Let Your Conscience Be Guide?
No doubt we are all familiar with the Disney movie of yesteryear: Pinocchio. As I child, I remember watching the scene where Jiminy Cricket begins to twirl his umbrella, dance and sing the catchy tune where we are told to “always let your conscience be your guide.” While Pinocchio is a fun and whimsical movie about telling the truth, in this brief article, we step back and consider “should our conscience really be our guide?” For the follower of Christ, do we assertively follow our conscience? I want to address a few of these thoughts over the next few weeks.
What is the Conscience?
Our conscience is a gift given by God for our joy and ultimate good. The conscience is a personal sensitivity/warning mechanism to the vast moral and ethical decisions that we make each day. Scripture is clear that not every individual has the same conscience. Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 would be unnecessary if that were the case. It is something that is personal to you, and must not be forced upon others.
Can Our Conscience be Impacted?
Our conscience is part of human experience. From an anthropologic sense, it is tainted with sinful expectations, standards, and proclivities. Our environments can lend itself to changing our conscience. Scripture teaches that we can damage the gift of conscience by allowing it to become insensitive or oversensitive. We make conscience insensitive by developing a habit of ignoring its voice of warning so that the voice gets weaker and weaker and finally disappears. We make conscience oversensitive by packing it with too many rules that are actually matters of opinion, not right and wrong.
Don’t Confuse Conscience with the Holy Spirit
Much confusion is seen when we mix conscience with the Holy Spirit. Believer, this may be heard to understand BUT your conscience is NOT identical to the voice of God. That voice in your head is NOT necessarily what God would say. So how can we discern between conscience and the Holy Spirit? You can’t know infallibly. However, you can know when it is not the Holy Spirit — if the message opposes Scripture. It may be that it is not from the Holy Spirit but from your wrongly calibrated conscience. We must be careful to differentiate “the voice” to make sure that the message is consistent with Scripture. When “the voice” matches scriptural precedent, it is likely the Holy Spirit working through your conscience.
As we come to understand God’s revealed will more and more, we have opportunities to add rules to our conscience that God’s Word clearly teaches and weed out rules that God’s Word treats as optional. This takes a lifetime, but we have the Spirit of God, the Word of God, and the church of God to help us. We will look at this more next week. (Source)
When kids grow up and leave home they may reject some or all of what they were taught. Certainly, they will test everything! Even so, all governments penalize lawless behavior and usually reward good conduct. The point here is that defying one’s conscience and living in rebellion against the prevalent social norms may find himself in jail, or even dead. But, there is a higher standard at play. One may live well within the norms of society and still find themselves compromised in the things that ultimately count the most. To be young is often to content yourself with things you will later learn to move away from.
How our own individual behaviors, thoughts and feelings affect our health, relationships, productivity, finances and society as a whole—will often be painfully aware in the sometimes glaring light of conscience even though we may keep outwardly well within normal boundaries of appearances. Everyone born on earth is “dead in trespasses and sins.” Here, “dead” does not mean “extinct” or even unconscious. It means not connected to the truth offered to us by God. Spiritual rebirth corrects this major defect in us and imputes a level of conscience not previously available. It is as though the guidance system experiences a major "re-calibration" leading to new levels of entirely unsuspected living.
Having a rigid guidance system “installed” is of little value if it is reliably aimed at the wrong destination. Having a windshield on your vehicle is of little value if it has become caked with mud and you wish to continue driving nonetheless! “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14)
Although the body seems to be the primary sensing organ of the conscience, the major data inputs to the conscience seem to be the mind and the heart. Not the physical organs entirely, of course, but in the invisibly guiding organs of the spirit and the ever-forming soul. Evidently we all have a “dual input" system into our conscience core. That is, if the "mind" is where we store digital data such as words, i.e., linear data from books and memories from daily experiences of consequence, we can choose to ignore our conscience. Conscience does not always advise us based on logic imported from the mind. "Here a little, there a little, line upon line, precept upon precept." (Isaiah 28:10) Experience and emotions heavily influence our decisions, overruling conscience.
Very often the emotions in our body have a lot to say in our decision making. One of our compass readings we take into account in decision making is our present level of inner peace. We may choose to remain where we can listen to Sophia, or wisdom truth. Faced with the pressing need to make a choice, we have the ability to ignore or overrule the "voice" of conscience. Although our mind may be able to easily convince us to do so, still there can be a certain "tugging at the heart" which informs us that there is something more primary which needs indeed to be considered. Although God does not overrule the primacy of our free will (freedom of choice), He allows us to become enslaved by destructive habits and other bondage so that visible evidence from our lives begins to mount up to undeniable proportions (sowing and reaping).
There will always be illustrative consequences to all our choices. There is no such thing as chance, luck or fate! (see The Consequence Engine and Not a Chance!). It would be a far better world if our human God-given conscience were calibrated in the truth at all times and worked as designed. It initially does not! We have all met people who are cold or hard-hearted, implacable, persuadable and languishing. We have all likely had these experiences within our own selves! The way to find one's way through all these weighty matters, I believe, is to look carefully through all the many references to conscience found in the Bible. After that, we must consider other aspects of the amazing conscience organ we all have access to, whether we believe in God or not. (See Romans 2:14) A vast data base of secular data on the conscience can be found on Wikipedia. Our approach as Christians is to examine and grow to understand our conscience as the term is used in the Bible. The guidance of conscience must be secondary to responding to the direct action of Jesus in our lives. The conscience must be calibrated and set before it will serve us well.
My friend Bryce Self writes, “The only sound basis for any epistemology [the theory of knowledge] that can attain to a minimal level of sanity or even self-consistency is not only 'He who comes to God,' but he who comes to God’s creation 'must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.' If there is no self-revealing Creator God, then the only true alternative is nihilistic insanity.” With all of the meaningless loss and devaluation of life we witness daily in our society there can be no doubt that something basin--sanity and conscience are NOT actively in effect.
Thus, although the human conscience seems to me to be a kind of organ which all of us are born with, it seems to function largely like eyes, that is that it can be either open or closed at any given time. Everyone with a body is also born with a spirit as well. (The higher animals apparently have a lower form of spirit in them, for instance horses, dogs and cats, because we can communicate with them to some degree.) The spirit animates a man from the day we are born as newborn babies and it very likely informs the higher nature and better actions of us all--IF we are willing to be guided by it; and this is a very huge "IF."
Cell Phones have a Compass Built In
Back to my elementary level Biblical anthropology. Man is a tree-part being in the image of God: spirit-soul-body, unitary but distinguishable like the Trinity. Body is held in common with the beasts of the earth, comprising flesh, bone and blood (which is the [mortal] life). Spirit is held in common with angelic beings and, when united with the body engenders the Soul. This is distinct in kind from the souls of animals that dissipate at death and return to the earth with their bodies. This distinction is due to the immediate origination of each human spirit from God at the time the body is engendered from the natural parents. At death, the spirit of a man return to God who gave it.
The soul maintains a middle position and a mediating function within a human between spirit and body; and often the soul is spoken of as the primary identifying part of an an individual, placing the most salient portion for the whole. The soul’s primary areas of function are mind, will, and emotion. The will is the existential center of the person, the Archimedes fulcrum by which the whole is moved. The influence of the emotions is directed toward the body by means of the blood, while the mind is oriented toward receptivity from the 'ontologically higher' order of the spirit.
