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.
A Blameless Conscience
Right up front let me define what the Bible means when it speaks of conscience. I believe this will help clear up a few misunderstandings about conscience.
Conscience is not a believe system, a set of rules or the voice of God. It is simply a spiritual reflex. It does not tell us what right and wrong is - it simply tells us that we ought to do what is right and then passes judgement on our actions or our intended actions as to whether they be right or wrong. Whether a thing is right or wrong is not determined by our conscience but by our belief system. Our conscience simply tells us whether we are acting in submission to or opposition to our belief system. The conscience has not way of telling whether the belief system is accurate in inaccurate. In other words, all it can do is pass judgment on our actions, whether they be according to our belief system or not.
Cowardice asks the question, "Is it safe?"
Expediency asks the question, "Is it politic?."
Vanity asks the question, "Is it popular?."
Conscience asks the question, "Is it right?"
When we say, think or do what is right, our conscience affirms us and gives us approval. The apostle Paul says in Romans 9:1 "I speak the truth in Christ - I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit."
Conversely, when we say, think or do what is wrong, our conscience condemns us, and punish us with incredible feelings of shame, remorse, fear, grief, guilt and even despair. Sometimes the punishment of conscience become so unbearable that people prefer rather to end their lives. One of the clearest examples of this we see in Scripture is the traitor Judas.
1. Recognizing the Problems with Conscience
There are three obvious weaknesses with the conscience.
a. Your Conscience Can Be Deceived
If your belief system is wrong, then your conscience will give you the wrong information. Last year I set my GPS to take me to Centerville - a town in Virginia. I did not know that there were two towns in Virginia - both called Centerville - one spelt C.E.N.T.E.R.V.I.L.L.E and the other spelt C.E.N.T.R.E.V.I.L.L.E. Well my GPS took me exactly where I told it to - but the information I gave it was wrong. At no point did it tell me, ‘Off route." At no point did it tell me, "This is the wrong Centerville." I drove an extra 9 hours and it said nothing. The problem was not the GPS - the problem was the information that GPS was working off. The conscience is amoral - it simply tells you if you are off course or on course with regard to your beliefs.
Again, conscience tells us that we ought to do right, but it does not tell us what right is. That has got to come from God’s Word.
Go with me for a moment to Romans 2 if you will, Romans 2:14-15.
The consciences simply interpret their lives in light of the law that is written on their hearts.
Your Conscience May be Deceived
There is a second problem.
b. Your Conscience May be Denied
You can just reach over, say ‘Shut up gringo,’ and flip it off. You can do that - and the more you do that the quieter your conscience becomes.
Denying your conscience is the most foolish thing you can do.
Watch this - James - comes here for a minute if you will. I am doing to light this small blow torch - and what I want you to do is not your hand in this flame for three minutes. Will you do it? No! Why not? Because it’s hot.
O.K. - How about this then - I want you to close your eyes and run full speed into that wall. Will you do that please? No! What not? Because the wall is hard.
Now what was it that told James that holding his hand over the fire for three minutes was not a good idea? His physical senses.
What was it that told James that running blindfolded into that wall was not the brightest idea? His physical senses.
A person that continually overrides their physical senses we would consider impaired. Well ultimately, we would consider them dead. Did you know that your senses are given you for the preservation of life - if you loose one of your senses you are for more vulnerable than if you have all five in tact.
Now watch this - what your senses are to your physical world - your conscience is to your spiritual world. You ignore them at the peril of your own safety. The conscience is truly priceless to us - giving us critical information on how to protect ourselves spiritually.
Most of the lost world is living denying their conscience. For most of the 400 000 mothers a year that visit the abortion clinics around America, they are denying their consciences. The more you deny your conscience the more calloused, the harder it becomes.
The world wants you to deny your conscience. It will tell you it is not sin, It will tell you it is not your fault. You are not to blame. Your parents are at fault - or your society is to blame - or you ate too many Twinkies. What’s happening? Conscience is being denied, hardened, calloused.
