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God has created within us a “warning light” (a conscience). This “warning light,” when programmed with the correct information (God’s word), can be helpful. It can caution us about doing wrong. It can motivate us, with a sense of oughtness, to do that which is right.
However, this “warning light can become damaged. Let’s consider a few passages –
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith… having their conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:1-2).
The conscience of some would no longer give warning. If a “warning light” is ignored for long enough, it will eventually go out.
Denny Petrillo comments, “The idea is that they are completely free from sensitivity… It is like the place where the branding iron left its scar on the animal. The spot has no more feeling in it” (Petrillo, Commentary on 1, 2 Timothy & Titus, p. 54).
This is a frightening passage to me. It is possible to become hardened, and insensitive to sin (cf. Hebrews 3:13; Ephesians 4:19).
“This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk… who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Ephesians 4:17-19).
Some people are “past feeling.” The original word means “to cease to feel pain or grief… to become callous, insensible to pain, apathetic: so those who have become insensible to truth and honor and shame… in Ephesians 4:19” (Thayer). The N.A.S.B. and the E.S.V. translates the original word “callous.”
Someone has compared the conscience to a triangle in the heart which turns each time one goes against it. It turns with each sin, and the corners of the triangle produces pain. In time, if one continues to go against the conscience the corners of the triangle get worn down. Sin no longer bothers one . One becomes desensitized.
Foy E. Wallace Jr. comments on the above passage, saying – “Continual rejection of Christ and his gospel can result in a conscience no longer able to function. What is the conscience? The best definition is that given by R.L. Whiteside in his commentary on Romans: ‘Conscience is that feeling of pleasure when one does what he thinks is right and that feeling of pain when one does what he thinks is wrong.’ A key word in the definition is ‘thinks.’ Conscience alone is not a safe guide. No one should go against his conscience, for it is a tender thing, easily damaged, but one’s conscience cannot prick one concerning something of which he is ignorant. He must fill his mind with God’s will as revealed in his holy scriptures, and then heed the conscience. God’s will revealed in His word is our only safe guide” (Wallace, Commentary on Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, p. 205).
“Were they ashamed when the committed abomination? No! They were not ashamed; Nor did they know how to blush” (Jeremiah 6:15; 8:12).
The conscience can produce certain involuntary physiological responses. Some people blush (their skin turns pink or red – especially their face, ears, and neck – when embarrassed or ashamed). [The polygraph (lie detector) is a machine which attempts to detect lies by measuring certain physiological changes (blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and skin conductivity). It may accurately measures physical changes. However, its accuracy in detecting lies is a controversial matter. Some place its accuracy as high as 90%, others place it as low as 70%].
The point in the passage above is that the inhabitants of Judah (generally speaking) no longer were ashamed of their sin. It no longer bothered them.
These things were written for our learning (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11). May we not lose our ability to feel shame, and blush over sin.
“Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:22-23).
The context concerns the eating of food that had been considered unclean under Old Testament law (Romans 14:14 cf. Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14). The Old Testament was no longer in force (Romans 7:7 cf. 2 Corinthians 3:6-ff; Ephesians 2:14-15; Colossians 2:16-17). Its dietary laws were no longer binding (Acts 10:9-16; Romans 14:14; Colossians 3:16-17; 2 Timothy 4:4-5). However, some Jews, who were Christians, were not sure that they should eat. They had been reared to avoid such food.
Paul teaches that one should not violate his conscience. Lester Kamp comments, “Whenever there is doubt about whether one should do certain thing, that alone should be enough to dissuade him from the practice. When one violates his conscience, he sins. When one believes something is wrong and does it anyway, he always sins. Motivation to act on such occasions cannot be from a desire to do right and to please God. If there is doubt, we must not do it! The fact that one believe what he is doing is right, however, does not make it right (Acts 23:1)” (Ed. Dub McClish, Studies in Romans, pp. 267-268). Moses Lard comments, “But how is it that such an act can be sin? It is sin because it is reckless and presumptuous – reckless, in being rash and careless – presumptuous, in being performed… without conviction that it is right” (Lard, Commentary on Romans, pp. 428 – 429). Foy Wallace Jr. comments, “One who will do a thing he believes to be wrong – is doing wrong – whether the thing he does is wrong or not. The thing may be right – but if he thinks it wrong and does it – the right thing becomes wrong to him” (Wallace, Commentary on Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, p. 70).
Some thoughts to consider: (1) The conscience is not always objectively correct in its discernment. A student in Bible class once asserted that – once one becomes a Christian, his conscience will provide him with Biblically accurate information. I suppose that he thought that the Holy Spirit somehow directly guided the conscience. This man’s assertion was wrong. This is evident from Romans 14:14. (2) It is necessary, sometimes for conscience sake, to be stricter on self than what God has actually bound (Romans 14:23). (3) It is never acceptable to be less strict on self than God is (Acts 26:9; 1 Corinthians 4:4). The conscience is not the objective standard.
We should care about pleasing God (2 Corinthians 5:9; Galatians 1:10; Colossians 1:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4; 2 Timothy 2:3-4). May we test all things by the scriptures (1 Thessalonians 5:21). If we have doubts that an optional matter (something that does not have to be done) is acceptable, let us not eat (or do anything) without faith (Romans 14:23).