Just as the body and the soul have three primary components or active spheres, so we would expect the same trinitarian echoes to be found in the anatomy of the spirit. Intuition — the place where spiritual insight erupts and where Divine revelation brings enlightenment — is most closely akin to, and immediately communicates with the mind or reason (the highest function of the soul). Conscience occupies in the spirit the same definitive middle position of strength that the will does in the soul, and bone does in the body. Likewise, emotions are to the soul as the fullness of flesh to the body. By the same token, the active, coursing and circulating nature of the mind is the soul’s functional equivalent to blood in the [human] body.
What then is the corresponding highest faculty of man in his spirit? What else could it be but the capacity for communion with the Godhead from whom man receives his life. So, this is my essential diagram of Biblical anthropology, as man was created and intended to operate as in communion with God before the Fall.
At the ontological 'top,' man is open to the divine realm of God through his spirit. At the ontological 'base' man operates in the time-space universe by means of his body. Possibly (though the Biblical indicators are scanty), man also seems to be open to influences from and upon the hidden realm of angelic beings that operate in the controlling hidden-half of creation — principalities, powers, “stoicheia”, etc.). This would apparently be the access point for demonic apparitions, such as the so-called spirit of Samuel called up by the witch of Ender, as well as what are termed near-death and out-of-body experiences.
Since the Fall, of course, this original design has been marred, corrupted, and inverted. Fleshly passions now rule in fallen man, and soulish lusts battle against spiritual sensibilities for domination within our very hearts and minds. Communion with God was lost, man fell *down* as far as he could go even on his own internal ontological 'chain of being' so that sin dwelling in the flesh came to have dominion. Even in the redeemed, this warfare continues during this life until we put away this body of sin.
That is why the Gospel ends with the Resurrection instead of the Cross, because our final hope is to be fully refashioned into His image on the pattern of the Son of God, and live with Him forever on the earth in our own restored bodies at the restitution of all things. Our hope is not to float around on a cloud in heaven forever sipping pink lemonade with golden straws! It is to rule with Christ in His Kingdom here on earth in pure resurrected bodies as His co-administrators. 'And of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end.' Those words of the prophet at the very least indicate that we will not be idle for eternity!
No matter what we may believe intellectually, philosophically or in any detached fashion, each one of us has to day-in and day-out live the hard reality experience of their own internal guidance system and our own personal alignment (or lack of aliment) with it. "Day unto day utterer speech; [literally, pourer's out speech, as water is poured from a fountain. Each day bears its testimony to the next, and so the stream goes on in a flow that is never broken.] And night unto night shower knowledge." (Psalm 19:2)
"Dissonance is a consequence of a person performing an action that contradicts personal beliefs." (https://en.wikipedia.org/kiwi/Cognitive_dissonance). If there were no living language into the life of each person they could indeed be with excuse instead of "without excuse!"
For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)
Ship Gyroscopes are Big
Ancient sailing ships used the heavens by night and lodestones, then compasses, by day which helped navigate wind powered sailing ships, until inertial guidance systems came along. The simplest of inertial systems is the gyroscope, Today even iPhones have built in miniature “gyros!” The Navy went even further and launched satellites into orbit, which power the GPS that we may all learn to become easily too-dependent upon. Inertial gyros have a sensor which always points in the same direction. Likewise, by analogy, the conscience sends the brain and heart a constant stream of data about our choices between in either the right or wrong direction. The point is, there is NO middle ground, every action and choice is either directed into one or the other.
The conscience in us must be calibrated in order and set for us to be true! A flawed conscience is a terrible thing to live with. It alternately “accuses or else excuses” us; we become conflicted, judgmental, legalistic and by nature defensive, or we simply break down and develop a hard heart, a seared conscience. We then blunder through life like bulls in a China shop. Some of us retreat into one closet or another, fearful of coming out. How often we hide our bad choices and their consequences from others. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness in and of light because their deeds were evil. (John 3:19)
A clear conscience (i.e., our exercise of a clear conscience along with good heartedness and a good will) leads with discernment to wisdom, which we all need, in order to navigate the many shoals and hidden reefs of the world. Many of us may believe, (wrongly in my opinion), that we need to be launched into mortal life by getting the best possible education: college degrees — or even some seminary experience. In my own life, I have had bouts with higher education and with "lower" education!"
"By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest." (Confucius).
The only way I know of to gain a clear conscience is to calibrate and cleanse the conscience by logging in every day, connecting and agreeing with the God who made us. He is the only absolute anywhere, and He comes to us with absolute values and perfect file systems. Once Jesus Christ cleans and realigns our gimbals and reprograms our entire conscience, (made “clear") we can enjoy life with much freedom. We then live in tune with the created order of things. Since God is personal, He has instituted this life style so that it is fulfilling to “walk” with Jesus each and every day. A huge problem for many is the sad fact of us may yet be spiritually still “dead" in our trespasses and sins. We may think we are listening to God, but may in fact be deceived by the data streams of our present evil world system. This is what happened to the Pharisees of Jesus' time. "For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit." (Romans. 8:5, see also Matthew 20)
Many think they know God, but may in fact they be self-deceived. The fate of such persons is in severe jeopardy!
“...be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:10-11)
As mentioned above, the only way to re-calibrate/reset our conscience by a choice of our will, is to "open the door" and be spiritually reborn “from above” — by surrendering all that we are to Jesus Christ (He is both alive and available to be our real and true friend). In this process my spirit must connect (and remain connected) with God the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ is a living human man like us. We are all invited to know the Lord Jesus personally. Jesus resets our conscience. He also gives us one-on-one course correction in this life, which is way better than any “mere” conscience. Jesus is also God. He said “He who has seen me has seen the Father. I and Father are one.”
"I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." (John 15:4-5)
“God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”
“Whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit together with Him....”
“...and you who were dead...God made alive together with Him (Jesus)...”
“This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” (1 Timothy 1:18-20)
The New Testament is full of references to the aligned gyroscopes of a godly conscience. This study has focused on the nature of man’s built in mysterious conscience.
Ray Stedman offers the following comments on the proper functioning of the conscience. Ray says,
“I find a great deal of misunderstanding, even among Christians, on what the conscience is. Many feel that the conscience is given to us to teach us the difference between right and wrong. But nothing could be further from the truth. No, the conscience is given to us, rather, to resist any deviation from the truth, from the right and the wrong that we know. If you think it is given to us to indicate what is wrong or what is right, you will begin to rely upon your feelings to determine right and wrong. That is where many go astray -- many young Christians, especially. They think their conscience is their feelings; and if they feel something is right then they do it. You have seen the bumper stickers that say, "If it feels good, do it." People actually believe that is following their conscience. Because of that philosophy thousands and thousands of lives are being warped and twisted."
