Hebrews 9_11-14 Conscience the spiritual warning system
The spiritual warning system
17-06-06 Morning Worship
Call to worship
We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)
Grace to you from God our Father, and Jesus Christ our Lord.
Doxology Hymn No 56: “The earth belongs to God”
Prayer of Adoration, Invocation and Thanksgiving Lord’s Prayer
Hymn No 327: “Lord Jesus, When your people meet” (Tune Rejoice! 19)
Scripture Reading Psalm 32:1-7
Tithes, offering and dedication
Remaining seated, we sing Hymn 477 while the stewards wait upon the tithes and offering
Hymn No 477: “Take my life”
Prayer for others
Scripture Reading Hebrews 9:11-14
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, it is because I am driven by the Word of God to preach about this topic that I come to you. I do so not because I claim that I am perfect or sinlessness. Quite the contrary, I stand before you as someone who knows the pain of sin, as someone who understands the disappointment of failure, and as someone who is by experience acquainted with the sting of a conscience which indicted me over and over again. Before God I found myself hiding my face in my hands, hanging my head in shame, beating my chest in forgiveness. Your minister is not perfect. He is a fallible person with feet of clay. And this, my dear brothers and sisters, I am not boasting about; I admit it in humility before a gracious, loving and merciful Father.
But I also stand before you as some who knows the glory of forgiven sin. I can preach this gospel to you not because of any other reason, but because I love you in the Lord and I do not want to see anyone in this congregation burdened and hurt by a conscience that condemns, leading to uncertainty of salvation and unmentionable doubt, misgivings, despair and ultimate unbelief in the promises of God.
Another reason behind this sermon lies in the privilege I had to listen to a recorded sermon by the Rev Dr John MacArthur, Jnr., given to me be good friends some time ago. This lead to a study of the Bible on the subject.
The idea and word “conscience” and what it means as we find it in the Bible, is probably something we do not really understand. The concept of conscience keeps psychologists, sociologists, psychiatrists and philosophers very busy. It seems as if believers and unbelievers alike are equipped with conscience. But what is it?
From the Biblical perspective the conscience is something like a spiritual warning system. It either excuses us, or accuses us. It is like a spiritual radar system which God has given us. It warns us to avoid a sure crash when we become lost and helps us to make decisions to find our way again. Once we listen to our conscience and make amends, we find our conscience excusing us. Within us we find relief; we breathe again, because we learned from our mistakes. But should we choose not to listen our conscience, and not adjust the course we are upon, our conscience then becomes the accuser. We became heavy-laden and depressed; our minds become clouded and the sun hinds behind the dark clouds of doubt. In our hearts we feel the pain. This pain lead us to try to make things right, but in many cases it is tool late. The pain and confusion in our minds compound and we loose direction.
Here we can make one of two choices: we confess our sins and receive forgiveness from the Lord; or we harden our hearts, silence our conscience and stumble ahead. Once this happens and we succeed in not feeling bad, we can be sure we are on the deadly course of sure destruction. And more often that not, turning around becomes too hard. Eternal hell and condemnation awaits the one who has grown a calloused and insensitive conscience.
And this, my dear brothers and sisters, I want to warn you from this morning. And as I understand the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, He wants you to be warned. He wants you to come to Him and be washed and be given forgiveness and to serve Him clear conscience.
Allow my to just for one moment tell you something about the philosophy of the Greeks. They believed in what is known as Nemesis. Nemesis is the goddess of divine justice and vengeance. Her anger is directed toward human transgression of the natural, right order of things and of the arrogance causing it. Nemesis pursues the audacious and the wicked with inflexible vengeance. She is portrayed as serious looking woman with in her left hand a whip, a rein, a sword, or a pair of scales. The description "she whom none can escape" was later applied to her. This was probably the Greek way to describe something of what the Bible refers to as conscience.
Let’s just look at the Bible to follow something of what it teaches about the conscience. Turn with me to Romans 2.
