A Method for Conscience

Categories: Man › Nature Of Man › Conscience


One of the curiosities you will run across if you log onto irs.gov (that's the IRS's web site) is a section in their financial statements that describes gifts people actually, voluntarily contribute to the IRS. I was flabbergasted. I can't imagine anyone voluntarily giving a gift to the IRS. Two weeks ago I stopped to scan the IRS income statement for about five minutes. Over 4 million dollars was contributed as gifts to the government last year. But what caught my eye and made me look a little bit closer was a different fund on the same page. It was called "the conscience fund." Last year the IRS collected $184,668.56 in payments ranging from $54.17 to several thousand dollars. And all of these contributions were from individuals who were trying to clear their conscience. Now, since I have been preaching on the conscience, I spent about ten minutes doing a little research on how this "conscience fund" got started. It started in 1811 when a New York man sent in $6 and said that we was "suffering the most painful pangs of conscience." I don't know how many of you have been tortured in conscience, but it can be pretty painful. And it's got to be more painful than the IRS is if people are willing to pay off the IRS! Apparently there are hundreds of millions of dollars that have been contributed over the years. The IRS gave some examples of statements that were made in accompanying letters. A common one is "Now I will sleep better." One misguided person wrote, "I'd hate to burn in hell for a couple of bucks." I think those were wasted bucks if he thought that would help.

Let me give you another example of how the conscience can be very troubling to some people. In the White House collection there is a letter from a child to President Cleveland, written in September of 1895. It says:

To His Majesty, President Cleveland: Dear President: I'm in a dreadful state of mind; and I thought I would write and tell you all. About two years ago — as near as I can remember, it is two years — I used two postage stamps that had been used before on letters, perhaps more than twice. I did not realize what I had done until lately. My mind is constantly turning on that subject, and I think of it night and day. Now, dear President, will you please forgive me? And I promise I will never do it again. Enclosed find cost of three stamps, and please forgive me, for I was then but thirteen years old, for I am heartily sorry for what I have done. From one of your subjects.

And I was touched by that letter. Sometimes we are too insensitive to the things that we do. And there are all kinds of errors and extremes that we can go to. Some people have been so troubled by their conscienc that they have assumed that the conscience is a part of the curse. But we saw in our first sermon that the conscience existed in Adam and Eve before the Fall. In fact, it was an essential tool for being able to make any kinds of moral judgments. The conscience is not a result of the fall; it is not a curse; it is part of the image of God in man. Now that image has been marred and distorted by sin, but to destroy our conscience (like many psychologists seek to do through desensitivity training) is to destroy part of God's image in us. We likened it to a light on the dashboard that does not work properly. Sometimes it comes on when its not supposed to, and at other times it fails to come on in order to warn us of serious danger. But it is still supposed to continue to have a good function. You don't smash the light when its not working. You fix it; you adjust it.

We also saw that there are three parts to the conscience: the legislative, the judicial and the executive. Those three parts correspond to the understanding of law, the ability to judge and the sense of punishments or rewards. Now here is the problem. Because of sin, all three parts of the conscience have become distorted. That is so important to understand. We think of the legislature as the side government that makes up laws, but James says that we are not allowed to make up our own laws like American legislature does. We are to submit our hearts to One law, One Judge and the fear and assurance of the Lord, not of man.

So, if your conscience makes you feel like you have broken an ethical standard, you need to ask "Whose ethical standard? Whose law? God's or man's?" The moment we substitute man's law for God's law as binding the conscience we begin to develop what is known as "a social conscience." A social conscience is one that is not troubled by sin when everyone is doing it, but is troubled by any behavior that others disapprove of. It is oriented only towards what man thinks, and is therefore very sensitive to the approval and disapproval of man, but not at all sensitive to the approval or disapproval of God. And one of the applications that we gave was that when you are disciplining your children, make sure that you bring the Scriptures to bear so that they are not developing a purely social conscience. Make sure that they are not doing it just because Mom and Dad say it. We saw that if you develop a purely social conscience, your conscience can be bound by the most bizzarre things. And it's the social conscience that Mark Twain makes so much fun of. It can really be strange what some people feel guilty over. The moment we multiply legal codes for our conscience it begins to be confused.

The same is true of judgment. Romans tells us that our consciences always do one of two things: they excuse us or accuse us. In otherwords, they either acquit us as innocent or they condemn us as guilty. So the conscience is functioning as a judge. And this judge within us always operates by some standard. If it is the politically correct standard that is given at work, the judge inside might make you feel condemned as bad when you say a politically incorrect thing. So when your conscience feels judged by a sermon that I preach, you need to ask, "Is it simply Phil Kayser who is judging, or is this the Word of God? The Westminster Standards say that none but God, speaking in the Scriptures can be the judge of the conscience.

