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You and your Conscience

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Here in Acts 24 Paul is ultimately on his way to Rome to stand before Caesar himself, but before he arrives at Rome Paul has the opportunity to share his salvation testimony many times to those who have him in custody. Here his accusers the Jews have just like in the case of our Lord have brought trumped up charges against Paul and are spewing out their lies. Paul begins to make his defense first by saying how he lives his life. This is interesting, listen to what he says again; v16 “And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.” Paul is saying that he uses his conscience to live in such a way that he might not offend God or man.

I want to you to zero in on that one word used by Paul here; the word “conscience” because that’s what I want to talk about for the next weeks. I had a hard time finding a verse that sums up the thought of conscience like this one. Not because the word conscience isn’t used elsewhere in the bible; that’s not the case at all. In fact, the bible is so full of places and events where the conscience of men and woman just like us comes out like a mighty river; its overwhelming how much of this theme there is in the bible! But the chances are you have never heard of any or maybe not many sermons or lessons devoted solely to the theme of conscience. That’s a shame, because Paul said that he used his conscience; that it helped him be what he was for God. Paul lived in accordance with his conscience, not against conscience! Paul was what he was because he knew how to live and use his conscience!

Chances are that you have never given serious thought to your conscience; but you know its there, because you feel it when you have went against it. But most of us follow our conscience as we would follow a wheelbarrow. We push it in front of us in the direction we want to go regardless of what it says.[1]

I want you to know that your conscience can either be the one of greatest gifts that God has given us to live by “if” it is used properly. But on the same token, when we go against our conscience, live against our conscience we will never have peace of mind and of heart! You cannot escape conscience. You have to live with your conscience or live against it!

Now to get the bible’s perspective on the theme of conscience we have to use our bibles.

I. The word “Conscience” is not mentioned in the Old Testament per say; but it is there in principle.

That might not mean much right now; but that is important. Because there are those that who use this absence as their ‘ace in the hole’ as their excuse that this word or that word is never mentioned in the bible and because of that they rationalize that its permissible to leave it out or ignore it completely. There are really some that deny that conscience is in the OT.  Before we get into the bible; Can I say that if something isn’t written in black and white in our bible chances are that it is in there by principle.

The bible doctrine of the trinity; One God but three different persons, is a word you will never find in your bible; but its there by stated principle.

The bible doctrine of the rapture, that the saved are to be ‘caught away’ to meet Christ before the tribulation and millennial kingdom start; is never stated in the bible by the word rapture per say; yet it is in their by stated principle.

The words ‘Sunday school’ isn’t in the bible per say; but it is in there by stated principle.  But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen. 2 Pet 3:18 

But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mat 19:14 

The word conscience isn’t in the old testament per say, but it is just about every in principle!

A. Adam and Eve

Gen. 3:7-11 They realized they were naked, they felt guilty when God came to walk with them, they ran and hid. Why? Because of their conscience! Some say that Adam grew a conscience after the fall; but I believe he had one before it.

B.   Joseph and His brothers

Gen. 42

Remember how that Joseph acted like he was an Egyptian two times in front of his brothers, Why? To active their dead and guilty conscience. Joseph acted pretty ruff with them, didn’t he? Listen to what rolls off their tongues, some twenty years after the fact they sold Joseph as a slave. Their conscience gets the best of them now, v21-22! Their conscience has awakened!

C.  David

When David cut off part of Saul's skirt while Saul was asleep, David's heart smote him (see I Sam. 24:1-6). That's conscience. He knew that he should not have done this to the king of Israel. Even though Saul was not a godly man, he was the king. David could not respect the man, but he had to respect the office. His conscience bothered him when he treated the king that way.[2]

D. David’s sin of Numbering Israel

2 Sam 24:10 And David's heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the LORD, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech thee, O LORD, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.

This was a sin of pride in David’s Life. His conscience, his heart smote him; struck him after he had sinned!

E. The Wicked and Righteousness

Pro 28:1 The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.

Why we ask? Because of Conscience. That’s what causes the wicked to flee and that’s what causes the boldness of the righteousness.

All in all, the word conscience is used in the NT 32 times! 21 of those times it is used by Paul and the other times used in connection with Jesus Christ.

F. Jesus and the Adulterous Woman

John 8

This woman was caught in the very act of adultery. Notice that Jesus didn’t dispute there claim. A holy God is honest about sin, but he reacted to it differently than those there as well. Notice v9 to see the work of conscience in them!

G. Paul in his unsaved state

Paul actually thought before he was saved that he was doing God a favor by taking out this new movement of Christianity. He did it sincerely, he said before Agrippa Acts 26:9-11. “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.”  

Do you see that conscience is a bible theme not just a NT theme!

It’s everywhere, just about it.

