Conscience: Doubt

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  The Old Testament was no longer in force (Romans 7:7 cf. 2 Corinthians  3:6-ff; Ephesians 2:14-15; Colossians 2:16-17).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).





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Conscience: Seeking A Good Conscience

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)” ( 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?

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Conscience: Cut To The Heart

‘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.


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Conscience: Bearing Witness

The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16).

Please notice that it does not say, “The Spirit… bears witness to our spirit.”  Instead, it says, “The Spirit… bears witness with our spirit.”  Two witnesses are mentioned, not one.

The Holy Spirit bears witness.  (1) The Holy Spirit revealed a message to man.  Roy Deaver comments, “The Holy Spirit tells us what we must do and be in order to be a child of God” (Deaver, Romans: God’s Plan for Man’s Righteousness, p. 276).  Marion Fox comments, “The Holy Spirit testifies how one becomes a son of God” (Fox, The Work of the Holy Spirit Vol. 1, p. 118).   Robert Taylor Jr. comments, “In the gospel, the Spirit has revealed how to become a child of God and how to remain one” (Taylor, Studies in Romans, p. 141).  (2) The Holy Spirit testified to this message.  The word “witness” is used in scripture of miraculous evidence (Hebrews 2:1-4; Acts 5:32 cf. context: Acts 3:1-10; 4:8-10; 4:15-16; 4:33; 5:12; 5:15-16).  Bill Lockwood has written, “Once the will of the Father was completed and all truth was revealed, the miraculous was withdrawn from the world.  Today, the miraculous continues to sustain the truthfulness of Christianity, but it comes to us only by means of the historical record, the word of God” (Lockwood, Mistakes Regarding the Holy Spirit, Hammer and Tongs, March-April 1996).

The human spirit bears witness.  Marion Fox comments, “The Holy Spirit testifies how one becomes a son of God… The human spirit testifies that it has obeyed God” (Fox, p. 118).  Robert Taylor Jr. comments, “In the gospel, the Spirit has revealed how to become a child of God and how to remain one.  The human spirit… determines whether one has done that which made him initially God’s child and whether he is continuing to do that which allows him to remain God’s child in an approved fashion” (Taylor, p. 141).  Paul wrote, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Let us make a spiritual inspection this year.  Ask yourself: (1) What do the Scriptures say?  They are the standard.  (2) What does the human spirit say?  Can it say that you are walking in the light?  (1 John 1:7).




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Conscience: The Law In The Heart

Who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them” (Romans 2:15).

The context concerns Gentiles (Romans 2:14).  The Gentiles did not have the law (the Law of Moses).  However, some of them did by nature (their character or habit) the things in the law (the Law of Moses).  They did this, not because they were under the Law of Moses, but because they were “a law to themselves” (Note: This does not mean that they were left to create their own religious and moral standards.   It means that they were a people of law, though separate and apart from the Mosaic system).

There were some teachings that they had received which were also contained in the Law of Moses.  Consider: (1) Murder (Genesis 9:6 cf. Exodus 20:13); (2) Fornication/Adultery (Genesis 38:24; 39:7-9 cf. Exodus 35:2 cf. Exodus 20:4-5); (3) Idolatry (Genesis 35:2-3; Exodus 20:4-5); (4) Blood (Genesis 9:4 cf. Leviticus 3:17; 7:26-ff; 17:12).

Some Gentiles had the work of the law written in their hearts (Romans 2:15).  Please observe: This does not say “The law of the heart,” but “the works of the law written in their hearts.”  Roy Deaver Commented, “When the Gentiles, who did not have the Mosaic law, but did have divine (revealed) law, did by nature the very things which Mosaic law demanded, …they showed the very works which were demanded by the Mosaic law were written in their hearts.  These works (which God required of them) were written in their hearts because God had revealed His will to them – that which he wanted them to have and to know” (Deaver, Romans: God’s Plan For Man’s Righteousness, p. 78).  The words “written in the heart” in no way implies that God directly infused His will into each of their minds.  Consider: (1) God’s word was to be in the hearts of the Israelites (Deuteronomy 6:5-7; 11:18-19).  Yet, God’s word had to be taught (Deuteronomy 6:7; 11:19). (2) God’s word is to be in man’s heart today (Jeremiah 31:31-33 cf. Hebrews 8:8-12; 10:16-17).  Yet, Christianity is a taught religion (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:14-16; Luke 24:47; John 6:45; Acts 20:20-21, 27; 2 Timothy 2:2; Hebrews 5:12-14).