But we also looked at the third part of the conscience - the sense of shame or approval; pain or peace; guilt or satisfaction; fear or confidence. And we saw that guilt or peace is meaningless unless we ask if our conscience is at peace with God or at peace with man? Does it live in the fear of God or the fear of man? We saw in one of the sermons that the conscience is quite capable of feeling at peace with evil and quite capable of feeling shame over good. Perhaps you have felt shame over things that God says are wonderful. That means that you need to work on your conscience. And we gave some rather bizzare examples of false shame and false peace, but even the mild ones cannot be ignored.

So, even in a Christian, the conscience is not a totally reliable tool. We make a mistake if we think it is the voice of God. God uses it, but so can Satan, and so can man. It can become 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.

And today, we are picking up at point C on page 6 — the benefits of having a healthy conscience. We've already covered several in a sense. But let me quickly summarize a few more benefits of having a good conscience.

The Benefits Of Having A Healthy Conscience

Freedom From Legalism (1 Cor. 10:29-31; Heb. 9:13,14)

1 Corinthians 10:29-31 gives the first benefit: freedom from legalism. It says, ...why is my liberty judged by another man's conscience? But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks? Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. When we quit doing something good because of the judgments of others, we are failing to live to God's glory. We are glorying in man's approval, which is a snare. The fear of man is a snare, the Bible says. But the key phrase in this verse is "why is my liberty judged by another man's conscience?" When you have a healthy conscience that is aligned to God and to His word, you no longer feel stressed out when men do not approve of your behavior. For you it will be enough that God approves of it. Wouldn't it be wonderful to get to that place? I'm still not there entirely. This freedom from legalism is a wonderful benefit that makes working on the conscience well worth all of the effort — and there is effort required.

Acceleration of our maturity (Heb. 5:12-6:1)

The second benefit is acceleration of your maturity. Hebrews 5:12-6:1 gives the details. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. [He says, I keep having to go over the same things because your conscience is not letting you move on. He goes on:] For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses excercised to discern both good and evil. [Therefore,]{.underline} leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God. God says that when your conscience is not healthy, you tend to remain in immaturity. So legalism and immaturity tend to go hand in hand. Simple logic dictates that this means that the conscience that is good will aid in the acceleration of maturity. That is a tremendous benefit. And if you have not been motivated yet to work on your consciences, I hope that will motivate you.

Confidence In Prayer (Heb. 10:21-22; 1 John 3:20-22)

The next benefit is confidence in prayer. Turn to 1 John 3:20-22. We're not going to read the Hebrews 10 passage, but it also deals with how a conscience can hinder boldness in coming before the throne of grace. But let's read 1 John 3:20-22: For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. [that is speaking of God's gracious dealings with children who have overly sensitive consciences. But he goes on to show the value of getting beyond that stage in verse 21: Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God, and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. He says you are going to always have your prayers answered. What a marvelous benefit of having a clean conscience. Confidence in prayer.

Confidence In Witness & Ministry (2 Cor. 1:12; 1 Pet. 3:15-16)

What about witness? I won't take the time to read the Scriptures that I gave in the outline, but let's just use the Biblical information that we have already. A person who is governed to a large extent by a social conscience (in other words, the anticipation of the approval or disapproval of others) is going to have a much tougher time witnessing because he is always going to be concerned about what others think: "What are they going to think that I am - a religious fanatic? Am I going to lose a friend? Will they disapprove of me?" The more our conscience is bound by the approval or disapproval of others, the less affective it will be, and the less we will even desire to be involved in evangelism. That's why Paul said in Galatians 1:10, "if I still sought to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ." The fear of man is incompatible with such service to Christ. Well, we will be looking in a couple minutes at how to develop the fear of God which cleanses us of the fear of man. But if your conscience is working right and is healthy and mature, it will actually aid you in your witness.

Service with joy rather than guilt (1 Chron. 29:6-9,17)

Peace, Freedom & Joy Before God & Man (Ps. 51; Is. 26:3; 48:2; 59:8; 2 Tim. 2:22; Rom. 8:1,34; 14:22)

And I list a couple other benefits. Serving with joy rather than guilt is a big one. Nehemiah 8:5 calls the people away from guilt and says, The joy of the Lord is your strength. Guilt is a lousy motivator. It does motivate you, but it leaves you anxious. But joy gives strength. Then there is peace, freedom and joy before God. And I will let you study those Bible references for yourself.

So there are many benefits. But I want to concentrate in the remainder of this sermon on the method for developing a good conscience. And I am going to whiz through the rest of the outline this morning. This is going to be a whirlwind sermon.