"The conscience is given to us so that when we know what is right and what is wrong, it insists that we do the right and avoid the wrong. But it is the Word of God that teaches us what is right and what is wrong. Conscience is like a gyroscope, set in a certain direction, which resists any tendency to deflect it. Conscience, however, can be set in a wrong direction, then it will guide us wrongly. Revelation, the Word of God, is what tells us what is right and what is wrong. Conscience is given to us to help us know when we are beginning to fail, or fall away from that right path. In other words, a good conscience is s synonym for an obedient heart which wants to do what God says is right. That is what Paul is talking about. Wherever God speaks, and you know what he tells you to do, regardless of what your flesh or your feelings say, obey; do what God says. That is the way to maintain a good conscience. If you fail, correct it instantly by the provision that God has made: confess, repent, set it straight, then go on with God."
"A good conscience works with faith, that which lays hold of the resources of God in dependence on him. So a good conscience is the discipline of the mind and the will that says, "I will follow my Lord and do what he says to do." Jesus spoke of this. He put the Christian life in a nutshell when he said, "You in me, and I in you," (John 14:20b RSV). "You in me" -- that is our definite determination to follow him; "I in you" -- that is the resource he commits to us to enable us to follow and to obey him. The Christian life is these two things working constantly: to know what is right, and, by the power and grace of God, to resolve to do it. That is waging a good warfare. How beautifully that maintains the biblical balance between the sovereignty of God and the free will of man! Here is the secret of Christian vitality. When God tells you what is right, by his grace, relying on him, choose to do it."
"This is so important that Paul expands on it. He says, "By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith." These are people who know the truth, but because they have not chosen to obey it, they not only have wandered away, they have eventually damaged their faith. They start believing wrong instead of right. They know what is right, but they are no longer able to do it. Today we are surrounded by hundreds of examples of people who have ship-wrecked their faith by failing to keep a good conscience...” Ray Stedman.
To return briefly to gyroscopes, the wheels Ezekiel, Isaiah and the Apostle John saw, were rotating wheels within wheels. Perhaps those multiple, living, wheels with eyes around their rims are part of our creator’s holy moral government over the Old and New creations? Obviously this subject far beyond the scope of the subject of the conscience. We’ll leave wheels within wheels for a later time.
A clear conscience (i.e., our exercise of a clear conscience along with good heartedness and a good will) leads with discernment to wisdom, which we all need, to navigate the many shoals and hidden reefs of the world. Many of us may believe, (wrongly in my opinion), that we need to be launched into mortal life by getting the best possible education: college degrees (“Piled higher and Deeper”, — or even some seminary experience). In my own life, I have had my bouts with higher education and with "lower" education!"
The only way I know of to gain a clear conscience is to calibrate and cleanse the conscience by logging in each moment of each day and connecting and agreeing with the God who made us, the God of the Bible. He is the only absolute anywhere, and He has absolute values and perfect file systems. Once Jesus Christ cleans and realigns our gimbals and ultimately reprograms our entire conscience, it is said to have been made “clear." We can then begin to see to live in tune to ultimate reality. Since God is personal, He has instituted this way so that it is much more fulfilling to “walk” with Jesus one-on-one each and every day. A huge problem for many is the God-given fact that many of us are “dead" in our trespasses and sins. We may think we are listening to God, but we may in fact be deceived by the data streams of our present evil world system. This is what happened to the Pharisees of Jesus' time. "For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit." (Romans 8:5, see also all of Matthew 20)
Most people all over our planet are still “dead in trespasses and sins,” or may think they know God, but are in fact living severely compromised lives. The fate of such persons is in severe jeopardy! "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." (James 1:22) See the case of the foolish virgins as Ray Stedman explains, The Wise and the Foolish, by Ray C. Stedman, What on Earth's Going to Happen? (Olivet Discourse) Date:1970. As mentioned above, the only way to re-calibrate/reset our conscience by a choice of our will, is to "open the door" and be spiritually reborn “from above” — by surrendering all that we are to Jesus Christ (He is both alive and available to be our real and true friend). In this process my spirit must connect (and remain connected) with God the Holy Spirit.
"I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." (Joel 15:4-5)
“God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”
“Whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit together with Him....”
“...and you who were dead...God made alive together with Him (Jesus)...”
To continue, it is helpful to look up in a concordance the dozen or more uses of the word “conscience” in the Greek New Testament. The OT we’ll talk about later. Spiros Zodhiates says the Greek word suneideses (feminine noun from suneido,) “to be conscious of Conscience, to be one’s own witness, one’s own conscience coming forward as witness. It denotes an abiding consciousness whose nature it is to bear inner witness to one’s in a moral sense (Titus 1:15). It is self-awareness.”
In conclusion, there is so very much more to be said about this essential and necessary consideration of topic. Jesus Christ is a living human man like us. We are all invited to know the Lord Jesus personally. Jesus resets our conscience. He also gives us one-on-one course correction in this life, which is way better than any “mere” conscience. Jesus is also God. He said “He who has seen me has seen the Father. I and Father are one.”
Does God have a Conscience? Probably He does! If all human beings come into this world with a built-in moral compass, (into our present four dimensional universe that is), then what kind of conscience characterizes the manifestation of God in the ten or more dimensional heavenly places? Only God who is above all can guide, direct and ensure the courses of all manifest humanity in such a way as to cause righteousness, justice and mercy to be had for all! (The suggestion that the invisible realm has at least ten dimensions comes from String Theory where the additional dimensions are thought to be “curled up” like scrolls). The sky was rolled up like a scroll, and all of the mountains and islands were moved from their places. (Rev. 6:14)
We have a difficult time conceiving of our transcendent God being beyond space and outside of time. Yet He has made known to us that He is “the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity.” Isaiah 57 -- Most important of all these “notes” on the role of conscience in our lives is the clear teaching that following our conscience is of great importance in our lives after we come to know Jesus Christ personally, and we have given him permission to be Lord of our lives. As mentioned above these steps allow God to repair, align, and reset that amazing internal compass (or gyroscope) built into our lives. Writing Timothy, the Apostle Paul earns a fellow-believer of the importance of listening to conscience in one’s daily life. For instance,
“This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” (1 Timothy 1:18-20) The New Testament is full of references to the aligned gyroscopes of a godly conscience. This study has focused on the nature of man’s built in mysterious conscience.
To return briefly to gyroscopes, the wheels Ezekiel, Isaiah and the Apostle John saw, were rotating wheels within wheels. Perhaps those multiple, living, wheels with eyes around their rims are part of our creator’s Holy moral government over the Old and New creations? Obviously this subject far beyond the scope of the subject of the conscience. We’ll leave wheels within wheels for a later time. Hoping to come back to you all very much sooner on this than later, we remain your friends and servant of the Lord Jesus Christ and would love to hear back from you on this topic.
The ninth chapter of Hebrews may seem to many to be involved and even confusing, but it was perfectly clear to the Hebrew readers to whom this letter was first written. It describes, in rather close detail, the tabernacle in the wilderness with its sacrifices and regulations of food, drink, and clothing, and therefore seems difficult to us and even a little dull. But it will help greatly to see what the author is driving at. If we start there we shall have everything in perspective. That point is made clear in Verses 13 and 14:
For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh [in the tabernacle of old], how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:13-14 RSV)
The practical effect of Christ's ministry to us is given in these words, "to purify your conscience from dead works." The problem that is faced in this passage, therefore, is how to handle a nagging conscience.
