A while back I wrote a post on my old blog that I think deserves to be repeated. This is based on materials from classes I took in seminary.
The Blue Fairy tells Pinocchio to “Be a good boy, and always let your conscience be your guide.” Those words became a foundation for me throughout my childhood, and I always wished I had a little cricket to help “guide” me. The idea of using your conscience to be your moral tutor is called an “unhealthy conscience.”
In Galatians 3:23-25, Paul writes that the law was put in charge of men to lead them to Christ. It is assumed then that the law was not meant to lead men to make themselves better, but to reveal to us our shortcomings and failures. Then by confessing, which is agreeing with God in what he already knows, we bring these to the cross. This idea is called a “healthy conscience.”
A Christian moralist is someone who even though they understand who God is and have accepted the sacrifice Jesus paid on the cross still struggles with letting go of the control, and hides from God and others because of shame and guilt. Both types of conscience begin with the truth being revealed and the hearer feeling the pangs of conscience (guilt and shame), but they vary in reaction. A moralist responds to deal with the shame and guilt, instead of acting out of faith and forgiveness. With this groundwork established, we can now look at the two test that will help reveal if one is tempted to be a moralist.
The first test is regarding guilt. If your first and abiding response to being convicted by sin is “I will do better” or “I must fix this” then you are a moralist. You are tempted to fix yourself by your own effort. This test is a direct result from Galatians 3:24. Is the Law (conscience) your moral tutor, or your tutor to Christ? John 15:5 puts it “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” We must abide in the cross to avoid the temptation of being a moralist.
The second test is related to the second pang of conscience, shame. If you get overwhelmed with abiding feelings of frustration, sense of failure, and self rejection whenever you are presented with failure, sin, and guilt then you struggle with being a moralist, someone who wants to hide their sins and feelings from God and others. This is seen in Genesis when Adam and Eve committed the original sin and then hid from God. A moralist can not stand to be aware of their failure.
If instead of reacting as a moralist we “fly to the cross” when we are convicted of sin, we will be able to act in faith once we have experience the Love and Grace of God, through full forgiveness and full acceptance. Christ’s work on the cross is the only way to deal with our daily shame and guilt. So maybe the Blue fairy was right in a way and we do need to let Jimmy Cricket be our guide. We just need to let him guide us to the cross instead of to our own moral action.