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May I Speak to Your Conscience

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“May I Speak to Your Conscience? Please!”

Rev. John W. Worley, Ph.D.

October 1, 2000



A Historical Sketch

In the mid-sixties of the first century, many Jews who had become Christians were made homeless.  Without places to call their own, they lived as pilgrims and strangers in a foreign land. They were mocked, scourged, tormented, and imprisoned.  They lived in caves and holes in the ground. Being of Jewish background, they didn’t fit into the anti-Semitic, gentile life-style of the Roman Empire.  Having become Christians, they were cut off from their Jewish families and friends.  An unknown writer felt compelled by the Jewish Christians’ situation to sit down and compose a message to them, to encouraging them to endure.

The world was governed at the time by an emperor quartered in Rome: Nero.  He had come to despise Christians.  When he took the throne in A.D. 54, conditions remained mild for about five years until he became psychotic.  In A.D. 64, a devastating fire swept through Rome and destroyed a great portion of the city.  The emperor himself was suspected of having set the fire because of his desire to build a “golden house.”  In order to divert the blame, Nero accused the Christians of having caused the disaster.  Many stood trial and were subsequently tortured to death.  The people who received this letter lived in the midst of this nightmare.


The overall development of the theme: The Superiority of Christ can be observed throughout the book and is developed as follows:

Chapters 1-4              Christ – superior in His person

Chapters 5-10            Christ – superior as our priest

Chapters 11-13          Christ – superior for life

4893 suneidesis { soon-i’-day-sis}

from a prolonged form of 4894; TDNT - 7:898,1120; n f

AV - conscience 32; 32 GK - 5287 { suneivdhsi" }

1)   the consciousness of anything

2)     the soul as distinguishing between what is morally good and bad, prompting to do the former and shun the latter, commending one, condemning the other

26.13  suneivdhsi"b, ew" f: (contrast suneivdhsi"a  ‘knowledge about something,’ 28.4) the psychological faculty which can distinguish between right and wrong - ‘moral sensitivity, conscience.’ summarturouvsh" aujtw`n th`" suneidhvsew" kai; metaxu; ajllhvlwn tw`n logismw`n kathgorouvntwn h] kai; ajpologoumevnwn ‘their consciences also show that this is true, since their thoughts sometimes accuse them and sometimes defend them’ Ro 2.15.

In some languages suneivdhsi"b  may be rendered as ‘the inner voice’ or ‘the voice in one’s heart’ or ‘how one knows right from wrong.’ In some instances suneivdhsi"b  may be equivalent to some organ of the body, for example, heart or liver, but generally some descriptive phrase proves to be the most satisfactory equivalent.

27.54  kausthriavzomai th;n suneivdhsin: (an idiom, literally ‘to be seared in the conscience’ or ‘ to one’s conscience’) to be unwilling to learn from one’s conscience - ‘to refuse to listen to one’s conscience, to be completely insensitive to.’ kekausthriasmevnwn th;n ijdivan suneivdhsin ‘their own consciences are seared’ or ‘they refuse to listen to their consciences’ 1 Tm 4.2.[1]

May I Speak to Your Conscience, Please?

Hebrews 9:1-14


With the Old Testament scene of the tabernacle, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews directs our thoughts again to Christ.  In doing so, he addresses one of the multifaceted issues with which we live and must deal: the conscience deep within each of us. 

+    The conscience can be wrongly programmed to make us feel guilty when guilt is undeserved. 

+    On the other hand, our consciences can be seared and hardened, giving us the feeling of approval when we should in fact feel wrong. 

Thanks to Hebrews 9, we are given valuable instruction regarding the conscience.

I.                Internal-External Distinction: Clarification.

Externally, we have a body that can be touched and handled.

Internally, we have a conscience that sends us gut-wrenching signals or strokes of confirmation.

a.     The Tangibles Without.  Both the Old and New Testament contain passages showing the relationship of our externals to our internals.  Here are three examples.

v    “…God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Sam. 16:7).

v    “… Do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable t kill the soul…” (Matt. 10:28).

v    “   Though our outer man is decaying, yet out inner man is being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor. 4:16).

b.     The Tangibles Within. Inside our amazing bodies are networks of interrelated feelings and impulses.  The soul, will, and spirit from which these extend are closely tied to that powerful, but unseen, force: the conscience.  No doctor can perform surgery on the conscience, even though it may give us terrible pain.

II.             External Regulations: The Tabernacle (Heb. 9:1-10).          

The ten verses dealing with these fall into two categories.

a.   The Arrangement of Furniture (vv. 1-5). 

b.   The Activities of the Priests (vv. 6 – 9).

a.     The Arrangement of Furniture (vv. 1-5).  The ancient place of worship was a temporary, portable structure.  Within it was a variety of furnishings placed in particular positions to assist the people in their worship of God.


The writer of Hebrews describes the tabernacle for us in versus 1-5:

“1 Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. 2 A tabernacle was set up.  In its first room [the outer one “A”] were the lampstand, the table and the consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. 3. Behind the second curtain was a room [B]called the Most Holy Place or the Holy of Holies, 4 which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s rod that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. 5 Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the place of atonement. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now. (vv. 1-5, emphasis added)


Not mentioned in this description were the brazen altar, located just inside the courtyard, and the laver which stood between the brazen altar and the tent structure.


b.               The Activities of the Priests (vv. 6 – 9). Nothing was wrong with the duties performed by the priests as recounted by the writer of Hebrews.

