Covenant Words
Covenant Words

Episode · 6 years ago

What Is The Conscience? (Romans 9:1-5)

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Rev. Christopher Chelpka

Let's hear God's word. Now from Romans chapter nine, I begin preaching a new section, one of the final sections here in the book of Romans, Romans Chapter Nine, a famous chapter of an important chapter, one that we will go probably slowly through for fun, for edification. In fact, this morning I'm only going to be focusing on verse one, on kind of a secondary point that Paul is making here, but I'm going to read versus one through three Romans Nine, verses one through three. This is God's word. I am speaking the truth in Christ. I am not lying. My conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart, for I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsman according to the flesh. May God bless his word. You may be seated. My brother is a detective and one year I bought him a book called spy by the lie. It's about three former CIA agents who reveal how to spy the lie, how to tell the truth from fiction, how to read people, in other words, and figure out who's telling the truth and WHO's not. Well, I got to stay with him on during our vacation and I saw this book on his shelf and I picked it up. Of course, you know, you buy the gift and you like the gift. Anyway, I picked up the book and I started reading. In one of the early stories in the book is one of these these former agents, these CI agency, tells this story about how he had to go do this sort of routine check up on an asset that they had. He goes meets with them. This has been a very reliable person for many years, and then, as he gets into the interview, he asks a kind of routine question and then the guy starts dropping all kinds of signals that this man knows how to read and purports to tell you how you will be able to read that he is lying. And what he uncovers, and the the rest over the next few hours, is that this person who was supposedly this helpful acid had it actually been working for the other side and had been doing so for a long, long time. He realized that this person he was talking to was someone who had been living this life of duplicity. They'd been acting one way or saying one thing but really doing another. I wonder if you can understand what that kind of life is like, what that kind of life feels like. I'd like to say that I hope not, but my guess is is that we all, at some point or another, have found ourselves in this kind of position. Perhaps you find yourself deep in this position, maybe like this man, having lived decades of a life. That is not true. You don't have a clear conscience. Perhaps you feel like David felt when we were reading Psalm thirty two. David's conscience was bothering him in a big way. It's not just that he knew something was wrong, he feels it even in his body. Remember what he says. He says when I kept silent about his sin,...

...when he was suppressing the guilt that he felt instead of confessing it. He says my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long, day and night. Your hand was heavy upon me. My strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I wonder if you've ever felt like that, if you've felt the weight of your conscience, the spirit of God, through your conscience, pressing you down, heavy, groaning, losing energy, depressed. This is not how Paul speaks at the beginning of Romans nine. Paul is just the opposite of this. He speaks openly, confidently. He says, I am speaking the truth in Christ, I am not lying. And then he says, my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. Now he's going to go on and talk about why he has unceasing sorrow and anguish in his heart. It's because of his brothers and sisters, if fell, his fellow Jews who do not know the Lord Jesus. But this anguish that he's feeling, he wants to express it to them and to us and say this is really true. I'm not sort of putting on a show of emotion for you. I'm not really I'm not faking this, I'm speaking the truth. Notice how strongly he wants to affirm this. He says, I'm speaking the truth, I am not lying. He does this in Christ and he adds this my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit. This is how he drives his point home, how he affirms the truthfulness of his statement. He does it on the basis of conscience. Conscience a much a neglected topic, I think, when we need to think about our lives as Christians, our nature, and so I want to take the time this morning and focus on this in particular, to think about Paul's example and to consider how what it is to communicate truthfully and, by extension, to live lives truthfully and openly. If we want to communicate truthfully, openly, confidently freely, as Paul does here, then we must have calibrated consciences. We must have consciences that are attuned to the Holy Spirit, to God his word. So I want to do this in four points this morning. First, considering what the conscience is. Second, why it's important. Third, how we make it work or how we calibrate it, how we use it well, and then, finally, how to clean it. How do we find what David found when he felt the guilt and wait, but then blessedness forgiveness a lifting? How do we clean it when it gets stained with the guilt of Sin? That'll be our fourth point. So first, what is the conscience? I wonder if you've thought about this before. It's one of those topics that will make your brain hurt a little bit if you press really hard on this. And you read a lot, but I think you can think of it very in a very simple way, and you could say this, that the conscience is this God given ability that every single one of you have to make moral judgments. It's a God given ability or capacity to make judgments, a particularly about yourself, to say I'm doing right or I'm doing wrong. These judgments might be about future actions...

