I am a third-year student at a state university, and I'm writing for help with an issue that is absolutely torturing me. I read your article in First Things on conscience, and I figured you could help me out. I feel like my conscience has become a dictator. I feel like it's not working properly.
For me, conscience is like God's voice. So whenever the slightest impulse comes to suggest that something is a sin, I sit down to think about it. Over the past year I've been consumed by extreme guilt concerning matters that my parents think are ridiculous.
Sometimes I think that I am not really led by the Spirit, but by emotions. For example, I feel guilty for listening to classical music because I think about the Apostle Paul's words in Ephesians 5:18-19 (NKJV): "And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord." The first thought that comes to mind in this instance is that the music I am listening to isn't spiritual. But then the question "What is spiritual music?" comes to mind. I don't think that listening to classical music is wrong, but I constantly feel guilty to the point where I can't pray or carry on in my life.
I don't struggle with issues that the Bible clearly discusses, like lying, hatred, pride or keeping your mind clear of adulterous thoughts. In all these cases I am sure of what God wants from me. I am talking about issues that the Bible does not discuss. For example I feel the need to throw out one possession after another out of fear that they have become my idol, when in fact, deep down inside, I don't think I love the possession.
What is my problem? I have no one to talk to about this. My parents are genuine Christians, but they just do not understand me. I don't know anyone that can help me with this issue. I came across the verse in Romans 14:23 which says, "But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not of faith is sin." My problem is that if I were to stop listening to music because I can't figure out if it's "spiritual" or not, I wouldn't be acting based on faith. In other words, I feel like I am sinning by listening to music, and I would feel like I was sinning if I was to stop.
Moreover, I am terrorized by passages like 1 John 3:8-9, which says that no one born of God commits sin. I am terrorized by God's holiness. I am literally crushed. The more I read the Bible the more doubts I have about whether I am one of God's chosen. I am sure the Calvinist view is the orthodox one. But then I am not sure if I am chosen. Where do I turn for help? I know prayer is the way, but I feel like I need a mature person to guide me.
I think you are asking seven different questions. Let's take them in order.
Here is a prayer for you. "Oh, my God, my Rescuer, I hardly know how to find my own faults. The burden of them is intolerable. Forgive me for wrongs both known and unknown. Cleanse me from secret sins. When you cleanse me, I shall be clean indeed. Thank you for allowing me the release of confession, of forgiveness, and of new life. Thank you for your love, and for the assurance that I cannot be parted from it. Thank you for being the full and sufficient sacrifice for all my sin and guilt. I pray in the name of your son Jesus Christ, and in the help of His Spirit. Amen."
I'll pray for you too.