The Method For Developing A "Good Conscience" (1 Tim. 1:5,19; 3:9; 1 Pet. 3:16)

You Need To Pray That God Would Work On It (2 Cor. 1:12; 1 Tm. 1:18-2:1; Heb. 9:14; 10:22; 1 John 3:20-22

What's the first thing that you need to do when you think of developing a good conscience? It should be to look to the Lord. Jeremiah tells us that we can't even understand our own hearts. You are going to need to Lord's illumination. And as you work on your own conscience, you will need to do it in God's strength, with His Spirit, to His glory and with His blessing. If your only motive is to feel good, God will not bless. You need to do it because first and foremost you want to please God. He alone can understand your heart and He alone can subdue it to Himself. Pray specifically that God would

Cleanse it (Heb. 9:14; 10:22)

cleanse it. Hebrews 9:14 says that the blood of Jesus can cleanse the conscience from legalism. So we need to apply the blood of Christ to our conscience and ask God to cleanse it and renew it. When David realized how hardened his conscience had become over the adultery affair that he had with Bathsheba, he prayed Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Psalm 139 says, Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. The reason God needs to work on it is that we don't even understand our heart many times.

Renew it (Ps. 51:10; Ps. 139:23-24)

Make it sincere and without pretense (2 Cor. 1:12)

Ask next that God would make your heart sincere and without pretense. The prayer of Philippians 1:10 is that we would be sincere and without offense. When our conscience wants to please Harry, Jane and Dick, and all three are in conflict in their expectations of me, the conscience can get very confused because it is trying to please multiple masters with conflicting standards. In order to survive, such a conscience has to hide certain things and pretend to be what it is not. But when the conscience is bound by Christ alone, it can be sincere and without pretense. You don't need to hide your beer or your cigar when the legalist comes in. That's why 2 Corinthians 11:3 speaks of the simplicity which is in Christ. It can only be found in Him. 2 Corinthians 1:12 says, the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity... by the grace of God... Only God's grace can bring about such simplicty and sincerity. So pray for it.

Make it oriented toward Him (Acts 23:1; 2 Cor. 4:2; Heb. 9:14; 1 Peter 3:21)

Fourth, ask that God would orient the conscience entirely to Him. And you're probably going to have to pray it daily. Acts 23:1 speaks of this as a conscience before God, 2 Cor. 4:2 speaks of it as a conscience in the sight of God. Hebrews 9:14 speaks of it as a conscience that serves God. It needs to be reoriented by grace.

Make it to be more and more reliable (1 John 3:19-22)

And finally, we need to pray that God would make it more and more reliable. That it would understand God's law by His illumination; that it would judge rightly and feel rightly.

The reason I mention this point first is that it is so easy to begin to go through a checklist of your own actions without depending upon God. So the first step is to pray and depend upon God to change the heart.

You Need To Work At It (Acts 24:16; Heb. 5:14; 9:14)

Now — on the top of page 7 you will see that you need to work at having a good conscience. You can't just let go and let God. You can't be passive in your Christianity. Paul says in Acts 24:16, I myself [always strive]{.underline} to have a conscience void of offense. He always worked at it. When was the last time you worked at developing your conscience? Most Christians never even think of doing it. But Paul did it daily. You brush your hair, brush your teeth, take showers and in other ways care for your body daily. But what about the inner life? The conscience is a critically important area of the inner life and Paul says that he always strove to have a conscience void of offense. You need to develop a routine of daily spiritual hygiene as well. How do you do that?

If your conscience has been too sensitive to man's approval and to legalism, retrain it (Is. 8:20; Hos. 6:3a; Rom. 2:15; 10:2; 1 Cor. 8:7; 2 Cor. 1:12; 1 Tim. 1:3-5,18-20; 4:1-5

Point a: if your conscience has become too sensitive to man's approval and to legalism, you are going to need to retrain it. And it might not happen over night. In Hebrews 5:14 the writer tells us that we must [use]{.underline} the conscience and [excercise]{.underline} its senses so that it is [able]{.underline} to discern both good and evil. But He uses a sports term indicating that it needs to be exercised and trained. And I give eight steps for that training program.

Teach it Biblical Law (1 Tim. 1:3-8; 4:1-10)

The first one should be pretty obvious. Teach it Biblical law. The passage we ready from 1 Timothy 1 says that the reason he was to teach sound doctrine was to develop a good conscience. Your conscience is always developing a standard, whether you want it to or not. It will pick it up something by osmosis if you are not training it in God's law. The judge inside of you is constantly looking for some standard by which to evaluate every action. And you better be giving it God's standard.

Let's just assume that you have guilt over something that the Bible says you should rejoice in. And it's a liberty issue. You'll remember from Romans 14 that you don't automatically go out and engage in the liberty. You can't violate what your conscience thinks. But neither should you ignore it. Instead, you study the Bible on the given subject, and when you are convinced that it gives you liberty, you tell your conscience what God says. You talk to yourself. But Proverbs 1:29 says that if you hate His knowledge, then He won't answer your prayers. Your seriousness in striving to have a good conscience is measured first and foremost in wanting to know what the standard is. A lot of people avoid the bible because they don't want to become guilty. Wrong move.