II. What is conscience and how is it described?

A. What it is

What is conscience? The word "conscience" in our English language comes from two Latin words. Con means "with" or "together," and scio means "I know." From the Latin, our English word "conscience" means "to know with" or "to know to­gether." To know with what? To know with ourselves and to know within ourselves. Conscience is that inner knowledge that helps me to know myself.

The Greek word used in the New Testament, suneidesis, means exactly the same thing. It comes from two Greek words, sun and oida, that mean "to know with."[3]

Conscience is that inner faculty that indicates to us whether our actions are right or wrong, accord­ing to the standards within our hearts. Oswald Chambers gave a good definition of conscience: "The conscience is that innate faculty in a man's spirit that attaches itself to the highest that the man knows." Conscience is not the law; conscience bears witness to the law. Conscience is not the standard; conscience bears witness to the stan­dard. In different parts of the world there are differ­ent standards.

Let me illustrate this. When the British took over India as part of their empire, they found some prac­tices that simply had to be abolished. One of these practices was to burn the widow of a deceased man on the funeral pyre. The British issued a law abolish­ing this practice.

One of the religious leaders among the Indian people came to a British leader and said, "Our conscience tells us that the widow must be burned." And he responded, "And our conscience tells us that if you do it, we'll hang you!" That gives the difference, doesn't it?

Conscience can guide us aright if we have the right standard. Everyone has experienced this. If you cheat on an examination, tell a lie or do something you simply should not do, your conscience bothers you. Something down inside keeps remind­ing you that you should not have done that. That's conscience. Of course, some people have so abused their conscience that it doesn't bother them anymore; for these people we can only feel pity. [4]

III. Two Descriptions of Conscience

 Let's look at two beautiful descriptions of conscience in the Bible. The Apostle Paul gave us one of them in Romans 2:14,15, and the Lord Jesus gave us another in Matthew 6:22,23. Paul compared conscience to an inner witness, an inner judge.

 A. Paul's Description

Read (Rom. 2:14,15)

The Gentiles were never given the Law. The Law was given to the Jews. But the Gentiles have the work of the Law written in their hearts. Notice that Paul did not say they have the Law written in their hearts. That doesn't happen until you're saved. When you're saved, then the Holy Spirit begins to write God's law in your heart and you know right from wrong. But even unsaved people can know right from wrong because their conscience bears witness.

In the inner man is a courtroom. A judge sits at the bench, and that judge is also the witness and the jury! That whole "group" in the courtroom is known as conscience. The judge does not make the law, he applies the law. When you and I do something right, then our conscience says, "That's good! That's good!" It does not accuse, it approves. When we do something wrong, that inner judge, that inner witness, says to us, "You are wrong! You are wrong!" And it hurts.

Conscience, you see, is judicial. Conscience does not pass the law. Conscience does not make the law. Conscience bears witness to the law.

You and I can remember when we were little children, even before we understood all that was involved in ethics and morals, that when we did something wrong, something would bother us down inside. That was conscience.

Paul told us that conscience is an inner witness that indicates whether we have done right or wrong. "Their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another" (v. 15). Paul told us that everyone has this faculty. This is not something we have to develop. It is there. God has given every person a conscience.

Let me remind you once again, conscience is not the law. Conscience functions according to the law that we have. If we are given a standard and if that standard is not right, conscience will still work according to that standard. The important thing is to have the right standard so that our conscience can work the way God wants it to work.

B. Jesus' Description

This leads us to what our Lord Jesus said in Matthew 6:22, 23.

Paul compared conscience to a witness; Jesus compared conscience to a window. The window does not manufacture the light—the window lets the light in. You and I have this inner window through which God wants to shine His light. If that window gets dirty, less light can come in. Imagine the judge sitting in the courtroom at his desk. On this desk is the Law of God. Through the window comes the light, and that light shines upon the Law.

Now, as that window gets dirtier, less light shines upon that Law, and that Law is less visible. If the window gets completely covered with dirt, it's impossible to see the Law. This is how conscience functions. That's why we say conscience witnesses to the highest standard we have. The highest stan­dard, of course, is the Word of God.

Jesus said conscience is like your eye. The eye does not manufacture light—the eye lets light in. When the light comes into our lives, it gives us guidance. But suppose that every time we do something wrong, the window gets dirtier until finally we have sinned so much that the window is completely covered with dirt. The light cannot come through, and so we are left in the darkness!

It's a terrible thing when light turns into darkness. Our Lord did not say that the light disappears but that the light turns into darkness! What should lead us in the right path leads us in the wrong path. The Bible calls this an evil conscience.