6 When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry.  7 But only 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.  8 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.  9 This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper.

10. They (the gifts and sacrifices) are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.

However, they had two limitations:

1.     The ritual changed nothing within a person (v. 10);

2.     The ritual represented something of greater importance and itself only a symbol (v. 9).

Perhaps we could say that the activities in the tabernacle were something like a religious play: the movements lacked power (cf. Heb. 10: 4-6) in themselves, but were “imposed until a time of reformation” v. 10).


Many of the Hebrews who originally received this letter were thinking, “If I could get back to the tabernacle and become involved in that type of ritual and worship, somehow I could live with myself again.” However, the writer says in this chapter that the problem is not one of an evil conscience, but of a conscience of dead works. The point he makes is clear: You cannot, by doing something external, solve a problem that’s internal.

As humans, we love the tangibles – the symbols. In fact, we often become more attached to symbols than to the realities they represent. Crosses, Bibles, altars in our homes, our religious routines, dictionaries, concordances, Bumper Stickers, Statues in your front lawn, rosaries, plaques, door-mats, door knockers, e-mail addresses, web sites, t-shirts etc. Are these not symbols? Cleric collars story.

An Old Testament story illustrates this point, and we can honestly say that times have not changes worshipers’ tendencies.  Moses, in his day, erected a bronze serpent for the wanderers to look upon when they were bitten by serpents.  If they did so, they were saved from death (Numbers 21:4-9). Eight hundred (800) years later, a king who “did right in the sight of the Lord” broke this bronze serpent into pieces, because “until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it…(2 Kings 18:1-4).

18 In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign.  2 He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother’s name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah.  3 He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done.  4 He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan [sounds like the Hebrew for bronze snake and unclean thing].

Internal Restoration: The Christ (Heb. 9:11 – 14).

The Blood of Christ

Internal Restoration: The Christ (Heb. 9:11 – 14).


The Blood of Christ

11 When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation.  12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.  13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.  14 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!


v. 11 “When Christ came …” With these three words, the writer introduces the significance of the inner person, that dimension which of far greater value. When Jesus died, arose, and ascended into heaven, He replaced symbol with lasting reality. Four things regarding His priestly ministry should be noted:

1.          The tabernacle He entered was not made with human hands. It is not tangible.

2.          The blood He brought to the altar was not that of a bull, goat, or a heifer.

3.          The blood He offered was His own.

4.          His sacrifice provided a permanent solution “once for all.”


What was the result? Eternal redemption.

What does His blood cleanse?  The conscience – from dead works, (v. 14) that is, reliance on one’s own efforts to obtain merit before God (6:1). They  (you) are freed from bondage to this guilt.

11.       Appropriating Internal Changes.

God is anxious for us to turn our attention to the internals. To do so is to follow His example. How do we do it?

a.      Stop emphasizing the externals. Get rid of the ritual religion you’ve hung on to for so long. Cease the empty motions.  Put aside the symbols you’ve come to worship and realize that Jesus Christ has freed you.

b.          Start focusing on the internals.

1.          Go beneath the surface of the symbols and get to their significance. What does your Bible mean to you. Your cross? Your bumper sticker? Your sweat shirts? Your lapel pins? Your stained glass windows?

2.          Place far more value on what is inside. Eternal security, freedom from sin, peace of God, un-cluttered thoughts and no more torment.

3.          Relax in what Christ has done for you personally. Remember: His blood was shed to wash your conscience from dead works so that you can serve the living God. The external tabernacle is dead works for the New Testament believer. That is you and I.

4.          Enter into His rest. That is His desire for you. Let your conscience be free from your tormenting thoughts. Let Jesus cleanse your conscience today by accessing the freedom and liberty through the Holy Spirit to choose to have a clean and clear conscience

Let us pray.

Thought we could all use a little chuckle.


The Dentist's Hymn.........Crown Him With Many Crowns
The Weatherman's Hymn......Showers of Blessings
The Contractor's Hymn......The Church's One Foundation
The Tailor's Hymn..........Holy, Holy, Holy
The Golfer's Hymn..........There is A Green Hill Far Away
The Politician's Hymn......Standing on the Promises
The Optometrist's Hymn.....Open My Eyes That I Might See
The IRS Agent's Hymn.......I Surrender All
The Gossip's Hymn..........Pass It On
The Electrician's Hymn.....Send the Light
The Shopper's Hymn.........Sweet By and By

Now, for those who speed on the highway - a few hymns:

45 mph.................God Will Take Care of You
55 mph.................Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
65 mph.................Nearer My God to Thee
75 mph.................Nearer Still Nearer
85 mph.................This World Is Not My Home
95 mph.................Lord, I'm Coming Home
100 mph................Precious Memories


[1]Louw, Johannes P. and Nida, Eugene A., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains, (New York: United Bible Societies) 1988, 1989.

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