...or about past actions. If they're about future actions, how does your conscience work? Well, it works kind of like a guide. Right. Imagine you're on a trail and you have a guide who's taking you down this trail and says, don't go that way. That way is death, that way is a cliff. Do go this way, it's an enormous or it's a wonderful view, right. A guide who says yes, no, yes, no, when it comes to possible actions or future actions. That's what our conscience does. It guides us, but it takes a little different flavor when it comes to past actions. When the guide says go this way and you say I'd rather not and you fall off the edge of the cliff, then the guide turns around and acts as judge and accuses you and says, I said no and you went anyway. It also acts as as an not only an accusing but also in excusing. Sometimes the conscience says you're innocent, you are free of guilt, and this is very important because sometimes we need confidence in our innocence. People accuse us of doing things wrong and we need to be able to look inside our hearts and say, did I mess up or did I not? Did I sin against this person or did I not? You remember that story of Martin Luther standing the Diet of worms and he says, unless my conscience is abound by the word of God, unless you can prove to me by reason or by scripture, I will not recant of these things. They were accusing him of all kinds of things and he says I will not deny them. You remember we when we were reading in First John, Chapter two. Where is this talk about the antichrist or antichrists who deny the son? Christians are called to stand up, even against accusations, and affirm the son, to say in him, I believe the opposite. It's also true sometimes we can be condemned when we're innocent, but sometimes we can be thought of as good when we're really bad, and our conscience bears wait there as well, doesn't it? It tells us you are guilty, you should be ashamed, even if everyone else in your life says you're an amazing person, you're so smart, you're so talented, you're so godly, you're so wonderful. But your conscience, this God give an ability to make moral judgments, to tell right and wrong. If it's working properly, which it usually is, it knows what's going on. There's a helpful book. I haven't finished it yet, but everything I've read so far has been good. It's called conscience, what it is, how to train it and loving those who differ. It's by Andrew Nescelli and JD Crowley. They define conscience this way, and I bring this up for a particular reason. You'll see in the second they say the conscience is your consciousness of what you believe is right or wrong. The conscience is your consciousness of what you believe is right or wrong. I bring this up mostly for the kids, just to make a important definition distinction. Perhaps you've heard the term of being conscious, of being aware of things. That's different than the thing that you have, your conscience...

...that gives you this ability to tell right from wrong. There's a joke I read of a mother who is helping her son distinguish the differences between conscience, the thing that you are, you are aware of, or unawareness, and conscience, which is this thing that you have, and she says do you know the difference? And he says sure, mom, I know the difference conscience. Conscience is where you're aware of something. Conscience is when you wish you weren't. There's this way would we say, I don't want to be aware of that, I don't want to deal with that. Unfortunately, that's a bad way of dealing with our conscience. One more thing to add that might be helpful to you in thinking about your conscience, what it is as a capacity, as it as an ability, I think you might compare it to one of your five senses. God has given you these senses that you might interact with the physical world around you. He's given you your eyes, for example, which can tell distance, color, proportion the sizes of things. He's given you a sense of smell. I'm kids, you know the difference right between a flower that smells really nice and a stink bug that sprays you or a putrid potato that you find in the bottom of your pantry. Do you know the difference between these things? Because God has given you a nose to tell the difference. It has this ability. Same thing with touch. We can tell things that are smooth, rough, hot, cold because of this ability that God has given us. or conscience is like that, except it doesn't sense smelly things or feeling things or visual SI things. It senses moral things, right, wrong, good, bad. When in that way it we feel it. We feel right and wrong, we feel good and bad. That means conscience is different than just knowledge. It's different than just knowing something is right knowing something is wrong. It's having it impressed on your heart, like smelling right or smelling wrong. We're seeing right or seeing wrong. It's also, we might say, not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit may speak to us here. Paul makes that point. He says, I'm not lying, my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, just as he can open a blind man's eyes or cause you to see an angel that you didn't see before, as he does. We see examples of this in scripture, he can also open our consciences up, soften them, work on them, teach them, but they're different, they're distinguished from one another. We know that everyone has a conscience, but not everyone has the Holy Spirit. Two places we know that everyone has a conscience, and will be important for some of our thinking about conscience later on, are two versus Paul has already given to us in Romans. First, Romans one, a versus that couple verses there, and then one in verse two. I'll read them to you. Listen to versus Romans One, versus nineteen through twenty. He says about all people who have been created, 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. Like you see something, you smell something, you perceive God's Eternal Power and divine nature ever since the creation of the world...

