Making Biblical Decisions: Training Your Conscience, Part 3 – May 31, 2024

When we allow God’s Word to train our conscience, we find two opposite actions take place simultaneously. We discover that we add restrictions to our conscience. We find that certain beliefs or actions we did not take seriously are, in fact, to be taken seriously. At the same time, we discover that we remove restrictions from our conscience. We learn that some specific actions are not sinful but were engrained into us through tradition or held due to a misunderstanding of God and His Word.
Sometimes, as we study Scripture, we discover that our conscience bothered us unnecessarily regarding actions we believed were wrong. Past experiences, family or religious traditions and teachings, or our own misconceptions made our conscience sound the alarm when no sin was imminent. Our conscience pronounced guilt in matters of opinion. In these cases, we have unnecessarily bound ourselves and failed to experience the joy of freedom in Christ.
When Christ inaugurated the New Covenant through His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, the Old Covenant passed away, having been fulfilled in Christ. As a result, we can enjoy a wonderful pork dinner or bacon with our breakfast. Very few (if any) of us look at our breakfast plate and feel pangs of guilt because we are eating Wilbur. In fact, I feel quite the opposite. The smell and taste of the sizzling bacon make me quite happy.
Yet, those who grew up under the Mosaic Covenant often struggled with the freedom provided through the New Covenant. Acts 10 contains a fascinating account to help us understand the need to train our conscience. Peter came to Joppa to share the Gospel of Christ. One morning, he went to the flat rooftop to pray in quiet solitude. Luke informs us that he was hungry and was waiting for breakfast. While he prayed, God spoke to him through a dreamlike trance. In this dream, a sheet came down from heaven containing all kinds of animals the Mosaic Law deemed unclean. To eat these animals violated the law and was a sin against God.
As Peter observed the animals in the sheet, God spoke to him from heaven and commanded Him to kill and eat the animals. It is hard to imagine anything shocking Peter more than this command. It was so surprising to him that he argued with God. He told God he could not eat this meat because it was unclean. In response, God rebuked Peter for arguing and said to him that these animals were now clean because he was under the New Covenant. Peter had to train his conscience to allow him to eat this meat. However, he did not train his conscience to eat this meat based on his feelings. His feelings told him that he couldn’t eat it. Instead, he had to train his conscience through God’s Word.
Arriving at conclusions to train the conscience is rarely an immediate action but is usually a process. Peter understood in Acts 10 that he was now free to eat animals that the Mosaic Law considered unclean. However, we discover in Galatians 2 that Peter still struggled with this adjustment. He was happy to sit and eat with the Gentile Galatian believers. However, when Jewish Judaizers who still held to the Mosaic Law arrived in town, he quickly reverted to his upbringing. We learn that training the conscience to let go of unnecessary rules involves consistent training.
Many times, our backgrounds and religious upbringing play a significant role in our weak conscience. For years, many Christians recognized the inherent corruption in the entertainment coming out of Hollywood. To protect their children from this corruption, they created a rule that their families would not go to the movie theater. Soon, this rule was seen as God’s law. Breaking this law was a sin. For those raised in this environment, it often took years before they could sit in a movie theater to watch a wholesome movie without guilt. But as they studied Scripture, they became convinced that going to the theater was not a sin.
We must consistently examine God’s Word so that we can align our thinking and our conscience with its freedoms and restrictions. We must maintain a humble spirit which allows God’s Word to change our thinking. At times this means we let go of rules we previously held. But sometimes we need to tighten things up. Next week we will view the other side of the coin.