Conscience and God’s grace
In our last article, ‘The Conscience’, I ended it with the early preaching of Christ and of his cousin, John the Baptist, calling their hearers to repentance. To come to repentance is to become aware of one’s sin, and to resolve to keep certain of the Lord’s commandments, which is the penitent hearer is begins the process in which begin a new course of life. Currently the Prime Minister, who is a great one for not to telling the truth, cancels this by an ‘apology’, the uttering of a form of words, which makes the one offended to which is meant to a provide his or her forgiveness. Well, an apology of this kind, is something, but it is not much. The Bible does not have much or nothing at all for our apologies. The penitent are ‘pricked’, their minds, (Acts 2.37, 9.5)
What ‘pricks’? the conscience. The ‘prick’ is a sign of penitence, a reaction of the conscience, which is worth a thousand apologies. For it is the mark of life, showing that the person is not ‘hardened’, but able to exhibit ‘in the Spirit that this person is beginning renewed. More than this, Paul says that these pricks have their character of sorrow. And they are signs of a new creation of God the Holy Spirit. He should know, who was to persecute Christians, he told to King Agrippa, how he Lord said to Dal of Tarsus ‘it is hard for you to kick against the pricks’. (Acts 26 .14)
Conscience and Consciousness
‘Conscience’, the word, is not a technical theological term in the NT, but a term that means literally,’ fellow-knowledge with oneself’, a state of self-knowledge, an awareness of that person’s self, and appropriated in the OT as an expression (or power) of the ‘heart’ Paul and the writer of the Hebrews make clear. It is a climax of the writer, showing that Christ’ s work of the cross and resurrection. outshone the Old Testament revelation of the temple (Hebrews, 9.14, 10.2, 10.22, and 3.18)
So in the Christian, the conscience has to do with godliness. It shows us to be part of the image of God in us, unlike the beasts. Pricks of the conscience are a big deal. For Saul it was the consequence of the voice of the risen Jesus. And, accompanied by a bright light, It was the summons of the Lord himself. God is the one who was calling. In his great book on the work of the Holy Spirit, John Owen draws the distinction between holiness and morality. We see that we are deep here in the work of the Spirit in Holiness, in territory when it makes sense to ‘be imitators of God’ (5.1), or godly. This is the gift of God’s grace, not of our education. It is light, not darkness, (2Cor. 4.6)
There is a difference between the activities of the conscience. Some activities do not have to do with grace, but with the habits that we might have developed about friendships, habits of our development via education, values and places that we come to have, and so on. They might be called non-theistic values. Everyone has myriads of such beliefs, or of practical matters, each which set up ‘consciences’, if and until they change, and their conscience takes a different ‘shape’, having different changes. So take an everyday example. We paint the house with brushes, but then it is suggested by someone the use of rollers are better, which are then regarded as superior to what had been before. So the skill of painting is changed. So almost every activity has a ‘shape’ of do’s and don’ts.
For Christians , and for all created in God’s image through the work of the Spirit., the conscience has to do with the law of God, the 10 Commandments, and also with relate to each other, there are ladders of ‘moving up’ and there are snakes of sliding down. I shall try to illustrate these from Scripture.
The Fall is the chief ‘slide’ in the history of humankind.. Men and women, created directly by the Lord, there was rebellion. Gen 3.1-4,8, and that change, the result of deception by the serpent, changed the relation of the first pair altogether. But their conscious was at work.
Conscience in the Letter to the Hebrews
Contrast this with the language of the writer of the Hebrews. As we saw there are three places in which the conscience is referred to, at the climax at the writer(was it Paul?). Much of the Letter to the Hebrews is taken to the superiority of Christ’s work to the religion of the OT. He shows this in various ways. Christ is not a human priest, a Levite, but one who is after the order of Melchizedek (ch.5), not a man but the Son of God, in a unique priesthood. His was taken in a sacrifice, and by his death and resurrection ’he is the mediator of a new covenant’. ‘Christ’s was a ‘death that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant repeatedly, many times. But Christ entered ‘once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption……how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God’. (ch.9) This is the first of several references to our consciences in referring to the redemption by Christ. ‘that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper’ (9.9, 9.14, 10.2), ‘otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshippers, having once been cleansed would no longer have any consciousness of sin?’ Here the KJV translates ‘conscience’ In 10.22, whereas the ESV uses ‘consciousness’ showing the close relation of the two. `And further, ‘let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water’ and lastly “pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honourably in all things’. 13.16.
We have seen the close relation there is between our conscience and our consciousness. The relation between the conscience and the ‘ heart’, is also shown, and this suggests depth. If we examine our consciences then we have a direct track to ourselves and the Iiving God., the law revealed the inwardness of the law with John the Baptist, ch.3 of Matthew, continued into the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes and then the law more explicitly, the golden rule 6.13 this is a message from God.
How to sharpen one’s conscience
How do we examine ourselves in our faith? The conscience takes us deep, to our heart. Try some passages of Paul, say, Chapter 4 of Ephesians , or Romans 12. We are educated by the list of Christian values that Paul presents, from v.25, on falsehood, and speaking the truth. The control of anger, corrupting talk, building up, not grieving the Holy Spirit, bitterness, wrath and anger. But kindness to others, forgiving others as we have been forgiven by God. And so. As you measure yourself, your conscience pricks, and gives a God-given reflection, a sign of regenerate, if you are regenerate. There is more in Chapter 5 of Ephesians.