...in the things that have been made so that they are without excuse. You see what Paul say. He says that in the world that God has made, we that we live in, we are able to see this world and when we see it we know certain things, we perceive certain things, not just color, not just smell, but morality. Right and wrong, good and bad, and because of this we are without excuse. We can't go before God and say, I didn't know. He says, you did know, you have a conscience, I gave it to you. You tell these things in the very world that has been made. Paul makes this point even further in Romans too, verses fourteen through sixteen. Here he's talking about people, a group of people, the gentiles, who have not received the law of God, people that didn't receive God's word like the Jews did. And listen to what he says about those people. He says, for when gentiles who do not have the law, by that means that he means the Torah, the five books, the first five books of the Bible, or the Mosaic Law, when the gentiles who do not have the law by nature do what the law requires, they are a law of themselves. Even though they don't have the law. They show, the gentiles show by this behavior that the work of the law is written on their hearts. While they are conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accused or even excuse them. So he want to see what he's saying. He's saying you don't have to know right and wrong only from God's word. Certainly, we find it there and we find it with a lot of clarity and it gives us direction and it definitely rules above even that which we find in creation. But nevertheless he is saying that no one Jew gentile. Everyone is under the law of God, because everyone has a conscience. Everyone knows these things. So what is a conscience? A conscience is something that every one of us has our hearts, and the Bible teaches us this and it guides us in right and wrong and, depending on whether we follow it or not, it will do as it does for these gentiles. It will either excuse us and say, good job, you did it right, or it will accuse us and say you did it wrong, you sinned. Well, now that we're on the same page about what conscience is, let's talk about why it's so important for communicating truthfully, for living our lives openly and confidently, as Paul is here in Romans nine. To consider that, to consider the importance of our conscience, and a properly calibrated one. Consider what happens when you ignore your conscience. Consider what happens when you do the thing that you know you ought not to do. I was recently. I was or I received a letter from someone recently who was talking about an addiction to pornography at work and he was describing how this thing that was going on in his life was destroying him in every other area of his life. The shame that and the guilt that was going on there, that secret guilt and shame was affecting all kinds of other things. Who...

