Making Biblical Decisions: Training Your Conscience, Part 2 – May 24, 2024

To use the God-given alarm system of the conscience, we should teach our conscience what those good, right, and true things are. The word discern in Ephesians 5:10 refers to the idea of putting to the test. We should constantly evaluate the situations, thoughts, beliefs, and convictions we come in contact with to understand what pleases God. This testing must have a standard against which we examine all we come into contact. Unfortunately, we often measure our experiences and beliefs according to our feelings. As a result, our conscience responds either by excusing our actions or making dark accusations against us. “Error, human wisdom, and wrong moral influences filling the mind will corrupt or cripple the conscience.”[1]

How, then, should the Christians train their consciences? The writer of Hebrews informs us through one of the most glorious passages of Scripture. In Hebrews 10, the writer demonstrates that Christ has perfectly fulfilled the Law for us. He is the great and better High Priest who has procured our atonement by sacrificing His perfect blood. For millennia, God required sacrifice to atone for man’s guilt. However, these sacrifices did not atone for man’s sin. Instead, they pointed to the perfect atonement that would come through the sacrifice of the Sinless Christ.

Because we no longer stand in condemnation before God (Romans 8:1), we can now confidently enter God’s holy throne room through prayer. As we enter with confidence, the writer of Hebrews challenges us to come with consciences sprinkled clean and washed with pure water. Christians seek to find what pleases God to approach God with a clean conscience. Verses 26-31 reveal that we strive to refrain from sin. While verses 32-39 reveal that we do this by understanding our faith and the sacrifice of Christ.

The author of Hebrews is building off the concept that Paul presented to the Ephesian church in Ephesians 5. As Paul presents a picture of a biblical marriage relationship for the church, he reminds them that marriage is to be a picture of the Gospel. In verse 26, Paul reveals that God has redeemed His church (us) and will present us blameless before God by washing us with the water of the Word. So, we can see that the primary way we train our conscience is through God’s Word. We understand what pleases God by understanding God through His Word. This means that we must constantly study God’s Word. And, as we study, we must do so, not just to re-enforce what we already think, but to challenge, refine, and change what we believe.

Pastors often teach their congregations to allow God’s Word to adjust their framework. We all have a framework by which we think and act. Our default position is to force our framework onto Scripture and use Scripture to bolster our ideas. If we come across a text that challenges our framework, we ignore it. Yet, when we do this, it has tragic results on our conscience. Our consciences remain uncalibrated and give us wrong results. So, we must read Scripture with humility so that it can change our thinking.

 

[1] MacArthur, The Vanishing Conscience, 39.

 


Making Biblical Decisions: Training Your Conscience – May 17, 2024

Since violating and ignoring our conscience is a sin, it is vital that we train our conscience to rightly warn us of sin. A conscience that fails to warn us of sin is like a smoke detector without batteries. It is hanging on the ceiling, but it is of no use. When the fire starts, we will have no warning. One the other hand, a conscience that warns us of things that are not sin binds us to a legalistic and bitter lifestyle apart from the freedom the Gospel provides. Therefore, training our conscience becomes necessary to a vibrant Christian life.

Each summer my lawn begins to grow. In Michigan, spring often arrives suddenly. Because of the wet environment, the grass grows and mowing becomes a weekly (and sometimes daily activity). As the summer progresses, I need to continually care for my lawn mower. Each week I need to fill it with gas, check the oil level and quality, and maintain the blades sharpness. If I fail to keep an eye on these things, my lawn begins to suffer. In a similar way, our conscience requires consistent maintenance and training.

In Ephesians, Paul informs us that we should train our conscience to understand what pleases the Lord. “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8-10). While we once walked in sin and did not care if we pleased God, this is no longer the case. Now we care deeply about what pleases God.

No longer should Christians live like they did as unbelievers. We are children of the light and we must live like it. This involves those things that are good, right, and true. Immediately, one should think of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Our lives are no longer marked by the works of the flesh. The character and pattern of our life should immediately reveal that something different has taken place within us.

In order to use the God given alarm system of the conscience, we should teach our conscience what those good, right, and true things are. Paul informs us that this involves discernment. The word translated discernment holds the idea of testing and examining. A right conscience does not come by accident. Instead, Christians are to intentionally take steps to ensure that their conscience understands what pleases God.