C. My Description of Conscience

Have you ever seen a ancient sun dial? Before there where watches and clocks; for hundreds and thousands of years there was something called a sundial. A sundial was a flat surface, round with the right markings of time, with a piece of metal in the center at a 45 degrees. The sun would strike the metal piece and cast a shadow on the surface, displaying the right hour of the day according to the sun. When the sun was out, it worked like a charm! It worked for thousands of years.

            That sun dial did what a conscience does! When the light of God word’s is shining on your conscience, it becomes very useful. The word of God gives light on every situation Psa. 119:130 The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.

The sundial does not create the light, it just registered the light! And gave a clear reading. But what if we came at night to a sundial, with a flash light and shined it on the sundial? It would read it right, yes it would. But it be the wrong time; because of a wrong light! We could make it say any time we wanted, the sundial would be reading however we shined the light on it.

When some other light is shining on your conscience, it will read it right; i.e. you feel sincere, passionate about this or that, but when compared to the blaze of God’s word it just might be wrong.

(1) Think about the issue of Abortion in relation to Conscience. Unfortunately Abortion is still legal in America just like many things are legal. Imagine a girl who never was reared up in a church, Christian home; or had no influence for God whatsoever, none. She becomes pregnant and decides to have an abortion because she sees nothing wrong in it, after all she thinks just like the world thinks, its her body, her decision, she conscience tells her ok have the abortion.

That scenario is lived out thousands and thousands of times a day. Girls have no problem about it because the world’s thinking, their world’s philosophy of life is shining on thier conscience!

(2) Think about the issue of gambling. Again gambling is legal in this state but does that necessary make it right? Well, if that is all that is shining on your conscience, the law of man then you will eventually end up in the casino or buying lottery tickets.

But if you have the law of God shining on your conscience you will know like me that gambling whether it is legal in the state or not is not right with God. Why? Because specify; as the bible teaches the money that you have is not really yours anyway; it belongs to God! When Christians buy lottery tickets and out right gamble; they are wasting God’s money not theirs. They are following a conscience that is be shined on by just the laws of man!

(3) Think about the terrorist that attacked us and those that blow themselves up just about everyday.

Do you really think for one minute that terrorists like that are not sincere and passionate about their cause? Yes, they are more passionate about their cause that we are will ours. When you have corrupt writings like the Koran, Book of Mormon, The Watch Tower, the NIV, and every other so-called holy writings shining on your conscience; you too will think that Christians and Jews deserve to die.

 These suicide bombers have had the Koran shining on their conscience for so long; they think that are really doing a great work for their god; Allah. They are following a conscience that is being shined on by the Koran! No wonder they think they way they think! The real way that area is going to won; is by sending missionaries in there with the word of God; bring those folks out of darkness into the real light!

That’s how folks get lead astray, because they are sincere; but they are sincerely wrong when whatever it is; is replaced by the word of God!

Letting your conscience be your guide isn’t good enough; because if the word of God isn’t shining on it; it will led you wrong every time!

Closing:

Have you ever wondered why some Christians have more discernment than others? Have you ever wondered why some saints of God always seem to know where they're supposed to go and what they're supposed to do? They seem to have an inner compass that directs them. That is their conscience. The Holy Spirit wants to work with your conscience to guide you and to help you grow in the Christian life. This is why conscience is such a wonderful blessing, because a good conscience can help you live a good Christian life.

We're going to discover that there are many different kinds of consciences. Some people have a weak conscience. Some have a strong conscience. Some have a defiled conscience. Some have an evil conscience. You may be saying right now, "My conscience is really in trouble. It doesn't bother me anymore. I'm doing things today that, if I had done them a year ago, would have bothered me all night! But I don't worry anymore." This is not good, but God can cleanse your conscience.

Your conscience is a marvelous servant. It was designed to work for you and with you. When a person works toward having a good conscience, he becomes a good Christian, has a good witness for the Lord Jesus Christ and enjoys the good blessings God has for him. He never has to vacillate from one thing to another, asking, "Do I go here? Do I go there? What does God want me to do?" It's a beauti­ful experience to have a healthy conscience.

If something is wrong right now with your conscience, confess it to the Lord. Make it right with Him. Don't begin the day or the activities of life with a conscience that's defiled. The Lord Jesus Christ can forgive you and cleanse you and give you a healthy conscience. Then you can learn how to exercise that conscience and live to the glory of God. [5]


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[1]Water, M. (2000). The new encyclopedia of Christian quotations (Page 220). Alresford, Hampshire: John Hunt Publishers Ltd.

[2] Wiersbe, W. W. Meet Your Conscience (Page 4).

[3]Wiersbe, W. W. Meet Your Conscience (Page 3).

[4]Wiersbe, W. W. Meet Your Conscience (Page 4).

[5]Wiersbe, W. W. Meet Your Conscience (Page 4).

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