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Guarding Our Conscience

How do we feel about what we read in the newspapers and see on the television? How do you react when you read of a rape, a drive-by shooting, a house break-in, a gay-activist march, a verbal attack on conservative Christians, the number of abortions each year, attacks on elderly ladies? By comparison, how did you react to such things ten, twenty, thirty, forty years ago? How would your grandparents have reacted to scenes like we have today? Is your conscience being seared?

Today I want to talk to you about guarding your conscience.

What is conscience? Conscience is that motive of conduct by which we believe we should be living. The Greek word "suneidesis," pronounced soon-i'-day-sis, G4893, is defined as moral conscientiousness. Conscience gives feelings of remorse when we have done what we know we should not have done. Its actions are involuntary, but we decide how to react to it, and whether or not we shall override it. A clean conscience reflects one who practices God's way of life.

Our consciences must be treated well. Conscience, even more than our actions, seems to be a factor in why God called us. God only calls those with some level of conscience. Since God considers our conscience so importantly, we must guard our consciences.

It is well recognized that once a conscience is broken, it often can not be repaired. Conscience has an element of morality. There seem to be times in people's lives when they seemingly have little or no conscience over many years, but sometimes something suddenly happens which seems to turn on the switch of conscience and thereafter that person has a higher level of conscience. That event is so important to that individual that the event is never forgotten. Conscience is very important to every individual.

Let's see what Paul had to say about his conscience:

In Acts 23 Paul talked about his good conscience:

Acts 23:1 And Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, "Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day."

Paul had a good conscience about his current relationship between himself and God and between himself and men (outside men of the Council). This was the conscience of Paul both before and after conversion because Paul believed in what he was doing even before his conversion. :

Acts 24:16 "In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience <both> before God and before men.

In Hebrews 13, Paul describes his desire to have a good conscience over what he was teaching:

Heb 13:18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things.

But Paul also had a guilty conscience:

Rom 9:1-2 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, {2} that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart.

In the ninth chapter of Romans, Paul is describing the heart-wrenching story of his experience in being a negative example to his fellow Jews by his persecution of Christians prior to his conversion. At conversion his conscious was modified by Christ's direct intervention and the implanting of the Holy Spirit.

So we can have good consciences and we can have bad consciences. But there are also dead consciences. Let's look at several scriptures which describe people with dead consciences:

Prov 30:20 This is the way of an adulterous woman: She eats and wipes her mouth, And says, "I have done no wrong."

Her sins do not bother her enough to lose her appetite as might happen to decent people.

Jeremiah also describes people who not only knew no shame, but refused to acknowledge it.

Jer 6:15-17 "Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not even ashamed at all; They did not even know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; At the time that I punish them, They shall be cast down," says the LORD. {16} Thus says the LORD, "Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you shall find rest for your souls. But they said, 'We will not walk <in it>.' {17} "And I set watchmen over you, <saying>, 'Listen to the sound of the trumpet!' But they said, 'We will not listen.' [Do any of us have that attitude about what is preached?]

As I said at the beginning of this sermon, "How do you react to the events of today?" Do you groan for the standards of yesteryear? There are many out there with little or no conscience. How much of a conscience do you have? Has it died too?

Eph 4:17-19 This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, {18} being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; {19} and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity [uncleanness] with greediness.

Don't walk as unbelievers walk.

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 and their conscience are defiled.

Have you noticed that the above examples of people with no conscience all seem to describe people guilty of sensual sins? And, as we just read in Jeremiah, after these people and others hear of their sins, they resort to rebellion to defend their positions.

People in jail commonly have no conscience, and when they go back into society, they do horrible things. We saw some years ago an example of this in Petaluma, California where a man had been in jail, I believe it was 31 times, was released from jail, then kidnapped a twelve year old girl from her home, and killed her. Where was his conscience? And in school massacres even by fellow students; where were their consciences? Have there been periods in our lives when we seemingly had little or no conscience? Or have there been periods in our lives when we were fairly successful in quenching our conscience?

We have all heard the old adage: Let your conscience be your guide. Is this true? Can our conscience ever be wrong? How about prisoners who convert to Islam while in prison? Let's see what Paul has to say about correcting a sick conscience:

Heb 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?

Isn't this saying that our consciences can be wrong and must, therefore, be purged and reeducated in the way of Christ? Do we continue in dead works because we are afraid to change from worldly traditions to the way Christ commands? How accurate is the information coming from our conscience? Where did we get a conscience, anyway? How do we remove a wrong conscience?

Heb 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.

No, brethren, we may shamefully recall past sins but should not have a guilty conscience after baptism. At baptism we are washed from our guilty past. We must keep that ever in mind. This is particularly important to do when others bring up our sinful past.