...was tearing him apart, not just the sin, and of course it does that too. That's a whole other topic. But what I'm saying is the is conscience, the shame of it. Conscience has another thing that it does as well. It has this way of kind of not only affecting your other live, the other areas of your life, when we go against it, when we don't listen to it, but has this way of kind of hanging on to us, of gripping us. Remember David's description right his bones wasting away, is groaning all day long. Perhaps you've felt this way. Perhaps there's been some deed that you've not done or an obligation that you haven't fulfilled. Maybe you said you'd be there for someone and you weren't maybe you said you'd pay for something and you didn't, or you tell the truth and you lied. These things can stay with you for a long, long time. People who confess regrets on their deathbed, seeking to clear their conscience, will sometimes tell of things decades and decades and decades ago, things long ago, sometimes things even very small. Maybe we think, oh, it's not a big deal that you stole a pencil from your teacher when you were five. But it is a big deal, isn't it? It's a sin. Theft is a sin and our consciences know that and we carry those things with us for a long time. God knows our hearts, but so do you. He bilds, builds into us this ability to know ourselves, and so we see the importance of conscience and the way that the consequences it has when we go against it. Someone compared conscience to a square, a square peg in a square hole. And when we go start to go against to the things that the conscience is guiding, that square pag and that square hole starts to turn and pushes against those walls and it hurts and it hurts in our hearts and it pushes and it grinds, but that leads us to an even another point. What happens when we try to suppress that feeling, when we try to push down that and say I don't feel it, I don't feel it, it's not important. Well, those corners get rounded, that PAG turns and turns until there's one day just a hole and it spins freely, and then we become people that do bad things and we do them easily. You See, one of the reasons conscious is important is because it prevents us, it keeps us, it guides us. Who would want to go on a dangerous and treacherous hike without a guide? These sure PA's that head people up Mount Everest? They are very important to these adventurers. They are their life. Paul talks about a conscience that can be seared. You know what searing is like? When you cook a piece of meat and you see the outside of it so that moisture can't really get in and out you you get it really hot so that it closes it up. That's something that can happen to our conscience when we don't listen to it, when we don't pay attention to it. One of the ways you can deal with a guilty conscience, in other words, is by ignoring it, suppressing it, not dealing with it. Perhaps that was even your plan when I started talking about conscience this morning...

...and you said, or your conscience said, Oh, okay, we know how this game goes. We start feeling these feelings, we start feeling the pressure, we start feeling that peg turning and you start employing, maybe you've already begun employing, those strategies that you're so practiced in to avoid the feeling. I understand this, of course it's painful. A guilty conscience is painful. David understands this, Paul understands this. But I promise you there is a better solution than suppression. It's salvation, it's cleansing in Jesus. But for the moment the implorant point is this. Your conscience is important. Ignoring it is dangerous and even deadly. It leads to dark deeds, it sinks its clause in you. It brings all sorts of consequences in your life, depression and more and more. You can also consider the opposite it. Consider what life is like with a clean conscience, a clear conscience. Perhaps you've met people like this, perhaps you are a person by God's grace, who does live your life freely and clearly? Second Corinthians, Second Corinthians one. That's not correct. Let's try to Second Corinthians. Let's go forth. Second Corinthians, fourth to I'm sorry, can't read my writing. He says. Okay, we're in First Corinthians. That's the problem. Yeah, Second Corinthians, one hundred and twelve heats A. Paul says this, and I want you to imagine this. Can this be your words? Can these be your words as a Christian? Okay, are you ready? Second Corinthians one twelve for our boast. Is this the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity, with Godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you? Ah, doesn't that feel good to just hear that, to know people who come up to you and say hey, and you know there's no ulterior motives, there's no sneaking thing behind it, they're just saying hi. Paul says. Their testimony. There are boast. Is this the testimony of our conscience? We behaved in the world well? Isn't it nice to be able to say things like that when we don't pay attention to our conscience, in other words, it binds, it grinds at Clause, at Nas when we do pay attention to our conscience, we have confidence, openness, freedom, peace. Second Corinthians for verse two. But we have renounced disgraceful and 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's word. Paul so confident about the way he's living, about what he's doing, that he says, examine your own conscience about these things. Are we not doing it right? Judge by yourself, your own God given capacity for right and wrong, and and you will see these things. In case you think that, well, this is just for Paul, a super duper Paul. It's not. Listen to what Peter says in First Peter, Verse Sixteen. He speaks to us, to you, and says I I'll start...

