Martin Luther (c. 1483-1546)
“Romans chapter 2, St. Paul extends his rebuke to those who appear outwardly pious or who sin secretly. Such were the Jews, and such are all hypocrites still, who live virtuous lives but without eagerness and love; in their heart they are enemies of God’s law and like to judge other people. That’s the way with hypocrites: they think that they are pure but are actually full of greed, hate, pride and all sorts of filth (cf. Matthew 23). These are they who despise God’s goodness and, by their hardness of heart, heap wrath upon themselves. Thus Paul explains the law rightly when he lets no one remain without sin but proclaims the wrath of God to all who want to live virtuously by nature or by free will. He makes them out to be no better than public sinners; he says they are hard of heart and unrepentant.” Preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans
Flip Wilson, the comedian, would say, “The devil made me do it,” when he failed to live up to his moral code of ethics. The cartoon character Tom, in the Tom and Jerry series, would rely on who won the argument of right and wrong as his evil self and his angelic self would fight it out on his shoulders. My mother told me when I was growing up to, “Let my conscience be my guide.” Colloquialisms such as these are all weak attempts to muster the courage to engage the hardness of our hearts and let God singe our hearts with His Word of truth. This week’s study is designed to help us understand our personal dilemma and how God has given us the gift of conscience.
The source of conscience:
Monday: Read Job 15:21, 24; Job 27:6; Prov. 20:12; Matt. 6:22, 23; Luke 11:34; Matt. 6:22; Luke 11:35, 36
Job’s friends are indicting Job for sin because of his sufferings. As you read these verses, what do you think was the real source of Job’s spiritual torment? God has given man the ability to hear and see everything including his own sin. How does this ability affect the way we understand ourselves? The Matthew and Luke verses are addressing an important understanding of how we perceive our own goodness and/or badness. After reading the verses how do they help our understanding of the purpose of conscience?
Listening to your conscience:
Tuesday: Read Rom. 2:14, 15; Rom. 7:15–23
Sin is despicable, but it is found in all of humanity, even believers. But there is an instinctive sense of right and wrong in all persons. After reading Romans 2:14, 15 where does this intuitive knowledge come from and what must we guard against so as not to misuse it? In Romans 7 Paul finds himself dealing with the issues of doing things he knows he shouldn’t do. We could say he was under attack from his own ________________. How are we to deal with the issue of our own conscience when it speaks to us?
Being faithful to conscience:
Wednesday: Read 2 Corinthians 1:12; Genesis 12:18-19; Genesis 26:9-11; Nehemiah 5:15; Daniel 1:8; Acts 4:19, 20:5-29
God uses our conscience to keep us faithful to our testimony. Why was Paul able to boast to the Corinthians about his faithfulness? Examples of God using man’s conscience to exert His will can be found throughout Scripture; as we read the examples we should ask ourselves how we have responded, or would respond if placed in similar circumstances. Is the cliché let your conscience be your guide a just assessment of how we are to be faithful to God’s will?
Convicted by our conscience:
Thursday: Read Job 15:21, 24; Psa. 51:1–4, 7–14; Psa. 73:21; Isa. 59:9–14; John 8:9; Acts 2:37; 1 Tim. 4:2; Tit. 1:15; Heb. 9:14;
Our conscience speaks to us in good and bad times. The Jews Peter was addressing (Acts 2:37) were sure they lived in a state of spiritual wellness. But when they heard Peter’s testimony what happened, how did they respond, and what was their true spiritual condition? What part did their conscience play in their response? The paradox for a believer is listening to our conscience in the good times. When circumstances are going well, are we living up to our testimony by offering up prayers of remorse and repentance for our sins?
Without Conscience, Death:
Friday: Read Prov. 16:25; Prov. 30:20; Jer. 6:15; Amos 6:1, 3–6; John 16:2, 3; Rom. 1:21–25; Eph. 4:17–19
We have read examples in Scripture where men with godly consciences have repented when they listened to God speaking to their hearts. But what about the ungodly, is their problem they don’t have a conscience, or is it they don’t listen to their conscience? What happens to those who refuse to listen as God speaks to their hearts?
Saturday: Read Ex. 5:2; Deut. 29:4; Deut. 32:28, 29; Judg. 16:20; Job 21:14; Numbers 16; 2 Kings 3:27; Luke 8:10; Psa. 95:10; Romans 2:4; 2 Cor. 3:14
Scripture is filled with examples of spiritual blindness; i.e. where ungodly men have no conscious awareness of their sinfulness or exhibit no remorse for their sins. If we are to learn from Scripture we must value the lessons taught through the lives of the ungodly as well as the lives of the godly. Read the examples and evaluate the response; then decide what would have been a response guided by a godly conscience.
Conscience verses outward piety:
Sunday: Read Deut. 32:31-33; Matthew 5:19, 15:2-20, 23:2-33
The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time lived in false piety. We need to constantly evaluate our own piety and guard against any hypocrisy. How does God help us to recognize this spiritual problem and what tools are given to us to guard against false piety?
Luther refers to Matthew 23 in his quote above as he makes the point that we all struggle with hypocrisy, because we are neither true to our calling from God, nor do we truly know ourselves. It is easy to read Matthew 23 thinking the issues concern someone else; but it is particularly difficult to read the passage desiring to correct our own misgivings. We should read this passage from Matthew questioning our faithfulness to our conscience while realizing the significance of Jesus’ words when He says, “Woe to you…”
For more insight to this question, order the book, The Vanishing Conscience, by John MacArthur, from our online store. You might also download the free ViewPoint study, “Referee of the Soul,” a study of the role of the conscience in human life.