A blog about everything about teaching the Bible. "And still I will show you a more excellent way..." (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Conscience


Today, I'm tackling the subject of conscience. I recently received a few questions about it, and want to answer those as well as God will bless me to be able to do. First, I'll write about some basic things about conscience. Then we'll consider some pertinent scriptures. Finally, I hope to deal with some critical, or, for some, troubling issues and end with something helpful and positive. Remember, this is a blog post, not a formal essay.

Conscience can be a killer! A good, active conscience formed by the word of God properly understood is among the greatest blessings in life—if heeded! However, a conscience untaught or misinformed can be the source of one's emotional unraveling and spiritual death. Conscience only works properly in a relatively healthy mind. Most everyone has some kind of thought-related issue or another—an emotional vulnerability, a self-esteem issue, emotional pain from something in the past—we call these our "scars," or "baggage." It is often this "baggage" that we tend to try to carry around with us that causes us to become reactors instead of actors, and leads us to form consciences that tear us apart, give us no peace, and ultimately do the exact opposite of what conscience is supposed to do by God's intent. (If you're struggling with emotional pain and/or self-esteem issues, check out SFT Awareness.) Others struggle under the weight of too heavy a conscience because of an erroneous belief system. Many people crush themselves with inner dialogue due to being taught that nearly everything is wrong and sinful, and find themselves feeling shackled, desperate; perhaps even hopeless. Let me say the following with boldness: conscience was designed to function properly within an environment of truth and grace. No one's conscience will or can work properly outside of covenant relationship with Jesus Christ. It will either excuse what shouldn't be, or accuse with no path to redemption.

Alright, but what is conscience and where does it come from? The Bible teaches that God made man in his likeness (Gen 1:26-27). Without going into great detail as to what that means, let me summarize that it means we are creatures with a spiritual nature. Thus we have a mind composed of intellect, sensibilities, and will. We have the right and obligation to make decisions, and written upon the hearts of every one of us is a basic sense of right and wrong and justice. On this, I urge everyone to read C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. When conceived, we begin writing the laws we will live and judge ourselves by upon the bare tablets of this spiritual nature of ours. We gain these from degrees of recognizing our inborn needs, the influence of our families and society around us, and the things we study and meditate upon. We have every right and ability to alter these as we grow, and well we should when necessary. Conscience is simply what we know about right and wrong confronting our knowledge of what we've done or want to do. We apply the knowledge it gives us by either having a sense of well-being and goodly accomplishment when we do something right, and by feeling guilt when we do something wrong. So, conscience is simply an aspect of a spiritual mind that God gave us to help us grow. The Devil tries to get us to misuse it.

On to some scriptures: The first specific mention of conscience in my ESV is 1 Samuel 25:31, when Abigail urged David not to attack Nabal's household. She prevailed upon him with her wisdom by urging him to take a path that would not lead him into guilt. Next we find these words from Paul, "So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man" (Acts 24:16 ESV). Paul speaks of the state of having a "clear conscience" and by his example teaches us that it takes effort. On that effort he wrote, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV). By diligently studying the Bible, one can properly train his conscience, and then, by taking pains to follow its direction, will find himself in a position of peace and boldness with God, and not guilt (1 John 3:21; Hebrews 4:16). An untaught, or improperly taught conscience is not a safe guide! Just doing what seems right as if we were all born wise is beyond foolish, it's just plain stupid! Nevertheless, that idea is being encouraged by many teachers these days in the mantra, "Do what your heart tells you to do." Solomon wrote about that mistake 3,000 years ago when he said, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death" (Proverbs 14:12 ESV). As a side note, someone asked me about the relationship of 1 Peter 3:21 to this subject. The passage reads: "Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (ESV). Some translations don't do great justice to the original Greek, but the ESV is great. Baptism, as the point one's faith becomes active in obedience, is the point one's sins are initially washed away by God's grace (Acts 2:38, 22:16). As such, if someone wants a clean conscience—free from the guilt of past sins—he or she must first find the blood of Christ in baptism. It is an "appeal" or "request" to God to cleanse us.

