Monday, February 28, 2022

Conscience and God's grace


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.

Tuesday, February 01, 2022




It is not easy to find a discussion of the conscience. Sermons in it are rare, and your church group. But it is a vital part of what Scripture  calls ‘the heart’.  It is seen in the make-up of men and women, created in the image of God. Its awareness takes us into the depth of a person, into what he or she is central and of the greatest values to that person, and in other expressions not so centrally. Yet it is also capable of behaving according to a person’s  history. ‘Conscience’ is mentioned in Scripture about forty times. It presents an index of the heart as strong, according to what that person  understands at a time, and weaker,  and  weak and strong together about varied things.   I shall  illustrate this in a number of different cases of the working conscience.

 In the account of the creation of the human race in Genesis 2, the pair is quickly seen to have a working of the conscience of each. The first thing we learn from their Creator is 2.16, ‘ and the Lord God commanded the man, saying you may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’. (Gen. 2. 19) The creation of Eve, and of other divine laws, for example, that a man shall leave his father and his mother, and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’,(This  is endorsed word for word by Jesus.( Mark  10.7 Matt 19.5, 6.) Gen. 3 can be taken as a first tussle over the conscience of the pair.

 Our consciences are fallen, affected by what is sinful as well as the truth. You might say its character is affected not only by the will of God, but by the influences of what we call the ‘culture’ and its significant outlook, not the holy only issues , but by the unholy also. It is the positive or negative about from the matters that are important, as well as in matters are of little worth.

 The business of conscience has to  do with normative side of our minds. Our minds through the senses, and the intellect, are mainly cognitive, having to do with forming opinions, beliefs, knowledge, as particular, or general. The conscience has to do with what be called the moral views, on which the conscience forms, underlining their value, central and peripheral, depending on the importance of the sources of various  kinds, giving rise to the judgments of the conscience. At any one time the conscience may have scores of judgments, some important and some trivial, contributing to that person’s moral self, changing as the person judges each of these as he passes through phases as he is educated, matures, and so on. The self, via its states of the conscience will be awareness of some central, others changing, some peripheral. It takes on cultural in the widest sense, in a culture that has been  affected by John  Stuart Mill, Karl  Marx, Sigmund Freud and Critical Theory, some current examples. Paul comments the process in Romans 2.15 of the growth by idols by ‘Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal  God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Echoes of early Genesis!

 Besides the occurrence of the word ‘conscience’ in Scripture we see the conscience operating in various places, as the ‘heart’ Heart p.110, and he place of the law in it  ( Jer 17.1 Nathan’s parable( l Sam 24.10). This is a vivid example as the change and aware of the conscience, aroused by Nathan’s parable of the poor man with one sheep, who was deprived of it by a the richer man,  leading to David’s reaction,  ‘Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity’, and Nathan retorted, ‘You are the man’, highlighting his deprivation of Bathsheba for himself, and thus  depriving from her husband Uriah the Hittite.

 In the New Testament, 1 Corinth. 8.10, conscience is characterized by Paul as ‘weak’.  8.12 when the food is offered to an idol.  When Paul ate at lunch, there may have been present another person of different convictions. He mentions a fellow eater who gave it to an idol. But Paul has another judgment, as a Christian, the belief that the idols have ‘no real existence’ while ‘for us ‘there  there is one God , the Father, from whom are all things and whom are all things  and for whom we exist, and one Lord, through whom all things and through whom we exist’.(8.6.). Now carefully note what  Paul continues,  ‘However, not all possess this knowledge’…. ‘But some, through former association with idols, eat food to an idol, and their conscience is weak, is defiled’.   (v.7). Here is the evidence that Paul has working of consciences that are strong, and some that are weak. 

But it is not as simple as that, for Paul goes on ‘But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating  in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged? If his conscience is weak, to eat blood offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died?’

 So we see Paul has the idea of a weak conscience, one that involves false beliefs i.e. The conscience must be rid of such beliefs. Paul returns to the problem again at l Corinthians 10. 25 – 30. Bavinck calls the modern view the ‘empirical conscience’ . The conscience is fallen, too, subject to the weakening and renewing by the help of God’s grace for every child of God.

 In Hebrews, the conscience appears in connection with the writer’s argument regarding worship of the Old Testament, the contrast between temple sacrifice, to the final sacrifice of Jesus.

 ‘by this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation’.  (Heb. 9.8-10) 

This is part of the great argument of the writer, that the one work of Christ is superior to the work of many priests and the services of the tabernacle, (9.9) as  is characteristic of OT as the services the tabernacle, and the Temple. See other references to the conscience  in Heb. 10.2, 11.22. This is of great interest because here the conscience is a conviction treated explicitly on the understanding of the worth of Christ’s work   According to this arrangement. ‘Gifts and sacrifices cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper’ 9.9. but deal only with food and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation’.`(9.10).As might be said, only Christ in his person and offering has a whole conscience. 

The Reformed theologians stress in their natural theology that the human soul is a  semen religionis, the seed of true religion. Conscience is a part of that.  

 Bavinck says of such a passage,

‘That conscience is good and pure that is washed in the blood of Christ, that is sanctified through faith, and in which the Holy Spirit himself bears  witness (I Tim 1.19; 1 Peter 2.19; Rom. 9.1). So only that Christian conscience is good that feels bound solely and entirely and closely to the divine will known to us from revelation. (118)

 Reflection on one’s conscience takes one deeply into the self. Especially so if it is measured by the revealed will. The conscience is at work of the call to repent, as those who were called to repentance by John the Baptist (Matt.3) and by his cousin Jesus of Nazareth (Matt. 4.17).


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Readers will benefit from  Herman Bavinck, ‘Conscience’, trans. Nelson D, Kloosterman, (Bavinck Review, 6)