1 Corinthians 8:10 For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be made hard to eat things sacrificed to idols?
Sin hardens your conscience. That is why the first time is the hardest - then it becomes a little easier, then a little easier, then a little easier - and before you know your conscience is almost completely silent.
Listen to me precious believer - pastors don’t just rush off and have affairs - wake up one morning and say, "You know what, today I think I will go and cheat on my wife." The first time they feel that sexual urge, the first time they pursue that sexual thought, the first time they enjoy that conversation in a way they know is dangerous - and their conscience tells them - they deny it. "Shut up Gringo." And they do the same the second time, and third time - and they deny it when their conscience tells them that spending time with that person is dangerous - and spending time with that person alone of wrong. And they deny it when their consciences tell them that to touch is wrong, or to kiss is wrong or to go to that motel room is wrong. And you deny your conscience long enough and you will eventually drown out the voice of conscience - shut up gringo - and your demise will be swift indeed.
Your Conscience May be Deceived
Your Conscience May be Denied
c. Your Conscience May be Defiled
Defiled Conscience Titus 1:15 "To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled."
The word ‘defile’ means to pollute, to contaminate, to dye with another color. Instead of being founded on the purity of truth, your conscience can become defiled by error. When your belief system becomes defiled by error your life system becomes compromised by sin. That is why Paul says to watch your doctrine and your practice closely - so that you do not defile your conscience.
Once we defile our conscience by calling something a "necessary evil," it begins to look more and more necessary and less and less evil. Sidney J. Harris.
Wounded Conscience 1 Corinthians 8:12 "And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ."
‘Wound’ means to smite, to beat, to injure or to whip. It means to weaken through compromise. Watch this - you ‘wound’ your conscience in this way when someone sins against you, leading you astray, or when you choose to sin, telling yourself it is all right.
Seared Conscience 1 Timothy 4:2 "by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron."
To ‘sear’ means to burn, to set on fire, or to parch with a fever. I have an area on my body that got burnt - and you know what - it has no feeling left anymore. There comes a time when the conscience gets seared - so burnt it has got no feeling for right or wrong - can no longer distinguish.
Evil Conscience Hebrews 10:22 "let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water."
What is an evil conscience? An evil conscience is one that is so deceived, so denied, so defiled that is not only condones sin, it brags of its sin. Sin has lost its shame and is instead touted with pride as virtue. We not only commit sin, but we parade it up and down the streets. This, my friend, is an evil conscience.
Your Conscience May be Deceived
Your Conscience May be Denied
Your Conscience May be Defiled
There is so much I want to tell you about the conscience - it is important to understand the weakness of the conscience because if we do not we may fall prey to it. But the Bible has much to say about the other side. Did you know that the Bible also speaks about a ‘good’ conscience (1 Timothy 1:5) a ‘perfectly good’ conscience (Acts 23:1) a ‘blameless’ conscience (Acts 24;26), a ‘clear’ conscience (2 Tim. 1:3) and a ‘cleansed’ conscience (Heb. 9:14).
Rather than rush through that this morning I want to invite you back to talk about the power of a pure conscience, and how to get there, This morning we spoke about Recognizing the Problems with the Conscience. Next week I would like to talk about Redeeming the Potential of the Conscience- how to get your conscience to work for you - to help you, to strengthen you.
Hebrews 10:22 "let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water."
As we close - did you know it is possible to have your conscience restored? Cleansed? Healed? God’s desire this morning is to have you learn how to hone your conscience so that is becomes one of your greatest assets in the world that has either abandoned its conscience, or beaten it to death. Despite the obvious and disastrous effects of saying ‘Shut up Gringo,’ and flipping the switch, we live in a world that can only survive by silencing that voice that is the closest thing they will ever hear to the voice of God.
But you and I are not like that. Conscience is precious, priceless, invaluable.
Paul says in Acts 24:16, "So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.."
Folks - that is the mandate - that’s the remedy. Strive always to live in such a way as to keep your conscience clear before God and man.
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