Now, I want to address a couple of passages related to conscience, guilt, etc. that are troubling to some. Hebrews 4:13 reads, "And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (ESV). That's true. God knows everything, even our deepest, most secretly guarded thoughts. What gives people trouble here is this: "For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light" (Luke 8:17 ESV). This: "For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God" (1 Corinthians 4:4-5 ESV). And especially this: "By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God" (1 John 3:19-21 ESV). The troubles many of us have with these verses are what I mentioned briefly above as failing to understand conscience functioning within the grace of God. If my conscience is condemning me, something is definitely wrong! If I am purposely doing something wrong, I need to fear the judgment of God. I need to wake up and listen! If I am not doing anything wrong, and my conscience still plagues me, I need better understanding. If my conscience plagues me with guilt over sins that I have confessed before God and asked his forgiveness regarding, then I need a better appreciation for the grace of God. Jesus is coming again as Judge, but not to "judge" Christians. He's coming to judge the world. The only judgment left for faithful Christians is the granting of the reward. We read the above verse from Hebrews 4, but need to understand it in the context that includes "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16 ESV). We need to read 1 John 3, but understand it as part of the context that includes "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:13 ESV), and "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:7-9 ESV).

To sum this up, conscience is a blessing. God gave it to us to help us grow. It is not meant to be misused by Satan as a tool to abuse us. It must be properly instructed and function within a relatively healthy mind. When those things are in place, simply follow its guidance and you'll have peace within yourself and with your God. There's nothing better than that!

---JLP

Friday, July 18, 2008

I Want to Live Forever (Part 3)


The eternal life that the Bible teaches about is not a second-hand afterlife that somehow lessens the pain of leaving this present life. What we see on talk shows: people believing that their loved ones are hovering about them as if what they want is behind them, rather than before them after death, is a far cry from Paul's hope in Philippians 1:21-23. Paul loved his brethren and wanted to remain with them and bless them as long as he was needed, but moving on was to be with Jesus, not to look down upon loved ones temporarily left behind.

There is existence after death: paradise for the people of God; suffering for the wicked (Luke 16:19ff). To sum this up, people don't go to heaven when they die in the sense most people think of it. One's moment of death is not the beginning of eternal life. The dead are currently awaiting the resurrection (“Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” -John 5:28-29 ESV). That's the Christian hope! “Life after life after death” as Tom Wright put it in Simply Christian. God has promised me resurrection into new life in a new world (that's heaven) that will not have any of the negatives of this present period, and will last forever (2 Pet 3:13). This is why God sent his Son: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved-- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:4-7).

I want to live forever. I want to live forever in the coming ages. The only credible hope for that is in Jesus Christ. He's the only one who's risen from the dead to prove his claim! That's why I'm trying to heal the world that is, because of my faith in Christ. Christians are called to bring the glory and grace of the coming ages into this present one, so that as many as possible will understand, seek Christ, and attain to eternal life.

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-- that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Php 3:8-11 ESV).

---JLP

I Want to Live Forever (Part 2)

I do want to live forever. I just don't understand why some people don't. I think most people really do want to live forever, even with things as they are in the world right now.

I'd choose to live forever in this present world, if possible, if that were the only choice I had. I certainly don't like a lot of what this world is about. Jesus said, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1Jn 2:15 ESV). Yet, "God so loved the world..." (Jn 3:16). I know these two passages are coming at things from a different angle. The "world" John is talking about in his epistle is the selfish, ruinous, sinful mind of the world ("lust, pride" -1Jn 2:16, the "present world" of 2Tim 4:10). The world he speaks of in his gospel is the world of people ("Love the sinner; hate the sin"). I do not love the world's lust and pride. I hate the violence, greed, war, ruined lives--and death--that characterizes it, but there are many things about the world that I do love. God made it after all, and in spite of its sometimes ugliness, there is much to be positive about.

I guess I can understand one saying he/she doesn't want to live in a world like this, especially if a victim of some unspeakable suffering. On the other hand, continuing to exist, especially if there is a shred of hope for some kind of happiness, beats the alternative. I'd live forever in this world, as is, continuing to work for good, trying to heal it, trying to be healthy, safe and happy, and take care of the ones I love if that were possible, and my only option. So, if you agree with me on that point, you want to live forever too. But, what if the real hope of eternal life is a lot better? Wouldn't you want it?