All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the require-ments of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even de-fending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. (Romans 2:12-16)
From this we understand that believers and unbelievers alike are equipped with a conscience. The unbeliever does not have the Law and are guided to do things required by the Law. The requirements of the Law are written on their hearts. The believer has the Law of God and his conscience helps him to have a sensitivity for what is right and wrong.
We also understand that conscience is something which this verse refers to as the “secrets”. Conscience is therefore something that just we know about. Conscience is the vault of the inmost privacy of each person. Here we can hide from others our failures and sins. But what is important about conscience is that it is not something that operate on its own. Because it is ultimately responsible to God, what is so secret in my deepest heart of hearts is open to God. He is my Judge. It is his Law which I violate. It is his Spirit who then convicts me of sin. It is in the secrets of my conscience that I know that God knows. This is the meaning of the word: con = with; science = to know. I know with God.
Science then is guided by two important things: knowledge and truth. It is like the radar system which warns the pilot against sure destruction based on the knowledge of the impending danger. I asked a pilot friend one day what to they do in thick clouds, sitting in the cockpit, staring through those little windows into what seems to be impossible to see. Imagine yourself driving a car in circumstances like that. It is driving along full speed in the darkness of night, and all of a sudden your lights fail. Has this happened to you? Not very pleasant, I can assure you. But my pilot-friend looked at me somewhat bewildered and amused, as if there was no real problem in my question. “It is no problem; I just trust the instruments and forget about the rest.” The radar of the plane, if it operates correctly, works with facts and the truth. Should it sense danger, it alerts the pilot. He then pulls up.
The conscience of man is fed by truth and knowledge. Our source of truth and knowledge is the Word of God. Without the sure and more precise knowledge and truth from the Word of God we can made the wrong judgements. That’s why we need to be nurtured with knowledge of the Word of God. Natural knowledge of God, the conscience is not enough to pull us through.
This is where the contemporary Christendom finds itself on the way of destruction. On this Lord’s Day many, hundreds and hundreds of Christians will visit worship services, but only a handful will depart from those services with their spiritual radars tuned in. They will be nurtured by the uncompromised truths of the Bible. Their consciences will be pricked to correctly respond to the moral challenges of life. And because they will know how to make the right choices when the challenges come, they will find a friend in a clear conscience.
Others will still be part of a huge majority of an illiterate army of believers. They will be satisfied with the experience of worship and singing and fellowship, but of true knowledge and the desire to know more and be better equipped they will lack. They face moral choices with minds and hearts fed by other sources of information. Their major sources are the mass media, worldly and godless philosophies of evolutionism, humanism, materialism, hedonism, self-expression and esteem, and a humanistic worldview. When put before moral choices like sex outside of marriage, abortion, homosexuality, murder, whether in the form of euthanasia or abortion, stealing, use of time and money, they make the wrong choices. Then, like Nemesis, the conscience bursts loose in its full fury to accuse. How many young girls, and maybe those not so young, just do not have peace because of an abortion. The nights are just too long, and the days bring its dark moments of guilt. Listen to the story of someone:
“On the Wednesday I can remember holding onto the bedstead and screaming in pain. A nurse walked past and said "It is your own fault" but I had no idea what she meant. After a few hours the pain suddenly stopped. I couldn’t understand why none of the women in the ward wanted to talk with me and I imagine that they realised that I hadn’t a clue what I had just gone through.”
Then 13 years later, she said: “One night, myself and two friends went to see the video ‘Silent Scream’. I knew it would be painful but I also knew I would be okay as I was ‘healed’. We sat there, with me in the middle, all holding hands.
The tears flowed. My abortion had been 10 weeks, the same as the baby in the video that was being aborted. I was absolutely devastated. It was as though I had been kicked in the stomach. Afterwards I just cried and cried. Sadly, at that time Post Abortion Syndrome had not been recognised and so nobody had thought to have a counselling room ready. Whilst someone tried to organise one for me, a little lady came up to me, put her arms around me and said "Never mind dear. When you get to heaven your son will come up to you, put his arms around you and say "Hello Mum"". I know she meant well, and I really am glad that she said that - but at the time it actually made things worse.