Man, in the Old Testament, was reminded of his sins each year. Consider: (1) Hebrews 9:7, 9 – “Into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance… It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience.” (2) Hebrews 10:1-3, “For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshippers, once purified would have no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year” (Hebrews 10:1-3). [ Notice the word “perfect” ( Hebrews 7:19; 9:9; 10:1; 10:14), and the word “conscience” (Hebrews 9:9; 9:14; 10:1-2; 10:22)]
Man, today, can have a conscience free from past sin. This is possible because of the blood of Christ. The blood of Christ can “cleanse your conscience from an evil conscience” (Hebrews 10:22). Sprinkling in the book of Hebrews refers to the sprinkling of blood (Hebrews 9:13; 9:19; 9:21; 11:28; 12:24).
Man, today, can Biblically receive a clear conscience by being baptized. Consider: (1) Baptism is “the answer of a good conscience toward God” (1 Peter 3:21 NKJV). The NASB and the ESV read that it is: “an appeal to God for a good conscience.” Let’s define the word translated “answer” or “appeal.” Vine’s says: It was used by the Greeks in a legal sense, as a ‘demand, or appeal.” Arndt and Gingrich indicates that the word can mean, “request, appeal… an appeal to God for a clear conscience, 1 Peter 3:21.” (2) The heart sprinkled from an evil conscience is joined with the body being washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:22). Sprinkling refers to the blood (Hebrews 9:13; 9:19; 9:21; 11:28; 12:24). Washing refers to water (Hebrews 10:22; Ephesians 5:26 cf. Acts 22:16). This washing is said to be with pure water (Hebrews 10:22). Why does it read “pure water”? (a) View one, this refers to purifying water. Wayne Price has written “But just what is signified by the use of the adjective ‘pure,’ which describes the noun ‘water’? …if clean water were to be understood literally in this verse, then baptisms in the Jordan River and other streams would have to be delayed until the muddy season had passed. If literal clean water were meant, then would not distilled water be purer still? This phrase is apparently figurative, referring to the inner part of man being purified when one obeys the Gospel” (Price, Pure Water, Beautiful Feet, and Clean or Holy Hands, The Gospel Journal, Feb. 2001, p. 23). There were better waters than the Jordan river (2 Kings 5:12); yet, the Jordan was used for baptism, in the days of John (e.g. Matthew 3:5-6,13; Mark 1:5,9). I believe that this refers to the purifying ability or effect of this water (cf. Ezekiel 36:25). Man is washed in the blood or Christ (Revelation 1:5; 714). Man is washed in baptism (Ephesians 5:26 cf. Acts 22:16). These things go together, because man is baptized into the death of Christ (Romans 6:4). (b) View two, this refers to unmixed water. E.M. Zerr offers this thought, “Pure water has no reference to the subject of sanitary conditions. The word means ‘unmixed’ and is a contrast from the water of purification used under the law. The water was mixed with the ashes of animal (Numbers 19:1-22)” (Studylight.org). The water does not need to be prepared with a mixture (cf. Acts 8:36-38).
The point is: A good conscience is possible. It is possible through the blood of Christ. It is possible through New Testament baptism.
Examine the scriptures. Can you, according to the scriptures, say that you are totally free from past guilt of sin? Jason Jackson suggests that there are four possible experiences of guilt: (1) I am guilty, and I feel guilty (cf. Acts 2:36-37). (2) I am guilty, but I feel no guilt (Jeremiah 6:15; 8:12; Ephesians 4:19; 1 Timothy 4:2). (3) I am not guilty, but I feel guilty (One needs to learn to forgive self, and trust what the Bible says about forgiveness). (4) I am not guilty, and I feel no guilt (This is where we want to be. See-Acts 3:19; 8:39; 16:34) – (Jackson, Stronger Than Ever, pp. 74-78) Which describes you?
“‘Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.’ Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?‘” (Acts 2:36-37).
The message that they heard was painful to hear. It cut them in their hearts. Thayer says of the original word, “to prick, pierce; metaph. to pain the mind sharply, agitate it vehemently: used esp. of the emotion of sorrow.” Jesus was raised from the dead (Acts 2:32). He was (is) now both Lord (ref. to authority, Luke 6:46; Matthew 28:19) and Christ (ref. to the promised Messiah, Luke 24:44; John 5:39; 7:31). However, they had crucified Him (Acts 2:36). They cried out, “What shall we do?” They cried out because of their belief. They cried out because of their guilty conscience.
A sense of guilt can be good. It prompted those on Pentecost to cry out, and respond (Acts 2:37-38, 41). It prompted David to confess his sin (Psalm 32:3-5). Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
Consider this story: “A woman came down the aisle in tear. The preacher received her and let her mourn over her sins. A friend came up to comfort her. Thinking she was helping, she said, ‘Oh dear, we all make mistakes.’ The preacher turned to the lady’s friend and said calmly but sternly, ‘Go make us some coffee!’ He later explained to the friend, ‘Mary was trying to die, and you wouldn’t let her.’ We can become enablers, helping others avoid mourning” (Woodroof, Sayings That Saved My Sanity, pp. 20-21). It is appropriate to mourn over sin.