Again, some of the Gentiles had God’s law written in their hearts.  Therefore, they could, by their consciences, examine themselves in light of God’s revealed will.

Roy Deaver suggested, “The conscience involves: (1) possible course of action, (2) information, (3) moral judgment, (4) urging – the prodding, the prompting – of the conscience, (5) the action, and (6) the approval or the condemnation by the conscience” (Deaver, pp.80-81).  He cautioned, “It is possible, of course, for one to have a good conscience, even in doing or in having done wrong.  It is possible for one to have an offended conscience, even in doing or in having done what is right.  It is an erroneous concept that the conscience can be or ought to be one’s guide.  The real guiding factor is the information.  If the information is incomplete, or if it is not accurate, then the judgment formed (based upon that information) could be wrong” (Deaver, p. 81).

Is God’s word in your heart? Can you correctly discern His will?

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Conscience: Confidence Toward God

If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.  Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God” (1 John 3:20-21).

The context concerns love.  John has instructed, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).  The reader is to examine himself (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:5).  Can he, in good conscience, say that he so loves his brethren?  If no, remember that you have a greater, all-knowing One, to whom you will give account one day (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:4).  If yes, then one can have confidence in his relationship with God (1 John 3:21 cf. 4:17-18).

This is not suggesting that the heart (conscience) is always a perfect or a safe guide.  It is not (cf. Proverbs 16:2; 16:25; Acts 26:9; 1 Corinthians 4:4).

However, man has a conscience.  He should conscientiously examine his life in light of the Scriptures (2 Corinthians 13:5).  He should seek to live according to the Scriptures with a pure conscience (cf. 1 Timothy 1:18-19; 3:9; 2 Timothy 1:3).

One might think of the conscience as a “warning light.”  God has created a “warning light” with in us.  The word “conscience” literally means “with knowledge.”  Strong’s indicates that it is some times used to mean “co-perception, i.e. moral consciousness.”  Vine’s indicates that it is used of “(a) the sense of guilt before God” and “(b) that process of thought which distinguishes what it considers morally good or bad, commending the good, condemning the bad, and so prompting to do the former, and avoid the latter.” The conscience warns based on the information which has been inputted. If inputted with correct information, it provides a reliable warning. We are to be warned by scripture (cf. Psalm 19:11). The conscience relies on what knowledge one has [Notice the word “knowledge” (1 Corinthians 8:7, 10); Also see: Hebrews 5:12-14, and Romans 12:1-2 (cf. “renewed” Ephesians 4:20-24)]. The conscience can be misguided, and misinformed (Acts 26:9; 1 Corinthians 8:7),

One might think of the conscience as an “inner judge.”  Think of a courtroom.  (1) The witnesses and the evidence are provided by the intellect and knowledge of man.  (2) The lawyers are the emotions and reasoning for and against something in one’s head.  (3) The judge who tries to make sure that the case is decided fairly based on the law is the conscience.  (4) The jury who renders the verdict is one’s ultimate will or volition (This comparison is provided by Kerry Duke, God at a Distance, pp. 112-115). It is possible to render a decision which goes against one’s conscience and what one knows to be right  (e.g. John 12:42-43; Romans 14:23; 1 Corinthians 8:10).




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When Is A Divorce, A Divorce?

A couple gets divorced for reasons other than fornication.  In time, one of them remarries, or becomes sexually involved with another.  May the other partner (in that original marriage) now remarry with God’s approval?

