Guest
Pastor and bestselling author Dr. Erwin Lutzer shares what it means to live in the freedom of a clear conscience to others and to God. Lutzer explains what a conscience is, and reminds us of the truth that, "A good conscience is a continual feast."
Erwin LutzerDr. Erwin W. Lutzer is Pastor Emeritus of The Moody Church where he served as the Senior Pastor for 36 years. He earned a B.Th. from Winnipeg Bible College, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, a M.A. in Philosophy from Loyola University, and an honorary LL.D. from the Simon Greenleaf School of Law. A clear expositor of the Bible, he is the featured speaker on three radio programs that are heard on more than 1,000 outlets in the United States and around the world: Running to Win...more
Erwin Lutzer shares what it means to live in the freedom of a clear conscience to others and to God. Lutzer explains what a conscience is, and reminds us that, “A good conscience is a continual feast.”
Finding Freedom From Your Past
Bob: Have you ever experienced a troubled conscience? Dr. Erwin Lutzer says if you have, you’re not alone.
Dr. Lutzer: There are people today who feel guilty over things they should not feel guilty about. And, by the way, there are those who don’t feel guilty about something that they should feel guilty about. So the conscience has to be informed by Scripture. There is development, and there is a way in which the conscience can be shaped.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, June 19th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. God is the one who has given us a conscience. How’s yours working? We’ll talk more about it today. Stay with us.
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. There’s a verse in Scripture that says we’re to be ready to preach in season and out of season.
Dennis: I think our guest is pretty much ready! He probably preaches at night in his sleep! [Laughter] Don’t you, Bob?
Bob: I think you’re probably right. I think he’s ready at any point in time.
Dennis: He became the pastor of Moody Church—Dr. Lutzer—where he pastored for 37 years, by the way. How you ended up getting that—that is such a great story. Tell them how you ended up preaching your first sermon there.
Dr. Lutzer: Well, you know, it is a remarkable story, and I tell it to give glory to God for His providence in my life. My whole life has been, really, a story of God’s providence. I was the pastor of a Baptist church in Chicago called Edgewater. In 1977—a long time ago—I resigned to teach full-time at Moody Bible Institute, so they had a party for us the last Sunday of March. We woke up the next Sunday without a church to go to. I wanted to go to a different church, but my wife, Rebecca, said, “Let’s go to Moody Church, because you have come to know Pastor Wiersbe.”
Now, I have to say, whenever I hear the voice of God, it sounds an awful lot like Rebecca. [Laughter]
Dennis: I thought you were going to say Warren Wiersbe. [Laughter]
Dr. Lutzer: No, we’ll get to that. [Laughter]
So, the point is, we were on our way. I dropped her and the two kids off—we only had two children at the time—and I said, “I’ll find a parking spot and I’ll find you in the back of the church.” LaSalle Street was as tight as a drum. Parking was horrible! I didn’t know where I’d find a spot, but there, in front of me, a man pulled out. I saw him walk across the street; he backed out—I pulled in—100 feet or so from the church door. I walked into the lobby, and there was Rebecca and there was Pastor Wiersbe with his coat on. He was leaving.
He didn’t see me, but I saw him. I put my hand on his shoulder, and I said, “Wiersbe, what are you doing here? It’s ten minutes before the morning service.” He said, “Erwin Lutzer, I’m sick! I’m on my way home. Will you preach for me this morning?”
So, that morning, I stood on the platform and—only half-seriously—said to myself, “You know, if they ever call me to be the pastor here, I’ll say yes.”
But it wasn’t serious because, at that point, I had no idea that that would ever happen. I preached on Psalm 1—a message I had preached before about meditating in the Word of God. What’s critical here is that was one of the dots that God connected whereby eventually I became the pastor of Moody Church.
Dennis: I would say to any of our listeners, if you go to Chicago and don’t go by Moody Church and just slip in to the magnificent amphitheater—I don’t know how to describe it!
Bob: The sanctuary is beautiful!
Dennis: It’s magnificent—it really is! You owe it to yourself to see that. The history seems to just kind of seep out of the walls of that church.
Well, Dr. Erwin Lutzer was the pastor there for more than 37 years. He’s also the voice that you hear on the radio in the daily radio program called Running to Win. And he’s written a book called The Power of a Clear Conscience.
I want to take you all of the way back, Dr. Lutzer, to your childhood and the family you grew up in, because you’ve got quite a story—and quite a legacy—that you were given by your parents.