We each have a conscience. We may not be able to analyze it, and we certainly cannot control it, but we know we all possess one. Conscience has been defined as "that still, small voice that makes you feel smaller still," or, as one little boy put it, "It is that which feels bad when everything else feels good." Conscience is that internal voice that sits in judgment over our will. There is a very common myth abroad that says that conscience is the means by which we tell what is right and what is wrong. But conscience is never that. It is training that tells us what is right or wrong. But when we know what is right or wrong, it is our conscience that insists that we do what we think is right and avoid what we think is wrong. That distinction is very important and needs to be made clear.
Conscience can be very mistaken; it is not a safe guide by itself. It accuses us when we violate whatever moral standard we may have, but that moral standard may be quite wrong when viewed in the light of God's revelation. But conscience also gives approval whenever we fulfill whatever standard we have, though that standard is right or wrong. And conscience, we have all discovered, acts both before and after the fact -- it can either prod or punish.
In the case of these Hebrews the problem is not over wrongdoing, it is not a conscience troubled over evil deeds, but "dead works." We must remember that the readers of this letter are Christians who already know how to handle the problem of sins. When they become aware that they have deliberately disobeyed what they knew to be right, they know the only way they can quiet an avenging conscience is to confess the sin before God, and deal with the problem immediately. That aspect of a troubled conscience can easily be taken care of by Christians as they accept the forgiving grace of God. But the problem here is a conscience plagued with guilt over good left undone -- not sins of commission, but sins of omission.
These people try to put their conscience to rest by religious activity; they are goaded by an uneasy conscience into a high gear program in order to please God. Here are people who are intent on doing what is right, and thus pleasing God, and they have therefore launched upon an intensive program of religious activity which may range all the way from bead-counting and candle-burning to serving on committees, passing out tracts, and teaching Sunday school classes. What perceptible difference in motive is there between a poor, blinded pagan who, in his misconception of truth, crawls endlessly down a road to placate God, and an American Christian who busies himself in a continual round of activity to try to win a sense of acceptance before God? None whatsoever!
A woman said to me recently, "I don't know what is the matter with me. I do all I can to serve the Lord but I still feel guilty, and then I feel guilty about feeling guilty!"
Precisely! It is rather discouraging, is it not, to see that all this laudable effort on our part is dismissed here as "dead works." It is disconcerting to see that such effort is not acceptably serving God. God is not impressed by our feverish effort. What do you do when this is your problem? Certainly not try harder; that is the worst thing you could do.
Perhaps now we are ready to listen to what the writer says about the poverty of activity. Let us start at the first of the chapter. The problem, he points out, is not the nature of what we do, it is not activity itself for there was, in the Old Testament, a God-authorized place of activity:
Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary. For a tent was prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence; it is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain stood a tent called the Holy of Holies, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, which contained a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. (Hebrews 9:1-5 RSV)
And neither can we!
The point he makes is, there was nothing wrong with the activity of worship in the tabernacle; it was God-authorized, and perfectly proper. Also, there were God-authorized regulations:
These preparations having thus been made, the priests go continually into the outer tent, performing their ritual duties; but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood which he offers for himself and for the errors of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the sanctuary is not yet opened as long as the outer tent is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food ant drink and various ablutions, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. (Hebrews 9:6-10 RSV)
All of these activities had to do with the Old Testament, the worship in the tabernacle, and the regulations connected with it. But the writer is simply pointing out there were three drastic limitations to these:
First, if these Old Testament worshipers saw no deeper than the ordinance they were performing, the only benefit would be to the body. The writer says, "According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot perfect the conscience...but deal only with food and drink and various ablutions, regulations for the body." Because these affected only the outer man, there was no change in the inner man. The performance of a service, a ritual, a sacrifice, or an ordinance, does not do anything to the performer, it only affects the part of the body involved in the performance.
In baptism the whole body is cleansed; if it is kneeling or bowing then only the part of the body involved is affected. This is his argument: no ritual or ordinance has value in itself. This needs to be declared again and again in the hearing of men. We are so convinced that God places value in ordinances. No, the writer says that even in this God-authorized system there was no value in what was done. He makes that very clear. The conscience was not touched and therefore gave the worshiper no rest, continually hounding him, making him feel guilty, dragging him back to perform the same thing over and over again in a restless search for peace.
It was like a man who goes down and buys a new suit every time he needs a bath. His solution never touches the real problem, but keeps covering it over. Eventually that kind of a person becomes very difficult to live with, as are also those who place value on ordinances.
The second point he makes is, these ordinances were intended to have a deeper message. They are symbolic, he says, for the present age. No ritual had meaning in itself, it had meaning in what it stood for, that is the point. It was intended to convey a deeper message. The tabernacle worship, with all these strange provisions -- the bread, the incense, the offerings, the ornate building itself with its altars -- all was a kind of religious play enacted to teach the people what was going on in their inner life. They were not to place importance upon the outward drama -- that was only a play -- it was what it stood for that was important. But they completely missed the point and thought God was interested in the ritual. In Chapter 10, the author of Hebrews will say very plainly, "in burnt offerings and sin offerings thou hast taken no pleasure," (Hebrews 10:6 RSV). God was never interested in ritual. It meant nothing to him.
The third point he makes is that these things will never touch the conscience, reach the inner man, or do anything effective until men accept this fact that religious activity, i.e., ritual, is only a picture and has no value in itself at all. As he says, "The Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the sanctuary [the real inner man] was not yet opened as long as the outer tent [the tabernacle] is still standing." "Is still standing" is a mistranslation; it should be "still has any standing." That is the proper idea, "still has any value in their sight." In other words, they could never see what God was driving at as long as they had their attention focused on the ritual. They could never realize the value intended until they saw behind the ritual to what God was saying. Until they saw the total worthlessness of outward things to do anything for them, they could never begin to appropriate the real message.
There are some in the Old Testament who did see this. You cannot read David's experience recorded in the 51st Psalm without seeing that he understood this. That psalm was written after the terrible twin failure of adultery and murder into which he fell. And he was the king! In the Psalm he confesses that God brought conviction to his heart, yet he says,
For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (Psalms 51:16-17 KJV)
David understood the worthlessness of mere ritual. That is why he is called "a man after God's own heart," (Acts 13:22). But the rest of the people, by and large, missed the point. So they were goaded by their conscience into an endless routine of religious activity, until they came near despair.
In contrast to this, the writer sets before us the power of reality:
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:11-14 RSV)
Do you see the argument? He is saying the first arrangement, depending upon the activity of the worshiper (that is the point) affected only the body. If there is something you are trying to do for God, it is your activity on his behalf, all it ever affects is the outer man, the body. It never quiets the conscience. It cannot, for it does not get below the surface; it does not touch that area. But the second arrangement, the new constitution by which Christians are to live, depends not on the work of the worshiper but on the activity of Christ in our place! Therefore it moves through the man. When the conscience, in there, is confronted with the value of Christ's blood, it has nothing to say! Do you see the point?
