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Would you join me in prayer once more? Heavenly Father, with the psalmist we ask that You open our eyes, that we might behold wonderful things from Your law, for it is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and like a fine surgical instrument, Your Word spiritually pierces as far as the division of soul and spirit of both joints and marrow, and it claims to be able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. To that Word we come now. Help me to speak and assist Your people to hear and understand, I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
I’m a conflicted man this morning. I don’t know whether to say Merry Christmas or Happy New Year or both or neither, because we’re in between times, aren’t we? I think I’ll go with Happy New Year. Good morning to you. It is hard to believe that Christmas is behind and that 2020 is only a few days away. I bet you were expecting a sermon on New Year’s resolutions this morning, but a sermon on the conscience doesn’t exactly convey that. Right?
But in fact, I think this sermon might be the subject of an excellent New Year’s resolution. I say that because my hope for you after hearing what the Bible has to say about the conscience is that you might commit to cultivate your conscience in the coming year, so that the Lord might use it serve you well in the world that the Apostle Peter warns wages war against our souls. I think that would be a very appropriate and worthwhile resolution for all of us.
Why a sermon on the conscience? I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. There are three reasons that I want to speak to it. First, the conscience, particularly the Christian conscience, is rather complicated. And yet it is rarely the subject of biblical teaching, and as a result due to a lack of understanding, believers can often be confused about their consciences.
Listen to this perspective from the authors of an excellent book that I found very helpful in preparing this sermon, I highly recommend it to your reading. It’s titled Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ by Andrew Naselli and J. D. Crowley. They write: “Some subjects in Christianity are so fertile, so abundantly promising and useful on so many different levels, that studying them reaps a harvest far beyond expectations. It’s like buy one, get ten free. Conscience is one of those subjects. It touches on salvation, progressive sanctification, church unity, evangelism, missions, and apologetics. Yet hardly is a topic more neglected in the Christian church,” they write.
Second, a sermon on the Christian conscience is important because the age in which we live diminishes and distorts the conscience. D. A. Carson says as much in his forward of the same book. He writes: “We live in the age of authenticity, in with individuals feel they have the right to pursue and do whatever they want. That is what makes them authentic. Inevitably, that stance makes one suspicious of all voices of authority that seem to tug in any direction different from what makes our lives authentic,” he writes.
He continues: “The source of that authority does not matter: Government, parents, tradition, religion, morality… Nothing trumps my right to be authentic, which from a Christian perspective is nothing other than the siren call of the supreme idol of self.”
He continues: “Small wonder, then, that this is an age that gives little thought to the nature and functions of conscience. More dangerously, conscience is malleable or changeable, and is easily re-shaped to conform in substantial measure to the dictates of our age. We crush conscience in order to toss off what now appears to be the shackles of a bygone age.”
Third reason I want to speak about conscience with you this morning is that in my pastoral counseling I deal routinely with folks whose consciences are broken and not serving them well, much like a diseased human heart with clogged arteries, it’s not pumping blood correctly, putting the patient at risk of heart attack or even death. In the case of conscience, the risk is arguably as great for a conscience that isn’t working properly can lead, as we’ll see, to destruction of everything physical and spiritual that we claim to cherish. I’ve seen it happen more times than I wish.
The funny thing is, both a diseased heart and a diseased conscience can lie undetected unless one takes the initiative to become informed of the risk and have them examined.
And to this morning, with the help of Scripture, I want to answer some important questions about the conscience. I’ve provided sermon notes if you care to use them.
Here are the questions: What is the conscience, how does it work, and why is it important?
Second question is: How should we respond to our conscience when it warns us, or convicts us, of sin?
Third: What are some symptoms and dangers of a neglected conscience?
Fourth: What are the benefits of a good conscience?
And finally: How do we cultivate a good conscience?
That’s an ambitious undertaking for me this morning, and the conscience is such a vast subject I’ll need to omit a number of things I’d like to say. For instance, there is substantial teaching in the Bible on the subject of Christian liberties, of which the conscience is at the center. We won’t have time to address that this morning, but I sure hope that you will be compelled to learn more about what the Scriptures have to say about our Christian liberties and conscience.