Dr. Lutzer: My parents were Germans, but they were brought up in the Ukraine; and they came to Canada independently. Now they were Germans and they went through World War I—tremendous suffering. My father was already converted, but my mother wasn’t. She had been baptized, but knew she wasn’t saved. She attended this little church, heard the gospel, and was gloriously converted.
She heard my father pray, and he heard her pray. In those days, the men sat on one side, and the women on the other. He asked if he could walk her home. On the way, he asked whether she would marry him. She said she would have to think about it, but, within three weeks, they were married. Now, here’s the thing. . .
Dennis: Hold it! Hold it! Hold it! They had never met before?
Dr. Lutzer: Well, just seeing each other in church.
My mother said later, she’d heard my dad pray and knew that he must be a godly man. So that was their connection, but that was the only connection they had.
Bob: And it worked out okay—their marriage did?
Dr. Lutzer: They lived together for 77 years. My father died at 106, and my mother at 103. I always say that my parents lived so long that I’m sure, until my father died, all of their friends in heaven thought that they just didn’t make it. [Laughter] You know, they said, “Where are the Lutzers?” [Laughter]
But, believe me, the Lutzers made it!
Dennis: 77 years. You had to have heard the message of their marriage. What was it?
Dr. Lutzer: This almost brings tears to my eyes, but let me tell you a story. They were simple people. They didn’t have a chance to get an education, even though they taught themselves how to read German and English. Just dogged determination and faith in just a remarkable way.
In about 1958, we had hail out on the farm. I was born on a farm in Saskatchewan, Canada. The crop was wiped out. My father did not have any insurance. Huge hailstones pounding everything into the ground. When it was over, they asked us to get on our knees to thank God, and that God would help us get through the coming year.
Now, you know, you can preach sermons. My dad never preached a single sermon, nor did my mother, but that kind of trust in God, after horrible suffering in World War I is really the legacy. So, if you ask the legacy—what they tried to do is to teach us that sin was bad and we were to follow the Lord. We had devotions from the German Bible after breakfast every single morning. I mean, if we missed three times a year—that was remarkable.
We got on our knees as kids; and nobody asked us, “Do you like to do this? Are these devotions meaningful?”
Dennis: It wasn’t up for a vote?
Dr. Lutzer: It wasn’t up for a vote. If you know anything about European parenting, it’s survival. You know, they had come from a difficult life. “How do we survive? How do we get from one year to another?” It was a matter of survival. We knew that we were loved. They seldom told us that, but we didn’t have to debate that. They took care of us—they clothed us, they fed us.
I went to school with a horse and buggy in the summer and a sleigh in the winter. Those are the kinds of conditions, but hearty people, faith in God, come what may, we’re going to go on believing.
Dennis: You didn’t just hint at it—you declared it. They were a couple of great faith. I know—because you’ve mentioned this to me privately—that your mom was a praying woman, too.
Dr. Lutzer: She really was. Now, let me tell you, they lived together for 77 years.
At their 70th anniversary, I was sitting next to my mother and I said, “Mother, do you know the names of all of your great-grandchildren?” (All of these kids running around.) And she just waved her hand, and she said, “I have a prayer list, and I mention them to God every day.” When she died, 122 people were on her prayer list. Every child; every grandchild; every great-grandchild—written in her own handwriting—and a number of missionaries.
So, if you ask this question, “How come God has used me—and also some of my other siblings?” —I really think that it goes back to the prayers of my parents. Their legacy was one of prayer and simple commitment to God.
Let me tell you about my conversion. You know, being brought up in a Christian home, I accepted Jesus as my Savior, as a child, over and over again—and didn’t feel any differently. I’ll never forget—when I was fourteen, my mother said to me, “We think it’s time for you to accept Jesus.” [Laughter]
You know, I never asked her why she said that, but I remember my answer, specifically, was, “I’ve tried it, but it doesn’t work for me.” I said, “I accept Jesus into my heart and I’m not changed. I don’t feel anything.” She said, “You have to do that by faith.” So we got down on our knees in the little farm home, and I accepted Christ by faith, whether I felt differently or not.
The next day, I knew that I knew God. The witness of the Holy Spirit of God—God’s presence—was so powerful. I have never doubted that I belong to God.
Dennis: I want to turn our conversation now to the fruit of your parents’ marriage and family—to your life and your preaching—and what you preached about at Moody Church; to the subject of a conscience—and having a clear conscience.
I think it was Francis Bacon who made this statement: “A good conscience is a continual feast.” And I believe it was Paul who wrote to Timothy—did he not—“But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.”