Making Biblical Decisions: A Seared Conscience – April 26, 2024

With any discussion surrounding the conscience, we must remember that it has been impacted by the fall. If we fail to understand this critical point, we can fall into serious danger through our conscience. Scripture reveals that the conscience can be seared, scarred, and ignored. When we ignore and violate our conscience, it is a sin and has real-world consequences.

As we ignore our conscience, Scripture reveals that it becomes seared (1 Timothy 4:2). As we ignore our conscience’s warning, we stop feeling its pangs. In high school, several of my friends and I worked in jobs involving mowing and landscaping. When we started these jobs, we developed blisters on our fingers and palms from our tools. Over time, these blisters hardened into deep patches of dead skin or callouses. The thing about callouses is that you cannot feel anything through them. We would often disgust the girls we knew by taking pins and running them through the callouses. We were able to do so because they were unfeeling. The skin was dead and desensitized, so we received no warnings of pain. This is the illustration that Paul uses for the conscience that no longer warns of impending sin and error. It has been so ignored we can no longer feel it.

In 1 Timothy 4, Paul warns Timothy and the church of impending danger, not from outside the church, but from inside the church. Some who claim to be Christians would move away from God’s Word and lead others with them. They would depart because they would buy into false teaching subtly brought into the church by Satan. While they initially felt the pangs of conscience, they ignored these warnings. They seared their conscience by convincing themselves that their actions were right.

Some who are part of the body of Christ, some who seem to be Christians, will depart from the Word and will begin to make Christianity something that it is not. They will turn away from the theology of the Word and begin to accept and promote the humanism of the world. An important lesson is that a mere profession of faith does not guarantee the actual possession of eternal life. Just because something or someone claims to be Christian does not make it so. We are reminded of the parable of the seeds. Some seeds will appear to take root but are not genuine.

The cause of their departure is not their high intellect. The cause of their departure is not some new revelation. The cause of their departure is not an overwhelming love for people, which drives a desire to make Christianity palatable. No! Paul informs us that the cause of their departure is something far more sinister. It is the false teaching from Satan that makes that which is wrong seem like it is right. Another important note is that these errors rarely come through people easily identified as non-Christians. They are nice people. They don’t seem to be doing wrong. But this is because they have had their conscience seared. These people have no sense of the heinousness of their actions because their consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. By constantly arguing with conscience, stifling its warnings, and silencing its alarm, these people have reached the point where their conscience no longer bothers them. “Grieving the Holy Spirit has led to resisting him, and resisting him to quenching him. Then, through their own rebellion and obstinacy, their conscience will have been rendered (and that will be permanently) seared.”[1]

When we no longer listen to our conscience, it becomes quieter until it is imperceptible. Don Carson notes that this silence becomes incredibly dangerous because we get into the habit of ignoring the conscience even when it is appropriately warning us of evil.[2] Through this repeated abuse, we nullify the conscience and make it worthless. Suppose we persist in setting our minds on earthly things. In that case, we can arrive at the point where we boast about things we should be ashamed of (Philippians 3:19). As we continually defy our conscience, we can no longer distinguish between right and wrong. Sadly, when these warnings fall silent, the danger is not gone. We are in a more perilous position.[3]

As society slides further into ruin, Christians stand in danger of joining in this slide when we ignore our conscience. The writer of Hebrews informs us that our conscience is deceived by sin and, through this deceit, is hardened (Hebrews 3:13). Unfortunately, this hardened conscience falls into pride and becomes further desensitized to sin. This process leads to a vicious cycle through which sin desensitizes our conscience, and our desensitized conscience leads to more sin. Romans 1 indicates that as society slides deeper into this cycle, God judges the culture by removing his presence and allowing sin to be its just result.

Ignoring the conscience becomes one of the most dangerous actions a Christian can take. Through this action, the Holy Spirit’s tool in our lives to warn us of sin falls silent. We begin a slide into deeper sin without shame because we sear our conscience. As we make decisions, then, it becomes vital that we listen to our conscience. While others may think we are soft or foolish, listening to your conscience is a sign of wisdom.


[1] William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 146.

[2] D. A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry: An Exposition of Passages from 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, n.d.), 123.

[3] John MacArthur, The Vanishing Conscience (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 1995), 38.