He is declaring that our activity adds nothing to our acceptance before God. God does not like us better because we serve him. Oh, to get this point across! Our service, our faithful work on his behalf, our labors, our diligent efforts to do something for God, never make him think one bit better or worse of us. God does not love you because you serve him; God loves you because he is love! He accepts you because you believe in Christ. That is the only reason. Therefore, serving is no more a duty, but if we see it in that light it becomes delight.
Listen to these helpful words from a recent article in the Sunday School Times, entitled "The Great Saboteur", detailing the work of Satan as the great accuser of the brethren, the one who stimulates the conscience to nag, drive, goad and prod us, and to keep us feeling a vague sense of hazy, undefined guilt before God. That is the work of the accuser, the saboteur. Concerning that there come these revealing sentences:
Scripture recognizes, as the Accuser also does, that nothing so impedes your access to God as a guilty conscience. You can't draw near boldly unless your heart is "sprinkled from an evil conscience." Therefore, if you want to overcome Satan at this point, don't just talk to him about the blood of Christ.
Instead, accept the fact that the blood of Christ completely satisfies God about you. Remind yourself that God welcomes you into his presence not on the grounds of your Christian progress, the depth of your knowledge, or even the degree of victory you have found, but on the grounds of the blood of the Lamb.
The discovery of this glorious secret has enabled saints down the ages to overcome the Accuser, "they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb." They did not remind him of the blood of Christ, they reminded themselves. They refused to wilt before his accusations and were, therefore, able to enjoy free access to the throne of grace and full liberty in their service.
That is helpful, is it not? These overcomers did not keep looking always at their inner condition, they looked rather to the solution that God had given to the problem.
Right at this point any thoughtful person will raise a question which frequently nags Christians, and is often voiced by the enemies of Christian faith. Someone may well ask, "Why does this have to be by blood? Why is a death necessary?" The Christian gospel rests upon the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and this fact has been a source of much criticism, and a stumbling block to many people. Christianity has been sneeringly referred to as "the religion of the slaughterhouse," and the gospel has been called "the gospel of gore" because of this continual emphasis upon the need for blood, for death. It is this mark of finality which the writer now examines.
Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred which redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Hence even the first covenant was not ratified without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, "This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you." And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. (Hebrews 9:15-23 RSV)
Without a death, he argues, it is not possible to receive the benefits of the covenant God makes. For, he points out, no will that is written can bestow any benefits until after the death of the maker.
I recently met with a group of men and women to whom the Director of a Christian Conference Center was explaining certain of the procedures involved in securing additional property for the expansion of the ministry. He described one case where a deed had been executed by the owner of the property, a widow. He explained that she was to be paid an annuity until her death, and on her death the property would become the property of the Conference Association. Someone immediately raised his hand and facetiously asked, "How healthy is she?" The question was not in good taste, but it illustrates the point. Wills are of no value to the beneficiaries until the death of the testator, the will maker. This is what the writer here argues.
You cannot avail yourself of all that Jesus Christ provides for you in terms of release from a guilty conscience, unless there is a death. The will is useless without it. In fact, he says, death is so important that even the shadow, the picture in the Old Testament, required blood. Not, of course, the blood of Jesus Christ, but the blood of bulls and goats. Blood is inescapable.
Now that brings us to the point: Why? We shall never come to the answer till we squarely face the implications of the substitutionary character of the death of Jesus Christ. His death was not for his own sake, it was for ours. He was our representative. It was not so much his blood that was shed, but ours. This is what God is so desperately trying to convey to us.
The cross is God's way of saying there is nothing in us worth saving at all, apart from Christ -- no salvageable content whatsoever. He takes us as we are, men and women apart from Christ, and he says, "There is nothing you can do for me, not one thing." For when Christ became what we are, when he was "made sin for us" (2 Corinthians 5:21), God passed sentence upon him, and put him to death. This is God's eloquent way of saying to us, "There is nothing to please me in yourself; there is not a thing you can do by your own effort that is worth a thing." All that we can ever be, without Christ, is totally set aside. Death eliminates us, wipes us out.
That is why our activity does not improve our relationship with him in the least degree. It does not make us any more acceptable, even though it is activity for him. See what this does to our human pride. It cuts the ground right out from under us.
Who has not heard Christians talking in such a way as to give the impression that the greatest thing that ever happened to God was the day he found them. But we are not indispensable to him; he is indispensable to us. And the great truth to which this brings us is: If we become bankrupt to do anything for God, we are then able to receive everything from him. That is what he wants us to see.
That is why Verse 14 closes with this wonderful sentence, "the blood of Christ ... purifies our conscience to serve the living God." The gospel is that he has made himself available to us, to do everything in us, as a living God. "Faithful is he who calls you, who also will do it," (1 Thessalonians 5:24). The one who calls you to do something is the one who intends to do it, through you. Therefore, let us stop thinking we have to depend on our intellect, our ability, our gifts, our talents, or our anything, and start reckoning on his ability to supply what we lack to do what he asks. We can say with Paul, "I can do all things through Christ, who strengtheneth me," (Philippians 4:13). Do you understand that? What a relief that is!
But the point of the whole passage is: If we refuse to reckon this way, to count this to be true, if we refuse this, then there are no benefits of the new covenant available to us.
A covenant is not in effect until there is the death of the testator, the death of the will maker. It is we, through Christ our representative, who died that death. But if we will not accept it, if we will not agree to this and accept God's sentence of death upon all that we are, then we cannot have the benefits.
That is what he is saying. If we fight this sentence of death, for the rest of our Christian lives we shall be troubled with a guilty conscience. We will never rest in any final acceptance before God. We shall always be wrestling with the problem of whether we have done enough and have been pleasing to God by our activity. But if we accept this, the effect is to render service pure delight.
A mission leader and I were recently discussing a young man whose very obvious, evident, earnest desire is to be used of God. This young man desperately hopes to be used, he wants to be in a place of leadership, he wants to exercise power in his ministry. But every time he is given the opportunity to try, somehow something about the way he does it, and the attitude he displays in it, immediately begins to create personality problems. Every effort he makes along this line comes to nothing. Eventually, he himself is overwhelmed with a sense of frustration and utter defeat. The reason he experiences this over and over is simply because he will not accept the fact that is proclaimed here -- that God has ruled him out, that there are no talents he has that he can employ in any service, any worthwhile, acceptable service to God. As long as he is still struggling to use his abilities to do something for God it will never be acceptable -- and neither will yours, nor mine!
By contrast, I sat yesterday and listened to another young man and his wife tell about how God had brought them through various struggles and trials until they had come to the place where, as he said, "Three months ago God broke through and I learned something that I have known all my life but I didn't understand up till this point. I have learned what is the meaning of that verse, 'If any man will come after me, let him deny himself.' I always thought that meant self-denial, that meant giving up certain things or places or position for Christ, but I never learned until now that it means I must deny my self, that I have no right to my self, that I have no abilities in my self, but that I can have everything in Christ. My life from that moment on has been a totally different thing." His wife, sitting by his side, kept nodding her head and smiling, which is the greatest testimony of all that this works.
Look on to the end of the book, in Chapter 13, that well-known doxology we quote so frequently:
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working you[there is the secret] that which is pleasing in his sight. (Hebrews 13:20-22 RSV)
That is the secret of a clear conscience.-- Ray Stedman A Clear Conscience.
