Summary: (PowerPoint Slides and Cell Study Notes freely available by emailing Emile@Wolfaardt.com) Defining biblically the function and limitations of a conscience.
A Blameless Conscience - Part 1
In 1984 a Spanish airplane, air Avianca, ploughed into the face of a mountain. The authorities combed the area for the black box as they always do in such an incident. The black box, as you know, records data that normally allows them to reconstruct the events prior to the accident, to analyze the technical data and to replay the cockpit voice recordings. What they found was startling. Airplanes, nowadays, are fitted with Ground Proximity Warning Systems - and about a minute and a half before the accident a shrill computer generated voice was heard to say repeatedly, "Pull up, pull up, pull up, pull up." The pilot inexplicably snapped back, "Shut up gringo," flipped the warning system off - and flew directly into the face of the mountain killing everybody on board.
This morning I want to talk with you about not a Ground Proximity Warning System but a Sin Proximity Warning System that God has put in each and every person who has ever lived. It is called the conscience. When you and I hear its shrill voice, "Pull up, pull up, pull up, pull up," the most disastrous thing we can do is tell it to shut up and switch it off. Due to a lack of understanding and the absence of clear teaching on the conscience, many in modern society are in danger of tragically and fatally flipping that switch off and telling conscience to shut up.
Did you know that there are over 30 references to the ‘conscience’ in the New Testament? Yet I suspect that many cannot recall ever hearing a sermon on conscience and some perhaps even have some misunderstanding about it.
Please open your bibles with me to the book of Acts and the twenty-fourth chapter. Acts 24:16
While you are turning there allow me to recommend to you a film that fantastically depicts the roll of conscience - Amazing Grace - the story of William Wilberforce and the demise of the slave trade in Britain. In order for big business to keep the slave trade alive, they had to shield the British population from how brutal its realities were. In the hull of the bottom of the wooden ships men were cramped in and chained together like chattel. For up to five months they lived, urinated, defecated and often died as diseases like dysentery, scurvy, smallpox, and measles spread like bacteria in a Petri dish. Almost one quarter of all slaves who left Africa died. Three million of the thirteen million never made it to Britain.
What Wilberforce essentially did was lift the veil to the point where the people could no longer hide from the brutal reality of the salve trade. He stood up ultimately and told Parliament that "the nature and all the circumstances of this Trade are now laid open to us. We can no longer plead ignorance . . . We may spurn it . . . but we cannot turn aside so as to avoid seeing it." And once the British people stopped looking away, it became easier to do the right thing.
What was Wilberforce appealing to? Conscience. Get to see that movie if you can.
Did you know that the conscience is often considered a ground for legal defense? One speaks legally of a conscientious objector - one who defers to their own conscience for moral or ethical reasons instead of to law, regulation or expectation. As a matter of fact there is a legal term ‘shocks the conscience’ - a phrase used in the American judicial system to refer to something that is manifestly or grossly unjust.
Martin Luther King Jr said, "An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law."
I have this GPS - a truly wonderful invention. When I get in the car I program it and tell it where I want to go. And it talks to me - it tells me how to get there. And when I choose to not listen to it, to go my own way, it tells me "off route," And if I continue to go my own way it continues to tell me "off route, off route, off route." If I want to stay off route that voice becomes rather irritating and because I don’t like to be told again and again and again that I am wrong - I switch it off.
That is like conscience. If we continue to live in conflict with what conscience is saying we have three alternatives. We can change the way we live, we can change what we tell our conscience or we can say, "Shut up gringo" and shut our consciences off.