 


Making Biblical Decisions: Violating Your Conscience – April 19, 2024

The conscience serves as the God-given tool to convict and keep His image bearers from sin. Even the world recognizes that to go against one’s conscience is foolish. However, Scripture takes the ramifications of ignoring or defying one’s conscience further. Romans 14:23 informs us that when one is convicted by conscience and continues with the action, it is a sin. The morality of the action is inconsequential. Violating your conscience, even if the action is not a sin, is a sin in God’s eyes. For “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Our intentionality in ignoring the God-given alarm system is an act of defiance against God.
 
However, believers have the Holy Spirit indwelling them. Perhaps the conscience will fall silent when we face issues that are not sin. This is not the case. Many Christians discover that the conscience becomes more active once they enter a relationship with Christ. Because we recognize sin’s horrendous nature, our conscience’s condemnation can become more assertive. The Holy Spirit writes the laws of God on our hearts as New Covenant children (Jer. 31:33-34). This action by the Holy Spirit supercharges our conscience. As a general rule, then, Christians should assume the validity of the promptings given by their conscience. We should do what our conscience says until we understand otherwise through the clear teaching of Scripture.
 
The hospitality that should mark believers results in relationships with people from differing backgrounds and levels of sensitivity concerning our conscience. Because violating the conscience is a sin, the Christian should respond to these differences in two ways. First, concerning their fellow believers, they should not mock, ridicule, demean, or encourage the other person to violate their conscience. As we saw previously, this is a failure to show Christ’s love to the other person. Second, however, we should also not violate our conscience for the sake of that relationship. To do so is a sin.
 
In 1 Corinthians 10:25-29, Paul continues the discussion surrounding the controversy of meat offered to idols. In this section, Paul pictures the dinner in which friends gather. You notice that the host is serving an excellent steak as the meal is served. If your conscience informs you that you cannot eat meat offered to idols, this could become an awkward situation. At this point, you do not know where the meat came from. Paul advises that you not ask where the meat came from so that you can eat without violating your conscience.
 
Yet, what should the Christian with a sensitive conscience towards meat do if the host announces that he purchased the meat at the temple meat market? Verse 28 is clear that you should not eat it. Don’t violate your conscience. To violate one’s conscience, even for the sake of a relationship, is a sin. As my elementary teacher used to say, “It is never right to do wrong to have a chance to do right.”
 
There is an interesting twist in the situation in 1 Corinthians 10. There is also a possibility that the one visiting does not have a sensitive conscience to idol meat. However, the host does have a sensitive conscience toward eating this meat. Yet, the host wants to maintain a good relationship with the visitor and knows he loves this meat. As a result, the host endeavors to ingratiate himself with the visitor by demonstrating that his love for the visitor is more important than his conscience. In verses 28-29, Paul states that the visitor should refuse the meat to preserve the host’s conscience because violating our conscience is a sin.
 
As the Reformation took hold through the writings and leadership of Martin Luther, the Catholic Church sought to squelch the rebellion and bring Luther back into the fold. They called Luther to answer for his writings and teaching at the Diet of Worms held in Worms, Germany, in 1521. The Catholic Church leaders called on Luther to recant his teachings against selling indulgences and his teaching for salvation by grace through faith alone. In response, Luther made a statement that all would be wise to follow. “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – 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. God help me. Amen.”[1] Luther followed his conscience, which led to the danger of imprisonment and death. But, he understood that violating his conscience was a sin. So should we.

 


[1] Ronald H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York, NY: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1950), 182.
 


Making Biblical Decisions: Understanding Your Conscience – April 12, 2024

As we seek to make biblical decisions, the conscience should play an essential role. We discussed the decisions we should make on debatable issues when others disagree with our choices. However, what should we do when we disagree with our decisions? This seems like a weird question. However, many people seek to suppress their guilt and feelings of anxiety and move forward with their choices, giving no thought to their conscience. Others view their conscience as though it is never wrong and end up binding themselves unnecessarily. Individuals arrive at both bad ends because they fail to understand their conscience. The conscience may be the most underappreciated and misunderstood part of the human being. Modern psychology seeks not to understand the conscience but to silence it. Rather than address the guilt from the conscience, they seek to silence the conscience through affirmation. Unfortunately, this same attitude has infiltrated the modern church as well. Many Christians seek ministers and counselors who will tickle their ears rather than address their hearts.[1]

To combat this mistreatment of the conscience, we must understand our conscience. Scripture has much to say about the conscience. In the New Testament, the word translators have translated as conscience appears thirty times. Examining these texts, we conclude that the conscience is God’s gift to man to help us towards moral purity. Some define the conscience as “your consciousness of what you believe is right and wrong.”[2] However, Romans 2 indicates that our conscience is much more. It is the God-given alarm system that alerts us to our violation of God’s Law. The Puritan Richard Sibbes defines the conscience as the soul reflecting upon itself.[3] Yet, because our conscience is part of us, it is also impacted by the Fall. As a result, it is also affected by what we believe to be right and wrong.

