Summary: The God-given mechanism of conscience is a help that every person can use for life
Intro: Among the 5 senses, I’m most intrigued by our sense of smell. It amazes me how many memories are conjured up by smells for me – the way I can think of a smell because of a memory; the way a smell brings back a memory. Pretty amazing. They’re not all good smells. In fact, I can remember some pretty bad smells. I won’t bother sharing the stories behind them.
Just like the next guy, I don’t like bad smells. But if a bad smell can alert me to a problem, that’s not all bad. For instance, aren’t you glad that you smelled the sour milk before you took a big drink of it?
March 18, 1937. It was just 17 minutes before school was to dismiss in the little town of New London, TX. It was oil country, and the school board had decided to save some money by using natural gas siphoned off an oil company’s pipeline. It would allow them to fuel the school’s furnace for free. Natural gas is odorless. No one knew that a leak had developed and that gas had accumulated in the basement of the school. A spark from a classroom ignited it into a blast that raised the building off its foundation. Around 300 students and teachers were killed. One of the outcomes of that tragedy was a government regulation that now requires companies to add an odorant – methanethiol – to natural gas, in order to make it stink. It’s not a pleasant smell, but without it, people wouldn’t be alerted to the danger they’re in.
This morning we’re going to look at a part of our inner selves that’s kind of like that odorant. It may not seem pleasant to us, but it’s there for good reason. It’s our conscience.
Someone has said, "Conscience is a mother-in-law whose visit never ends.” That can be good or bad, depending on your relationship to your mother-in-law. So, how’s your conscience? My goal today is to get all of us to leave here appreciating it and using it for the purposes God intended.
I. Conscience is a God-given Mechanism
Remember Pinocchio? In his pursuits in life, he was given a special gift by the fairy– a little, singing cricket with a top hat and an umbrella – Jiminy Cricket. And Jiminy Cricket periodically appears, talking to Pinocchio, trying to convince him to do what’s right. He was really representing himself when he sang that song, “Give a little whistle…and always let your conscience be your guide.”
What we’re talking about today isn’t something unique to the Christian experience. Conscience isn’t the same as the HS that comes to live inside us when we accept Jesus. Conscience is something God gives to everyone. It’s a mechanism. Like so many other good things God gives to everyone, conscience can be misused or neglected. To use it rightly, we need to understand it. First, we need to understand…
A. Conscience can be wrong
Right away, Jiminy Cricket’s song has a problem. Consciences aren’t always right.
1. False Innocence
Paul was put on trial. As he stood up to make his defense,
Acts 23:1 Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, "My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day."
Paul was speaking the truth. He had kept a good conscience. He had done what he thought was right. And that included:
Acts 26:9-11 "I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth…I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.
Now, how does a godly man look back at his former life, the horrible things he’d done, and say about all of it that he had done it “all in good conscience to this day”? How can you have that in your record and have a clear conscience? This same Paul said,
My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.
It tells me that the conscience, by itself, isn’t wholly reliable. Your conscience can be wrong. It can be drastically mistaken. Many a person has rationalized wrong living on the basis of it. “Well, I don’t feel guilty, so what I’m doing must be OK.”
Quote - Ernest Hemingway, quoted in Newsweek - "What is moral is what I feel good after, and what is immoral is what I feel bad after."
Ill – My dad had paid for a membership at Rainbow Falls – a fishing lake about 1 hour into the mountains from our home in C Springs. About our 2nd visit there, the fish just weren’t biting. That happens at stocked lakes. You could see them – right there in front of you, but they wouldn’t bite. So, my brother and I put on some great big bear hooks. We’d cast them just over a big fish, then snag him in the side and drag him in sideways. It was great! Here we were, catching some pretty big fish, while most everyone else there wasn’t catching anything. We were so elated, when the guy managing the place came by, we showed him our fish and told him of our ingenious idea. Oops. He kindly told us that was against the rules. There went that great idea! We had done it with a clear conscience, but it was wrong.