On Various Subjects
By Pastor Ron Thomas
Rodgers Baptist Church
801 West Buckingham Rd. - Garland, TX 75040
Opening passages: Acts 23:1. "And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day." Acts 26:16. "And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men."
Introduction: When Sargent Ray Baarz of the Midvale, Utah, police department, opened his wallet, he noticed his driver's license had expired. Embarrassed at having caught himself red-handed, he had no alternative. He calmly and deliberately pulled out his ticket book, and wrote himself a citation. Baarz later took the ticket to the city judge who fined him. When the judge inquired about the Sargent's actions, Baarz replied, "How could I give a ticket to anyone else for an expired license in the future, if I didn't cite myself?"
What happens when you tell a lie or gossip about someone? Is there an inner voice telling you what is right and what is wrong? What about people who commit horrible crimes against humanity? Do they have an inner voice crying out, disturbing their peace and sleep? We have all grown up hearing it said, "Let your conscience be your guide." Is that a good thing? What is our conscience? Is our conscience always a good guide for our thoughts and actions?
The Bible has much to say about our conscience. There is no word for "conscience" in the Old Testament Hebrew, but it is illustrated often. Joseph's brothers certainly felt the sting of their conscience, when they first came to Egypt to purchase corn. While Joseph's identity was concealed, he tested his brothers, accusing them of being spies and casting them into prison. We read their response in Genesis 42:21. They said to each other, "We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us." Joseph was not pointing a finger at his brothers, reminding them of their past cruelty. They didn't even know they were in the presence of their brother. Joseph wasn't dead, he was alive, and so was their conscience.
The word "conscience" is used thirty two times in the King James translation of the New Testament. Twenty one of those times, it was used by the apostle Paul. The root of the Greek word translated as "conscience," means to be aware. The Greek speaking people in the New Testament days used this word in their everyday conversation. It basically described the pain that you feel when you do wrong.
God as our Creator, has created us as moral beings. As such, God has equipped every human being with a "built in" moral conscience. We see evidence of this in Romans 2:14-15. "For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: 15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another." The Law was given to the Jews, but the Gentiles had the work of the Law, written in their hearts. Their conscience bore witness to a higher law! Their conscience was like a judge and jury, presiding in the courtroom of their hearts. Conscience is the voice of God in the soul.
The problem with the voice of our conscience, is that we live in a world and inhabit bodies infected by sin, which can change or damage our conscience, or inner voice. We might compare our conscience to an alarm clock. It's initial design, is to go off when we violate God's moral code. Alarm clocks however can be turned on or off as suits us; they can be turned down so that they no longer disturb us; and of course there is the ever present snooze button! We are all experts at justifying and rationalizing our attitudes and behavior.
The fact that God has given us this internal alarm clock, reveals not only that we are moral agents, but that we are accountable to God for our lives. Guilt is a real thing. Our conscience is connected with our sense of guilt. When we fail morally or sin, we can dismiss it, deny it, distort it, or deal with it. Our God given conscience, is designed to help us deal with our sin.
Our conscience however, is not a sufficient guide in and of itself. There are varying conditions of the conscience. Your conscience can be in good condition or poor condition. There are seven Bible words that characterize the condition of your conscience.
1. God's Word speaks of a good conscience. I Timothy 1:5. "Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned." A good conscience is one that is healthy and sensitive to the Holy Spirit and God's Word. In short, a good conscience is working as intended by God. It is pushing us and pointing us in the right direction, keeping us on course. A mother asked her son if he knew the difference between "conscious" and "conscience." He said, "Sure, Mom. Conscious is when you're aware of something. Conscience is when you wish you weren't."
2. God's Word speaks of a blameless conscience. To be "blameless" means to be without offense. Acts 24:16 says, "And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men." The function of a conscience is to warn us, indite us, convict us. Those brothers of Joseph did not have a blameless conscience. They were filled with guilt.
3. God's Word speaks of a pure or clear conscience. II Timothy 1:3. "I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day." This is a conscience that is clean and without regret. Paul was always giving his all and doing his best for God and others.
A clear conscience is a wonderful thing in the day of accusation. It liberates us from fear and instills courage. Proverbs 28:1 says, "The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion." Throughout his administration, Abraham Lincoln was a president under fire, especially during the scarring years of the Civil War. Though he knew he would make errors in office, he resolved never to compromise his integrity. His resolve was so strong, that he once said, "I desire so to conduct the affairs of this administration that if at the end, when I come to lay down the reins of power, I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside of me." A clear conscience gives room for an abiding peace. We can remain calm and confident when events are swirling around us.
