Do you sometimes have trouble keeping your conscience under control? ILLUS. A mother was helping her son with his spelling assignment and came to the words conscious and conscience. When she asked him if he knew the difference between the two, he responded, “Sure, Mom, ‘conscious’ is when you are aware of something and ‘conscience’ is when you wish you weren’t.”
Our consciences are sometimes a struggle to manage even when we are living righteously.
One of my dad’s favorite comic strips was Moon Mullins by Frank Willard. It ran in the comic sections of newspapers for almost 70 years. Two of the strip’s central characters were a married couple named Willie and Mamie. In one strip we find Willie slumped in front of the television set with a coffee cup resting on his pot belly as he flicks his cigar ashes into his cup. He says to his wife, “You’re awful quiet this morning, Mamie.” And she says in return, “Willie, I’ve decided to let your conscience be your guide on your day off.”
In the next panel, Willie is surrounded by a lawnmower and an edger and a hoe and a shovel and he’s frantically washing the windows and muttering, “Every time I listen to that dumb thing I end up ruinin’ my relaxin’.’”
We can all relate. Each of us have experienced struggles with our conscience. Our conscience can be both good and bad. Let me give you a few examples. First, let’s see how our conscience can be beneficial.
- Our conscience can uphold us when we struggle spiritually. Paul encouraged Timothy to “holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith.” (1 Timothy 1:19, NIV84). As Timothy faced spiritual struggles Paul encouraged him to keep a clear conscience.
- Our conscience can be a source of encouragement when others attack us. At one time in his ministry Paul was being severely attacked by his enemies. He said “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.’’ (Acts 23:1 NKJV).
- Our conscience can protect us from temptation. In Gen. 39:7-12 we find Joseph being sexually tempted by his bosses wife. Joseph followed his conscience and resisted the temptation. Because of his resolve he developed a stronger testimony for God. An anonymous author once wrote: “ ... for [our] conscience is ever on the watch, ever ready to warn us of danger.”
Our conscience can also be convicting.
- Our conscience can fuel paranoia. “The wicked flee when no one pursues” (Prov. 28:1 NKJV) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes detective books, was a man of practical jokes. Unfortunately his humor could sometimes get out of hand. In one instance he chose a dozen friends and to each one anonymously sent the same telegram with the same words: “Flee at once; all has been discovered.” Within 24 hours not one of the twelve remained in the country. Makes you wonder who they thought were pursuing them.
- Our conscience can be hardened. The Apostle Paul characterizes some people’s consciences as being “seared with a hot iron.” (I Tim. 4:2 NKJV). The result of continual, unrepentant sinning is that it eventually dulls the senses of moral right or wrong.
- Our conscience can drive us to self destruct. “Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’’ And they said, ‘What is that to us? You see to it!’’ Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.” (Mt. 27:3-5 NKJV)
So, our consciences are not altogether good or bad. Billy Graham said “Most of us follow our conscience as we follow a wheelbarrow. We push it in front of us in the direction we want to go.” The issue is managing it properly.
The good news is that God has given us the resources for managing our consciences. What are those resources? In I John 3:18-21 those resources are described. Let me read these verses to you from a more contemporary version of the Bible.
“This is the way we know that we belong to the way of truth. When our hearts make us feel guilty, we can still have peace before God. God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. My dear friends, if our hearts do not make us feel guilty, we can come without fear into God’s presence. And God gives us what we ask for because we obey God’s commands and do what pleases him. This is what God commands: that we believe in his Son, Jesus Christ, and that we love each other, just as he commanded. The people who obey God’s commands live in God, and God lives in them. We know that God lives in us because of the Spirit God gave us.” (1 John 3:19–24, NCV)
In this passage we find four resources for managing our conscience.
I. RESOURCE ONE: WHATEVER YOU DO LET YOUR ACTIONS BE MOTIVATED OUT OF LOVE
- “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18, NIV84)
- in I Cor. 8 we find a good illustration of this principle
- the Apostle Paul discussed the eating of meat that had been sacrificed to animals
- the question that had been raised among the Christians at Corinth: “Is it proper to eat meat that was left after the blood was used in sacrifice to an idol?”
- Paul’s instruction was that such eating was okay
- there is nothing morally wrong with it
- however, if this practice causes fellow Christian to stumble in their faith then I should avoid such practices
- let love be the guiding principle of your actions
- love for God first
- love for God’s people second
- based on this principle, what should be our decision concerning the following actions?
- speaking rudely to another person?
- social drinking?
- being critical of another person?
