THE POWER OF A CLEAR CONSCIENCE WHEN SHARING OUR PERSONAL TESTIMONY – LIVING AND SPEAKING THE TRUTH
“Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. 16 But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ.” (1 Peter 3:15-16)
“Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)
Jesus said, “A good man produces good things from the good stored up in his heart, and a bad man produces evil things from his own stores of evil. For a man’s words will always express what has been treasured in his heart.” (Luke 6:45)
Here in chapters 23-24 we see Paul giving his second and third defense of Christianity. Although he is on trial for his life, his concern and passion is not to protect his life but to proclaim the truth of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. One lesson we can learn from Paul is that he was so secure in God’s unfailing love that he was not concerned about self-defense but about the truth. Sometimes when we are too concerned about defending ourselves it can lead us into a fleshly reaction in response to a false accusation. Let’s look at how Paul keeps the focus on God’s truth.
“Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” 2 The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” 4 But the bystanders said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” 5 And Paul said, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT SPEAK EVIL OF A RULER OF YOUR PEOPLE.’” (23:1-5) Notice how Paul quickly repents when he realized that Ananias (not Annas in the Gospels) was the high priest and quoted God’s Word (Exodus 22:28). It was God’s Word that convicted his conscience.
Later on Paul again refers to the importance of having a clear conscience. “But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets; 15 having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16 In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless (without offence) conscience both before God and before man.“ (24:14-16) [“On account of this doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, which is a doctrine according to godliness, and promotes and engages to a holy life as the contrary tends to encourage a dissolute and sinful manner of living; (see 1 Corinthians 15:32 ), the apostle studied, and labored and bent himself, and employed his thought, care, and time, that is, to discharge every duty which God requires, and to give to every man what is due to him; so as to please God, and not offend men, neither Jew nor Gentile, nor the church of God; and so as that conscience may be clear of guilt, and may not be defiled with sin, being purged and purified by the blood of Christ. By a "conscience void of offence", is meant that which as it respects God, lies in a carefulness not to offend him, but to do his will; and as it respects men, a shunning what may give offence, or be a stumbling to them; and though this cannot be perfectly attained, yet there is in every good man a concern to have such a conscience; and the consideration of the resurrection of the dead, the general judgment, and a future state, induce him to it.”] http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/acts-24-16.html
What does the Bible say about the conscience and how does it relate to the Word of God? Although God’s Word says that man’s conscience bears witness to His law (moral truth – Rom. 2:15), His Word also says that our conscience can be seared (1 Tim. 4:2 – meaning, cauterized/removed) and defiled (Titus 1:15 – meaning stained or polluted). Paul’s example shows us how to understand the value of a clear conscience by saying that he wants to make sure his conscience is clear before God and man; before God means by knowing and obeying God’s Word; and before man means to obey God’s Word on how to relate to other people, believers and unbelievers, friends and enemies. [“The Bible talks about a "good conscience" (1 Timothy 1:5), and a "clear conscience" (1 Timothy 3:9), but it also talks about a "weak conscience" (1 Corinthians 8:12), a "seared" conscience (1 Timothy 4:2), a "corrupted" conscience (Titus 1:15) and "an evil conscience" (Hebrews 10:22). Our conscience can be desensitised if we fail to listen to it, even to the extent that we become morally blind, stumbling around in moral darkness as John puts it (1 John 2:11). Our conscience is a bit like an alarm clock. We are very good at rationalising our behaviour and we can reset it and make it go off when we want! Because our conscience is not sufficient guide in itself to living as God intended we should, if we want to live in a meaningful relationship with Him we need some clearer guidelines. God has given us these through the inspired writers of the Bible. As Paul puts it in writing to his younger disciple, Timothy, "Everything in the Scriptures is God's Word. All of it is useful for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live. The Scriptures train God's servants to do all kinds of good deeds" (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).”] http://www.christianity.co.nz/moralit9.htm
Like Paul, David had a tender conscience before God as seen in how he dealt with his arch-enemy – Saul, the man who tried to kill him. “Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. 5 Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. 6 He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the LORD.” (1 Samuel 24:4-6; also see 1 Sam. 9:17; 10:1) God’s Word says that we are to submit to God- ordained leaders: to God’s king – Eccl. 8:2; wife to husband -Eph. 5:22-24; children to parents – Eph. 6:1-3; employees to employers- Eph. 6:5-8; to church leaders- Heb. 13:17; and citizens to government – Rom. 13:1-7.