4. God's Word speaks of a weak conscience. II Corinthians 8:12. "But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ." A man consulted a doctor, "I've been misbehaving, Doc, and my conscience is troubling me," he complained. "And you want something that will strengthen your willpower?" asked the doctor. "Well, no," said the fellow. "I was thinking of something that would weaken my conscience." A weak conscience is one that can easily be swayed or influenced by others. It lacks knowledge.
5. God's Word speaks of a defiled conscience. Titus 1:15 says, "Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled." The word "defiled" means to be corrupted or polluted. Our conscience is like a window. When it is clean, more light can enter into our hearts and lives. Jesus speaks of this in Matthew 6:22-23. "The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single (whole, healthy), thy whole body shall be full of light. 23 But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!" Our conscience can be weakened, dulled, and dimmed by the sin that we tolerate in our lives. When we sin, refusing to acknowledge it as such, it soils or defiles our conscience.
6. God's Word speaks of an evil conscience. Hebrews 10:22. "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water." An evil conscience is one that is so defiled, so corrupt, it turns our values upside down, confusing and blurring the distinction between right and wrong, moral and immoral. This is reflected in Isaiah 5:20. "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!"
7. God's Word speaks of a seared conscience. Mark Twain said "An uneasy conscience is a hair in the mouth." We are in trouble when personal sin no longer bothers us. I Timothy 4:2 says, "Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron." A seared conscience is one that is cut off, silenced, that is beyond feeling.
Someone said, "The antagonism between life and conscience may be removed in two ways; by a change of life, or by a change of conscience." Every child of God has a duty, a responsibility, to constantly shape, monitor, and maintain his or her conscience. The shaping or forming of our conscience simply means educating and training it. We do this by learning and taking to heart the objective moral law, as found in Scripture. This shapes, forms, saturates our conscience in objective moral truth.
Oswald Chambers in "My Utmost For His Highest" said, "Conscience is that ability within me that attaches itself to the highest standard I know, and then continually reminds me of what that standard demands that I do. It is the eye of the soul which looks out either toward God or toward what we regard as the highest standard. This explains why conscience is different in different people. If I am in the habit of continually holding God's standard in front of me, my conscience will always direct me to God's perfect law and indicate what I should do. The question is, will I obey? I have to make an effort to keep my conscience so sensitive that I can live without any offense toward anyone. I should be living in such perfect harmony with God's Son that the spirit of my mind is being renewed through every circumstance of life, and that I may be able to quickly ‘prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.'"
What can we do to keep our conscience good, clean, pure, and functioning? Three Steps Toward Renewing Our Conscience
Step one: We must determine to make the written Word of God our constant guide and standard for our living. This is the changeless standard to which we must hold our conscience. Someone has said, "Conscience is a trustworthy compass when God's Word is your north." Our minds are like cups with holes in the bottom. The Word of God is like water poured into a cup with a hole in it. The water eventually drains out of the cups after each filling. In order to keep the cup filled, we must keep filling it with water. Likewise, we must keep filling our minds with the Word of God each day, so that God's commandments are in our hearts and constantly on our minds.
Step two: We must remain sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not to be confused with our conscience. While every human being is gifted with a conscience, only believers are gifted or indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Our conscience can be corrupted. God's Holy Spirit cannot be corrupted. He remains as a holy, sinless presence and influence in our hearts and lives. The Holy Spirit helps us interpret the message sent by our conscience. The Holy Spirit always brings the Holy Scriptures to our minds. To re-sharpen our conscience, God has given us His written Word, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit, to coach and guide us according to the Word. Psalms 119:59 says, "I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto Thy testimonies."
Step three: We must keep short accounts with our sin and moral failures. We can cleanse our conscience. How? It is called confession and repentance. Hebrews 9:14 speaks of purging our conscience. "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" I John 1:7 tells us that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sins. Our sins are forgiven, under the blood, and will not be remembered again. Faith in the blood of Jesus also acts as a cleansing agent to purge our conscience from dead works by the work of the Holy Spirit. When our conscience is cleansed, we are able to live according to the ways shown by the Word of God with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Whether we realize it or not, we program our conscience every day. How? Our parents or home of origin programs our conscience. Our choice of friends programs our conscience. Our culture including electronic media such as movies, television, music, programs our conscience. Church and the Word of God programs our conscience.
Our conscience is a gift from God that is not to be taken lightly. A good, godly, sensitive, healthy conscience leads to a good, godly sensitive, healthy life before the world! II Corinthians 1:12 says, "For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward."
God certainly does not desire us to over-sensitize our conscience with needless, neurotic guilt. We must never forget the grace of God extended to us through the Lord Jesus Christ that promises us forgiveness. The atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross has freed us from all sin past, present and future. At the same time, God does not want our conscience to be desensitized and defiled. Thank God for your conscience! Make the most of this God given gift! Instead of letting your conscience be your guide, we must make sure our conscience is our God!