There is no single Bible passage that answers all the questions about conscience, but we’ll begin with the primary text found in 1 Timothy chapter 1. If you’d turn there with me and have your Bibles ready, for we’ll be drawing upon a number of other passages as well.
We’ll be reading verses 1 to 7 and 18 to 20 of this first chapter of 1 Timothy, and here you’ll see, I hope, the importance of a good conscience and the potential ultimate consequences of neglecting it or dismissing it.
But first a little context to our text. 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy and Titus are knows as the Pastoral Epistles. The Apostle Paul is writing to Timothy and Titus in these epistles as pastors of challenging churches that were young, and also troubled. Timothy was the pastor of the church at Ephesus that Paul knew only too well. He planted the Ephesian church and he loved it deeply despite its problems. From Acts we learned that Paul invested three years of his ministry there, the close relationship that Paul shared with the Ephesian elders who led that church is found in Acts 20:13 through 38. Pastor Kevin preached on that text last several weeks ago as he was speaking about shepherding. It is Paul’s final face-to-face with those elders, it’s a very tender meeting, ending with a highly emotional parting with many tears that they would not see his face again. But in his address, Paul warns the elders to watch carefully over the flock for whom Christ shed His blood because there would rise from among them those who would lead God’s people astray or away from the faith by distorting the Gospel. Another indication of Paul’s love for the church at Ephesus is that he placed his closest disciple Timothy as pastor over the church there. He routinely refers to Timothy as his true child or son in the faith. He trusted Timothy a great deal to put him as pastor of the church at Ephesus. Paul’s concerns for Ephesus were justified. This pastoral epistle to Timothy points out a number of problems, and he advises Timothy how to approach each one.
And so with that backdrop, follow along with me as I read verses 1 through 7.
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, to Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.”
In verses 3 through 7, Paul immediately puts his finger on a big problem. False teachers had arisen who were distracting God’s people from the apostles’ doctrine with myths and speculations and endless genealogies and other controversies. False teaching is a grave threat to the Christian faith. It was a problem in the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament. I think every New Testament epistle raises red flags about false teaching, and lest we think too little of it, false teaching is still quite a threat in our own time.
But look with me at verse 5. That’s where I want us to focus. There Paul contrasts the controversies provoked by false teaching which oppose God’s work with the goal of apostolic preaching and teaching, the sort of preaching and teaching I hope you will always hear from this pulpit. We read in verse 5 “the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
I’ve always appreciated the New American Standard’s translation of this verse, where we read “but the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.”
Without getting too detailed, think with me about what Paul is saying in verse 5. Trustworthy, biblical teaching should have as its goal genuine love, and this love Paul says is woven together by three necessary components: A pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. These three works of the Spirit coexist together and complement one another. They are mutually dependent on one another in producing the greatest of Christian virtues. Can you imagine a pure heart without a good conscience? Can you imagine a good conscience without a pure heart? Can you imagine a sincere faith deprived of a good conscience and a pure heart? No. They belong to one another.
And as one commentator put it, they co-labor as an organic cooperation to produce Christian love, the highest ambition God holds for the believer. They should also be priorities for the Christian.
Now look with me at verses 18 to 20. Paul continues: “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”
After a relevant discussion in verses 8 through 11 of the proper use of the Law and then a very powerful testimony of God’s grace extended to Paul, who sees himself as the chief of sinners in verses 12 to 17, Paul returns in verses 18 to 20 to finish his thoughts that he began in verse 3. He charges Timothy to confidently address this crisis of false teaching, using the metaphor, the word picture, of warfare in verse 18, and in verse 19 once more he invokes the importance of a good conscience and faith as necessary for Timothy in this battle.
But note one more thing found in verses 6 and 7 and 19 and 20. Paul says that there are certain persons, false teachers in verses 6 and 7, and specific individuals in verses 19 and 20, who have set aside a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith resulting in their doom. Note Paul’s word picture in verse 19. He says “by rejecting this,” that is, a good conscience, they “have made shipwreck of their faith.”
What a troubling consideration and a tragic possibility that there are persons who profess Christ who by lasting neglect or rejection of a good conscience risk apostasy. These false teachers suffer from what Paul calls later in the same epistle “seared consciences.”
