Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE ESSENCE OF CONSCIENCE”

Romans 2.15

 

Because the Apostle Paul deals with conscience in Romans 2.15, and because the conscience is an important and God-given feature of human personality, I want to bring a message from God’s Word dealing with your conscience, that feature of your mind that accuses you or excuses you of wrongdoing. I also have an important application concerning your child’s conscience that should greatly concern you. Surprising to me was my discovery back in 2003 that no one insofar as I could tell had written on the subject of the conscience since Puritan William Ames wrote Conscience with the Power and Cases Thereof in 1639. I then came across John MacArthur’s The Vanishing Conscience that was written in 1994. That is an amazing 355-year gap in dealing with something that affects our lives each and every day.

That so little has been written about the conscience for so long suggests the possibility that many Christians are not very clear about how their God-given conscience works. Why don’t we address the conscience now to make sure we have a basic understanding of how your conscience is supposed to work? Consider the implications of conscience as they relate to the raising of your children. Turn in your Bible to Romans 2.14-16: 

14    For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:

15    Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)

16    In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel. 

Several things are very clear from this portion of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome: First, the Law was not given to Gentiles. Second, rather than being written on stone tablets, God chose to write a form of the Law on the hearts of Gentiles. Third, the conscience testifies that God has given to Gentiles an innate understanding of right and wrong. And finally, there is coming a day when God will judge sinners who have violated their consciences. When that day comes to those who have died without Christ, your conscience will testify in God’s court of justice that you are guilty and deserve eternal damnation.

So you see, your conscience is supposed to play a very important part in your life, and it will play a significant role in your judgment before the Great White Throne. Turn to Revelation 20.11-12 and read with me: 

11    And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.

12    And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 

The books that will be opened at the time of the Great White Throne judgment? It may very well be that the books mentioned in Revelation 20.12 refers to your own heart, upon which is written God’s laws, and that your conscience will compare what you have actually done with what God wrote in your own heart that you were supposed to do, and use that as a basis for making accusation against you before God.

I say all that to point out that your conscience will figure very prominently in your life, as well as in your eternity. The same is true for your child. Therefore, it is in your best interests to consider very carefully how your conscience works and how you either work with or against your conscience and the conscience of your children.

We will focus on two things today, What conscience is and How conscience works: 

First, WHAT CONSCIENCE IS: UNDERSTANDING AND JUDGMENT 

Allow me to cite William Ames, who wrote, 

“The Confcience of man . . . is a mans judgement of himfelfe, according to the judgement of God of him. . . I call Confcience Iudgement . . . to shew that it belongs to the Underftanding, not to the Will. The very name of Confcience sheweth it to bee fo.”[1] 

There are two kinds of judgment:

First, there is what might be called contemplative judgment. Contemplative judgment is simply that process of a person’s thoughts that considers and ponders the rightness or wrongness of something. There is no involvement in the morality of the issue when contemplative judgment is involved. Rather, an issue or a moral dilemma is looked at dispassionately and from an uninvolved distance. An example of this would be students in law school who are being taught how to defend a client who is accused of murder, without ever bothering to deal with the actual guilt or innocence of the accused. It is a hypothetical matter under consideration.

Conscience, on the other hand, involves more than contemplative judgment. With the God-given capacity termed conscience there comes into play practical judgment. What is practical judgment? Practical judgment becomes involved when you recognize your personal involvement in the rightness or the wrongness of the issue. Contemplative judgment considers the rightness or the wrongness of something in the abstract, as something theoretical, while practical judgment makes the whole matter an issue of what you did or did not do, what you should or should not have done. So, with practical judgment, there is a judgment that renders a guilty or innocent verdict of your behavior, of your involvement, or of your decision. So you see, it is this type of judgment that a person’s conscience makes use of.

Before we move on, What about those who say we should not judge? Turn to Matthew 7.1, where the Savior said, 

“Judge not, that ye be not judged.” 

This verse is always thrown out by people who claim that no one has either the right or the obligation to evaluate the rightness or wrongness of someone else’s behavior or lifestyle choices. But is that what this verse means? Let me read Matthew Henry’s comment on this verse, one of the most widely read and agreed upon commentators of all time. He writes about this verse, 

“We must not judge rashly, nor pass such a judgment upon our brother as has no ground, but is only the product of our own jealousy and ill nature. We must not make the worst of people, nor infer such invidious things from their words and actions as they will not bear. We must not judge uncharitably, unmercifully, nor with a spirit of revenge, and a desire to do mischief. We must not judge of a man’s state by a single act, nor of what he is in himself by what he is to us, because in our own cause we are apt to be partial.”[2] 

In light of what Matthew Henry wrote, consider First Corinthians 11.31, where Paul writes, 

“For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.” 