- our words, actions and thoughts should communicate love to the other person
- love is never an inappropriate action
- often our words, actions and thoughts are designed to manipulate, control or hurt the other person
- we never see any of these behaviors in our Savior
- we should love others—especially fellow believers—with the love of Jesus Christ
- We Manage Our Conscience by Acting Out of a Christ-like Love
II. RESOURCE TWO: SUBMIT TO TRUTH
- “This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence” (1 John 3:19, NIV84)
- every human being is born with the law of God written in the heart and with a conscience that either accuses or excuses, depending on how the person acts in regard to that law
- “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.” (Rom. 2:14–15)
- this means every person has some innate ability to recognize right and wrong
A. THE CONSCIENCE IS GOD’S BUILT-IN WARNING DEVISE
- those of us who are Christians have embraced the truth of Scripture
- by their truth we came to knowledge of the new birth (1 Peter 1:23)
- "For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:23, NIV84)
- “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17, NIV84)
- “Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace.” (2 Corinthians 1:12, NIV84)
- if we persist in our sin, implicitly the conscience will make us fearful, depressed, and insecure
- the result is that we will begin to question the genuineness of our profession of faith, on account of our prolonged disobedience
- while you cannot lose your salvation (if you are truly saved), you can begin to lose the assurance of that salvation due to a plaguing conscience that accuses you
- in the same way that pain is a physical warning mechanism that tells people they have a bodily injury or illness, the conscience is a spiritual warning mechanism that alerts of conduct dangerous to the soul
B. THE CONSCIENCE IS NOT IN ITSELF AN INDEPENDENT SYSTEM OF MORALITY
- ILLUS. We’ve all heard the old adage, “Let your conscience be your guide.” Well, that’s fine if your guide is God and His Scriptures that are guiding you. If it’s MTV, or lost friends, or secular teachers or professors, that are feeding your conscience then letting your conscience be your guide may run you off a cliff.
- to function effectively, the conscience must be informed by right standards, because it is only a reactor to the person’s convictions about right and wrong
- if ill-informed by falsehoods and lies, the conscience will react to and be guided by those untruths
- and the world in which we live is designed to provide you falsehoods and lies
- according to the Apostle Paul, it is dominated by the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2) whom we know better the Devil
- he substitutes the truth of God with the passions of the flesh, and the desires of the body and mind
- in other words, the Devil says that truth is whatever appeals to our senses and morality is what we think it is
- the consequence is that the conscience is not in itself an independent arbiter of morality
- rather, it operates based on whatever knowledge and belief system that informs it
- ILLUS. Most of you are familiar with the phrase Garbage in, garbage out (abbreviated to GIGO). It is a phrase in the field of computer science or information and communication technology. It is used primarily to call attention to the fact that computers will unquestioningly process the most nonsensical of input data ("garbage in") and produce nonsensical output ("garbage out").
- if we constantly take in the “world’s garbage” our conscience becomes spiritually dull
- how do you determine true guilt?
- the Apostle John reminds his congregation that they belong to the truth
- seeking knowledge and truth about our own beliefs and behavior based on what the Scriptures say can set our hearts at rest
- God’s word is consistent
- it is unchanging
- the truth will set you free but it will make you uncomfortable in the process
- you’ve been invited to the ‘cool party of the year’ at which you know there will be alcohol, drugs and promiscuous behavior. Even though you will not participate in any of these activities, should you go?
- what does the Bible say?
- “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:22, KJV 1900)
- what does the Bible say?
- “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” (Matthew 18:15, NIV84)
- what does the Bible say?
- “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15–17, NIV84)
III. RESOURCE THREE: ACCEPT THE GRACE OF GOD
- “whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:20, NIV84)
- if you have confessed your sin and asked God’s forgiveness then rejoice in the grace of God
- God’s grace is not a pacifier to those who want to continue living in their sin
- however, if you truly repent, confess your sin and ask God’s forgiveness God’s grace will heal your wounds
- the Bible reminds us that God throws your sin into the deepest ocean
- “He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;” (Psalm 103:9–13, NIV84)
- God has, according to the Psalmist, removed our transgressions from us
- we’re the ones who often dredge up our old sins and allow them to stymie our spiritual growth
- ILLUS. Grace Greater Than All our Sin: Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt! Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured, There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled.
- doubt ceases when believers are walking in faithfulness and obedience
- he was a passionate preacher of the Gospel
- he was a world-traveling missionary
- he was a voluminous author who penned thirteen of the books in our New Testament
- when he was converted he was overwhelmed that God would forgive him
- his writings are saturated with statements about the grace of God
- “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect ... “ (1 Corinthians 15:10, NIV84)
- " ... But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,” (Romans 5:20, NIV84)
- “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:21–25, NIV84)
- “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV84)
- ILLUS. Another great Christian, John Newton, was awed by the grace of God. One of the most beloved hymns of all time was written by him, “Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound.” John Newton was a converted slave trader, and that song grew from the grateful heart of a man who was overwhelmed by God’s grace. He was blessed that God would give him a second chance and allow the sins of his past to be washed away.
IV. RESOURCE FOUR: PUT YOUR TRUST IN JESUS
- “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” (1 John 3:23, NIV84)
- what does Jesus have to do with managing our conscience?
- good question!
A. JESUS FORGIVES US WHEN WE SIN AND THUS GIVES US A CLEAN START
- “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, NIV84)
- ILLUS. Betty Maxfield was a survivor of the 9/11 tragedy at the Pentagon. In an interview some months later, she said, “I should’ve been dead. We were all, for some reason, saved. My question now is, what am I supposed to do with it? I just can’t go waste it. I thought I was living my life well before, but obviously there’s more that I can do to say thank you for my life and a second chance at it.”
- we were dead in sin, but we’ve been made alive in Christ
- what are we supposed to do with that?
- obviously there’s more that each of us can do to say ‘thank you’ for our eternal life
- We Manage Our Conscience by Trusting in Jesus
We can gain victory over our conscience. We must follow the internal leadings of love, submit to God’s truth, accept the grace of God and put our trust in Jesus. Has God spoken to you about your conscience? He wants to give you victory. Will you accept it today?