John Calvin commenting on this text said “a bad conscience is the mother of all heresies.” And so it would seem that a good conscience is very important to the Apostle Paul and he compels Timothy to address this in his teaching. I think that sets the table well for the questions I hope to answer this morning.
And so here’s the first question, which is actually several questions in one. I am trying to get three for the price of one here, and it’s this: What is the conscience, how does it work, and how important is it?
John MacArthur has said “the conscience may be the most underappreciated and least understood attribute of humanity.”
For the record, there are 30 occurrences of the Greek word for conscience in the New Testament, and the conscience occurs in concept in both Old and New Testament many times. An example in the Old Testament is the story of David’s senses, found in 2 Samuel 24. You might want to read that.
But there are a number of helpful definitions that clarify the meaning of conscience. Here are a few.
Thomas Aquinas said that the conscience is the inner voice we have that either accuses us or excuses us for our actions.
John Frame, a contemporary Reformed philosopher and theologian, defines conscience as the God-given ability to discern good and evil.
Franz Delitzsch says that the conscience is the knowledge of divine law that every man bears in his heart.
And John Trapp, a 17th century English minister, said the conscience is God’s spy in the bosom. I like that, “God’s spy in the bosom.”
In their book that we’ve mentioned already, Naselli and Crowley add some additional insights into the definition of conscience that I find quite helpful. I want to share them with you. They say that conscience is a priceless gift of God’s common grace to believer and unbeliever alike. For the Christian, the conscience is intended for our good and our ultimate freedom as sinners living in a fallen world. They say that conscience is a human capacity, to be human is to have a conscience. Conscience is inherent in personhood. It reflects the moral aspect of God’s image. We are moral beings who make moral decisions. So conscience is a spotlight of your moral judgment shining back on yourself, your thoughts, and your actions. Further, they say that conscience feels like an independent judge, pronouncing verdicts. According to Romans 1:19 and 20 and Romans 2:14 and 15, even unbelievers instinctively know there’s a God to whom they must give an account, even if they suppress their consciences.
Here’s how Paul puts it, in Romans 1: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world in the things that have been made. So that they are without excuse.”
In chapter 2 of Romans, verses 14 and 15, he continues: “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.”
The authors say that conscience wants to be an on/off switch, not a dimmer. The conscience does not nuance or do gray scales well, they say. It doesn’t say it’s complicated. It’s all about right and wrong, black and white. They say that your conscience is for you and you only. You cannot force another to adopt your conscience stand, but you should always remember, brothers and sisters, that God alone is the Lord of your conscience. It cannot be bound by anyone, including your pastors, your parents, fellow believers, except through the clear teaching of Scripture. That’s where your pastors and elders particularly come in.
The authors say that no one’s conscience perfectly matches God’s will. We’ll remain sinners as Christians 24/7 until we’re with Christ in heaven, and that’s why we confess our sins in nearly every Lord’s Day service, even as we did this morning. We do desperately need the Gospel at all times. It’ll take a lifetime to calibrate our consciences to God’s Word.
How does the conscience work? For a sinful person, living in a fallen world, the conscience is a great gift. The conscience presumes our world is immoral, and like the Gospel, the conscience is perfectly designed for life as we experience it, as long as we inform it and obey it. This assumes your conscience is calibrated to God’s moral standard found in His Word, otherwise your conscience may fail you. A biblically informed conscience is to our soul what pain is to the body. Physical pain serves as a warning to protect us from danger and harm physically. The pain of putting your hand on a hot stove will quickly convince you not to do it a second time. And the conscience operates in a similar way.
A biblically informed conscience, Naselli and Crowley say, functions in four ways: As a guide, as a monitor, as a witness, and as a judge. It has both preventative and remedial purposes for us. The conscience guides us to help us conform to God’s moral standard, preventatively it warns us before we do wrong and urges us to do right, much like warning lights and sounds on the dashboards of our cars. It monitors how we conform to that standard. And it testifies to how well or poorly we conform to them. And the conscience acts in a remedial way as our judge for how well or poorly we conform to God’s standards. It will either commend and defend us when we conform, or accuse and condemn us when we do wrong, resulting in, and appropriately, guilt.