So you see, in the right context it is entirely appropriate to judge, for judging is what your conscience was given to you by God to do. To stifle your conscience’s judgment is to sear your conscience, which is never good. Rightly done, judgment is not the product of personal arrogance or the feeling that we have the moral right to decide the rightness or wrongness of anyone’s behavior. Rather, it is a comparison of conduct considered or observed with the requirements outlined in God’s Word and a decision based upon discernment that agrees with God’s assessment of the rightness or wrongness of one’s conduct. Is it wrong to assess the rightness or wrongness of armed robbery? Is it judgmentalism to assess the rightness or wrongness of assault and battery? Is it inappropriate to assess the rightness or wrongness of sexual activity outside of marriage? Or is it only wrong for someone to judge your misconduct while you busy yourself judging that other person’s act of judging your misconduct? 

Next, HOW CONSCIENCE WORKS: SYLLOGISM 

Your conscience works using syllogism. Please do not be frightened by an unfamiliar word. A syllogism is just a form of reasoning, an argument whose conclusion is supported by two premises.[3] Thus, there are always three parts to the way your God-given conscience works.[4] But rather than try to define what a syllogism is using terms you might not be familiar with, allow me to simply illustrate how your conscience works by constructing three syllogisms from the Word of God:

Turn to Ezekiel 18.20: 

“The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” 

That is the major premise: The soul that sins shall die. It is a clearly stated major premise in God’s Word. The minor premise is the individual sinner’s application of the well-known Bible truth as he is influenced by the Holy Spirit: I am a sinner. The conclusion that is drawn from the major and minor premises: Because the soul that sins shall die (major premise), and because I am a sinner (minor premise), I understand that I shall die (conclusion).

Now turn to Revelation 21.8: 

“But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” 

Again, the major premise is contained in the text: Those guilty of these named sins will spend eternity in the lake of fire. The minor premise is unstated but understood by the reader as the Spirit of God illuminates his understanding: I am guilty of one of these sins (or more). The conclusion that is properly drawn from the major and minor premise: Because those who have committed those sins shall suffer an eternity in the lake of fire (major premise), and because I am guilty of at least one of those sins (minor premise), I shall go to the lake of fire (conclusion).

Finally, turn to John 3.18, where we consider the final portion of the verse: 

“. . . he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” 

The major premise is stated in the text: A person who believes not in Jesus Christ is condemned already. The minor premise that is realized by the unsaved reader as the truth is impressed upon him by the Holy Spirit is the realization, “I do not believe in Jesus.” The conclusion that is properly drawn in his thinking is, “I am condemned already.” This is how the conscience works, your conscience, my conscience, everyone’s conscience, by working through a major premise and a minor premise to arrive at a conclusion. That process of how the conscience does its thinking is called syllogism. 

Finally, WHAT CONSCIENCE DOES 

The word “conscience” translates the Greek word that means “co-knowledge.” “The word suneidêsis means co-knowledge by the side of the original consciousness of the act. This second knowledge is personified as confronting the first (Sanday and Headlam).”[5]

So you see, your conscience operates like you watching you and you telling you that you have done right or that you have done wrong. As our text, Romans 2.15 indicates: 

“their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.” 

So, you have a conscience. Despite what some people say about sociopaths and psychopaths, everyone has a conscience, though it is possible for the conscience to become seared and ineffective by suppressing and resisting it. This can even occur with the very young. However, be sure that if you die and go to Hell, it will be your conscience that will be the lead witness that testifies against you before the Great White Throne judgment.

What does your conscience do? It has been given to you by God to judge you. Based upon your imperfect understanding of right and wrong, your conscience performs the function of constantly evaluating your behavior and passing judgment on what you do, either pronouncing you guilty of wrongdoing or innocent of wrongdoing.

How does your conscience work? As we have seen, always using a syllogism, which is a certain orderly logical progression of thought.

No matter what the application, your conscience always works in this fashion.

What your conscience then does with its verdict, either innocent or guilty, is press it upon you. Your conscience, therefore, will point the finger of accusation at you for wrong doing. That is its purpose. That is its function. And when you interfere with the proper function of your conscience by sinning you commit yet more sin, by repressing and subduing your conscience and seeking to sear it. Why is interfering with your conscience sinful? Because it is a God-given capacity designed to help you commit less sin against God. Therefore, if you obstruct that which God gave you to commit less sin so that you can comfortably commit more sin, that in itself is sinful.