...in verse fifteen, he says, but in your hearts, honor Christ does, the Christ, the Lord is holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for the reason for the hope that is in you. So you see what he's saying. HE SAYS BE READY TO AFFIRM JESUS CHRIST, be ready to do what John asks us to do in First John Too, and then he says, but do it in a certain way. Reading on, yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that when you are slander those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame, for it's better to suffer doing good. If that, if that should be God's will, then for doing evil. See what Peter say. He's saying you are going to have to suffer for Jesus Sake, you're going to have to go out and speak of him. But when that happens, make sure that you're living your lives in an open way, that you have a good conscience, a clear conscience, so that when people slander you, which they will, and accuse you of things, you'll be able to say I stand on the truth, my works prove themselves. I don't have to dance, I don't have to pretend, I don't have to do some kind of cunning twist here. I live my life openly. Accuse me all you want. This is what Jesus wants for us. This is the kind of life he wants us to live. It doesn't happen by searing our consciences, ignoring them, suppressing them. We live with a good conscience by becoming sensitive to it. And this takes us to our third point. We've seen it's importance. Well, how do we use it? Well, how do we calibrate it? The conscience is this. God give an ability to discern right and from wrong, to feel it in your heart. But though it is in us, it's not perfect. Same with your other senses. Right, some of you have not good eyesight, some of you have a bad sense of smell, maybe the nerve endings in your fingers don't work quite like they should anymore. The same can happen for conscience. Except one of the good things about consciences it can actually get stronger with age rather than weaker. But conscience also can go wrong through ignorance, through suppression, through searing, through lack of use. Remember Peter, for example. He had to have his conscience changed. Remember he said, I won't eat any of the forbidden foods, I won't mix myself with the gentiles. And the Lord came to him and said, Peter, you will, and Peter said, okay. Peter had to change change his conscience kind of on the spot. He had to inform, or rather the Lord informed, his misinformed conscience and he had to change quickly. Maybe that's happened with you too. Maybe there's been some issue on alcohol or music or schooling or all kinds of other things that you've had to say. Well, I guess the Bible doesn't say that after all. Or I guess the Bible does say that and I better change my mind. PS. This happened to me in a later part of Romans nine, as will get to. There came a point where I a doctrine wants when I had to sort of submit myself and say, I don't like it, but this is what the word teaches. Anyway, the the conscience in other words, needs to be calibrated. We need to correct...

...it when it's wrong, we need to fine tune it. I knew a teacher once, a cello teacher, who every time her students would come in, she'd say sing an a and they'd sing an a and then she play it on the piano to see whether they got it right or wrong. And as over time. What would happen is the students got better and better. They're hearing got better and better. They were calibrating their senses to a standard, and this is what we are to do too. When Paul says that his conscience bears him witness in the Holy Spirit in Romans nine, he's saying that he's submitted his conscience to the Lord. He's calibrating it according to God's word. He's using the Holy Spirit as his tuner to tell him yes or no, right or wrong. So the Bible teaches us that after the fall, your conscience still works, but not always perfectly, and we can certainly do it harm. Some of you have done your consciences great harm, like a warning light that's gone on your dashboard and you've decided to ignore it for a long time. You hardly pay attention anymore. Let this word of God be to you a message that says wake up, that lights important. You need to pay attention to it. Let the truth of God's words speak to your heart and if your conscience is over sensitive, like a like a smoke alarm that cold keeps going off, even when when nothing's burning in the house, use the God's word here as well. The devil is the great accuser. He tells us all kinds of wise he tells us that we've done wrong and of him when we haven't done wrong. Stop Him in his tracks, speak to him in the Holy Spirit, use God's word, study God's word, calibrate your conscience so that you might know when you've unright and when you've done wrong. Well, that brings us to our final point. If your conscience has been properly calibrated, if your conscience is in good working order and you're do using it will then I can say with a lot of confidence that each one of us is going to find areas in our lives that need to be fixed. We're going to find things that we've lost the can't be regained, things that we've done that we can't be taken back. Maybe there are some things that you can fix, something you've stolen that needs to be returned, something you've said that needs to be apologized for. Do this and do it immediately. But sometimes those opportunities are gone and the stains set in, and this is why people in the latter years of their lives can ache and Groan and find themselves under much, much sorrow. But God speaks to this too. No matter where you are in your lives and no matter how clear or not clear your consciences, the one who made your conscience, the one who corrects your conscience, also gives an opportunity to you to have your conscience cleaned by Jesus himself. In some ways, the more our conscience is calibrated, the more we understand, the more we realize God's perfect standard of holiness, the more will recognize in our own hearts how bad things are and we begin to look at things in a new way. It's like if you walk...