It is sometimes helpful to pick out certain verses of a biblical passage which summarize in concise terms what the passage is all about. We have a phrase which does just that in this section from Chapter 1 of Paul's first letter to Timothy, beginning with Verse 18:
This charge I commit to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophetic utterances which pointed to you, that inspired by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith, among them Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:18-20 RSV)
The phrase that summarizes this entire letter is,
"Wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience."
That is the heart of all that Paul says in this letter to Timothy. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul says of himself, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing," (2 Timothy 4:7-8 RSV). There is the word of a man who is about to leave the battle of life. But here in First Timothy is Paul's word to this young Christian, probably in his early or mid-twenties, who is being left to do a very dangerous and demanding work in Ephesus. The apostle tells him to "Wage the good warfare," and, "Hold fast to faith and to a good conscience."
Notice that Paul puts it very definitely. He does not say, "Fight a good fight," or, "Wage a good warfare." This is not the word of a coach encouraging someone to get in there and do his best. Paul is talking about the Christian life.
The fundamental nature of Christianity is that it is a warfare in which we are all involved; and there is no exit until the end. The moment you began your Christian life, by faith in Jesus Christ, you entered a lifelong battle. And this struggle is not intended to be easy. Many Christians today forget that. Helped along somewhat by a lot of misleading teaching on the television and other media, there is a widespread attitude today that when you become a Christian God began working for you so everything has to work out. People are being taught that they are in the will of God because bridges appear mysteriously across the chasms of life. Rubbish! If that is the sign of being in God's will, then Paul was out of God's will most of his life. He knew he was in a battle, and he tells Timothy that he too is going to be in a battle.
The object of this warfare is not to survive to the end of life, as many Christians think. Even non-Christians are fighting the battle to keep healthy and stay alive. Everybody is engaged in that battle. That is not the Christian warfare. Paul is talking about being a Christian, about living a Christ-like life in the midst of dangerous pressures and countering forces. That is the battle. In other words, to be realistic in a world of illusion, to not chase after all the fantasies that the world falls for, to not allow yourself to think wrongly about what is going on in society, but to get God's point of view, to see things the way they are and to deal honestly, realistically and openly with everything that comes -- that is the battle.
That is the way Jesus dealt with life. He did not hide away in some monastery. He was out in the midst of life, in the marketplaces, in the cities, among peoples, under the pressures and dangers of everyday life. He was a realist who dealt earnestly and honestly with life.
The battle Paul is talking about is to be a loving person who has concern and compassion for people in times of harassment, when others are giving way to expressions of hate and violence and bigotry. The battle is to live redemptively among those who have lost their way, to turn them away from that which is destroying, to be involved with them and to give of yourself in order to bring them back into a relationship of truth and reality. The warfare is to live your life for a purpose, not merely to spend it on yourself.
What makes it tough is that we are opposed by three resourceful and utterly ruthless enemies called, the world, the flesh, and the devil. People are not the enemy. I do not know why it is so difficult to get this across, but I find that very many Christians are confused at this point. They think their problems are other people, but Paul tells us in Ephesians 6, "We do not wrestle against flesh and blood," (Ephesians 6:12a KJV). People are not the problem. The world thinks, "If we could just get rid of the IRS, or our in-laws, or our bosses, or change the administration. Those people are sabotaging our plans, wrecking our lives and making things difficult for us." But people are not the problem. All people are victims, according to the Word of God, victims like ourselves. They need compassion and understanding, not condemnation and ostracism. Behind people are the real enemies -- the world, the flesh, and the devil.
The world is society, committed to a godless philosophy which says, "Enjoy yourself now. This is all you've got. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die." This philosophy is shouted at us every time we turn on a television or a radio. Everywhere we hear, "You deserve the best. You've got it coming to you. Take it now. Don't let anybody stand in your way." That is the world, the enemy that opposes us.
Then there is the flesh, this alien nature within us which used to belong to us, but, since we have come to Christ, it is no longer us; we have been delivered from it. But it is still there, opposing us from within. It is dedicated to selfishness. It loves attention, and comfort, and anything illegal, immoral, or fattening. The enemy is this self-centeredness within us:
I had a little tea party this afternoon at three.
'Twas very small, three guests in all,
Just I, myself and me.
'Twas I who ate the sandwiches
And I drank up the tea.
'Twas also I who ate the pie
And passed the cake to me.
That is life. That is the flesh. Then there is the devil, and all the hosts of fallen angels that Scripture speaks of, and of which Jesus took constant note in his ministry. These master psychologists know exactly what it takes to make us feel fearful, angry, discouraged, or worthless. When we feel any one of those emotions we have already succumbed to what the Bible calls, "the wiles of the devil," (Ephesians 6:11b). The devil has accomplished his purpose, at least temporarily, with us.
So there is the battle -- to be Christ-like, loving, forgiving, understanding, and pure in the midst of those pressures. This is what Paul is referring to when he encourages Timothy to, "Wage the good warfare."
If you want some helpful books on this, I suggest you read The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis. This is a great revelation of how the devil gets at us in our thought life. Or read Pilgrim's Progress, by John Bunyan, that incomparable record of what the Christian life is like on its way to glory, and the nature of the enemies that face us. John Bunyan was given great insight into the warfare the Christian is involved in.
It is rather startling to note here the incentives Paul uses to stimulate Timothy to "wage the good warfare." I would expect at this point that Paul would say something like, "Remember, Timothy, 'He that is in you is greater than he that is in the world,'" because that is a great truth. We are not left alone in this battle. We have inner fortifications and strengthenings that the world knows nothing about, because, "He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world," (1 John 4:4). But Paul does not say that. Nor does he say what Peter says, that, "we will be kept by the power of God unto salvation," (1 Peter 1:5 KJV). Nor does Paul say, with Jude, "Now unto Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless before his presence in glory," (Jude 24 KJV). Though these things are true, Paul uses something much more humble and prosaic, something much closer to home. He refers to Timothy's desire to please him, and to Timothy's hunger to fulfill the possibilities that others saw in him.
So this is what Paul wrote: "This charge I commit to you, Timothy, my son." That personal, affectionate word must have greatly encouraged this young man's heart. He thought, "Paul considers himself my father. He loves me as a son. He trusts me. He believes in me. He sent me here to labor in Ephesus."
Years ago, a young man said something that struck me very forcibly. His father, whom he idolized, had just died, and he said to me, "What do you do when the only man you have ever wanted to please is dead?" I sensed that he had lost incentive, that a great moral force had disappeared from his life. It helps a great deal to know that someone believes in you, and trusts you.
So Timothy must have been greatly encouraged by this. Paul urges him to the task of waging a good warfare by remembering that he believed in him, and had confidence in him. But even more than that, there were certain "prophetic utterances" that pointed to Timothy, the apostle says. Evidently this is something that occurred when Timothy was set aside by the church at Lystra to accompany Paul in his travels, (Acts 16). Timothy, half Greek, half Jew, had been a Christian since Paul's first visit to that city about a year or more earlier. Having been observed by the church for that period of time, Timothy had grown so in grace and spiritual stature that the church agreed with Paul's suggestion that he come along with him on his travels.