Why did you write this book? Was it because of that goal that Paul talked to Timothy about?
Dr. Lutzer: As a pastor, it’s because I’ve encountered so many people whose consciences will not allow them to grow in the Lord. A couple of examples: Here’s a man whose wife does not know that he fathered a child when he was in college. So here’s this boy growing up in another city. This man has a wonderful wife and kids. He’s asked to be an elder in a church but he always turns it down because, in the back of his mind, is an issue. He knows that he’s forgiven by God but you know, the Apostle Paul says,
“I make it my aim,” he says, “to have a conscience free of offense before God and before others.” So one of the reasons I wrote the book was to help people not just to get right with God but rather, the whole issue of reconciliation.
Let me give you another example. In the book I talk about a man who was told—when he was 22—his mother was in a psych ward over and over again while he was growing up and finally, when he was 22—she sat him down and said, “I want you to know that the man you think is your father, isn’t.” She had had a relationship with a man in the neighborhood, and that—
Now, just think about his whole identity crashing down on him. But—by the way—he is a very effective minister of the gospel today—which is such an encouragement to the many people who are listening who may have come and who may have been conceived out of wedlock. Does God have a plan for you? Absolutely! God’s grace and God’s mercy extends to all of those who open their hearts to Him.
So she ended up not having to go to a psych ward anymore because of the resolution of this issue in her mind and heart. I could go on. I could tell you about women who had abortions who didn’t tell their husbands.
What I decided to do, with God’s help, was to preach a series of messages—which is this book, The Power of a Clear Conscience—in which I would help people to understand that God wanted them to have a clear conscience. There was a path to wholeness, not only before God, but before others.
Bob: You’re saying there are people who are experiencing maybe physical issues—illness or sickness today—that is linked to the fact that their conscience is still bothering? Or they may be experiencing psychological stress and trauma that’s all linked to the fact that they’ve never come clean with what’s in their background?
Dr. Lutzer: I can’t prove this, but I believe that one of the reasons that America goes to bed with so many sleeping pills is because people go to bed with consciences that are unreconciled, and consciences that are not at peace.
The Bible says, regarding Christians, “Satan accuses the brethren,” during the day and during the night. If you’ve had this experience—as I have—where there’s something on your conscience; you can go to bed and sleep but when you wake up—even if it’s in the morning or the middle of the night—suddenly all of these issues come rushing in. Unless people know how to take care of that, they will be affected physically and in every other way.
Dennis: Let’s just talk about what a conscience is. There are some of our listeners who grew up—maybe in some legalistic churches that preached law—that held up a standard—and made them feel guilty or made them feel ashamed—all of the time. In many cases, they can’t tell what’s right or wrong in terms of, “What should I be feeling in my conscience?”
Explain what a conscience is and where it came from.
Dr. Lutzer: First of all, the word “conscience” comes from two words: con—which means “with,” and then, science—which means “knowledge.” So it is “knowledge along with.” Now, everybody has a conscience—the Bible makes that very clear. In the book of Romans, Paul says that the Gentiles are going to be judged by their conscience. But the conscience also, and this is to your point—
There is development, and there is a way in which the conscience can be shaped. There are people today who feel guilty over things they should not feel guilty about. And, by the way, there are those who don’t feel guilty about something that they should feel guilty about. So the conscience has to be informed by Scripture.
But to the person who is inheriting guilt—and the second chapter of my book is entitled, “It’s Not All Your Fault.” We’re dealing with people all of the time who, because of bad parenting, they have guilt that has been heaped upon them and they have shame that has been heaped upon them,
so they need to be able to see God’s grace and mercy there as well. Everyone has a conscience. We have all felt it.
It’s like going through a metal detector at O’Hare airport. Sometimes it is set more sensitively, so it goes off more easily. You may have been in a home where everything was very loose and your conscience doesn’t trouble you; maybe it should. You may be, also, in a home where it was too strict; it’s troubling you about things that shouldn’t trouble you. So we need a conscience that is informed by the Word of God so that we understand that the rudimentary issues of the Law are written on every heart; but, of course, the conscience can be shaped—and has to be—by the Word of God.
Bob: There are some things in every human conscience that are imprinted there by God at birth so that we grow up knowing some right and wrong independent of what cultural data we get; right?
Dr. Lutzer: Exactly! That’s why people all over the world have a conscience and they are struggling and they have an intuitive sense of right or wrong. Not perfect but, nonetheless, it is there.