How important is the conscience? As we established, I hope, in 1 Timothy 1 the Apostle Paul must have felt the conscience was pretty important. He refers to it 20 times in his writings, and the two occurrences of conscience in the book of Acts are quotes from Paul, so out of 30 mentions of conscience in the New Testament, 22 are attributable to the Apostle Paul. Here are just a few Scriptures that reveal why Paul made the focus of a good conscience such an important matter in his epistle to Timothy.
Acts 24:16 is one of my life verses. I didn’t know that Nathan had put that up this morning for our meditation. As Paul was making his defense before Felix, the governor, he said, “So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.” New American Standard translates it this way: “In view of this, I always go my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.”
Just a chapter earlier in Acts 23:1 as he stands before the Sanhedrin to defend himself, we read, “And looking intently at the council, Paul said, ‘Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.'”
In Romans 9:1, as Paul describes the great and unceasing sorrow he bears in his heart for his Jewish kinsmen who dismiss the Gospel, he says “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit.”
In addressing the qualifications of deacons in 1 Timothy 3, he says “deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy, for dishonest gain they must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.”
And finally, as Paul emphasizes the integrity of his stewardship of the Gospel, he says in 2 Corinthians 4:2, “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s Word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”
Paul has a lot more to say about the conscience. The conscience informs everything in his life and ministry. These passages are just a sampling.
But I hope you can see from both frequency of his mention of conscience as well as his personal commitment to always maintain a blameless conscience before God and man, that a good conscience is vital to the believer.
Perhaps there’s no greater example of the importance and significance of the conscience in church history than Martin Luther’s defense of his understanding of the Gospel at the Diet of Worms in 1521 called for the express purpose of forcing Luther to recant his theological views that stood in opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Do you remember his response after he had prayed all night, understanding that his answer might result in his death? These are his famous words to that assembly that launched the reformation in earnest. He said: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason, I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.”
Let me ask, what if Luther had not obeyed his conscience and caved to the dictates of men rather than the Holy Scripture? It isn’t a stretch, I don’t think, to suggest that the Protestant Reformation might have been set back. Conscience is very, very important.
Our next question is this: How should we respond to our conscience when it warns or convicts us of sin?
I recently met with our pastoral interns to share with them some things I’ve learned over my years in ministry, and one of the things I told them is that I fear the Christian church is rapidly losing its appreciation of the doctrine and implications of the sinfulness of sin and man’s depravity. That’s unfortunate, if I’m correct. There’s a correlation between our sense of our own sinfulness and our appreciation of the conscience as a gift from God.
Paul understood his sinfulness in 1 Timothy 1:15, that same chapter that we read from earlier, Paul says, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving full acceptance that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”
Paul consistently spoke of himself as a great sinner. Perhaps it’s another reason why conscience was so important to him.
Thus a healthy, informed conscience in the hands of the Holy Spirit will and should warn us of moral danger and convict us when we sin. We should be very troubled and curious when it doesn’t.
And by God’s grace, the gospel is perfectly designed for such times. If we heed our consciences’ warnings that temptation is leading us to sin against the Lord, then promises, God promises us in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that He has foreseen that and offers a way of escape. Listen as I read that: “No temptation,” Paul says, God says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation provide the way of escape that you may be able to endure it.”
But what if we fail to heed our consciences’ warnings and proceed to sin. Then God has made provision for that as well, through Christ’s perfect life, His death on the cross, and His resurrection. As one writer has said, “The Gospel suits a guilty conscience, and through repentance and the forgiveness offered when we confess our sins, our consciences can be cleansed and we can be fully restored.” That’s the beauty of the Gospel.
Let me read a few texts of Scripture that bring this home clearly. You’re familiar with a few of them, but listen afresh.
1 John 1:8-9: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Chapter 2 of 1 John, verses 1 and 2: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin, but if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father Jesus Christ, the righteous. He’s the propitiation for our sins, not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
And this beautiful promise and invitation from Hebrews chapter 10, beginning in verse 19: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart and full assurance of faith with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
Isn’t that a delightful thought? For sinners, like you and me.
