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Friday, June 10, 2022

A Good Conscience

A clean or we might say a good conscience is essential to a person's sense of well-being.  One can never depend on his/her conscience as an infallible guide for that is not the function of the conscience.  Nevertheless, violate your conscience and the result is guilt, self-deprecation, and sorrow.   

The conscience is that which is within us that pricks us, perhaps troubles us would be a better way of putting it, when we do that which we consider to be wrong.  Generally speaking, we knew the deed was wrong before we committed it but went ahead, violated our conscience, and did it anyway.  We then feel guilt and shame, unhappy with ourselves.  Also, it is not always just what we do that condemns us in our conscience but often things we know we should have done in helping others but which we let slide and failed to do when we knew we should have stepped in and acted.

Of course, we have to remember that having a good conscience by itself does not mean we are right with God.  If so in ages past those who worshipped idols, offered human sacrifice, and even cannibals in the distant jungles of Africa and Southeast Asia were justified.  Their cultures said those things were right and thus their conscience did not bother them by participating in such acts.

Paul while persecuting Christians even to the death had a good conscience at the time he was doing so.  He said, in reference to that time, "Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.  This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them." (Acts 26:9-10 NKJV)

The conscience then to be of value to us must be trained in righteousness, trained in God's word for it is truth (John 17:17).  No one strictly following God's word would ever do anything to another but what was beneficial and good for that person.  God is love (1 John 4:16) and his word is based on that love.  Thus the conscience to be what it ought to be must be trained based on correct teaching--the word of God.

The Bible teaches we must act in good conscience and to do otherwise is sin.  "But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin." (Rom. 14:23 NKJV)  Why is a man condemned if he eats?  Because he doubts whether he ought to be doing it and thus cannot do it with a clear conscience.  If he goes ahead and eats thinking it might be wrong he violates his conscience.

There is a lesson in that passage we must learn and live by.  "Whatever is not from faith is sin."  The passage is thus not just about eating meats that were condemned under the Law of Moses, now made clean under the law of Christ, but about all of our life and actions for the word is "whatever"--whatever is not from faith, whatever cannot be done with good conscience.

Paul is admirable in that he could say, "I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day." (Acts 23:1 NKJV)  Not many can in all truthfulness say that.  Was he saying he had not sinned and did not need Christ?  No, he was only saying he had always done what he thought was right at the time when he was doing it including even when persecuting Christians.

The goal for all of us is to so live as Paul did in the matter of conscience.  Our goal ought to be as he said his was when he said, "I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men." (Acts 24:16 NKJV)  However, we should not despair if we fail to live up to such a high standard.

Peter denied Christ and I think we would all agree he knew at the time he should not do it and had previously declared he would not.  He at a later date withdrew from eating with the Gentile Christians at Antioch fearing the Jews who had come up from Jerusalem for a visit (Gal. 2:11-12).  It is hard to see how Peter did either of these sins without violating his conscience which is to say he knew better before he did either.

We can be forgiven of sins committed in violation of conscience.   We should not despair.  Yes, there is danger of searing our conscience by continually violating our conscience but that is another article.  The point here is to not give up because you have fallen short in the matter of maintaining a perfectly clear conscience all the days of your life.  Don't you think David knew what he was doing was wrong in the matter of Bathsheba and her husband Uriah while he was doing it?  I think we all expect to see both a forgiven Peter and David in heaven.  If they could be forgiven of such grave sins in violation of conscience surely we can be forgiven also of our sins in violation of conscience.

The exact phrase "good conscience" is found 6 times in the New King James Version of the New Testament in Acts 23:1 (previously mentioned above), 1 Tim. 1:5, 1 Tim. 1:19, Heb. 13:18, 1 Peter 3:16, and 1 Peter 3:21.  It would be good to take a quick look at the 5 verses not yet mentioned.

1 Tim. 1:5, "Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith." (NKJV)  The kind of love God desires comes from a heart that is pure, a faith that is sincere, and a conscience that is good.  Our goal in our Christian life is to grow into being just that daily and continually--pure in heart, sincere in faith, and good in conscience with love for God and one another.  It is a picture of God's purpose for us.

1 Tim. 1:18-19, "Wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck." (NKJV)  Paul couples a good conscience with faith.  A good conscience denotes faithfulness without which faith is shipwreck.  On such a ship one cannot be saved thus the once saved always saved doctrine is in error. 

