You have probably frequently heard the expression that a clear conscience is a sign of a poor memory. But as much truth as there is in that statement, it is not entirely correct. For example, we are going to be seeing next week that believers can maintain clear consciences before God. And it's a wonderful, joyful thing to have. But we are also going to be seeing today that a guilty person can have a clear conscience before, during and after a sin. Indeed, it can be a sensitive conscience which actually leads a person into more and more sin. I know it's a paradox, but it is only one of many reasons why Jeremiah says that nobody can fully understand the heart. We just have to take God at His Word on the ways that we can develop the conscience so that it will be realigned.
In our first lesson we saw that the conscience was given to Adam and Eve before they fell, but that it was also affected negatively by the Fall We saw that it was composed of three things: the legislative, the judicial and the executive branches. Or law, judgment and either fear or peace. Each of those three elements of the conscience has been distorted by sin. That means that the conscience is not automatically a safe thing to rely upon. We should not treat it as being the voice of God. It is part of God's image in man, but it is malfunctioning. I compared it to a malfunctioning light on the dashboard of your car. It can go off for no good reason, or fail to go off when there is something wrong with the engine.
And last time we began looking at what can happen if we don't fix that; if we don't develop the conscience. That's Roman numeral III.B. And we spent an entire sermon trying to understand Romans 14, and Paul's discussion of the weak or undeveloped conscience. Now there are many other things that can happen when you don't work on developing your conscience. And you can see that on the bottom of the page. It can be held hostage to the scruples of others. It can be overly sensitive, totally insensitive, slow in reacting or in other ways be unreliable. And I probably won't preach on all those points. I gave them there for completeness in the outline. But today we are going to look at subpoint 2 — that the conscience can easily be led into sin. And there is a logical connection between each of these points.
The Conscience Of Believers
Is Cleansed And Restored In Sensitivity (Tit. 1:15; Heb. 9:14; 10:21-22)
But Unless It Is Developed It Can Be
Weak (1 Cor. 8:7, 10, 12; cf. Rom. 14)
Easily Led Into Sin (Mark 7; Matt 23:1-37; Rom. 14:23; 1 Cor. 8:7-13)
The connection between legalism (the last point) and being easily led into sin (this point)
Mark 7:1-13 shows "many" (vv. 4, 8, 13) legalistic additions to God's laws. The "tradition of the elders" (v. 5) and the "commandments of men" (v. 7) made the conscience far too sensitive to man's opinions.
Let's start by using the Pharisees as an illustration. In Mark 7 we see two sides to the Pharisees. There is a legalistic side that delighted in nitpicking on the law. And they added all kinds of laws. They were preoccupied with making sure that no one could accuse them of doing anything wrong. That's why they had the reputation of being righteous. People thought of them as going above and beyond the call of duty. But the other side that we see in this passage is that the Pharisees were also quite disposed to sinning. And in many people's minds that is impossible. "That's a contradiction." But it is not. And I want to explain why it is not only compatible, but that legalists always end up also being antinomians. In otherwords legalists (the people who add man's laws) always end up being antinomians (people who disobey or throw out God's laws). Or another way of saying it is that subpoint 1 always leads to subpoint 2.
Let's look at evidences first of legalism.
Verse 2 says, Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. [And legalists love to find fault with others. They have a hard time finding fault with themselves, but it's easy to find fault with others. Verse 3:] For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. The Jewish scholar, Edersheim describes this special way of ceremonial washing. It involved about the amount of water that you could fit in one and a half egg shells. It wasn't a lot of water, but it didn't need to be because it was ceremonial in nature. First and foremost, it didn't really have to do with hygiene. Not too long before the time of Christ the two main schools of the rabbis formalized a long list of rules related to these ceremonial washings (I think there were 18 rules altogether) and imposed them on the people. That's why verse 3 says, "all the Jews" followed this custom.
Now the problem was not that they washed their hands. It was that they bound people's consciences with new rules that defined sin. They said it was a sin to eat without these newly added ceremonial washings. It was a sin to come back from the market without sprinkling oneself from possible contamination from Gentiles. And they had a long list of these purifications. Verse 4 says, When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash [or literally, "baptize" themselves]. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing [or literally, "the baptisms"] of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches. They didn't just baptize people. They were baptizing all kinds of things every day. They couldn't even sit on a couch until it has been ceremonially baptized by sprinkling because a fly that had sat on a Gentile might have sat on this couch. I think you get the idea.
