Today’s blog post is a big longer than normal but I felt that it needed to be to accurately explain the principle being discussed.
In the blog this week I’ve been writing about principles of Christian liberty. On Monday I explained that not everything we have to deal with in life comes in the form of a “thou shalt” or a “thou shalt not.”
The things that the Bible says “thou shalt not” on are always wrong. The things that the Bible says, “thou shalt” are always right. In between these two poles is our liberty in Christ.
(wrong) | — LIBERTY — | (right)
On Tuesday I began writing about how to determine whether something that falls between the poles of “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not” is something that we ought to do. These are some principles that should guide our exercise of Christian liberty. I’ve put these principles in question form to make them more personal for us. The questions yesterday were:
Would I do this if Jesus was physically with me?
Will this hinder my relationship with Jesus?
This brings us to our question for today.
Does this violate my conscience?
“I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” Romans 14:14 (NKJV)
We need to learn to ask ourselves if we would feel guilty for doing this. If I am not certain that it is okay for me to be doing something, it would better for me not to do it. Notice what the Bible says. Doing something I think is wrong is the same attitude of rebellion and disobedience as doing something I know is wrong.
Scripture teaches that there is a very real danger in violating our conscience. Scripture teaches that the conscience is an inner sense of right and wrong. According to Romans 2:14-15 the conscience is something that God places within us to help us know right from wrong. It is an element of our being that God uses to convict of sin. It can be hardened, wounded and defiled but still appears to be a part of the way that God influences us to behave properly. The two main things I see from Scripture that a conscience does, is that it convicts us of sin and wrong and it testifies when we are doing the right things in the right ways and with the right motives. Let me show you this.
In the Gospel of John there is a story where a group of Pharisee’s brought a woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery to Jesus. They questioned Him concerning the law in regard to adultery. In the law those caught in adultery were to be stoned to death. Jesus told them to go ahead and follow the Law, but He added, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” Then the Bible says, “Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” (John 8:9 NKJV) The Holy Spirit worked through their conscience to reveal their sin to them.
In the book of 2 Corinthians Paul writes, “For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you.” (2 Corinthians 1:12 NKJV) This passage is part of a larger defense Paul is making of his integrity. He had originally planned on going to Corinth but his plans had changed and he didn’t go. With no way to quickly communicate this change with them his opponents began to say that Paul was untrustworthy and a liar.
Part of Paul’s defense of this is that his conscience was clear in regards to his change in plans. He could say that his conscience was clear because he had been sincere in everything he had done. Everything he did among those he had ministered to was done with pure motives. He told them he was going there because he really was planning on going there. He didn’t have any ulterior motives when he gave them his itinerary. He didn’t have any ulterior motives when he changed his plans. Things came up and his plans had to change. Yes Paul had changed his plans, but this change came from pure motives. Paul’s conscience was clear because to the best of his abilities he had done the right things, in the right way and with the right motives.
So how does all of this make the conscience a guide in our exercise of Christian liberty? I’m glad you asked. Since our conscience can convict us of sin and since our conscience will be clear when we’ve done the right things, in the right ways and with the right motives, then we must make a point to keep our conscience clear. This means that when our conscience bothers us about something we listen.
“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 14:23 NKJV)
This comes at the end of a long discourse on Christian liberty. Paul gives a lot of guidance on these issues. The last piece of advice is to be sure you are always acting in faith. What he means is that whatever you do, you must be sure that you know without a doubt it’s okay. He says it’s better not to do something than it is to do it without being certain that it’s okay. Really he says more than that. He says that if we have doubts and we do it anyway then we have sinned. If we cannot do “this”, whatever this is, in faith knowing without a doubt it’s acceptable to God, then doing it is a sin.
This is such strong language. Paul doesn’t leave any sort of wiggle room here that we might wish he did. So what we need to see here is that if we go to do something and it bothers our conscience then we need to stop doing it. If we keep on doing it after our conscience leads us to stop we are sinning. It seems that sinning against our conscience is basically a sin of rebellion. If I think that something is wrong, or at least I’m not convinced it’s right, and I do it anyway, then I have the same rebellious attitude as if I were knowingly violating God’s Law. But when I submit to my conscience when it convicts me then, I am demonstrating a humble and obedient attitude.
I don’t know about you, but I find this pretty surprising, very interesting and kinda scary. It’s interesting and scary because I’ve done this before. I can think of several different times when my conscience bothered me about something and I did it anyway. According to the Bible this means that I sinned. That’s really not good. What are some ways we could violate our conscience?
Think about things like movies or TV shows. Is there a TV show that you watch and your conscience bothered you about it?Think about books or magazines. Has there been a book or magazine you read and as you did your conscience bothered you? Think about websites you go to. Is there a website you go to and as you’re there your conscience bothers you?
Really there are numerous ways that we could do this. If at any time our conscience bothers us about something, it means that we aren’t sure about it. If we do it anyway we aren’t acting in faith and we are sinning.
You need to have it settled in your mind that it is okay before you take part in this activity. There are any number of things that I am pretty sure the Bible doesn’t expressly forbid. But for one reason or another there is no way I could take part in these activities with a clear conscience. The Bible says if that is the case then I must abstain from this activity. Before we decide to do something that falls in to the area of liberty we should ask ourselves, “Am I totally convinced that it is okay for me to do this?”