Monday, January 21, 2008

keeping a clear conscience

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
1 Peter 3:15-16

Keeping a clear conscience, or the importance of conscience is a theme that runs through Scripture, particularly in the New Testament. Conscience "refers here to genuine inward purity, not to a mere feeling of innocence" (J. Ramsey Michaels, p 216).

Conscience could be definied as the moral sense of right and wrong that individuals and societies have (see Romans 2:14-15).

Conscience in itself is not infallible or foolproof. Simply following it in something like "following the angels of our better nature" is simply not enough. One needs the presence of God (lost the good quote I had in front of me, I think from Scot McKnight) and the cleansing work of the Spirit through the blood of Christ, i.e., the saving work of Christ for us in his perfect offering of himself unto death.

I like the thought I heard in the past, from Warren Wiersbe I believe, that we should let the Bible, God's word, be our guide, and not our conscience. But our conscience is to become more and more on our side, since Scripture takes conscience quite seriously as something that is an aspect of us, that we can sin against and damage, as well as something that by grace we need to keep clear. We do this by seeking to follow Christ in obedience, seeking to obey God's word to us, Scripture. And as we do, then by God's grace in Jesus we will begin to have a good conscience and peace that we are right with God, ourselves, others and the world.

But we must ever depend on the Spirit and the word to help us, and never on ourselves. And as we do that we will find our conscience sensitive more and more to God's will revealed in Jesus and in his word. And we will be helped to walk in the way of Jesus, more faithfully.

I'm working on this, as I think over the years I've not taken conscience as seriously as Scripture does. What would you add here for us to ponder and grow on in regard to keeping a clear conscience?

19 comments:

Bob Postiff said...

Ted, You bring up a good issue.
I think the HS can work through our conscience. If my conscience tells me doing something that other folks think is OK is wrong for me I must obey my conscience. If we go against our conscience to often it can become useless.
I think Catholics have highly developed thinking in this area.

NaNcY said...

oh now!
this is a good subject.

you could blog quite a while on this one, ted.

i can not add much to this, at this time anyway, since it is so much to think about.

Kim said...

Ted, I believe that consistency is the key. Discipline is a tricky thing. We don't want to think that we can do anything of ourselves, but being spiritually weak so that Christ can be strong in us is key. He says "learn from me...I am gentle and humble in heart." Keeping a clear conscience is made easier if I am self-aware and know how to keep my thoughts, actions and words under control. I mean this in the sense that "self-control" is mentioned as one of the fruit of the Spirit.
Peace, Kim

Ted M. Gossard said...

Bob,
Thanks much for your helpful thoughts here. Good to hear from one raised Catholic, on this.

You help me think of conscience as something that can be strengthened as well as weakened, and as Scripture say, seared (also says, weak conscience, if I remember correctly).

I do wonder if conscience can actually mislead us sometimes, because it is amiss. For example people may have false guilt over something that they really believe is not Biblically wrong, so they go ahead and do it, inspite of feeling guilty about it. I see in that the necessity to develop discernment from Scripture and a renewed mind. But it's probably best to never go against one's conscience. But for some that would be quite restrictive, as so many people struggle over so many things it seems.

Enough of that jabber. Not sure how well I communicated in that, actually.

Thanks.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Nancy,
You're so right. I don't know how much I actually do have to add, except to say I was thinking today about the fact I could easily add more.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Kim,
Good point on consistency. We just won't arrive in this life, and we do sin. Yet we should be getting to the place where certain things are unthinkable to us, and we refuse to entertain them, or go there. And this is of the Spirit, not of the flesh. The Spirit of new life in Jesus. That/who alone really can help us stay on track.

Thanks.

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

I like this post so much Ted. I feel like you really understand what it means to be kind and gentle with nonbelievers and to be able to have a clear conscience towards them!

Thanks so much for all your recent help and explanations - that are greatly appreciated.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Susan,
Thanks so much for your most kind words.

I have received so much more help from you than vice-versa, by your wise counsel. And your blogging with us is a blessing.

You're a good student and explorer of God's special revelation- in Scripture, as well as his general revelation- in nature/creation, as a scientist.

The Walk said...

Thanks for your post, Ted. Here's a Q from your younger sis in Christ. So, I am often told that I have an overly-sensitive conscience. I tend to apologize for things and stress over things that wouldn't bother anyone else.

How does one differentiate between the times one needs to change a behavior and the times one is suffering from an overly amplified sense of guilt?

Ted M. Gossard said...

The Walk,
Good to hear from you again.

Your question is a most excellent one, and not an easy one for me to answer. And by the way, I used to be the same way when I was younger.

Feelings can be so misleading. They're all symptomatic of something. The key is to find what that something is. And that probably takes some time in prayer, in the word, and in community with those who can pray with you and listen, and perhaps give some good advice or counsel, and you certainly sound like someone who does this.

It can be hard to know and I've struggled with feelings of guilt or unease especially early on, related to something other than sin in my life, so that I later could easily discount feelings altogether, which is dangerous.

We can't live on our feelings, whether good or bad ones. But we can't simply discount and discard them, either. They can help us find, through prayer, and by the ministry of the Spirit and the word of God- the sense we have can help us find the way in Jesus. And it's important to remember that this can take some time, usually not that long, though sometimes long enough. Probably because I'm so slow to get it, to understand from God, or something like that.

That's the best answer I can come up with at the moment. Thanks for your good question.

Ted M. Gossard said...