And notice that the question in verse 5 is not, "Why don't your disciples follow the Bible?" They knew that none of these rules were in the Bible. Verse 5: Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?"
Legalism is by definition adding to God's laws. Adding the the traditions or customs of other people as binding the conscience. And it doesn't matter that people are sincere. It might be thought, "Hey! What's so bad? Why not play it on the safe side?' And really, that was what the Pharisees said they were trying to do. If you read their teachings that have been preserved for us in the Talmud, then you will find that they said that they were trying to build a hedge around God's laws; trying to make it even more difficult to break God's law. If through these cleanliness regulations you can make it more difficult for Jews to come in contact with the Gentiles, then they thought you won't be as likely to be infected by their sinful ways. That was their teaching. They also taught that if you take away women from the public eye and you made them stay at home, the men will not be tempted to lust as easily because they won't be visible, and the women won't be tempted to lust because they won't be out in public. It was the same kind of thinking as goes on in Saudi Arabia. Another example: if you avoid alchohol altogether, then you won't fall into the sin of drunkeness. And what these Pharisees were saying was that if you take away the opportunities to sin, then you have taken away the sin right? Does that sound like what goes on in the Rescue Missions in this city? Does that sound like what goes on in many evangelical churches? It is. They are all just trying to play it safe. Like one minister told me, "Well Phil, if they don't drink anything, then they can't get drunk, can they?" And my response was "Well, if we don't eat and if we outlaw food, we can't be gluttons can we? If we make it illegal for women to be seen by men we can't fornicate can we? That's not dealing with the heart issue. Their motives are good. But adding to God's law is never safe.
We saw in our last message that the conscience becomes disoriented in very unpredictable ways when it is subjected to a new-law code, looks to new judges and finds condemnation from man rather than God. When those three areas of the conscience become sensitized to man's opinions rather than to God's opinion, it becomes very disoriented — especially when there is a conflict between God's laws and man's customs. That's where you normally see the problems arising. And in our perverted culture that is dangerous because there are all kinds of ways that have become normal in our culture that are not normal in God's Word.
We don't need to go into the dangers inherent in that today. I think we dealt with that adequately in the last message. Instead, I want to show how this manward orientation of the conscience also produces a kind of lawlessness. This is subpoint 2). If your conscience is oriented to what men think, and what men's laws and traditions are, if the majority opinion stands against a Biblical law on any given point, we tend to not be bothered when we lay aside those clear Biblical commandments. We tend to be very easily led into those kinds of sins.
Thus, on any areas where it was custom ("tradition of men" — v. 8) to ignore a Biblical law (i.e., to sin), the Pharisees felt comfortable in "laying aside the commandment of God" (v. 8), or "reject[ing] the commandment of God" (v. 9), pressuring others to do the same (v. 12) and thus "making the word of God of no effect through your tradition" (v. 13).
So let's notice the other side of their life. In verse 6 it says, He answered and said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophecy of you hypocrites, as it is written... A hypocrite is a person who looks like and professes to be one thing, but is in reality something quite different. They professed to be righteous and law abiding; they professed to love God and to follow His laws, but the reality is that the only Biblical laws that they followed were the ones that were culturally acceptable in their day. He goes on in verse 6: This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you teach the tradition of men — the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.' He said to them, "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. Keeping the tradition (in other words, looking normal in their culture) led them to boldly disobey clear Biblical law. So Jesus indicates that they were quite comfortable in laying aside God's commandments (verse 8), rejecting God's commandments (v. 9), nullifying God's word (verse 13). It doesn't take long reading in the Talmud to see that they were willing to violate many Biblical laws while claiming that they were obeying God. Matthew 23:28 says that the Pharisees were full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Not just some lawlessness, but full of lawlessness. Matthew 23:25 accused them of extortion, verses 30-36 of murder, verse 14 of stealing widow's homes away from them, and verses 16-19 accused them of breaking their promises. In Matthew 23 He lists other sins such as pride, deception and hypocrisy. Yet they were blind to it, just like the church in America today feels quite comfortable and quite at peace with God while they are continually living in rebellion to His laws.