Therefore, the conscience is both a tremendous asset and a dangerous ally. As J. I. Packer notes, “An educated, sensitive conscience is God’s monitor. It alerts us to the moral quality of what we do or plan to do, forbids lawlessness and irresponsibility, and makes us feel guilt, shame, and fear of the future retribution that it tells us we deserve, when we have allowed ourselves to defy its restraints.”[4] In the right place, the conscience is a wonderful asset for Christlike sanctification and a necessary protection against sin.

Yet our conscience is also subject to the Fall and, therefore, not inerrant. Satan seeks to use our conscience against us. He corrupts and desensitizes our conscience so that it will not alert us to evil. Satan uses the worldly attitudes and beliefs surrounding us to dull our conscience to sin. As we consistently encounter sin, we fail to take notice. When we do notice, our conscience brings guilt, shame, and unease. Sibbes compared the feelings aroused by the violated conscience to “a flash of hell.”[5] Because these feelings are painful, the world informs us that guilty feelings are always erroneous and hurtful. Just ignore them.

As we ignore the conscience’s feelings, we begin to fail to notice any presence of our conscience. I grew up just a few blocks from Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado. Every day, a squadron of F-16s would take off and fly around the city. Visitors consistently noticed and commented on the aircraft noise. Bizarrely, those of us who lived there never noticed the noise. Our minds had filtered it out so much that we rarely noticed it. When visitors noticed, we acknowledged what they heard and informed them that they would no longer notice in a short while. In the same way, Satan uses constant confrontation with sin in our lives and culture to dull our conscience to its presence and effects.

When Satan cannot dull our conscience, he heightens our conscience so that it falsely accuses us and unnecessarily binds us. He cripples us with guilt over things that are not sin. He causes us to call things sin, which are not sin, and undermine the gospel in our lives. Rather than enjoying the freedom God grants through the gospel, we become bitter and resentful as we seek to please God through our self-righteousness. Both cases (the dull and the heightened conscience) reveal that while it is a gift of God, the conscience is not inerrant. So, we cannot always heed Jiminy Cricket’s advice to let our conscience be our guide. Yet, neither can we afford to ignore it.

As Christians examine the Old Testament, they strangely discover a seeming absence of any reference to the conscience. However, this absence is not because the conscience is a New Testament invention. Instead, the conscience is so much a part of us that the Hebrew mind did not distinguish between the conscience and the individual. They viewed the inner person and the conscience as inseparable.[6] A well-known example of this blending of the conscience with the inner person can be examined in Exodus. When God, through Moses, commanded Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, Moses informs us that Pharaoh “hardened his heart” (Exod. 8:15). Pharaoh ignored his conscience (his heart) and turned off the God-given alarm system.

Blending the inner person with the conscience is important because it informs us that we cannot ignore the conscience (for it is an essential God-given asset). Nor, as fallen creatures with an innate sinful nature, can we afford to assign an all-knowing nature to the conscience (doing so would make it a dangerous ally). Instead, we must seek to hold our conscience in its rightful, God-given place and treat it in a way that it can accomplish its rightful, God-given purpose. Next week, we will address how we can hold the conscience in its rightful, God-given place. To do this, we must understand how our conscience is corrupted and redeemed.



[1] John MacArthur, The Vanishing Conscience (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 1995), 50.

[2] Andrew David Naselli and J. D. Crowley, Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2016), 42.

[3] Alexander B. Grosart, ed., Works of Richard Sibbes (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, n.d.), 3:208.

[4] J. I. Packer, Rediscovering Holiness (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications, 1992), 151.

[5] Grosart, Works of Richard Sibbes, 3:210–11.

[6] MacArthur, The Vanishing Conscience, 37.

 


Good Friday – March 29, 2024

Today we celebrate Christ’s death. Two thousand years ago, on that fateful day, Christ suffered and died for our sins. As you meditate on Christ’s death today, here is a rough schedule of that day Christ purchased our redemption:

4:00-6:00 am – Jesus was brought before Caiaphas and Annas for trial. They could not find anything to convict Jesus, so a false witness was brought. Asked if He is the Christ, Jesus responded, “You have said it yourself.” He was then beaten and spit on.