Some give up because they can't purge their conscience of past evil works. Many live in fear because they cannot shake their evil past. This is a conscience of guilt. If any of us have this overwhelming guilty conscience, we should consider and depend upon what Peter had to say on the subject:

1 Pet 3:21 And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you-- not the removal of dirt from the flesh [we do that every time we bathe], but an appeal to God for a good conscience-- [obtained] through the [death and] resurrection of Jesus Christ,

John also commented on deceptive thoughts or conscience. Except in John 8:9, John uses the word "heart," G2588, meaning thoughts or feelings of mind, instead of "conscience," G4893, meaning moral consciousness; i.e. distinguishing between what's good and bad morally. Keep these definitions in mind for your own Bible study and as we read:

1 John 3:18-24 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. {19} We shall know by this that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart [thoughts] before Him, {20} in whatever our heart [thoughts] condemn us; for God is greater than our heart [thoughts], and knows all things. {21} Beloved, if our heart [thoughts] do not condemn us, we have confidence before God; {22} and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments [why can't Sunday-keeping Christians see this?] and do the things that are pleasing in His sight. {23} And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. {24} And the one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And we know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

We must be examples by deed, not talk. How many talk about loving others but don't demonstrate that love with actions? If we feel condemned, God can handle it. He is bigger than our guilty feelings. Our responsibility, after baptism, is to keep His commandments so that His Spirit will reside in us.

Chapter 8 of 1 Corinthians describes the guilt some had in eating meat sacrificed to idols. Let's read chapter 8 and try to relate how our conduct or deeds in any element can impact the conscience of those who are weak - those whose consciences we are violating:

1 Cor 8 Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies ["I don't have to be concerned with that!" vs "I understand that you are offended."] {2} If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; {3} but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him. {4} Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. {5} For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, {6} yet for us there is <but> one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we <exist> for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we <exist> through Him. {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 [moral consciousness] being weak is defiled. [In other words, it does not matter that they know their conscience is wrong. They are bothered by it even though they may know they shouldn't be.] {8} But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. {9} But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. {10} 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? {11} For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. {12} And thus, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience [moral consciousness] when it is weak, you sin against Christ. {13} Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble.

What seems to be sin for one is not sin for another, but, as we read in 1 John 3, we must be examples by deed. We must not only deal with our own conscience or feelings. We must be aware of the feelings or conscience of others. As Paul says in verse 12, we sin against Christ when we cause someone else to violate their conscience.

This same principle is described in a slightly different way in Romans 14. Again, the example is eating foods which others think we should not eat. But apply these scriptures to the offending of others who are weak in something we would take on faith.

Rom 14 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, <but> not for <the purpose of> passing judgment on his opinions. {2} One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables <only>. {3} Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him. {4} Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand. {5} One man regards one day above another, another regards every day <alike>.Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. {6} He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. {7} For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; {8} for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. {9} For to this end Christ died and lived <again>, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. {10} But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. {11} For it is written, "AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD." {12} So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God. {13} Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this -- not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way. {14} I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. {15} For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. {16} Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; {17} for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. {18} For he who in this <way> serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. {19} So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. {20} Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense [feeling he is doing something wrong]. {21} It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or <to do anything> by which your brother stumbles. {22} The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. {23} But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because <his eating is> not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.

Notice verses 13 and 21 again. We must not offend someone else's or our own conscience. All of us must live within our faith, otherwise we sin. Conscience is a great tool for overcoming if it is used correctly.

This same principle - the principle of not offending the conscience of others - is written by Paul in 1 Cor 10:

1 Cor 10:27-32 If one of the unbelievers invites you, and you wish to go, eat anything that is set before you, without asking questions for conscience' [moral consciousness] sake. {28} But if anyone should say to you, "This is meat sacrificed to idols," do not eat <it>,for the sake of the one who informed <you>,and for conscience' [moral consciousness] sake; {29} I mean not your own conscience, but the other <man's>; for why is my freedom judged by another's conscience [moral conscience]? {30} If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks? {31} Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. {32} Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God;

Verse 27 is a problem for some. Does it mean we can eat any kind of meat that's set before us on the grounds that we don't want to offend our host? This was the rationale Herbert Armstrong reportedly used when he went to China and ate pork with the Chinese leaders. The context of verses 28 and 29 makes it clear that verse 27 is talking about meat offered to idols. We need to keep three things in mind when reading verse 27:

1. We would usually not have to ask if the meat were pork or other unclean meat. It would usually be obvious if we have thoroughly studied the instructions of Leviticus 11. However, we would not know if it had been offered to idols.

2. It would not be harmful to us to eat meat offered to idols but might be to the conscience of the host if he thinks, thereby, that idol worship is OK.

3. The point made in verse 27 is that it refers to the eating of meat offered to idols, not clean versus unclean meat.

1 Tim 3:8-9 Deacons likewise <must be> men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, {9} <but> holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience [moral conscience].

Paul is talking here about qualifications of deacons but notice verse 9 again. We all need to live within our conscience. We need to know that what we do is correct with God. If there is a doubt whether a thought or deed is sinful or borders on sin, as perceived by ourselves or a brother, we must avoid it. We can wound our conscience by violating it one time too many. It is even possible to destroy our conscience.

1 Tim 1:5-7 But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart [thoughts] and a good conscience [moral consciousness] and a sincere faith. {6} For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, {7} wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.

Verse 5 clearly shows that there is a difference between a pure heart [thoughts] and a good conscience [moral consciousness.]