Having said this, our consciences aren’t perfect, and so one author suggests that we answer our question of how to respond to our consciences’ warnings and accusations this way. He writes, “We believe that you should generally always follow your conscience,” and if that sounds a little vague or conditional, it’s for good reason. Your conscience is ultimately only as reliable as it is biblically informed.
An uninformed conscience is a little bit like the earliest days of GPS. I remember reading a story, heard of a man who followed his GPS in those early days, throwing caution to the wind, and he drove right off a pier into a large body of water. Given my reputation for being directionally challenged, and here I’ll throw Bruce Creswell under the bus with me, that story encouraged me a lot.
But we should always be attentive to our conscience when it speaks. Perhaps it’s giving us a green light to sin; that doesn’t mean we should ignore it. It is never a good idea to dismiss your conscience when it’s speaking. It does mean that we should assess it by God’s Word and with the help of godly friends, and if it’s wrong we should take steps to inform it for the future.
Sometimes the conscience is too scrupulous and warns us that something is wrong which really isn’t. That was the problem in Colossians 2 in the Colossian church and Paul sternly addresses that head on, in chapter 2, verses 20-23. If you want to look there with me, I’ll read it. It says, Paul says to us and the Colossians, “If you died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you’re living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees such as ‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’ (which all refer to things destined to perish with using) in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”
Like a conscience that offers a green light to sin, the solution for an overly scrupulous conscience is the same: Look to God’s Word and godly people for clarification, then train or calibrate your conscience for the future.
But having acknowledged the occasionally times when one’s conscience errs for the Christian, your conscience enabled by the Holy Spirit is reliable, even if it isn’t perfect, and so you should listen to it.
Here’s our next question: What are some symptoms and dangers of a neglected conscience?
John Calvin speaks again. He said that the torture of a bad conscience is the hell of a living soul.
Sobering words, aren’t they?
The Scriptures warn us over and over again about neglecting our conscience. We read in Romans 14, verses 22 and 23, as Paul is discussing the importance of Christian conscience in the realm of Christian liberty, he says “Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
Our thoughts, our words, our deeds, even eating, should derive from a confident faith informed by a good conscience. And yet one author observes that the conscience is generally seen by modern world as a defect that robs people of their self-esteem, rather than the gift of God that it truly is.
And so to ignore the warning lights of conscience has real consequences. The Scriptures use several descriptive words to capture the health or lack of it in a conscience. In addition to a good conscience, a clear conscience, that Paul sought for himself and his hearers, he describes consciences that seem in some form of progressive unhealthiness or distress. He mentions the weak conscience in 1 Corinthians 8. In verse 7 he says, “However, not all possess this knowledge, but some through former association with idols eat food as really offered to an idol and their conscience being weak is defiled.”
A weak conscience is one that is sincere but immature. It has not been fully informed from the Scripture and thus might be overly scrupulous to avoid things the Lord actually permits, or it might not be scrupulous enough, permitting things the Lord does not. These are the weaker brothers that those with mature consciences are warned not to make stumble in exercising their own Christian liberties. Paul has a lot to say about this in chapters 8 through 10 of 1 Corinthians and Romans 14 and in other places.
Paul has a few other words that describe a conscience that’s languishing. He uses the word “defiled” for a dying conscience in Titus 1:15, but perhaps a more helpful term would be a “hardened” conscience, a hardened conscience that is clearly implied in Hebrews 3:12-13.
I’d love for you to go with me there, to Hebrews 3, as I read this. It’s a very important passage. The writer of Hebrews says there, “Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, and falling away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘today,’ lest there be any of you hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
The writer of Hebrews is urging his readers to encourage one another daily lest any of them find their consciences hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
This is probably what I run into most in my pastoral counseling. It’s a conscience that’s become sloppy, or lazy, and has lost its desire and ability to recognize and respond promptly and effectively to sin. The power of sin, by the way, is by and large in its deceitfulness. Without a vigilant conscience, sin will slip into our souls and if unaddressed, become our master, and so a hardened conscience is a troubling concern.
Finally Paul describes a seared conscience that we talked about a few moments ago. Look with me at 1 Timothy chapter 4. 1 Timothy chapter 4, I’ll read verses 1 through 3: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.”