As Jesus stood before Caiaphas and Annas, Peter made his way to the courtyard outside. Confronted about being one of the Jesus People, he flatly denied it. By the third confrontation, he began to curse. Then the rooster crowed; Peter saw Jesus leaving the compound and wept in shame.

6:00-8:00 am – Daylight appeared, and the Jewish leaders dragged Jesus to Pilate for sentencing. However, Pilate had no desire to become involved in what he perceived to be a no-win situation. He stated, “I find no guilt in this man.” Asking if Jesus is Galilean, Pilate found a jurisdiction loophole. So, he sent Jesus to Herod, who oversaw Galilee.

Herod attempted to question Jesus, but Jesus kept silent. Finally, Herod allowed his soldiers to abuse Jesus and sent Him back to Pilate.

When Jesus arrived back before Pilate, Pilate continued to question Jesus. However, Jesus continued to remain silent. Marveling at Jesus’ composure, Pilate offered the gathering crowd the opportunity to release Jesus. However, with the urging of the religious leaders, the crowd demanded that Pilate release a thief and murderer named Barabbas instead. They then demanded that Pilate crucify Jesus. After symbolically washing his hands, Pilate turned Jesus over for death.

After Jesus was condemned, the soldier renewed their abuse. They whipped Him, beat Him, jammed a crown of thorns on His head, and put a purple robe on His bloody and tattered body. After humiliating Jesus, they removed the robe and prepared a bloody and battered Jesus for death.

8:00-8:30 am – Jesus began the trek through the city and outside the walls to Golgotha for crucifixion. Having endured so much abuse, He could not carry His cross. The soldiers grabbed a man named Simon from the crowd and forced him to take Jesus’ cross the rest of the way.

As Jesus made his way to Golgotha, a crowd followed him weeping. Jesus turned and told them not to weep for Him but for themselves. For, if the leaders did this when Jesus was with them, what would they do when He was gone?

9:00 am – The group arrived at Golgotha. They stretched Jesus’ arms across the beam and nailed his wrists to the wood. They then nailed his ankles to the vertical piece and hoisted the cross in place. The process of procuring our redemption had begun.

9:00-9:30 am – Jesus was offered a drink to numb the pain, but He refused. Having completed their work, the soldiers settled in for a day of watching the criminals die. They began to cast lots to determine who got to take home the various items of the criminal’s clothing.

The soldiers placed a placard over Jesus stating His “crime”: He was the King of the Jews. He cries out, “Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do!”

9:30-11:00 am – The Chief Priests, Scribes, and soldiers begin to abuse Jesus verbally. “He saved others; He cannot save Himself.” “He is the King of Israel, let Him come down from the cross, and we will believe.” Of course, they wouldn’t believe it. Jesus had done various miracles, but they only cared for their power. “He trusts in God; let God rescue Him. He claims to be the Son of God.” The two thieves began to get in on the verbal abuse through the pain. “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

11:00 am -12:00 pm – One of the thieves fell under conviction and rebuked the other thief. He then turned to Jesus and asked to be remembered when Christ came to His Kingdom. Jesus responded with forgiveness, “Today you will be with Me in paradise!”

Through the pain, Jesus looked down and observed a group of women, His mother, and John. He instructed John to care for Mary. And from that day forward, John took her into his house. Even in death, Jesus continued to show compassion.

12:00-3:00 pm – An eerie three-hour darkness fell across the land. The sun would not shine on the death of its Creator. After hanging on the cross all morning, Jesus’ body began to dehydrate from the loss of fluids, and his lungs screamed out for oxygen. Pushing up against the nails, He struggled for a breath. But the dehydration would cause his muscles to cramp, and he would drop back down and begin to suffocate.

The darkness continued, and our sin was placed on Jesus. The Father turned His face away from His Son for the first time. Jesus cried out, “My Father, My Father, why have You forsaken Me?” He was made sin for us!

Suffering from intense dehydration and suffocation and knowing that only one Scripture remained which He needed to fulfill, Jesus cried out, “I thirst!” Someone brought a sponge dipped in sour wine.

Redemption had been paid. Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” Paid in full! He paid a debt he did not owe and placed righteousness on the accounts of the elect. Jesus then cried out again with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit!” And the Savior died. Earth raged. A great earthquake struck, rocks split, the veil in the Temple ripped, and tombs opened. The Centurion stated in awe, “He was the Son of God!”