Avoid legalistic teachings of others (1 Tim. 1:3-8)

Second, you avoid legalistic teachings of others. If there are people who are continually condemning what God praises, or who are adding to the Bible, ignore their teaching; don't listen to their programs. Isaiah tells us, to the law and to the testimony. If they do not speak according to this Word, it is because they have no light in them. That's not in your outlines, but it is Isaiah 8:20. Legalism is dangerous to the soul. The passage in 1 Timothy that we read at the beginning not only speaks of the role of teaching doctrine for having a good conscience, but the important role of avoiding legalism. It says,

[1Timothy 1:3]{.underline} ¶ As I urged you when I went into Macedonia —- remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, [There's step one]

[1Timothy 1:4]{.underline} nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith. [There's step two. Then he goes on to talk about step three]

[1Timothy 1:5]{.underline} Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, There's step three.

[1Timothy 1:6]{.underline} from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk,

Determine to Please God with everything that you do. And again, ask [God]{.underline} what pleases Him as you study His Word (1 Tim. 1:5)

The third step is to determine to please God with everything that you do. And again, ask God what pleases Him as you study His Word. Don't be like the seminary student who came into the room where several of us were discussing an ethical issue. As soon as he heard what subject we were talking about, he put his hands on his ears and walked out saying, "I don't want to know about that subject or I might be responsible." That is not sincerity. That is not a willingness to hear what God wants us to do.

Repent of your legalism (Heb. 6:1; 13:9)

The fourth step is to repent of your legalism. Treat legalism as a sin. It really is a sin. Jesus treated it as a sin in Mark 7. Some people are willing to theoretically acknowledge that a given practice is Biblical, but they won't engage in it lest their friends or relatives get all over their case. They haven't repented of legalism. It is still the opinions of others that is binding their conscience. And that is sin. None but God can be the Lord of the conscience. So sincerely repent of legalism. Say, "Lord, I have been feeling guilty over things that the Bible praises. And I repent of that sin. Please cleanse me and purify me of this sin."

Determine to never bind another person's conscience (Rom. 14:1)

Fifth, determine to never bind another person's conscience with anything but the bible. If you do impose legalism on others, it will reinforce the legalism in you. Remember what we saw in Romans 14 two lessons ago. Paul there said that though a weak Christian can be accepted into the congregation, he should not teach his weakness. In fact, both Galatians and Timothy say that you are no longer a weaker brother if you teach man's law. You are a Judaiser or Pharisee, and are under God's judgment. So reslove to never impose any view on others that are not in the Scripture. The Pharisees said, "Hey, we are just playing it safe when we add some laws. We are building a fence around the law." But Christ didn't see it that way. He saw it as a denial of the authority of God in the law. So determine to never bind another person's conscience with anything but the Scripture.

Thank God for the liberty of others (Rom. 14:3)

But if you have done all of that and if your conscience is still giving you fits about this being wrong even after you have instructed it, and are keeping the other rules, then follow step six. Begin thanking God for the liberty that others have. Romans 14:3 says, Let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Down in verse 22 God tells the weaker brother, Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. He is saying, "Even though your conscience isn't letting you have the liberty and the happiness yet, you know intellectually that God [has]{.underline} given that liberty because of Scripture. So thank God that others are able to enjoy and be happy in that liberty of conscience. You will find that by actively engaging in thanksgiving to God, that you are training the conscience emotionally in the way it should think. This may not seem like much, but this is actually a very powerful step in moving a conscience out of bondage and into liberty.

Meditate on God's Desires for your freedom (Gal. 5:1; John 8:32,36; etc.)

Step 7 — after doing that, you may want to spend some time meditating on God's desire for your freedom. A great passage to meditate on might be Galatians 5:1. . Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Meditate upon what it means for this to be a gift from God's own hand, that should not be despised. Or John 8 If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. . . Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. Meditate on it, and pray it. "Lord, I want to abide in Your Word and not add to it or take away from it. I want to be your disciple indeed. I want to know the truth that sets us free. And I glory in it as I meditate.

Ask God to take away the fear of man (Prov. 29:25; Gal. 1:10)

If none of that is helping, and you still find your conscience giving you fits, you have to go back to asking God to work on it. Ask God to take away the fear of man. Proverbs 29:25 says, The fear of man brings a snare. Ask Him to remove your social conscience; that constant sucummbing to the pressure to receive the approval and praise of men. Galatians 1:10 says, For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ. And he was speaking that in connection with the Judaising legalism. Ask God to take away this desire to be approved by others, and to give you first and foremost a desire to have Christ's well-done thou good and faithful servant.

Before we move on, let me point out that if doing what your conscience tells you to do is a sin, then you do not have the liberty to go through this process slowly. I read in the Omaha World Herald one time back about a person who thought God had told him to kill his son like God told Abraham. In a situation like that, I would make you violate your conscience first, and instruct it later. Likewise, there are married partners who on occasion will think that conjugal relations are sinful and have not had them for years. Because that is such clear disobedience to Scripture, it doesn't fall into the liberty issues that Romans 14 talks about and it needs to be corrected very quickly.