The elders of that church gathered around Timothy, as Paul tells us in the second letter to Timothy, and laid their hands on him, and at that time certain prophetic utterances were given. We are not told what they were, but evidently, speaking by the Spirit, someone predicted what Timothy's ministry would be like. This must have been somewhat like Jacob's blessings of his sons, recorded in the 49th chapter of Genesis, where Jacob predicts what the nature of their ministry will be. So Paul reminds Timothy that, by the Spirit, God had led certain ones to indicate that this young man was to have a great ministry. It would be an encouragement to him to remember that.
I will never forget an incident in my own ministry when I was a young man. I was still a student at Dallas Seminary, but was spending my summers in Pasadena. I worked one summer as a youth minister in a church there, when Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, the President and founder of Dallas Seminary, a great man of God, a great man of faith, came into town. He was gracious enough to spend an afternoon with my wife and me.
I took Dr. Chafer to the church where I was working and showed him around the very impressive, beautiful building. The congregation at this time did not have a pastor, though they were seeking one, so Dr. Chafer said to me, "Do you think you might end up here in this church?" I said, "I don't know. Who knows what God will do? I don't have any particular plans for that." "I don't know either," he said, "but it would be a good place for you because I believe God is going to give you a great ministry." I do not know what he had in mind by that. He may have been impressed by the beauty of that building. (I am sure he did not realize that someday I would end up in a building like this, where the architecture is clearly early Safeway!) But his words have been a great encouragement to my heart. Many times as a young man I remembered that Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer had seen something in me that was an encouragement.
Sometimes the great promises are too much for us to handle. What we need is something right at hand -- the remembrance that somebody believes in us, that somebody has confidence that God is going to do something with us. That is what Paul says would encourage Timothy -- "inspired by them you may wage the good warfare." The central thing, of course, is, "How do you wage the good warfare?" Paul says it requires two things: "holding faith, and a good conscience." Hold to your faith, he says. Believe what God has told you:
Faith is accepting the radical truth which Jesus and his apostles have given to us, understanding that this is a description of life as it really is. Faith is believing truth about God, about his power, about his control of history and all humanity, of his love for us as a lost race which he does not choose to abandon, but takes steps to redeem and bring to himself.
Faith is learning about the nature of sin and the reason why life is often filled with misery, not because of others, but because of us. We are the problem. We have something within us that is constantly destroying our plans, wrecking our happiness and destroying our relationships. This needs to be dealt with, and the only thing that can handle it is the word of the cross; learning what Jesus did in the mystery of the darkness of the cross, how some transference was made in a most remarkable way in which our sin was placed on him and his righteousness was given to us.
Faith is learning about his resurrection and the impartation of his life so that he himself comes to live within us -- "Christ in us, the hope of glory," (Colossians 1:27b).
Faith is learning that he himself will grant to us in every situation the wisdom and the power that it takes to live righteous, godly, Christ-like lives. Faith involves taking all this personally, to ourselves, believing that God has done this for us.
We now have our resources, our power to live coming from him. Hold to that, Paul says. Do not deviate from it. Do not lose that. That is your ground of security. That is the resource from which you can live. But with faith there must be a good conscience.
I find a great deal of misunderstanding, even among Christians, on what the conscience is. Many feel that the conscience is given to us to teach us the difference between right and wrong. But nothing could be further from the truth. No, the conscience is given to us, rather, to resist any deviation from the truth, from the right and the wrong that we know. If you think it is given to us to indicate what is wrong or what is right, you will begin to rely upon your feelings to determine right and wrong. That is where many go astray -- many young Christians, especially. They think their conscience is their feelings; and if they feel something is right then they do it.
You have seen the bumper stickers that say, "If it feels good, do it." People actually believe that is following their conscience. Because of that philosophy thousands and thousands of lives are being warped and twisted.
The conscience is given to us so that when we know what is right and what is wrong, it insists that we do the right and avoid the wrong. But it is the Word of God that teaches us what is right and what is wrong. Conscience is like a gyroscope, set in a certain direction, which resists any tendency to deflect it. Conscience, however, can be set in a wrong direction, then it will guide us wrongly. Revelation, the Word of God, is what tells us what is right and what is wrong. Conscience is given to us to help us know when we are beginning to fail, or fall away from that right path.
In other words, a good conscience is s synonym for an obedient heart which wants to do what God says is right. That is what Paul is talking about. Wherever God speaks, and you know what he tells you to do, regardless of what your flesh or your feelings say, obey; do what God says. That is the way to maintain a good conscience. If you fail, correct it instantly by the provision that God has made: confess, repent, set it straight, then go on with God.
A good conscience works with faith, that which lays hold of the resources of God in dependence on him. So a good conscience is the discipline of the mind and the will that says, "I will follow my Lord and do what he says to do." Jesus spoke of this. He put the Christian life in a nutshell when he said, "You in me, and I in you," (John 14:20b RSV). "You in me" -- that is our definite determination to follow him; "I in you" -- that is the resource he commits to us to enable us to follow and to obey him. The Christian life is these two things working constantly: to know what is right, and, by the power and grace of God, to resolve to do it. That is waging a good warfare. How beautifully that maintains the biblical balance between the sovereignty of God and the free will of man! Here is the secret of Christian vitality. When God tells you what is right, by his grace, relying on him, choose to do it.
This is so important that Paul expands on it. He says, "By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith." These are people who know the truth, but because they have not chosen to obey it, they not only have wandered away, they have eventually damaged their faith. They start believing wrong instead of right. They know what is right, but they are no longer able to do it.
Today we are surrounded by hundreds of examples of people who have ship-wrecked their faith by failing to keep a good conscience. The order is very important. Somehow, when you choose not to do something you know is right, you introduce confusion into your whole mechanism of guidance in the Christian life. You start to follow wrong paths which begin to determine and deflect your faith. You no longer see things the way you once did.
I am reminded of the young man who drew the plans for this church building many years ago. He and his wife, a vigorous young Christian couple, joined our congregation. He was raised on the mission field, the son of missionary parents. He was a pilot, and I flew with him several times in a private plane. On long trips together I came to know him very well. We studied the Word of God together, and he grew in faith, and evidence of understanding. He went on to seminary for four years, then after graduating he taught in a Bible school. Somewhere, about that time, however, he failed to obey what God had set before him to do. Soon afterwards he dropped out of his teaching position. After a bit his marriage broke up. Today he is living in the Sierra Nevadas, teaching school. He is on his third marriage. He has totally denied his Christian faith, claiming now to be an atheist. He has made shipwreck of his faith and of that of his family as well.
This happens frequently today. It explains why some outstanding Christian leaders whom you yourself have followed, people you have held up as an example of faith and commitment, have suddenly fallen, because they did not hold to conscience; they did not obey what they taught. Somewhere along the line they thought the holding of the truth in the mind was enough.
Paul speaks of two such men here, Hymenaeus and Alexander. We do not know much about them, although they are mentioned elsewhere in these letters to Timothy. In the second letter, Hymenaeus is said to be one who taught that the resurrection was already past, overthrowing the faith of some, (2 Timothy. 2:18). Yet Paul does not say that Hymenaeus had begun by deviating from doctrine. Somewhere along the line, as Paul suggests here, he had not practiced truth; he had rejected conscience. That led him at last to the error he espoused.