Watching the film I had just realised that my abortion meant I had killed my baby - that my baby had a fully developed body and had been alive. Now, with her words I realised that not only did my baby have a body but also a spirit. I couldn’t believe how much I had offended God by killing my baby. I sobbed for three hours solid. I asked all the "Why" questions and was given no answers. In hindsight, as one Christian to another, I should have been told that what I had done was wrong. It was a sin. I had killed my baby. I was (and still am) a mother of a dead child. But I was probably told that my reasons at the time meant I had no choice, or other such platitudes to try to stop me hurting and make me feel better.”
Some time later, she said, she watched news. I qoute: “There had been a mini-bus crash in the UK killing a number of school children. The reporter was talking to the headmaster and he was so choked about the deaths of these children that he could hardly speak. I broke down in tears, realising that there had been nobody to grieve my unborn baby’s death because it had been a secret.
Another time I was speaking to a group of teenagers in Blackpool. I asked them their ages and they said 17 and 18. I just burst into tears. Initially I couldn’t understand why but in a plenary meeting the speaker said ‘It is your generation that has been killed.’ I knew then that my child would have been their age. The tears flowed again.” This lady found peace with God.
The conscience is a witness of what we do. Should we listen to this little voice within and do the revealed will of God and be obedient to God’s will for our lives, our conscience becomes our friend. It defends us. People may accuse us; the Devil, who is the accuser, come to us and does his best to make us feel hopeless and bad, to sow the seeds of doubt which leads to destruction, but our conscience defends us. You can honestly then say, “You are knocking at the wrong door. My conscience is clear.”
My dear friend, don’t think that I assume you are guilt-ridden and that you don’t have peace with God. In the deepest of your heart you will know if you indeed have peace with God. Your conscience will be your judge or your advocate.
But what I am concerned about is that fact that you might know about this thing deep within that just doesn’t want to go away. It robs you of peace and rips your faith apart. On your shoulder there is the constant fear that your deepest secret might come out. Oh, don’t I know, and don’t everyone here today, know that feeling! You can’t live like that, and you can’t die like that.
David says, and let’s keep in mind his terrible private and public sin of having Uriah killed in war because David had an unbiblical and sinful sexual relationship with the wife of Uriah which resulted in an unlawful pregnancy; he says: “When I kept silent my bones waisted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.”
Our sinful nature is something terrible. As soon as we hear about someone who has sinned, we want to hear what it is. We delight in telling the story. But that is not what is Bible is on about today. It is not rubbing salt in the already festering and hurting wounds. The Gospel of the Bible is about forgiveness and a clear conscience. It is about knowing there is some place to go to unload the burden of our souls. It does not mean that would come to this place and not acknowledging our sin, confessing it before God. David said: “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.”
The Lord wants you to hear these today. Read with me in Hebrews 9:9, 13-14
When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But on-ly the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. This is an illustration for the present time, in-dicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremo-nially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:13-14)
This is the Good News. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses our consciences. It makes the conscience a friend once again, because there is not accusation left on the slate of the burdened sinful heart. It is washed away. The Good News is that, in his mercy, God removes our sins from us. He does it because Jesus Christ payed for it. Do you know this for sure? Have you come to the Lord with that heavy burden of a guilt-ridden conscience? Take it from me, take it from David, and from Paul and millions of others who asked God to remove from us that burden, there is peace and freedom for you.
A last word: there is another way out, but it’s not permanent. The end of this way is terrible, so terrible that the guilty conscience of the presence will not mach the eternal agony which will follow. The easy escape is this, and we read about it in 1Timothy 4:2
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will aban-don the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.
Just pretend you have heard nothing. Just carry on and hope for the best. Your conscience will be seared as with a hot iron. In the end it will not be a warning system anymore. The nerves of your soul will die and you will lose your sensitivity to sin. It will become acceptable, and you will perhaps enjoy life as you try to shove the conscience on the back burner. The Bible talks about people like that. Listen:
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became fu-tile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21)Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Rom 1:32)
I honestly pray that you have not reached this point. May God give us his mercy. Amen.
Prayer of Confession of sin
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29)
Hymn: “I want a principle within” (Tune, Rejoice! 507)
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)