When Paul talks about not violating the conscience, he is always talking about liberties that really don't matter that much. It doesn't matter whether you wear make-up and jewlery or don't. Scripture gives the liberty, but you don't have to take it. But on sin issues, whether your conscience is bothered or not, it is imperative that you obey what you know to be in Scripture. You need to obey first, and the feelings will follow as you work work on these steps later.

If your conscience has not been insensitive to sin, resensitize it

But let's say that your conscience has the opposite problem of what we have just been describing. Perhaps the problem with your conscience is that it's not sensitive at all. Maybe it's become hardened over time. If that is the case, then you need to resensitize it. And I have given seven steps on how to do that.

Determine ahead of time to obey God in all that He shows you in His word (John 7:17; Ps. 25:14; 2 Pet. 1:5-11; Acts 24:10-13,16; Rom. 13:5; Tit. 1:15; 1 Pet. 2:18-19)

The first step is that we need to determine ahead of time to obey God in all that He has already shown you in His Word. John 7:17 says, If anyone [wants]{.underline} to [do]{.underline} His will, [it doesn't say "if anyone is perfect," but "if anyone wants to do His will] he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. God is not in the business of giving us spiritual understanding just so we can disobey it. He is not in the business of throwing pearls before swine to use Christ's metaphore. He says if anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine. If your conscience is confused, the only way the confusion will be dispelled is if you have a determination to please and obey God no matter what the cost.

I remember having a conversation a few years ago, and one of the people dismissed himself because he didn't want to hear what we were about to talk about. And when I asked why, it became apparent that he didn't want to find out that he was sinning on a subject and have to quit. I don't even remember if it was a sin, but that should not be our attitude. Our attitude should be, "Lord, whatever you want me to do, I want to do." Psalm 25:14 says, The secret of the LORD is with those who fear Him, and He will show them His covenant. If you fear the Lord, He will open your understanding, and let you in on the secrets of His covenant love. If you don't fear the Lord, you will have that much less spiritual insight. 2 Pet. 1:5-11 is a powerful passage on the relationship between diligent growth in grace and knowledge and assurance of our relationship with God. He says that's the only way that you will be able to make your calling and election sure. And the other Scriptures I've given are good in showing the need for obedience in developing a conscience.

Nurture a desire for a clean conscience. (The motivation for this can come from meditating on the negative results of a bad conscience and the wonderful benefits of a good conscience.)

Second, nurture a desire for a clean conscience. This can come about by meditating on the Scriptures which speak of the dangers of a bad conscience. I think that was the second and third sermons.

Develop the fear of God

a) Ask for God's grace to produce fear (Hebrews 12:28)

Third, develop the fear of God. This is actually worth a sermon all on its own. But I have discovered six principles that promote fear. Obviously, since God is the giver of fear, we need to ask Him to produce it in our lives. And in case, you didn't know it, there is a great deal of reason why we need to fear God. Scripture says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, so if you want to remain stupid, don't pray this prayer. Psalm 2:11 says, Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. The kind of trembling that we have before God is a fear that is consistent with rejoicing. Proverbs 28:14 says, Happy is the man that fears always. Does that seem inconsistent? Well its not. The more consistent your fear of God is, the more happy you will be. Psalm 31:19 says, How great is Your goodness which You have stored up for those who fear You... Psalm 115:13 promises, He will bless those who fear the Lord. But we do need to ask for this grace. Hebrews 12:28 says, let us have grace by whch we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. It is by grace that we do that. So ask.

Approach God's Word with reverence and awe (Isaiah 66:2,5)

Second, treat God's Word with reverence, awe, and respect. Don't just throw your Bible on the floor. Don't just nonchalantly read. Everything about God should be dignified with fear. Start treating the objective Bible with more reverence and it will cause you to grow in your fear of the Lord. In Isaiah 66:2 God promises to look with favor upon the one who trembles at My Word. Realize that Scripture is powerful. It's a two edged sword. It is fire. It is water. It is a hammer that can break in pieces. It is oil that can heal. But come before it with a trembling and a respect.

Read it often — all of it — Gospel, law, history (Deut. 17:19; 31:12)

Read it often. I give two passages in Deuteronomy that admonishes regular reading of the Bible so that we can learn to fear God. That's why the kings of Israel were commanded to copy out the Pentateuch every year — it was so that they could learn to fear the Lord. So read it often.

Recognize God's disciplines in your life (Heb 12:6-13)

Point d) — recognize God's disciplines in your life. I think the more we begin to recognize that a sprained ankle, a financial loss and other discomforts may indeed be disciplines from his hand, it can develop a certain trembling at displeasing Him. Look for God's blessings and God's disciplines. If you are a believer, they are going to be there in your life. Be aware of them. Hebrews 12 tells us that God's disciplines are designed to produce a respect for God.