Do we ever find ourselves theorizing about the ramifications of the Law on someone else's conduct? When we do that, we must be sure that everything we say is oriented toward love of that person and their feelings Skip down to verses 18-19

This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may fight the good fight, {19} keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.

In these verses again, Paul admonishes Timothy to do everything with a pure heart [thoughts] and good conscience [moral consciousness] and sincere faith. In verse 19 Paul again refers to some who have violated their conscience so many times their faith was destroyed. It is dangerous to stray off course. A shipwreck is a very final event.

1 Tim 6:3-6 If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, {4} he is conceited <and> understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, {5} and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. {6} But godliness <actually> is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment.

These verses point out that we are not to use our knowledge of God's word, when discussing it with others who have a different belief, if it leads to strife and contention. This is not godliness. As verse 6 points out, godliness is a means of great gain only when accompanied by contentment. In other words, our conscience must be at peace. Our conscience can not be at peace if we have just offended someone due to our insensitivity or self-righteousness.

Notice what second Timothy has to say about this:

2 Tim 2:14-16 Remind <them> of these things, and solemnly charge <them> in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless, <and leads> to the ruin of the hearers. {15} Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth. {16} But avoid worldly <and> empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness,

Timothy also warns those of us living in the end days that there will be evil teachers who try to pull us away from the faith that is acceptable to our conscience by telling us that "it doesn't matter."

1 Tim 4:1-2 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, {2} by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron,
Titus 1:13-16 This testimony is true. For this cause reprove them severely that they may be sound in the faith, {14} not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth. {15} To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. {16} They profess to know God, but by <their> deeds they deny <Him>, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed.

How many people do you know who profess to know God but by their deeds they deny Him? Perhaps they are hypocritical, perhaps they are ashamed to admit they don't really know Him, perhaps they are self righteous, perhaps they have been deceived....whatever the reason, we know from verse 15 that both their mind and conscience are defiled.

Rebellion can damage consciences too. There are an increasing number of "free spirited" people - those who don't want anyone telling them what to do - in the world today - especially in so called "liberated" areas, and in so-called "liberated" churches.

1 Pet 3:14-16 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, <you are> blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, {15} but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always <being> ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; {16} and keep a good conscience [moral conscience] so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

As we read 1 John 3:9-24, again remember that the translator of John uses the word "heart" for "thoughts or feeling of mind":

No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. {10} By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. {11} For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; {12} not as Cain, <who> was of the evil one, and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother's were righteous. {13} Do not marvel, brethren, if the world hates you. {14} We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. {15} Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. {16} We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. {17} But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? {18} Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. {19} We shall know by this that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart [thoughts] before Him, {20} in whatever our heart [thoughts] condemns us; for God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. {21} Beloved, if our heart [thoughts] does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; {22} and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight. {23} And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. {24} And the one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And we know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

How do we know that God abides in us? If we know that we have God's Spirit, if we feel God's spirit working in us, motivating us, inspiring us, we know that God abides in us.

In concluding this sermon about conscience, let's read about David's conscience following his sins of adultery and the murder of Uriah:

Psa 38 (A Psalm of David, for a memorial.) O LORD, rebuke me not in Thy wrath; And chasten me not in Thy burning anger. {2} For Thine arrows have sunk deep into me, And Thy hand has pressed down on me. {3} There is no soundness in my flesh because of Thine indignation; There is no health in my bones because of my sin. {4} For my iniquities are gone over my head; As a heavy burden they weigh too much for me. {5} My wounds grow foul <and> fester. Because of my folly, {6} I am bent over and greatly bowed down; I go mourning all day long. {7} For my loins are filled with burning; And there is no soundness in my flesh. {8} I am benumbed and badly crushed; I groan because of the agitation of my heart. {9} Lord, all my desire is before Thee; And my sighing is not hidden from Thee. {10} My heart throbs, my strength fails me; And the light of my eyes, even that has gone from me. {11} My loved ones and my friends stand aloof from my plague; And my kinsmen stand afar off. {12} Those who seek my life lay snares <for me>; And those who seek to injure me have threatened destruction, And they devise treachery all day long. {13} But I, like a deaf man, do not hear; And I am like a dumb man who does not open his mouth. {14} Yes, I am like a man who does not hear, And in whose mouth are no arguments. {15} For I hope in Thee, O LORD; Thou wilt answer, O Lord my God. {16} For I said, "May they not rejoice over me, <Who>,when my foot slips, would magnify themselves against me." {17} For I am ready to fall, And my sorrow is continually before me. {18} For I confess my iniquity; I am full of anxiety because of my sin. {19} But my enemies are vigorous <and> strong; And many are those who hate me wrongfully. {20} And those who repay evil for good, They oppose me, because I follow what is good. {21} Do not forsake me, O LORD; O my God, do not be far from me! {22} Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!

Brethren, let's do those things which will guard our consciences. Do not allow yourself to become callous to the feelings of others or to sins, whether they are your own or others.

Sermon given by Wayne Bedwell
19 January 2013
Copyright 2013, Wayne Bedwell

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