And yet the purpose of this series is not to point the finger out there. It's to help us see where our consciences need to be adjusted. You see, the same thing can happen to any of us. We can make people feel guilty over all kinds of things that the Bible gives liberty on, while at the same time ignoring issues that Scripture defines as sinful and shameful. If our sense of what is normal is taken from culture rather than from the bible; and if our conscience is oriented to what men think and judge and say, then not only can our conscience be sensitive to legalistic things, but it can be very easily led into sin without the slightest warning. I have to confess that many of the things that my conscience felt good about 30 years ago, I now know are unbiblical. And many of the things that I would have felt very guilty about years ago, I now know Jesus would have offered to me.
If you pull out your outline, let me read subpoint 3). It says,
The conscience thus has false guilt over what is good and/or lack of guilt over what is truly evil because it is disoriented in all three dimensions of its makeup.
a) The legislative function is misinformed on law and becomes comfortable in generating its own laws independently of Scripture. Ultimately it looks to human authority to determine lawfulness.
b) The judicial function (judgments) interprets God's judgments only through the grid of human judgment and authority. It is thus overly sensitive to anticipating what men approve or disapprove, and misinterprets the anticipation of their judgments for the anticipation of God's judgments.
c) The executive function (inner pain or peace) automatically follows. Even with God's law, this function only approves or disapproves as it anticipates man's approval or disapproval.
You might think that a person who was death on alchohol in any and every circumstance would never be involved in gluttony; would never have lack of self-control. Yet that is not necessarily the case. And lets begin with Mark 7:8 to find out why there is a connection between points 1 & 2. This is Mark 7:8. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men. Those two actions tend to go hand in hand. If you lay aside the commandment of God, you are automatically going to hold to the tradition of men. I grew up in churches that had as their motto, "We are not under law, but under grace." And every one of those churches had man-made laws. The conscience cannot live without law, without a sense of judgment and without fear or peace when those laws are broken.
I've always taught that antinomianism and legalism are siamese twins, or two sides of the same coin. If you reject God's laws, automatically you are going to be adding man's laws. Man's conscience cannot live without a sense of lawkeeping in some fashion. When you add man's laws, automatically you will find your life in conflict with God's laws at points. When the conscience is troubled over tradition, it is likely to not be troubled over aspects of God's law. Remember we said in the first lesson that the subject of law is unavoidable. The only question is "Whose law?"
Look at verse 9: And He said to them, "All too well you reject the commandment of God that you may keep your tradition." Now they didn't reject every commandment of God. That is not what Christ is saying. He is talking about specific commandments. And he gives an example in verses 10-12. For Moses said, "honor your father and your mother'; and "He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.: But you say, [Let me just parenthetically say here that the Pharisees hated that law just as much as twentieth century churches do. They thought their own law was more civilized than God's laws against juvenile dilinquents. Anyway, he goes on to quote the Pharisees in verse 11 — "But you say"] "If a man says to his father or mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban' — (that is, a gift to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother... Look at verse 13: making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down.
There are several Scriptures which say much the same, but lets take a look at one more in Colossians. Turn to Colossians 2:20-23. This is a passage dealing with the same legalistic rules of the Pharisees. And Paul points out that these rules which were designed to keep people from breaking the law were of no value against sin. Colossians 2:20-23. Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations — "do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," which all concern things which perish with the using - according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom [they seem good, but Paul goes on to show what they really are in God's sight] in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. When it really comes down to brass tacks, the hedge around the law that modern evangelicals have erected to try to keep people as far away from sinning as possible simply do not work in overcoming sin; simply do not work in promoting holiness. Paul says they are of no value in doing what they were designed to do.
And the question we want to look at this morning is "Why?" Why is it that the Pharisees who were so concerned about being holy, broke God's laws in numerous places without realizing it? Why is it that the Christians in Corinth who tried to be holy by abstaining from meat sinned against God's law on the issues of envy, strife & divisiveness (3:3). They sinned by sueing each other in secular court (ch. 6). They sinned by being unsubmissive to their husbands and violating their role in the church (ch. 7-11). Corinth was becoming a legalistic church that was just full of sin. And many other examples could be given from Biblical history and church history.