Meditate on God's powerful providence (1 Sam. 12:18; Jer. 5:24)

Pont e) — Meditate on God's powerful providence. 1 Samuel 12 shows how the people trembled when they heard God's thunder because they saw God's hand in the rain and thunder. Jeremiah 5:24 shows that an understanding of God's control of weather can produce fear of God. I love the hymn "How Great Thou Art." It looks at all of life and causes it to make us revel in the fact that God is on our side, and we would hate to have Him not be on our side. Look at the Grand Canyon and stand in awe at God's power and His judgments. If you really understand the wonder of God's creation, it can develop a fear of God.

Reverence those who are in authority (Prov. 24:21; 1 Pet 2:17; 5:5; Luke 10:16)

Pont f)- reverence those who are in authority over you. There is a direct relationship between reverence to authorities and reverence to God. That's why 1 Peter 2:17 says, Fear God. Fear the king. The two are related. When you don't have a healthy respect for your parents, it will be impossible to develop a healthy respect for God. That is why disrespect for you and other adults must not be tolerated in your children. It affects their view of God. And you can study the other Scriptures I have given for developing the fear of God. The fear of God takes away the fear of man. And since it is the fear of man that is a snare to the conscience, developing the fear of God is an important step.

Vigorously oppose all rationalization (Rom. 2:15; Heb. 13:18; James 1:26). Immediately confess and turn away from any of the following fleshly ways of coping with conviction:

The fourth step to resensitizing your conscience (and this is on the top of page 8) is to vigorously oppose all rationalization of sin. Romans speaks of consciences being hardened because we excuse ourselves; we excuse our behavior. We can do it in all kinds of ways. We can do it by denying guilt outright, by suppressing guilt and refusing to think about it or by blameshifting. And Romans 1 describes all three ways of rationalizing as to why we aren't quite so bad.

Denial of guilt

Suppression of guilt or refusal to think about it.

Blameshifting or going on the attack to divert attention

  1. Diverting talk about your own sin by constantly redirecting discussion to the other person's faults or imagined faults.
  2. Only admitting your own guilt if you can somehow get the other person to also admit to guilt or if you can somehow implicate the other person. ("I guess I was wrong, but I would never have done that if you hadn't...")

I want to especially mention how pernicious blameshifting can be. Some people are quite adept at it. If they can keep themselves incensed at someone else's evil, it keeps them from having to look at their own. And sometimes it is so clearly a diversion of attention away from their own sin that even a child can recognize it.

I have known people who have done an incredible evil against someone, and when they are confronted about the sin, they go on the attack. And after five minutes you aren't talking about this situation at all. You are defending against some imagined slight from a year ago that is utterly irrelevant. They excuse themselves by accusing someone else. And they do it so effectively that people are intimidated from ever confronting them over their sins.

Now that may be convenient for them at the moment, because it keeps them from having to repent, but they harden their consciences, and increasingly make shipwreck of their faith. And let me point out that when you are confronted over sin, confess it — even if the other person is 95% guilty. Sometimes people think,, "If I admit to this thing he is throwing at me, then they are not going to think that they are guilty." Don't worry about it. Confess everything that they throw at you if it is real. If it's already be forgiven, you can admit to the sin, and point out that it has been forgiven. But then with a clear conscience, and the beam out of your own eye, you can resume confrontation of the sin in the other person's life. You may not be successful is restoring such a person. Some people value their pride so much, they wouldn't confess to sin if their life depended upon it. But just make sure that you aren't that way.

Downplaying either the seriousness of the sin or your own responsibility

  1. I admit I did that, but...
  2. I was crabby because I was tired
  3. I didn't mean to...
  4. It was a mistake
  5. "If you thought I did... then I'm sorry," or "I'm sorry that you took it that way."
  6. "I'm sorry" versus "Please forgive me for having sinned against you."

Another trick of the conscience is to downplay either the seriousness of the sin or their own responsibility in the sin. "I admit I did that, but..." and then comes an extenuating circumstance, or "but you did something worse," as if that made your sin any better. A person who has slandered someone with lies because she was angry, might later, when others think poorly of that statement say, "Well, I admit that I was crabby because I hadn't slept all night." No asking of forgiveness for lying. Excusing it because of circumstances.

Another form of rationalization that needs to be put off is apologies versus repentance. What does it mean when a person says, "I'm sorry that you misunderstood me to be saying such and such, and I apologize if you were offended." And I will look at that in just a moment.

Displacement: (e.g., kicking the cat or furniture or screaming at the children when you are at fault.)

Another form of avoiding responsibility is displacement — kicking the cat, or the furniture or screaming at the children when you have been shown to be at fault. True repentance needs to be radical or our conscience will be trained for hypocrisy and methods that come short of genuine reconciliation.

Compensation: Trying to make up for failure in one area of life by excelling in another area of life.