As it is, I don't mind leaving this world when my time comes, because I believe and am convinced that there is life beyond the grave. I have the same faith that my brother Paul wrote about: "I am not ashamed; for I know him whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to guard that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2Ti 1:12 ASV). Either way, Paul had more than peace when facing imminent death, he was certain that his life was safe, and that he would pick it up again--yet better--on the last day.
---JLP

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I Want to Live Forever (Part 1)


A Jon Bon Jovi hit goes something like, "It's my life, It's now or never, I ain't gonna live forever, I just want to live while I'm alive." If there is no resurrection, those are profoundly wise words. The Bible even says so: "If the dead are not raised, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die'" (1 Corinthians 15:32 ESV). If there is no existence beyond this present life on this present earth, then we might as well make the best of it, and live it up until the day we die. Nothing really matters if that's the case, just try to find happiness and pleasure however you can. On the other hand, if there is life beyond this present one, better life at that, and I miss it due to "living it up," so to speak, now; nothing could be a more tragic waste.

If I had no other option, I suppose I'd have to suck it up and be tough, and just face the bitter music (no pun intended). But, that's not what I want. The words of wisdom, "He has put eternity into man's heart" (Ecclesiastes 3:1), resonate within me deeply. I feel an inward longing to transcend the weakness of this mortal frame and go on forever. The thought of all my thoughts, aims, dreams, accomplishments--all my life just being snuffed out like a candle is sickening. But, I don't want to be a fool. I'm not going to vainly believe in eternal life if it isn't real.

Jesus spoke about an opportunity to "have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10b). He promised "eternal life" in an "age to come" following a "resurrection" on the "last day" (Matthew 19:16, 19:29, 25:46; Mark 10:17, 10:30; Luke 10:25, 18:18, 18:30; John 3:15-16, 3:36, 4:14, 4:36, 5:24, 5:39, 6:27, 6:40, 6:47, 6:54, 6:68, 10:28, 12:25, John 12:50, 17:2-3). As you have the time and patience, I urge you to read each of these passages. It won't take very long, and it will give you the knowledge of what Jesus promised. Jesus' personally chosen and trained apostles, and those who heeded Christ's call into ministry along with them argued that Jesus' promises are still being offered, that they did not die with Jesus, and that, in fact, Jesus did not stay dead. That he rose from the dead--permanently--is, according to these apostles and preachers, the foremost, and infallible proof that his promises will be honored on that great "last day" (Acts 1:3, 13:46, 13:48; 17:30-31; Romans 2:7, 5:21, 6:22-23; 1 Corinthians 15:1-8; Galatians 6:8; 1 Timothy 1:16, 6:12; Titus 1:2, 3:7, 1 John 1:2, 2:25, 3:15, 5:11-13, 5:20; Jude 1:21).

As you make an opprtunity, read all of these passages. More to come soon about living forever!

Grace, mercy and peace,
---JLP

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Dry Spell is Over


It is over in more than one way. Thank God we had a good long rain to soothe my languishing lawn. But, what I really mean is that I’ve not been motivated to write for some time now. I just haven’t been able to find the inspiration I’ve needed. Other than personal journalling, I’ve continued to update the church website Bible Blog about once a week, and have provided an article for the church bulletin each week, but that has been about all I've had the impetus to do.

Well that's over!

I decided to put into practice something I learned from bro. Dennis Jones, President of HCU. I took a class called Interpersonal Communication. I learned a ton of good things in that class, and have put many of them into practice. During one of the lessons bro. Jones spoke about his time spent in full time "meeting work" (i.e. preaching in gospel meetings or "revivals"). He told us that if we wanted to know what to preach in special sermons like those we should simply ask ourselves, if I only had "x" number of sermons left to preach, what would I say. Alternately it could be, if I only had one, two, three, so on, times to address the whole world, what would I say.

Well, near the end of last week, as I was journalling, I did that very thing. I came up with several things I would want to say If I only had so may opportunities left. In reality, I don't know how many opportunities I do have left; could be few or many. So, I'm going to make this my personal ministry project for the next space of time (Lord willing). I'll be writing about these very important things on this blog. I'll be making them into sermons, and/or Bible class lessons, and I might even podcast them if I decide to return to podcasting (other than the church site).

Anyway, I want to thank those of you who read, or will read this blog, and if the upcoming stuff is worth reading, please send a link to everyone you know.

Grace, mercy and peace,
---JLP