Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Whisper That Screams

It begins with a gentle utterance, an inborn feeling that something is not as it should be. Its voice rises until it cannot be ignored, drawing our attention to the object of its cries. Later, if it is repeatedly dismissed, its sound slowly fades into the background, stirring occasionally but lying mostly dormant as we continue in the course of action that we had begun.

I’m speaking of our conscience.

Vincent Van Gogh said “Conscience is a man’s compass.” It is a compass whose needle points us toward what is good and right. Simply put, the conscience is the moral barometer of our thoughts and actions that tells us we ought to do what is right.

Everyone has a conscience because God has imprinted the knowledge of His nature and law upon us in our creation. (Romans 1:20) It is part of our being made in His image. We all have a conscience, an inborn knowledge of right and wrong.

For the Christian, however, conscience is much more than just a general sense of moral judgment. It is a tool that God uses as part of our sanctification. The Holy Spirit works through our conscience to alert us to moral danger or chastise us for moral compromise. The purpose of this is that we should avoid evil and become mature Christian believers, attaining “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:13)

Conscience is mentioned many times in the New Testament. The biblical authors considered it to be very important. Paul, in his trial before the Sanhedrin, said that he had lived his life “in all good conscience.” (Acts 23:1) He wrote to Timothy, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Tim. 1:5) Peter also spoke of the importance of a good conscience in our testimony to the world. (1 Peter 3:16)

Our conscience, being an important gift from God, is used by Him for our growth and betterment as followers of Christ. There are a few things, however, that we need to know about our conscience.

Our conscience can never be casually ignored

When it was demanded of Martin Luther under threat of death that he renounce his writings that led to the Reformation, he replied, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.” Luther knew that it was a dangerous thing to violate one’s conscience. Likewise, we ignore conscience at our own peril.

Our conscience must be taught by God’s word

Paying close attention to conscience is very important, but you are probably like me, having seen people do terrible things and yet say, “My conscience is clear.” As fallen, sinful people, we have an immense capacity for self-justification. Many people want to live by their own rules and claim that they have no sense of guilt over what they have done. Our personal feelings of right and wrong must always come under the governance of God’s word. Only the Scriptures provide an infallible guideline for moral and ethical conduct. Our feelings are not enough unless our conscience, as Luther said, is held captive to God’s word.

Overriding our conscience places us on dangerous ground

When our conscience is stirring against something that we are doing or intending to do, we should play close attention to it. In violating the warnings of conscience, we sow seeds for trouble in our lives. One compromise leads to another and each time the guilt becomes less and less. Seemingly minor transgressions progress to major ones without a second thought. The result of an overridden conscience is often personal ruin.

Jeb Stuart Magruder was an aide to former President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal that forever changed the way Americans look at the Presidency. Looking back at what happened, he said:

“We had conned ourselves into thinking we weren’t doing anything really wrong, and by the time we were doing things that were illegal, we had lost control. We had gone from poor ethical behavior into illegal activities without even realizing it.”

The consequences for Magruder were great. He served time in prison.

This highlights another problem of an ignored conscience. The resulting ruin in our lives slanders the name of Jesus Christ and holds Him up for reproach from the world. It is hard to proclaim Christ as our Savior when our actions work against our witness.

In summary, God has given us a conscience to be our guide and to play a great role in our sanctification as believers in Christ. However, it can be overridden if we do not submit to the leadership of the Holy Spirit and the revelation of God’s word.

The screaming whisper of our conscience is a voice to which we should all be very attentive.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Fear Overcome by Hope


It can be a debilitating and destructive thing.

There is a phenomenon in the undeveloped world known as ‘voodoo death,’ where a witch doctor, pointing a bone at his victim, puts a death spell on them. The victim then, invariably, dies, sometimes in a matter of hours. Modern researchers disagree on the cause of voodoo death. Some say that fear causes the victim’s body to release a variety of hormones and chemicals that can make them deathly sick. Others think that the persons are so convinced they are going to die that they stop caring for themselves and expire of dehydration and malnutrition. Regardless of how it actually happens, the person dies of fright. They are literally ‘scared to death.’

None of us deals with anything as exotic as voodoo death but we all know something about being afraid. We fear we will lose our jobs. We fear for the safety of our children. We fear that sickness or death will strike our family. Add to that any number of unspoken fears that are limited only by our imagination. Reduced to its core, fear is our feeling that things may go bad in the future.

Against this dread of the future is the biblical concept of hope. Fear may be the feeling that things will get worse but hope, in the Bible, is the understanding that things will be well. This is stated clearly in 1 Peter 1:3-4:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. (ESV)

Because Jesus Christ rose from the grave, those who believe in Him have true hope. Peter called it a living hope, meaning that it is not dead, dormant, or even postponed. It is a hope that we have right now through the living Christ who gave Himself for us.

This hope we have in Christ has both present and future dimensions.

We experience this living hope today because God’s presence is ever with us, guiding us, helping us, and keeping us. Always, even in times of great difficulty, we have the assurance that things will be well because God is on our side. Paul wrote, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) This is not always an easy passage to embrace when times are hard, when we cannot see the way out of our troubles. But, when we accept it by faith, we are released from fear and can praise God even in bad circumstances.

Finally, this living hope is one that looks to the future with the expectation of eternal well-being. In the last part of the passage above, Peter describes our eternal home as “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven.” Hope in Christ is a hope that transcends this earthly life and looks to an everlasting and unchanging fellowship with the Triune God in eternal dwellings, where the troubles of this life will never again come to mind. This future hope encourages and motivates us in the present to walk in obedience to our great God.

Sadly, many do not possess this wonderful hope because they have never placed their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. They face life’s storms and uncertainties in their own strength without the help of the One who holds eternity. If that applies to you, I would point you to the words of the Lord; “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28) Jesus Christ can give you the hope and rest that you need and desire.

Sometimes, as believers in Christ, we do not experience this hope because our focus is so much on our circumstances that we forget the promises God has given us, promises of hope and of His commitment to work all things together for good in our life. In those times we need to read God’s word where we find that all of His promises are “yes” in Christ. (2 Cor. 1:20)

It has been said that a person can live 70 days without food, 10 days without water, and up to 6 minutes without air. However, we cannot live a single second without hope.

It is my prayer that you will realize the living hope that is available in Christ and go to Him to receive strength to carry you through this life and deliver you to the eternal blessings of those who trust in Him.