All Bible teaching is that faith leads to obedience.  When you or I violate our conscience we either willfully disobey God's law knowing what we are doing is wrong or we do that which we think may well be sinful and are willing to take the chance thus displaying a heart that is not pure toward God which relates back to the 1 Tim. 1:5 passage.  In either case, we sin.  If the desire is to be saved by faith then one must have a good conscience toward God which means one must be obedient to God for how can one be knowingly disobedient and maintain a good conscience?

Heb. 13:18, "Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably." (NKJV)  Can one live honorably and at the same time live with a guilty conscience?  Do you want to be an honorable person?  If so you must live in good conscience in your life refraining from all things that would violate that conscience.  Part of the definition of an honorable man is one who has a good conscience. 

I think it would be good to point out also that the writer in this passage when he said "we have a good conscience" was saying we have lived faithfully as best as we have known how for otherwise there would have been no good conscience.  Thus one sees again that faithfulness (obedience) ties in directly with a good conscience.

1 Peter 3:15-16, "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience." (NKJV)  Is this not a command to keep a good conscience?  Seems like it to me. 

Furthermore, it implies beyond doubt it is essential to have a good conscience if one is to be able to give an honest defense of the hope he has.  Without a good conscience, where is the hope?  One loses a good conscience by sin and where there is sin there is no hope unless and until the sin is repented of, God’s forgiveness is sought, and the conscience is cleansed. 

1 Peter 3:21, "There is also an antitype which now saves us--baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (NKJV)  How can baptism be the answer of a good conscience toward God?  Most say that even though God commanded it (John 3:5, Matt. 28:19, Mark 16:15-16, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, etc.) baptism is not really necessary.  Most would say, "I can have a good conscience without it."  Well, if so, it may well say more about how your conscience has been trained than anything else. 

Peter associates baptism with a good conscience in this scripture and none can deny that.  A good conscience is essential to salvation, baptism is thus essential to salvation.  On a practical level, it matters not whether baptism is an "answer" of a good conscience as per the NKJV or an "appeal" for a good conscience as per the ESV and the NAS (and which I think beyond any personal doubt is correct) the bottom line is baptism and a good conscience have been tied together by the Holy Spirit in this passage and only God can untie the two. 

If baptism is an answer of a good conscience the passage teaches that a good conscience leads one to be obedient and be baptized.  If baptism is an appeal for a good conscience it means one is baptized in order to obtain a good conscience knowing God commanded it.  In either case, the failure to comply with baptism is an offense against God and conscience (assuming one's conscience has been trained properly by God's word).    

The exact phrase a "pure conscience" is only used two times in the NKJV of the New Testament--in 1 Tim. 3:9 and 2 Tim. 1:3.  Here is a quick look at those two verses.

1 Tim. 3:9, "holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience."  This is listed in its context as being one of the qualifications for being appointed as a deacon in the church.  It just adds to the evidence already gathered here and presented that God expects his people to live with a good or pure conscience.  There can be no acceptable service to God without such a conscience.

2 Tim. 1:3, "I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day."  This is Paul once again telling us he lived his life in a way to always have a good conscience.  Compare this with what he said back in Acts 24:16 already discussed here.

We ought to live our lives every day so as to have a pure conscience.  A good conscience is a wonderful blessing and one which we are in control of--a blessing we can have just by reaching out and taking it.  I equate it to peace of mind which is far superior to turmoil of mind.  The conscience tells us, when properly trained, to repent when we sin.  Only by doing so and doing what God requires for our reconciliation can peace and contentment be found.  Truly the conscience is a gift from God if we will properly train it by God's word and then honor its role in our life.  When your conscience pricks your soul thank God it is doing so for it is nudging you toward repentance and salvation and then peace.

Please do not despair if you have sinned and your conscience troubles you, if you think it is too late for you to ever have a good conscience again.  Please go to your Old Testament and read the historical accounts about David and his sin with Bathsheba.  Read about his repentance and how he was cleansed of his sins, the sin of adultery and murder.  Then read Psalm 51, a psalm of David concerning this matter.  Remember we have all been there.  We have all fallen short of God’s glory but it is his desire to restore us if we will only allow it.  You can still have a good and pure conscience if you will allow God to do his work in your heart and life.  Do like David in his repentance and God will cleanse you and make you whiter than snow.

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