In the second letter to Timothy, Paul speaks of Alexander, the coppersmith, who, he says, had done him great harm. "Beware of him, Timothy," Paul says. "He will do you a lot of damage if you get mixed up with him," (2 Timothy 4:14-15). What harm he had done the apostle we do not know, but it was this Alexander evidently who had chosen not to act upon truth that he knew, had not followed with a careful, close heart to the Lord, but had rejected conscience and had ultimately "shipwrecked his faith." Paul says of these two, "I have delivered them to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme."
This is not a single act, suddenly taken in the heat of anger. This is the result of a long course of spiritual deterioration which ends in the fourth step suggested by our Lord in Matthew 18. (Last Sunday we had to take the third step in regard to a brother in our midst.) There in Matthew 18, the Lord says that step one is, if your brother has done something wrong, committed a sin, turned aside, go to him and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, that is the end of the matter; you have gained your brother. But if he does not, then take two or three with you and go again. That is step two. If he hears them, fine; say no more to anybody else. But if he does not, there has to come the time when you tell it to the church. That is the third step. The whole church is to be engaged in trying to reach an erring brother or sister, someone who has turned aside from the faith. If he does not hear them, then the fourth step comes, which Paul calls, "delivering [him] unto Satan." Jesus said, "Let him be unto you as a publican and a sinner" (Matthew 18:17), i.e., as not even being a Christian. By this Paul means, put him back into the world; regard him as having denied by his actions the testimony of his words. This does not mean to have no contact with him. This is not an act of excommunication that affects his spiritual life. It is clear from this very passage that Paul intends this to be remedial -- so that these men may learn that testifying of truth but not acting on it is blasphemy. This is destroying the image of God in the eyes of others, making God look ridiculous because they are not consistent in the walk. So Paul says, "I have turned them over. Let Satan have his way with them. He will damage them, he will hurt them, he will destroy much of their lives, but in the process they will learn that the One who loves them, who can heal them. who can forgive them, is God alone." So this action is to be taken with the hope that they will eventually return to the Lord.
After last Sunday's service I heard of a very remarkable incident. Some friends here in the congregation told me that when one of their friends, a young Christian man, was journeying by bus from Denver, Colorado, to Washington, D.C., a few weeks ago, he sat beside another young man who told him that his name was John W. Hinckley, Jr. During the whole course of that long bus ride of well over fifteen hundred miles, this young Christian witnessed to John Hinckley. The next day the terrible news broke that Hinckley had attempted to assassinate the President of the United States. Yet this man had just heard a long Christian witness, lovingly given, which must have reminded him that he came from a Christian family, and that God had made many attempts to turn him toward righteousness and truth.
This morning after the 8:15 service a woman told me the sequel to the story, on good evidence, that Hinckley's father visited him in prison during this last week and was enabled to lead him to the Lord. This is a case of a young man who may even have been a Christian (at least he was exposed to Christian testimony) who had rejected conscience and had lost faith. But God has not rejected him. He has sought him and is taking him through deep and dark things. Prison awaits him. He has been delivered unto Satan that he might learn not to blaspheme, but that God alone is the One who can forgive him.
The question this leaves us with is: "What are we doing?" We are called by Christ, called to live a Christian life in a godless world. This is not something to take lightly, something to do on weekends, a low-calorie dessert to add to life to make it more agreeable. We are soldiers in a battle, a fierce war against sin, called by Christ himself to "wage a good warfare, to hold fast to the faith, to hold to a good conscience." God's image in the eyes of others is at stake. We are to live redemptively in the midst of a fallen world.-- (Ray Stedman Wage the Good Warfare.)
1 Samuel 24:5: “...It came about afterward that David’s conscience bothered him because he had cut off the edge of Saul’s robe.”
Acts 23:1: [Paul before the Council ] “Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.”
Acts 24:16: “...In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.”
Romans 2:15 “...in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them..."
Romans 9:1 [Solicitude for Israel ] “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit...”
Romans 13:5: “Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake."
Romans 14:1 [Principles of Conscience ] “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions."
1 Corinthians 8:7 “However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols?"
1 Corinthians 8:12: “And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.”
1 Corinthians 10:25: “Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience’ sake;...”
1 Corinthians 10:27-28: “If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake...”
2 Corinthians 1:12: [Paul’s Integrity] “For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you...”
2 Corinthians 4:2: “...but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”
2 Corinthians 5:11: “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences.”
1 Timothy 1:5: “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
1 Timothy 1:19: “...keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.”
1 Timothy 3:9: “...but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.”
1 Timothy 4:2: “...by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron...”
2 Timothy 1:3: “I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day,"
Titus 1:15: “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind...”
Hebrews 9:9: “...which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience...”
Hebrews 9:14: “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
Hebrews 10:22: “...let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water...”
Hebrews 13:18: “Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things...”
1 Peter 2:19: “For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly... “
1 Peter 3:16: “...and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame...“
1 Peter 3:21: “Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
From Vine's Dictionary
(Strong's #4893 — Noun Feminine — suneidesis — soon-i'-day-sis )
lit., "a knowing with" (sun, "with," oida, "to know"), i.e., "a co-knowledge (with oneself), the witness borne to one's conduct by conscience, that faculty by which we apprehend the will of God, as that which is designed to govern our lives;" hence (a) the sense of guilelessness before God; Hebrews 10:2; (b) that process of thought which distinguishes what it considers morally good or bad, commending the good, condemning the bad, and so prompting to do the former, and avoid the latter; Romans 2:15 (bearing witness with God's law); Hebrews 9:1; 2 Corinthians 1:12; acting in a certain way because "conscience" requires it, Romans 13:5; so as not to cause scruples of "conscience" in another, 1 Corinthians 10:28,29; not calling a thing in question unnecessarily, as if conscience demanded it, 1 Corinthians 10:25,27; "commending oneself to every man's conscience," 2 Corinthians 4:2; cp. 2 Corinthians 5:11 . There may be a "conscience" not strong enough to distinguish clearly between the lawful and the unlawful, 1 Corinthians 8:7,10,12 (some regard consciousness as the meaning here). The phrase "conscience toward God," in 1 Peter 2:19, signifies a "conscience" (or perhaps here, a consciousness) so controlled by the apprehension of God's presence, that the person realizes that griefs are to be borne in accordance with His will. Hebrews 9:9 teaches that sacrifices under the Law could not so perfect a person that he could regard himself as free from guilt. For various descriptions of "conscience" see Acts 23:1; 24:16; 1 Corinthians 8:7; 1 Timothy 1:5,19; 3:9; 4:2; 2 Timothy 1:3; Titus 1:15; Hebrews 9:14; 10:22; 13:18; 1 Peter 3:16,21. Spiros Zodhiates says the Greek word suneideses (feminine noun from suneido,) “to be conscious of Conscience, to be one’s own witness, one’s own conscience coming forward as witness. It denotes an abiding consciousness whose nature it is to bear inner witness to one’s in a moral sense (Titus 1:15). It is self-awareness.” From Wikipedia
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