Weak consciences tend to fall into sin even though they are hyper sensitive to issues over which God's word gives liberty. I grew up in churches that had all kinds of unspoken traditions. They might not have been written down on paper, but believe me, you were a second rate Christian if you didn't keep them. Women were looked down on if they wore slacks even if the slacks had a feminine cut. They were not allowed to wear make-up or earings or jewlery even though all three a praised in the Old Testament. Men were not allowed to wear colored shirts or grow beards because we had to stay as far away from the hippy culture as we could. You couldn't play cards because gamblers played cards. You couldn't own a pool table because it was associated with bars. You coulnd't watch Bambie at the movie theatre because people might excuse going to a bad movie if they saw you going into the theatre. And you can probably continue the list of man-made rules that have arisen in your experience.
And what I have found is that these people tend to become satisfied with their morality if they keep these rules plus a few more commandments out of God's Word. For instance, maybe they wouldn't think of stealing, and yet they don't tithe and God says that that is stealing. They wouldn't dream of lying, and would have conscience problems with lying, but their conscience doesn't bother them over gossip. They wouldn't think of drinking, and yet they have no problem with gluttony - a sin that springs from the same root problem as drunkeness. They wouldn't think of committing murder, and yet they have no problem with IUD's or pills which cause abortions. I have read books that condemn fornication but which see no problem with wet dreams (you know, fornicating dreams) and think that such dreams are not sin. And let me tell you, you can be sanctified even in your dream life.
Do you see what I am talking about? Scripture says that when you add man's law, you begin to become totally oblivous to many of God's laws. Your conscience functions well on man's laws, but it does even stir over issues in Scripture.. And the reason is that there is incompatibility of your software input with the computer God has made inside of you. God has made the conscience in such a way, that when it is bound by something that God did not create it to be bound by, it becomes disoriented and fails to function as it should. The conscience is made up of the law, the judge and the executioner within us. The sense of right and wrong can get confused because it is receiving wrong data; the Judge within us becomes disoriented because it no longer thinks of justice as God does. New categories of justice sway its decisions. And likewise if the executioner gives us pain over things that God blesses it is not performing its function right either. And so there is disorientation making it unreliable in applying God's law. So don't think that adding to God's law is playing it safe. Don't think it is not going to harm anybody. When God says the conscience is weakened by such legalism, He knows exactly what he is talking about.
When a person feels false guilt over a legalistic rule that he is breaking, but breaks it anyway, he is led into greater sin in other areas because he is conditioning himself to ignore an indicator light (albeit a faulty one) so that it won't work even when it needs to (1 Cor. 8:7-10; Col. 220-23).
But let me give a caution here. There is another reason why it is critical for a weak conscience to be quickly realigned, and that is that if a person partakes of a Biblical liberty when his conscience is still bound, he tends to fall into sin to a far greater extent than a person who sins against a properly aligned conscience. Now it is never good to violate the conscience, but it is disastrous to violate a weak conscience.
Let me just give one of the verses along this line and then quickly illustrate it. Turn to 1 Corinthians 8. 1 Corinthians 8:7 uses the present tense to describe weaker brothers who were even then eating against conscience. 1 Corinthians 8:7. for some with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Verse 9 speaks of our actions of liberty as being a potential stumbling block to the weaker brother. But look at verse 10: For if anyone [and he is speaking of any one of these weaker brothers] sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish [that's a pretty strong word and it indicates that the person has gone much farther than falling into a sin against his conscience and then repenting. He is sliding all the way down the slippery slope. So it says, "shall your weak brother perish"], for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. So Paul is saying that those with weak consciences have the tendancy to be emboldened to violate their conscience, but having done that, they are on a slippery slope to destruction. And I think this should reinforce in our minds what we saw last time that you never impose your liberty on a weak brother. The conscience isn't ready for the liberty. But right now I'm just emphasizing the fact that Paul says that any weak brother who sees you encouraging him to eat can easily be emboldened in conscience and can start down a slippery slope to spiritual self-destruction. Romans 14 talks about it as destroying the weaker brother.