Although David sinned greatly in adultery and murder it was his tender conscience before God that led him to repentance and a life of service and praise to God until his death. (See 2 Sam. 21:15-23:1) David’s words in Psalm 51 show us how to have a clear conscience before God even after we have failed Him. One of the verses relates to keeping a clear conscience: “Surely you (God) desire truth in the inner part. You teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” (v. 6) This is where integrity and a clear conscience begins and ends. God teaches us His truth and we seek to know it and obey it from our heart, when no one is “looking” but God.
David also shows us how to do this: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24) We cannot know our heart motives without God’s Word and Spirit teaching and convicting us. This leads us to the writer of Hebrews and his exhortation regarding God’s Word dealing with our inner motives and our accountability before God for them:
“For the Word that God speaks is alive and active; it cuts more keenly than any two-edged sword: it strikes through to the place where soul and spirit meet, to the innermost intimacies of a man’s being: it exposes the very thoughts and motives of a man’s heart. No creature has any cover from the sight of God; everything lies naked and exposed before the eyes of him with whom we have to do (or to whom we must give account.)” (Hebrews 4:12-13)
Paul speaks again about the conscience in 1 Corinthians 4:1-5: “Now, a person who is put in charge as a manager must be faithful. 3 As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don’t even trust my own judgment on this point. 4 My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide. 5 So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due.”
Jesus tells us that our greatest witness to Him will be by how we, as fellow believers, love one another. ““By this shall all [men] know that you are My disciples, if you love one another [if you keep on showing love among yourselves].:” (John 13:35) And even as we heard last week through Vahid and the Iranians imprisoned for their faith in Jesus who forgive and love their enemies, forgiving those who hurt us is a powerful testimony of the reality and power of Christ. Listen to just a few of the radical demonstrations of “loving our enemies” in Luke 6:27-26: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked (i.e., so be kind to ungrateful and wicked people in your life) 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
We keep a clear conscience before God by knowing and obeying His Word and before man by obeying God’s Word on how to relate to other people, believers and unbelievers, friends and enemies. So let us, like Paul, love the family of God, forgive our enemies and keep a sensitive conscience to God’s Word and will because there is a day of reward and blessing coming: “I have the same hope in God that these men have, that he will raise both the righteous and the unrighteous. 16 Because of this, I always try to maintain a clear conscience before God and all people.” (Acts 25:15-16)
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
How did Paul respond when he learned that he had spoken this to the High Priest? What does this demonstrate about Paul’s character and heart to please God?
Read 1 Peter 3:15-16. How does having a clear conscience help you to be confident in your witness?
Talk about a time when you have been treated wrongly. How have you responded? What kind of response pleases God? How does knowing God is in control enable us to respond rightly? Pray for strength to trust God in situations when you are wronged so that your witness might give glory to God.
Read Acts 24:15-16. What was the basis of Paul’s hope? What did he say that he always strove to have? Why was this important to him (Acts 24:15)?
How does a Biblical understanding of the judgment motivate us to live our lives (Romans 14:10)?
What should be our goal in life as it relates to our conscience (2 Corinthians 4:2; 2 Corinthians 1:12; Hebrews 13:18)?
What can happen to us if we do not listen to our conscience (1 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:15)?
How can a person have a cleansed conscience (Hebrews 9:14; 10:22)?