How does a person seek to defeat his conscience so he can sin more comfortably? Of course, there is always the possibility of refusing to pay attention to his conscience, but this typically involves a more intricate process than most people imagine. Most usually the conscience is defeated by challenging the major premise or the minor premise so that the correct conclusion is not arrived at by logical thinking. Most people seek to thwart a major premise by denying the existence of God altogether or by denying the wrongness of their wrongdoing. This would be the person who seeks to sear the conscience against the condemnation associated with sexual sin by either denying that God is real or by in some way denying that sex outside of marriage is wrong. Is it any wonder young people begin to doubt the existence of God about the time they begin to seriously consider committing sexual sins? They are waging war against the major premise so they can avoid obvious conclusions they don’t want to face. The way the minor premise of the syllogism is defeated is by denying the applicability of one’s sinfulness. For example: If the major premise is the soul that sins will die, the person who defeats the minor premise will deny that he is a sinner, or will insist that there is some escape clause to avoid the proper conclusion. What I am doing is not wrong because love motivates me.

However, the sinner goes about accomplishing his defeat of his conscience’s use of syllogism it has to take place by denying the reality of the real, the truthfulness of the true, the rightness of the right, or the wrongness of the wrong. It is of necessity a profoundly dishonest approach to the truth, and it leaves the lying sinner trapped in bondage to sin. Truth, on the other hand, will set you free. It was in John 8.32 our Lord Jesus Christ said, 

“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” 

And it was in John 14.6 that He said, 

“I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” 

Allow me to close with a suggestion to parents of small children of a recommendation of preventing the searing of your child’s conscience. Please do not ground your child for wrongdoing. Please do not repeatedly scold your child. Please do not restrict your child for sinning. Rather, for foolishness and rebellion, I suggest that you bring matters to a decisive and climactic conclusion that is of great benefit to your child when you resort to spanking on the backside. Why so? Because the Bible recommends it. Spanking is the Biblical remedy for foolish conduct by a child, according to Proverbs 22.15: 

“Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” 

Spanking is also the remedial course of action for dealing with rebellion, Hebrews 12.7: 

“If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” 

Fathers and mothers who refuse to spank their children are sadly displaying their ignorance and failure to understand the proprieties of properly loving a child. They are also exposing their ignorance of the working of the human conscience. This brings me to an additional dividend from spanking a child for foolish behavior or rebellion besides your obedience to God, and that is bringing your child to tears when you do the spanking. Do you question the need to spank firmly enough to bring your child to tears? Consider Proverbs 19.18: 

“Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.” 

Is it not also interesting that the verse I have just read reveals that there is a time constraint to chastening because the older and bigger they are the less effect spanking has on a child. Parents, you are running out of time to do what I am pointing out to you from the Bible.

Mature Christian parents who have corrected their children’s folly and rebellion with the rod of correction can attest to the effect on a child after the youngster has been patiently but firmly confronted with the sin in question, after the spanking to produce real tears have been administered, and then after a time of affectionate reinforcement of the lesson to be learned, concluding with prayer. A byproduct of correctly administered correction is seen when the child’s countenance brightens because the correction of the child’s sin by spanking and the bringing forth of tears and sorrow alleviates the feelings of guilt. In other words, the guilty conscience brought on by your child’s wrongdoing has been cleared by a vigorous spanking, leaving the child happier and free from a burden of guilt.

Of course, mom or dad can eliminate any benefit from spanking the child by openly displaying guilt and regret while doing it, or by displaying anger with your child, thereby convincing your child that what is right is wrong. Bad move by parents. Spanking a child is not for your child anything like a violent experience since there is no parental anger involved, no exertion of force. But when done properly, such correction is applied with tenderness, with compassion, with deliberation, and with thoughtful attention to the child learning from experience. Such correction of inappropriate behavior by the child is much preferred to grounding a child, restricting a child, or some other measure that does not bring a child to tears of repentance and forgiveness, but instead ends up creating frustration and bitterness with a conscience that becomes increasingly seared.

Mom and dad, each and every time you deal with your child you need to consider the effect of your dealings on your child’s conscience, which you must assume is weighed down by guilt for wrongdoing and can only be set free by something approaching repentance and forgiveness. Though the ultimate goal is the Spirit’s conviction and turning to Christ for forgiveness, much good can be done by a tender but firm hand that brings a sinning child to tears and a heartfelt, “Mommy, please forgive me,” followed by the assurance that all is forgiven and that the spanking was administered to correct and not because of anger.

The conscience is such a wonderful gift from God when properly used. But to properly use your conscience you have to understand how it works.

__________

[1] William Ames, Conscience with the Power and Cases Thereof, (Zeland, Netherlands: 1639), page 1.

[2] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Whole Bible, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), bible@mail.com

[3] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 1925.

[4] E. W. Bullinger, Figures Of Speech Used In The Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1968), pages 165-166.

[5] A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures In The New Testament, Vol IV, (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1930), page 337.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org