Now let's illustrate this principle. I received a packet of information from an alchohol rehabilitation center in Phoenix, Arizona, and they provided some national statistics of alchohol abuse. And I was particularly fascinated by the religious categories. Among Roman Catholics, the statistics tended to line up with non-religious Americans that 10% of those who drank were diagnosed as alchoholic based on their answers to a standard diagnostic test that is used very widely. Most of them wouldn't admit they were alchoholic, but their answers indicated that they were. 89% said that they drank, and 10% were tested as alchoholic. 85% of Lutherans drink and 5% are alchoholic to some degree. But the thing that I found fascinating was that among evangelical denominations there was virtually no alchoholism in denominations that allowed alchohol as a matter of liberty, and there was between 14% as the lowest and 16% who were alchoholics in denominations where drinking any alchohol was thought to be sin. And here was there conclusion: "Note that this chart tends to confirm evidence that a higher incidence of problems occurs among drinkers who come from groups which traditionally have been abstinent."
And I am not positive on this, but the problem may be the same as what we see in Mark 7 and Colossians 2. Christ told His disciples that they had been infected with the false idea that moral defilement came from outside. He said, Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart. . . In verse 20 He said, What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man. Christ was saying, You Pharisees might think that the source of lust and adultery is the dress of an immodest woman. But it is not. Adulteries and fornications come out of the heart. And it is only as the inner man is made strong that you will be able to resist the temptations as they come, and come they will. Satan will make sure of that.
Now unfortunately we still have not come to the point where we show you how to strengthen the inner man to resist such temptations. That's going to have to come in a later sermon. But Christ says that the problem is within, not without. And those who are legalists about the issues of cards, dresses, beards, pool tables, drinking and other issues almost invariably focus their attention on something other than the heart. They tend to have a metaphysical view of sin. That means that they see sin as inherent in the created order. They think that it is alchohol ("demon alcohol") that causes to sin, rather than the heart. Or perhaps they see genetics as the cause of sin. They blame their drunkeness or their gluttony on genes, a poor social environment, or on anything but the heart. Now certainly each person is predisposed by his genetics to be an easier target for certain sins than another person is. But Christ said that all of those sins come from the heart. Like the Pharisees, the legalist wants to put a hedge around the law and make it even more difficult to fall into sin. This was the motive of the Prohibition Era. If you remove the temptation of alchohol, you will remove the sin. It was liberals who started the prohibition thinking that man is inherently good, and if you can clean up his faulty environment, you will create their version of the millenium. But Christ pointed out that the problem is not with the environment, but with the heart. And I think that one of the reasons why legalists fall so hard when they do fall, is that their focus in the fight is on the wrong enemy. They fail to realize as Pogo said, "the enemy is us." And they fail to realize that the solution to the problem is in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ.
That's why the passage in Colossians that we read says that these man-made rules are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. It just makes drunkards socially acceptable by manifesting their sin with gluttony or some other form of lack of self-control. Paul said, Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. And He goes on to say that you are complete in Him.
Thus, Matthew 23 documents many ways in which the Pharisees were "full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (v. 28) and were "full of extortion and unrighteousness" (v. 25), yet could "appear righteous to men" (v. 28) because their sins were socially acceptable.
Now let me end this sermon by making some applications from Matthew 23. I know it is unusual to make your applications from a separate passage. But Matthew 23 just amplifies all the sins that their legalistic consciences led them to be comfortable in. And I want you to use this passage to diagnose your own heart and conscience. Though we may be quite different from the Pharisees in the specific ways in which our legalism can led to sin, it is amazing how the root of all these different manifestations is quite similar. And in case you think that you would never be a Pharisee, let me point out that Christ warned even His apostles that they could become infected with their doctrines. Matthew 16 says, "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (vv. 16-17). He implied that even godly saints like the apostles could subtly be infected by the religious culture. And by the way, He said the same thing about the secular culture. In Mark 8:15 He warned them, "Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees [There's the religious culture] and the leaven of Herod [there's the secular culture]." Why did they have to be warned about secular culture? Because the Herodians considered themselves to be good Jews while adopting all kinds of pagan ideas and dress codes, etc. They adopted Roman nude bathing. They enjoyed the sports that drew blood and even took lives. They rationalized all kinds of pagan things. But anyway, this chapter shows that the Pharisees were affected by both.