One other answer, The Walk, and I'm in a hurry getting around late this morning,

But I won't act on a vague feeling of self-condmenation or guilt, no matter how strong that may be. I need to wait and the sense of conviction needs to be clear over an issue God calls sin, in his word. And I don't have to feel conviction or guilt to make correction and repent. If I understand that what I am thinking, what's in my heart, or what I'm doing in word or deed is wrong, then I must repent of that regardless of what I feel.

So much more on this as it relates to conscience but wanted to share that, as well. I would guess alot of this, if not all, is not new to you.

Ted M. Gossard said...

The Walk,
I want to add this from Halfmom, AKA, Susan, though she did not write it intended for here, but helpful, good advice:

"One thing I find helpful in differentiating between the two (I understand the sense of having grown up feeling a "free-floating" sense of guiltyness about who I was, not just what I did and did not understand for years that it was the evils one's attempt to keep me condemned) is whether the "guilt" deals with a specific action or who I am as a person. If it is something I can repent of, then it's probably sin and I move to 1John1:9. If it is something I cannot repent of, say a sense of absolute worthlessness, then it is condemnation and then I must claim Rom 8:1 because I am, "in Christ Jesus". So even it I am the most worthless person ever (as Paul always said he was the chiefest among sinners), I can still claim Christ's righteousness as my own because I am found in Him."

The Walk said...

Thank you for your response, Ted.

"But I won't act on a vague feeling of self-condmenation or guilt, no matter how strong that may be. I need to wait and the sense of conviction needs to be clear over an issue God calls sin, in his word. And I don't have to feel conviction or guilt to make correction and repent. If I understand that what I am thinking, what's in my heart, or what I'm doing in word or deed is wrong, then I must repent of that regardless of what I feel."

This, in particular, is helpful--this idea of separating the feelings from the situation at hand. Perhaps as we do this more and more, our feelings will begin to align with reality...or at least I can hope...

The Walk said...

Perhaps, too, I can begin praying for this--for Christ to help my feelings match up with reality, or at least that I can differentiate between the two. Seems obvious enough, and yet...

Ted M. Gossard said...

The Walk,
I think too, as we're more and more transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2), our feelings we'll follow suit. We can never trust feelings alone. We can have good feelings when wrong and bad feelings when being obedient. But feelings overall will be reliable indicators for us, as we follow on with the Lord. Though never infallible or to be relied on in themselves, as we can still be deceived by sin and by ourselves- not to mention the devil, and there is much complexity in us as human beings.

This is why walking by faith in this world apart from sight and sense is important. We obey God's word no matter what. And we look to the Spirit to help us through the word and through other Christians who are praying and endeavoring to follow Christ.

And good thought for praying, as well.

Benjamin Bush Jr. said...

Ted,
I'm responding to your post on Jesus Creed, White House God 2 and this post seemed fitting.

When it comes to the issue of Christians holding public office, your words here have great relevance. The Word of God should be our ultimate Guide in life, even though God does have a purpose for our conscience.
Could it be that many in this country have ignored the plain words of Jesus when it comes to political involvement?
When Jesus specifically instructs his Followers to "not swear at all," is that a command to be ignored or rationalized away. Is it at all relevant that before a Christian can enter and hold public office they are required to disobey Jesus by swearing an oath of office?
Is it possible to keep a clear conscience through disobedience?

Ted M. Gossard said...

Benjamin,
Your point may be correct, and indeed I was raised a Mennonite; they held to that position.

There is a way of interpreting Jesus' words to fit into the context of their time, to make it appear they had special meaning that doesn't line up with oaths now. Been awhile since I read that; maybe in D.A. Carson's Matthew Commentary.

There recently has been provision made for those who don't want to take oath, so they can serve in the court system. But I can't recall the details.

This is a good question, and I'll have to do a little digging on it. I have my own offhand thought about it, but I'd rather hold off, and dig a little. Will try to drop a further comment soon (Mon or Tues).

Thanks.

Benjamin Bush Jr. said...

Ted
As far as an interpretation in context, Jesus sets the context when he brings up the OT teaching on oaths and vows, which, by the way, would fit perfectly into today's legal system, a system which is legally referred to as "Roman Law." Yes, current American Law is the same basic system in place during the time of Jesus.

Against this contextual backdrop, he issues his command to "not swear at all."

If there's a way to interpret it so that it is effectively neutered, then the statement makes no sense whatsoever. The contrast between his words and the OT is nonexistent. In effect, he has said nothing and the OT commands regarding oaths and vows stands unchanged and still in effect for those listening.
As far as provision made for taking part in Court proceedings, I believe you are right. An affirmation can be taken instead of a formal oath. Once again, though, Scripture has this covered when James tells us in ch.4 to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall do this or that" instead of "we will" do this or that. To assert that you "will" tell the truth is an affirmation that goes beyond "letting your yes be yes and your no be no." Again a violation of the words of Jesus.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Benjamin,
Tbanks for that explanation.

I follow you, but I'm not sure I would say that a simple, "I will" violates James 4. Couldn't the "I will" have in it an implicit, "if the Lord wills." Jesus didn't say in the parable that the son who said "I will" was wrong for saying that, but failed to do the will of his father by not following through. What if I say "yes" to the question, will you serve faithfully in the office of the President of the United States (for the next four years- implicit). Wouldn't simply saying "yes" be a violation of this command in James, according to your interpretation?

I think the passage in James 4 is going against the self-confident boasting akin to the man who built up storage barns and told himself to eat, drink and be merry, God interrupting his plans with sudden death, and calling him fool.

Where am I off here, or am I somehow missing the point completely in some way?