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6)



Making Biblical Decisions: The Principle of the Conscience – March 22, 2024

A few weeks ago, the check engine light came on in my wife’s car. The car was running well. There did not seem to be any problems, but the light was on. The manufacturer informs us that the light means the engine is not running properly and needs attention. All seemed to be well, but the light begged to differ. Naturally, I had one of the guys in the church hook up his code scanner to the car to inform me of the problem. After the scan, we discovered that the problem was insignificant. In fact, the nature of the problem could be ignored with no harm to the engine. The only issue would be that the light would remain on. If something significant happened, the light would already be on, and I wouldn’t know of the new problem. As this is the car my wife primarily drives, I did not want to risk any issues, so I changed the faulty solenoid. Should the light come back on, I know there is another problem. In short, I listened to the check engine light.
 
I have had vehicles with which I made a different decision. I determined that the light was something I could tolerate. The problem was not a problem, and I continued with life. I relied on other things to inform me of the engine’s performance. I drove those cars for years with the check engine light on. Interestingly, after just a few short days, I didn’t even notice that the light was on. Sometimes, passengers would get into the car and tell me the check engine light was on. I would shrug and go about my day. The light no longer bothered me. The light was not speaking the truth. There was not a problem, so I ignored it.
 
The check engine light serves as an excellent illustration of the conscience. Everyone has a conscience. God placed the conscience in our lives to warn us of impending problems. However, the conscience is not infallible. Sometimes, the conscience warns us of issues that are not problems; sometimes, the conscience does not warn us when it should. Further, we have a choice when our conscience warns us. We can choose to ignore the conscience or listen to the conscience.
 
As we seek to make biblical decisions, the conscience should play an essential role. We discussed the decisions we should make on debatable issues when others disagree with our choices. However, what should we do when we disagree with our decisions? This seems like a weird question. However, many people seek to suppress their guilt and feelings of anxiety and move forward with their choices, giving no thought to their conscience. As we will see over the next few weeks, this is a dangerous decision for people to make. We will seek to balance the advice of Jiminy Cricket to always let your conscience guide you, and the advice of modern psychology to ignore the conscience. Through this middle ground, we will discover the great gift that God gave humanity in the conscience.

 



Making Biblical Decisions: The Offended Brother and the Obstinate Brother – March 15, 2024

Are there times, however, when believers should not surrender their rights to another brother but instead stand for the truth of their position? We have discussed the challenge of a fellow believer who may be prone to sin should we practice our liberty in their presence. But are there times when the believer is not prone to sin due to our practice but is already sinning in self-righteous judgment and demands that everyone else do what they want? One does not need to spend much time around Christians to discover such an individual. In these cases, how does the principle of love play out?
 
When the believer faces these positions, we must remember that the goal is not simply appeasing other Christians or avoiding conflict. As Naselli and Crowley state, “Christian freedom is not ‘I always do what I want.’ Nor is it ‘I always do whatever the other person wants.’ It is ‘I always do what brings glory to God. I do what brings others under the influence of the gospel. I do what leads to peace in the church’.”[1] With this in mind, we discover three situations in Scripture that help us determine the best course of action.
 
The first situation deals with individuals who have willfully added to the gospel through their legalistic actions. These individuals begin to judge other’s salvation by their set of standards. In this, the gospel subtly becomes Christ + my standards. Sam Storms defines legalism as “the tendency to regard as divine law things that God has neither required nor forbidden in Scripture, and the corresponding inclination to look with suspicion on others for their failure or refusal to conform.”[2]  When we face these individuals, we are obligated to the gospel over their convictions.
 
Paul instructed the Romans and Corinthian believers to restrain their freedom for their fellow believer’s conscience. However, one situation arose in which Paul did not restrain his freedom and called out those who differed. In Galatians 2:11-14, certain individuals came to the Galatian churches from Jerusalem. These Jewish believers still believed that conformity to the diet in the Mosaic Law was required for salvation. When they came to these churches, they separated from the Galatian believers. They also persuaded Peter to join them through their actions. In this instance, Gospel truth was at stake. As a result, Paul did not restrain his freedom to eat unkosher meat and join the Jewish believers. Instead, Paul boldly and publicly rebuked Peter (and the Jewish believers) for their position. So we see that when the Gospel truth is at stake, we cannot afford to restrain our freedom.
 