Apply Matthew 23 to your own life to see to what degree your conscience has allowed you to go into sin. The following is a small sampling from the chapter
Hypocrisy of saying one thing but doing another (v. 3)
The first problem is in verse 3: Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. They say, and do not do. That is called hypocrisy. Verse 28 says that they were full of hypocrisy. And this is a sin that can infect us so easily. It can be as simple as yelling at the kids to stop yelling, to hiding our own imperfections. In fact, our kids got a kick out of imitating a hypocrite this past week by pretending to scream "Please stop screaming. You're being too noisy."
There are two kind of hypocrites. The first kind have the ability to see sin in others but are blind to their own. This is like the couple that was discussing their unethical maid. The wife said, "Jim. I think the maid has been stealing our towels." "Which towels dear?" "The ones that we got from the hotel in Miami Beach." Some of the most insensitive, hurtful people that I know are ultra sensitive to the least negative remark or joke that is made to them.
The second kind of hypocrisy is more sensitive to what others think, but they have trained their consciences to be content with appearances of doing right. This is the kind that is constantly hiding what they do. Robert Savage said that the job some people spend most of their time at is the job of hiding what they are really like.
Expecting behavior from others that you don't expect of yoursrelf (v. 4)
Do you expect things of your wife, husband or children that you don't expect of yourself? Verse 4 says, for they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. Does that describe you and your expectations of others? Then you need to retrain your conscience.
Only doing what is right "to be seen by men" (v. 5)
Verse 5 gives another dimension to their Christianity. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. I won't go into the specific things that they did. I just want to ask, "Do you only do the right thing if others will notice?" I remember the first janitorial job that I had. I was instructed to clean under each waste basket and move each piece of furniture every day and wipe every square inch. There were times when it looked like no one had been in a room since I cleaned last. And I though, "How many times do I have to clean this clean floor?" It was tempting to just do a quick mopping and not move the furniture. But the Lord reminded me that I must do the job as unto him, not for what people saw. And I did. And I'm glad I did not only because God was pleased, but because this boss routinely put pieces of paper in out of the way places to see if you had come through. But my conscience was oriented not to those pieces of paper, but to what the Lord could see, and it saved my bacon. But more importantly, it enabled me to develop a healthy conscience.
Are we self-seeking (vv. 6-12)
Point #6 deals with a self-seeking motive that drove the Pharisees. And verses 6-12 give several examples of it: They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues... etc. You can think of your own examples. Are you the type that wants to be the first to get a cookie, the first to be in line; the first to get in the car, or the one who wants the best seat? It's sheer selfishness. But selfishness flowed out of their misoriented consciene. And it can happen to us as well. If your conscience does not bother you in those areas, it needs work. Commit yourself to working on it.
Do you take advantage of people economically (#5), or fail to keep your promises (#6)? If a hyperspiritual Pharisee could fall into such sins and not feel guilty, you can as well. #7 says that they excused their violations of God's law because they were keeping other laws. Verses 23-24 say, Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law; justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! It's so easy to feel comfortable with certain violations simply because we have been keeping other laws with great vigor. Test yourselves to see if you have been infected with the leaven of the Pharisees. Is your conscience OK with huge violations but upset over tiny details that others might notice? Then it is not oriented enough to God.
Economically taking advantage of people ("It was a fair value to this widow or she wouldn't have sold the house to me." — v. 14)
Failing to keep your promises and/or rationalizing that you don't need to keep your promise because... (vv. 16-22)
Excusing your violation of God's law because you keep other laws (vv. 23-24)
Comfortable with sin (v. 25)
Point 8 speaks of being comfortable with sins like extortion and self-indulgence, and point 9 being comfortable with inner sin but uncomfortable with outer sin. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but indside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. This is perhaps the greatest test of the conscience. Is it troubled by the muck and sin that it sees inside, or only by what men see? If it is God-oreinted, it will be grieved over any dirt inside. It will continually go to Jesus for cleansing and it will hunger and thirst after righteousness. When pride rises up, the conscience will immediately detect it and go to the cross for help. It won't wait till others accuse us of pride. It will not be content with the things that other men may look at.
If there is one thing that you learn from this sermon, may it be this: it is dangerous to succumb to legalism. It is dangerous not just because of the absence of liberty and joy in God, but also for how it leads into sin. So I urge you to strive to have a conscience with one law, one Lord and one source of peace and comfort: the Lord God. Amen.