Another shortcut is to compensate. If I was caught lying about you, it would be to give a gift, but not necessarily admit wrong. And it might involve enormous sacrifice on behalf of the one wronged. They are trying to make up with works rather than by grace.

Learn to confess sin Biblically

Agreeing with God and others that we have sinned when we can see it in the Bible

And so point 5) says that we need to learn to confess sin Biblically. So many people shortcircuit this step and never get to true reconciliation. Even though they have apologized, they still feel guilty. And there is a good reason. Until we have confessed fully, and Biblically, we will often continue to feel guilty because our conscience knows that we have made ourselves appear a bit better than we really were. And the judge inside does not agree with that action. The conscience does not agree that we are as good as we have painted ourselves. And so the half hearted repentance doesn't let the conscience feel OK.

And let me tell you a little secret — trying to minimize how bad we look is the natural impulse of the human heart. For example, when you get into a car accident, is the first thing you notice, your own guilt? Not with most people. With most people they are looking to put fault on the other person even if they are 100% at fault. And what is true there at the scene of the accident, is just a reflection of how you deal with wrong in other circumstances. So here are the steps to confessing properly, and making sure that you can have a clear conscience. Make sure you teach your children these steps, and make sure you model them.

First, agree with God and others that it truly was a sin. Now don't call it a sin if it wasn't. But if you exaggerated, confess it as a sin, and name what the sin was — that it was a form of lying. If you cut in front of someone else because of selfishness, and the Spirit brings conviction, don't just say, "Oh, I'm sorry for cutting in line." Confess to the sin of selfishness. The judge inside will not be satisfied with anything less than confessing to all. Now, you don't have to confess to everybody. You confess to those whom you have wronged. And point b) outlines the wrong actions, attitudes, words and motives. If you have wronged someone and they know it, lay out how evil the sin is in God's eyes.

But let me just give a warning in this connection. If you have wronged a person in thought, but they don't know about it because you have not expressed it, you don't always have to confess your thoughts. One woman that I knew as a child used to make matters worse by confessing her thoughts. And her confession became a sin because it was needlessly wounding and alienating the people that she talked to. For example, I remember her confessing to feeling badly because she had thought that the other person was ugly. The thought hadn't wounded the other person, but the expression of the thought had. Confess those kinds of thoughts to God because only God has been offended by the thought. Don't confess to a person that you lust after them regularly. Confess it to God. Now if the thought becomes action, and you have sinned against them, then you better confess it and put hedges up. Confess to people when you have actually hurt or alienated them, or broken a contract, or stolen, etc. Does that make sense?

Express specifically how you were wrong. Tell the whole truth. (It may be good to write your confession out.) Confess your:

  1. Wrong actions
  2. Wrong attitudes
  3. Wrong words
  4. Wrong motives

Ask (don't demand) for forgiveness. ("I'm sorry is a simple statement. It does not ask for reconciliation and a wiping away of transgressions.)

Step c) is to ask for forgiveness. And there are pitfalls in how you ask for forgiveness. Some people are almost demanding in the way in which they do it. Now it's true, God commands the other person to forgive, but you are not God. And when you have wronged someone, you can ask, but never demand forgiveness.

Let me explain the difference between asking for forgiveness and the two worldly counterfeits that are so frequently adopted by Christians: The first counterfeit is to say, "I'm sorry." I'm sorry does not admit to guilt. It is just saying, "I feel bad." Now that doesn't make it wrong to say "I'm sorry," unless you are forcing a child to say she feels bad when she doesn't. That's teaching the child to be a hypocrite. What you can force the child to do is to confess the sin, to turn from it, to give restitution, and then to ask for forgiveness. Now, it can be very appropriate to say "I'm sorry" any time you feel pained over another person's painful circumstances. When someone loses a loved one, many people appropriately say, "Oh, I'm so sorry." It means "I feel grief over what you are going through." Saying, "I'm sorry" can be a very appropriate part of repentance, but it doesn't necessarily even admit to guilt. It just admits to feeling badly.

Apologizing goes a bit further. It admits to guilt. The dictionary defines it as an admission of being at fault, and regretting an action. That is good, but it doesn't ask the other person to do anything. You are making a step towards the other person, but the other person may choose to say, "You're right. You are a dirty rotten scoundrel. Thanks for admitting to it. It confirms my suspicions that I should have nothing to do with you." Now, often people receive an apology and they respond appropriately by granting forgiveness, but the apology itself doesn't ask for any commitment on the part of the one wronged. The Bible asks us to go beyond apologizing.

The Biblical model is to repent and to ask for forgiveness. Asking for forgiveness not only admits to wrong, but asks the other party to blot it out and to not hold it against you any longer. It is asking for mercy. You know that you don't deserve forgiveness, but if the other person has it in his heart to forgive, you are asking him to do so.

