"This is an illustration pointing to the present time. For the gifts and sacrifices that the priests offer are not able to cleanse the consciences of the people who bring them."
If sin is like fire, than guilt is the residual smell that lingers long after the flames have been quenched. A person can ask forgiveness for something they have done. They may even provide restitution or pay a penalty for their offense, but the feeling of guilt, the sense of remorse for doing a wrong, is not so easily removed.
I think this is the point that the writer of Hebrews is trying to make in chapter 9. One's guilty conscience is not cleansed merely by offering gifts or sacrifices. These actions may be appropriate after a sin since they often address the need for reparations and justice. But the offender still carries the weight of their offense within them. How can this guilt be fully erased?
The answer may surprise you. It cannot be erased. One does not delete guilt, one can only transfer it. And the only one who is willing and able to take our guilt is Jesus Christ. One common mistake that many people in our society make is that they try to will away the guilt they feel. They think feeling guilty is unhealthy and inappropriate so they work at stuffing it away. But your conscience cannot be cleansed that way.
The biblical solution for dealing with guilt is to address it head on. The wrongdoer needs to accept the fact that they have done wrong and that they deserve to feel bad about what they have done. Rather than pretending that they should not feel guilt, the individual should accept their responsibility and then ask God to forgive them and to change them. Only through acceptance, repentance, and transformation can one's guilt be transferred away.
(New Living Translation; photo credit: Wix media)