...in and your first glance you say, Oh, this carpets pretty good, and then you start working on one little stay and you know and there's one over here and there's one over here and there's one over here. Next thing you know, you find yourself doing lots and lots and lots of spotting and cleaning. The thing is, brothers and sisters, there's no amount of spotting and cleaning that we can do to perfectly clear our consciences. And the Old Testament God had a system of sacrifices that that helped with this to a degree. A symptom of sacrifices and where you would take an animal and, in essence, put your sins on that animal and that animal would be put to death. That's the seriousness of our guilt and sin. That animal would be put to death and you would say they're my conscience is cleared, right, because now it's on that animal. God has accepted that sacrifice. He did this so that our consciences could be cleared, so that we could walk away, so that we could worship God and live under him. But, as we know, this wasn't a perfect system. The cont the offers, the sacrifices had to be offered over and over and over again, because ultimately they were pointing to something else. And you know what it is, don't you? The sacrifice of Jesus Christ, this detergent blood of his that perfectly cleanses all of our sin, all of our guilt, washing it away. Do you want a clean conscience? Well, living according to it's a good start, but because of original sin, because we start out with a bunch of stains and everything dirty and filthy from the very beginning, the hope of cleaning your own conscience is lost. Listen to what God says about Jesus here in Hebrews Nine, he says, according to this arrangement, that arrangement of sacrifices, gifts and sacrifices are offered, that cannot perfect the consciences, of the conscience of the worshipper, but only deal with food and drink and various washings. Then he goes on to say in verse fourteen, how much more will the blood of Christ, who threw the eternal spirit, offered himself with out blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the Living God? Purify how would you like? A pure conscience, a clean conscience, a clear conscience? See, brothers and sisters, it's not enough to know that, oh, I stained my shirt. That doesn't clear it. To recognize your conscience, to be sensitive, to call your conscience only tells you the mess that's there. It must be cleansed, it must be made clear, it must be purified, and that's what Jesus does. He purifies our conscience from dead works to serve the Living God. And that cleansing that Jesus offers in the cross is a complete cleansing, a full cleansing, every nook and cranny, every detail every spot is gone as wide as wool. It's one of the ways that scripture describes our forgiveness, and this goes on in our lives. When we sin again and again, we come to Jesus again and again, and you know what he does? He keeps cleaning us, he keeps washing us over and over and over, and that makes a Christian a bold person, a courageous person, a Christian whose living in faith in...

...the blood cleansing power of Jesus, in the purifying conscious work that God does, is a person who goes out into the world and says, I'm ready to testify to Christ bring whatever accusation you may against me. It's a person who can enter freely into worship. Listen again to Hebrews, the next chapter, Verse Ten, Verse Twenty Two. Let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of our faith, or of faith, with hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water the pot. The writer here points to our Baptisms, points to the work that Jesus has done on the cross, this sprinkling cleaning. He says now you can go forth and to worship, you can go before God and you can say praise him, you can worship him, you can thank him, you can seek him, you can know him as your heavenly father, because you don't come before him as one who is dirty, as one who's trying to clean himself, as one who's trying to wash away or atone from your atone for your own sins. We come with the sprinkling of the spirit, but the washing of Christ. That's how you have a clean conscience, by the Work of God working in you, through faith in him. So where are you at to day? Is your conscience clear? Is it clean? If not, then seek the Lord. The Bible promises that Jesus will and can and does forgive the conscience. He purifies it, he makes it anew, he gives what David describes as a clean heart, a refreshed heart, a new heart. And if your conscience is clear as one who has been washed by the word, who lives according to him, then be encouraged, be thankful and praise God for his work in you. Continue to become more and more sensitive to your conscience and then use your strength not to oppress others or make fun of others, but to leave them to the same Lord who also makes all, makes others clean by the cleaning and calibrating grace of God. May All of us learn how to live our lives with good and clear consciences. Let us pray.

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