Legalists sometimes don’t add to the gospel but add to sanctification. They are not tempted to violate their conscience by following us. Instead, they simply demand their way. They are the obstinate believers. Their sin is one of self-righteousness and grasping for power. These people tend to divide the church and disturb its peace through their prideful demands that others do what they want. Jesus faced these very people in the Pharisees. He regularly called out their hypocrisy and jealousy of power. He healed, traveled, and ate on the Sabbath even though he knew the Pharisees saw it as evil. “The concern here is not simply that your freedom may irritate, annoy, or offend your weaker brother or sister. If a brother or sister simply doesn’t like your freedoms, that is their problem. But if your practice of freedom leads your brother or sister to sin against their conscience, then it becomes your problem.”[3] We must care for the offended brother and rebuke the obstinate brother. I should note that Christians should seek counsel from their spiritual leaders to determine if this is the case. You need God’s wisdom to discern between the offended brother (the one whose conscience is wavering due to your action) and the obstinate brother disrupting the gospel and the church’s peace through their selfishness.
 
Please don’t assume that fellow believers who hold a different position are being strict because they are neurotic people. Instead, think the best of those individuals. In many cases, they are as concerned for God’s glory as you are.[4] Thus, we should pursue peace whenever possible. For this reason, Paul would restrain his freedom when he came to Jewish believers. If the fellow believer just doesn’t like my position but is not obstinate about it, love would call me to care for them and seek peace. The principle of love encourages those of strong conscience to care for other believers. So, I am free to refrain from practicing my freedom as I seek to promote gospel living and peace within the church.
 
There is a difference between the offended brother and the obstinate brother. Each case requires God’s wisdom, humility, and grace to act in a way that pleases God. Sometimes, I refrain from practicing my freedom for my fellow believer’s sake. Yet, when Gospel truth is at stake, I stand for the Gospel. And when the obstinate brother disrupts the peace within the body of Christ through their sinful demands, I do not consent but hold to truth for the sake of my fellow believers. In all things, my love for God and others drives my decisions.
 
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[1] Andrew David Naselli and J. D. Crowley, Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2016), 115.

[2] Sam Storms, Tough Topics: Biblical Answers to 25 Challenging Questions (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 311.

[3] Naselli and Crowley, Conscience, 109.

[4] Naselli and Crowley, 95.



Making Biblical Decisions: Handling Differences with Biblical Love, Part 5 – March 8, 2024

Many of the issues Christians argue about and divide over today are issues of application (conscience) and not actual sin. Like the Pharisees of old, Christians love to bind heavy burdens upon their fellow believers and demand that they act and believe in what they do. Further, many of these issues of conscience are emotionally charged, and each individual is convinced of their correct stand. To ensure purity, Christians often unintentionally sin against God and their fellow believers through a lack of love. Christ taught in John 13:35 that our love for fellow believers reveals our standing with God. As observed in the first principle of decision making, we do not allow clear black-and-white sin to go unchecked. However, we have moved many items into this category without a biblical basis. As a result, each Christian must examine the Word in its context to ensure that we are not saying “thus says the Lord” when the Lord has not spoken.

When these issues of conscience arise, we ought to love our fellow believers more than our position. Our arrogant attitudes, which demand our way, reveal that our walk with God is lacking. Yet, when we graciously prefer our fellow believers, we reveal that the Kingdom of God matters more than anything else. Accomplishing this kind of sacrificial love takes intentional humility. I want to conclude this principle with two illustrations of how I have sought to work this principle out.

Alcoholic beverages have had a horrendous impact on my extended family. Through the years, some family members have given themselves to drink and cost themselves their family, fortunes, and health. As a result, my parents raised me as a “teetotaler.” Further, the realm of Christianity in which I was raised would often twist Scripture to state that any consumption of alcohol is a sin. Yet, a careful examination of Scripture reveals that consuming alcohol is not a sin. Instead, drunkenness is a sin.

After working through the principles of biblical decision-making in my life, I remain a “teetotaler.” As I seek to be honest with Scripture, I cannot say that consuming alcoholic beverages is a sin. However, as I examine my propensities, I recognize that alcoholic beverages pose a significant risk of addiction for me. They will control me. As a result, I chose in wisdom not to participate.

How does this principle of love work out in this situation? First, as I sit at the table with fellow believers, I do not cast disparaging judgment on their spiritual lives if they order a glass of wine with their dinner. I assume their ability to exercise control and moderation. Should they fail to exercise control and moderation and become drunk, we move into the case of sin, and I must address it. However, when they exercise control and moderation, I recognize that they answer to one Judge, which is not me.