Dennis: Yes; as you were talking there, I was thinking about Romans 1. It says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” In other words, they know the truth—they know what’s wrong—what’s right—and they’re suppressing it in their conscience. You use an illustration I want you to comment on here. You say, “Some people feel like they had a mountain of shame and guilt, but God has something better.”
Dr. Lutzer: He really does, and you know, the big text there is in the book of Hebrews where it says that “Jesus despised the shame.” Jesus shamed shame! So, to the person who is listening today, who is saying, “I am filled with shame,” —you come to Jesus and you spill all of that out.
He will receive you. You don’t have to be ashamed in His presence, because He is going to replace it with a sense of wholeness. What you need to do is recognize this—that the shame that you experience could be demonic—perhaps you’re even ashamed about something that you should be ashamed about. Either way Jesus is there, and He’s the One Who is able to cleanse us—to forgive us—so that we can stand in His presence and be welcomed and received and valued.
That is, of course, the essence of the gospel as we come to Jesus Christ, the One Who died for us.
Dennis: What you talked about in the book that I liked was there’s a mountain of shame that we feel, but God’s got a bigger mountain of grace.
Dr. Lutzer: Oh, I love that! I love that! Actually, it’s a quote from Spurgeon, who says that, “No matter how big the mountain is of our sin, God’s grace is always a bigger mountain.”
Dr. Lutzer: And let me say this: the righteousness of Jesus Christ—applied to the human heart—that righteousness is far greater than our sin. I always like to tell people that there’s more grace and love in God’s heart than there is sin in your past. You come as you are, and you receive that. Lay it down, and God is able to give you grace and strength in the midst of your conflict.
Bob: You have met people—and we’ve got some listening today—paralyzed by guilt from the past. It is so consuming. They can’t get past it! The shame that they feel—what’s the antidote for that?
Dr. Lutzer: Well, the antidote, really, is to recognize a couple of things. First of all—all of us, of course, have experienced shame—but in order to answer your question, let’s go back to the Garden of Eden. It’s there where the conscience began.
It is there that we find that Adam and Eve were ashamed. So what are they doing? They’re running from God. They’re not looking for God. They’re running from Him.
Bob: They’re hiding; yes.
Dr. Lutzer: And God brings clothes to them—skins of animals. Do you know what God is saying right there? He’s saying, “There’s no cheap substitute for sin, but I will provide it.” And I would say to the person out there who is struggling with guilt and an overabundance of shame, “Come to Jesus—as you are—and receive the fact that He is the One Who delivers us from our shame and gives us hope of reconciliation with Him— and also with others. By the way—let God into your life! The grace of God does not enter into closed doors, but comes when we invite it—as we are—undeserving though we are, we come to Him.’’
Bob: I have found great comfort in knowing that the Bible says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
To know that we are remembering things that God says He’s forgotten.
Dr. Lutzer: You know what I like to do? I like when people memorize a couple of verses of Romans 8. “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God who justifies! Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again and is, even now, at the right hand of the throne of to God, who also makes intercession for us.”
Dr. Lutzer: We have to reject our feelings, because they lie to us! They tell us things, oftentimes, that are unbiblical. So don’t go with your feelings. Go with the Word of God. “There is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus.”
Dennis: You have to decide where you’re going to put your trust: in your feelings? Are you going to place it in the Word of God that’s a promise? And the promise is, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”
If you don’t know Christ, you’ve got a problem.
You’re in need of the gospel of Christ and of forgiveness—to become a child of God. And to ultimately get on with this thing you’ve been talking about here—a clear conscience and also spiritual growth, which I want to talk more about this week.
Bob: If your conscience does continue to condemn you, I think you need to ask the question, “Is it because I don’t really know Christ—because I’ve never really embraced Him as my Lord, my Savior, my Master—I’ve never received the forgiveness that He promises? Or is it because I don’t understand God’s grace and how it applies?”
That’s where Dr. Lutzer’s book can be a great salve for a lot of people who have a troubled conscience and who need relief. We’ve got copies of the book, The Power of a Clear Conscience, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order it from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com.
The toll-free number is 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Again, the title of the book is The Power of a Clear Conscience. If you have any question about your relationship with God through Christ, and whether that’s a settled issue for you, go to our website and look for a link that says, “Two Ways to Live,” and it will help you do some self-examination and determine, “Do I have a relationship with God in Christ? And, if not, how can that be established?” Again, you’ll find that online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk more about the importance of a clear conscience and how you can clear yours if you’re troubled or burdened by something. Dr. Erwin Lutzer will be back with us again tomorrow. I hope you can be back here as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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