There are brethren, “conservative brethren,” on both sides of this issue.  However, truth is not determined by who is on this side or that side.  Moreover, truth is not determined by nose-counting.

The issue comes down to this question: When is a divorce, a divorce?

View One

Let’s consider the position of those who believe that the partner (in the scenario given before) may remarry.  They believe that a civil law divorce took place.  However, the couple remained married “in God’s sight.”  Therefore, when one partner commits fornication, the other partner may mentally divorce his/her mate and remarry with God’s approval.

Here are some common arguments.  (1) Herodias was still referred to as “Philip’s wife,” after she had married Herod Antipas (Mark 6:17-18).  (2) The woman who departs from her husband has the option of being reconciled with her “husband” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).  He is still referred to as her husband.  The term “depart” (choridzo or chorizo) can be used of divorce (cf. Matthew 19:6, Where a form of this word is used).  (3) “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her” (Mark 10:12).  It is asked: “How can this be adultery unless she is still his wife ‘in God’s sight’?” Adultery involves a third party.

Those who oppose this view commonly reply.  (1) No where, in scripture, does one read about mental divorce.  (2) Herodias was responsible for her marriage covenant with Philip (cf. Romans 7:2). This does not mean that no divorce had occurred “in God’s sight.”  (3) The woman who departs from her husband has the option of remaining “unmarried” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).  She is considered unmarried.  The term “husband” could be rendered “man,” and the word “her” is supplied. It could be rendered “the man.” (4) God defines adultery.  Kerry Duke has provided this explanation, “The adultery of a betrothed Jew is to be understood in a prospective sense due to the gravity of the betrothal and the solemnity of the future marriage.  But if the concept of adultery was applied prospectively with regards to marriage in the case of a betrothed person in the Old Testament, is it inconceivable that ‘adultery’ is used retrospectively with regard to marriage in the case of a divorced fornicator in Matthew 19:9b? If the unmarried Jew could commit adultery, then it is not absurd to say an unmarried divorced fornicator commits adultery by marrying another person” (Duke, The Remarriage of A Divorced Couple, pp. 45-46).

View Two

Let’s consider the position of those who believe that the partner (in the scenario given before) may not remarry.  They believe that divorce took place.  It took place for reasons other than fornication.  Therefore, neither party has the authority to remarry another (though, there may be reconciliation cf. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11).  There is no such thing as a later mental divorce set forth in scripture.

Here are some common arguments.  (1) The Bible calls it divorce (cf. Matthew 19:9). It is not clearly stated to be merely a civil-law divorce.  (2) The woman who departs from her husband is considered “unmarried” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).  (3) There is no such thing as a later mental divorce, which follows a civil-divorce, clearly set forth in scriptures.  There is certainly no direct statement or example of such. Moreover, it is said that the Bible nowhere clearly teaches two types of divorce.

Those who oppose this view, commonly reply.   (1) They believe that it is implied that not all civil-divorces are recognized by God (cf. Mark 6:17-18; 1 Corinthians 7:10-11).  (2) The woman who departs from her husband is considered “unmarried” in an accommodative sense, or in a civil/legal sense.  However, the man is still referred to in the text as “her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).  (3) It is true that there is no example of one later mentally divorcing his wife, after a civil divorce.  However, why can’t he do so – if in God’s sight the marriage continued after the civil divorce?

I believe that I have fairly summarized the two positions. It is not my intent to misrepresent these positions.

This is a difficult issue, at least for me. I see some strength in the arguments of view one, but have not been convinced beyond doubt.

 What should one do? If one is in a situation, like the one given above, and is trying to decide whether or not he may remarry with God’s approval, caution and serious thought should be given. Eternity may be at stake, not just for you, but also for the one you marry. Are you fully convinced, beyond doubt, that the Bible authorizes you to remarry? (Romans 14:23). I believe that in cases where there is personal doubt, or where the Bible does not speak, in your mind, as clearly on a point as one would like, it is wise to take the safest course. Remember, our relationship with Jesus must come before all human relationships (Matthew 10:37; Luke 14:26).

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