God will deal with the other Christian if he or she refuses to forgive. God says that He won't forgive you if you fail to forgive. But you need to leave it to God. You may ask another day, and another week if they have not yet forgive you. You may say, "I know that I have wronged you and that I don't deserve your forgiveness and your fellowship. I can appreciate why its so hard for you to forgive me. But it bothers me that we are not yet on speaking terms. Would you please forgive me?" That is appropriate, but not demanding or making them feel guilty.

Turn from your wicked ways

Perhaps you have done all this, but your conscience is still tormenting you. Here is another possibility that you can explore. Perhaps you have asked forgiveness just out of habit and wanting that person to not be mad at you anymore, but your conscience knows that you have not really given up the sin, or at least that you are anticipating doing it again in the future. The judge inside is not going to be satisified if you are not willing to turn from your wickedness. I think of the person in California who asked forgiveness for stealing from a widow. She granted it, and asked for her money back, and the man said that he didn't have to give it back because she forgave him. Well, he would never feel good in his conscience about that because he has asked for forgiveness while continuing in the sin. He is still a thief. He still has her money. That's not repentance.

You see, there is a difference between forgiving that person of the sin, and forgiving him of the debt. Forgiving him of the sin implies that he is renouncing the sin and will give back the money. But let's say that he spent it and doesn't have the $200,000. He could ask her to forgive the loan, but Biblically she would not be obligated to do so. She is biblically obligated to forgive all sin. 2 Chronicles 7:14 gives God's pattern: if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Jeremiah 36:3 gives the same pattern: that everyone may turn from his evil way, that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin Isaiah 55:7 says Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.

Do restitution where possible

The last missing ingredient that may account for your still having a guilty conscience is a failure to pay restitution. If there was an accident, the Bible requires you to restore what was accidently destroyed. And its not always doing a favor for the person whose property was destroyed to always say, "Forget it." For the good of the conscience which needs training, the person who destroyed the property needs to pay it back. It's training the conscience. If it was a deliberate sin, you need to restore what was broken plus at least 25%. If you didn't confess until you were caught it was more. And I give the figures in your outline.

And again, God is not going to allow the judge inside of you to be happy until restitution is given. Restitution is not only for the good of the person who was wronged. It is for our good. It is part of the process of gaining a good conscience. Make sure that your children are made to do restitution. It may be that if the cost is way above their heads, that you will have to help them, but make their part sacrificial. If they have slandered someone, the resitution may not be able to be total, but they need to go about and tell people who might have heard about it the truth.

Some people are half hearted about restitution and almost expect that forgiveness means that they don't have to pay. One author claimed that the IRS Conscience Fund once received a letter than said, "I can't sleep; my conscience is bothering me. Enclosed find a check for $50. If I till can't sleep, I'll send you the balance." It may seem hard to believe someone would actually say that (and I don't know if it is a myth or not). But my experience tells me that this is completely consistent with human nature. I have seen people very half hearted with restitution and still feel OK.

Test Your Conscience Vertically & Horizontally And Seek Forgiveness Where Needed (Prov. 28:13; Acts 24:16; 1 Cor. 10:32; 2 Cor. 4:2; 1 Tim. 1:19; 1 Pet. 3:16)

  1. Test it horizontally — "Would I do this action if my friends knew about it? Am I willing to tell them about it?"

  2. Test it vertically — "Can I offer this action up to God in faith? Can I discuss it with the Lord without any sense of unease?"

So don't just test your conscience by how it feels. That is too unreliable and subjective. I end the outline with two tests that can usually reveal whether you have been deceiving your own self. Test your conscience vertically and horizontally. In Acts 24:16 Paul said, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and man. If your heart is too proud or fearful to get current with men — if you just want to get right with God, then you haven't fully gotten right with God. It shows pride seeking to cover your sin. Proverbs 28:13 says, He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them, will have mercy.

So here are the two tests:

  1. Test it horizontally with this question - "Would I do this action if my friends knew about it? Am I willing to tell them about it?" And even then you might deceive yourself, so you might actually tell someone what you are planning to do. That tests whether you are being honest with God.

The next one tests whether you are being honest with man.

  1. Test it vertically — "Can I offer this action up to God in faith? Can I discuss it with the Lord without any sense of unease?" Can you say, "Lord, I eat this, drink this, smoke this, watch this to your glory. You should be able to.

True freedom comes when God smiles on our conduct, and when the world can't make any accusation of lawlessness stick. They may try, but Peter's admonition was, having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. Peter is indicating that others will from time to time misrepresent you and call you evil, but if you don't have a target to shoot at, the arrows will flie right on through and do you no harm. That is the wonder of a good conscience. It can stand firm even when others criticize; and it stands firm in the knowledge that God approves of the conscience.

May He approve of your conscience. And to Him be all the glory. Amen.

I charge you to always strive to have a conscience that is taken captive by the grace of God to serve Him. Strive in His grace for a good conscience. Amen.

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