A seared conscience is an apostate conscience. From the Greek word used here, we get the medical word “cauterized.” A cauterized conscience is one that’s been anesthetized or deadened. To this point, John Stott says, “By constantly arguing with conscience, stifling its warnings and muffling its bell, its voice is smothered and eventually silenced.”
This was the state of Hymenaeus and Alexander in 1 Timothy 1:18-20 that we read earlier. This was also the conscience of Herod that gave him permission to put the innocent children of Bethlehem to death without any apparent conflict of conscience, and so we can see, as Martin Luther said, it’s not safe to go against conscience. An uncultivated Christian conscience, like everything else in a fallen world that is ignored, will tend to decline.
Well, those are hard things, aren’t they?
Let’s ask a more encouraging question: What are the benefits of a good conscience?
I’ll keep my answer to this question brief. Clearly, from 1 Timothy 1, the Apostle Paul declares that a good conscience, united with a pure heart and a sincere faith, makes it possible for us to love as Christ loved. I hope that’s a compelling thought for you. It’s certainly rare in our world these days.
But a good conscience also provides other benefits. It brings peace with God and with others. And very importantly, a good conscience is liberating. It produces freedom.
I’ve given this a lot of thought. I had a run in with my own conscience not too long ago, and I was awakened to the fact that I had been ignoring it, and it was an unpleasant and humbling experience. I did what I’ve told you to do when our conscience is pointing out our sin – I confessed it and sought forgiveness. Over the next days, I not only experienced God’s peace, but I realized that I was also experiencing great freedom.
I’ve always said that the Gospel is counter-intuitive and counter-cultural in so many ways. Here’s one more way that is true: There is great freedom in holiness, brothers and sisters. There is great freedom in holiness. The world’s going to deny that, but Galatians 5:1 reminds us that it was for freedom that Christ set us free.
We have one last question to answer. It’s very practical. How do we cultivate a good conscience?
And I think I want to answer this question by asking you a few questions.
Are you here this morning and living with a conflicted or compromised conscience, one that is speaking and you’re not listening to it, or worse, one that is shutting down due to your neglect?
Do you want the freedom and peace of a good conscience? Then you must commit yourself to cultivate and calibrate your conscience. We’ve already discussed how it’s done. Let me remind you.
First, you must commit to heed your conscience. Are you experiencing temptation? Tell the Lord and seek the way of escape He offers. If you’re coddling sin in your heart or life, confess it to the Lord and ask His forgiveness. If you sinned against others, go to them and confess and seek their forgiveness as well. He’s made the remedy for our sin perfectly clear and simple. The Gospel is His beautiful provision for fallen men and women with guilty consciences.
Second, you should commit yourself to learn what pleases and displeases the Lord by spending ample time in His Word. Read it. Meditate on it. Listen to it preached and taught. The opportunities to imbibe God’s Word in our day our countless.
Third, commit yourself to regular prayerful self-examination. Our times in communion are intended for this purpose, if you’re paying attention when we have communion on Sundays. Ready 1 Corinthians 11:27-32, and as your conscience uncovers sin in your heart, confess it to the Lord. There is no better place to do this in our noisy world than in prayerful solitude.
Fourth, seek accountability with at least one other person and give them permission to ask you hard questions. This person should have the freedom to arouse your conscience with their questions. Consider Hebrews 3:12-13 that we read as you think about this. An unaccountable life, my friends, is no competition for the deceitfulness of sin that threatens every one of us here.
Finally, make worship and the means of grace a priority. Every Lord’s Day we are together before the Lord employing all these means that I’ve outlined above. It’s hard to imagine a healthy conscience that isn’t committed to the Lord’s Day.
Perhaps you’re here this morning and you’ve not considered the importance of a good conscience. Perhaps you have questions about the God who created and is Lord of your conscience and His Son who makes it possible to level with the freedom of a good conscience. We would welcome a conversation with you.
Would you pray with me? Heavenly Father, thank you for the provision of a conscience designed to cooperate with Your Holy Spirit to protect us from the deceitfulness of sin and the schemes of the evil one. In the coming year, would You grant us a renewed interest and commitment to cultivate a good conscience so that it serves its intended purposes in our souls and secures our peace and our freedom so that we might glorify and enjoy you. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.