On the other hand, suppose I am the other person sitting at the table with me in this situation. How should I handle it? Suppose I am aware that the person I am eating with is a teetotaler out of love. In that case, I should refrain from ordering an alcoholic beverage out of love and respect for that individual. My love for them should overrule my liberty. Notice that the love for the other person dictates both responses. As a teetotaler, when I sit at a meal with someone who consumes alcohol in moderation, I do not judge them out of love for them. I assume the best of them. On the other hand, if I exercise liberty when I sit at a meal with a teetotaler, in that case, I refrain from exercising my freedom out of love for them. Love for your fellow believers is more important than anything you drink.

During the COVID scare of 2020, masks became a raging debate worldwide. Some viewed them as useless, and others viewed them as vital. At the outset, I recognize that many governments mandated masks and there could be a debate regarding their right to do so. However, for our purposes here, I am ignoring that question altogether. Instead, the issue here deals with the convictions and beliefs of your fellow believers. Like most pastors and Christians, I had to navigate these waters as best as possible.

As I applied this principle, I came up with a practice that could be observed each Sunday for that year. Some in the church viewed masks as a waste of time. Any who wore them compromised their individual freedom and became a threat to religious liberty. Others viewed masks as mandatory. They suffered from chronic illness or disease and were at risk of complications should they become sick. Others believed they had a scriptural mandate to submit to the government in this way. With these wildly diverging opinions, the principle of love became a life preserver for Christian unity.

Each Sunday, I carried around a mask in my pocket. As I greeted or spoke with a group of people wearing a mask (for whatever reason), I would take the mask out of my pocket and wear it out of love and respect for them. When I greeted or spoke with a group of people not wearing masks (for whatever reason), I would leave the mask in my pocket. My goal was not wishy-washy compromise but genuine love and a desire to serve all for the Gospel’s sake. In neither case was it my place to judge my fellow believer’s heart in this case of application and conscience. They answer to one Judge, and it is not me.

So you see, love can drive unity, but a lack of love for fellow believers reveals a lack of love for God. We live in a world that views self-sacrifice as sinful compromise. However, in areas of conscience, love is often revealed by compromise. We must love our fellow believers more than our demands. As we make decisions, ask, “Does this action serve and demonstrate love for my fellow believer?” and “How will this impact my fellow believer?” We should echo Paul’s words, “If food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (1 Corinthians 8:13).



Making Biblical Decisions: Handling Differences with Biblical Love, Part 4 – March 1, 2024

When a Christian ignores their fellow believer’s conscience and convictions, they stand in danger of bringing both themself and their fellow believer into sin. When we destroy the fellow believer through our selfish freedom, we allow the good we do to be seen as evil. Paul concludes in 1 Corinthians 8:13 that it is better never to practice your freedom than to cause another believer to fall into sin. Our love for others should outweigh our love for self.

We can keep this viewpoint when we remember the purpose of the Christian life. In Romans 14:17-19, Paul reminds us that the Kingdom of God is not about earthly pleasure but righteous living. Galatians 5 informs us that the works of the flesh result in conflict and harm. However, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, and longsuffering. Often, Christians care more about their positions than their fellow believer’s conscience. These actions reveal that they do not understand Christ’s call on their life to discipleship.

Mark 8 stands as the centerpiece of Mark’s important gospel. Many will recognize the events of the chapter as Christ asked His disciples who people believed He was. The disciples responded with the various popular views about Jesus, which were all wrong (they believed Jesus was Elijah, Moses, or one of the great prophets who returned from the grave). Jesus then asked who the disciples thought Jesus was. At this point, Peter (speaking for the disciples) declares his famous confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of God!” Jesus follows this confession by revealing that He would die and rise again for our sins.

However, after Jesus’ stunning revelation to the disciples that He would suffer, die, and rise again, Peter rebuked Jesus and told Him this was not the way. Jesus’ following command is even more stunning. Bringing the crowd to Him, He then informs them that this is the way, and if they are to follow him as disciples, this is also the way for them. Mark 8:34 informs us that being a disciple of Jesus means denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following Jesus.

First, discipleship means that Christian love will deny self. Self-denial goes against every grain of our sinful nature. We inherently believe that life is about us. So profoundly is pride rooted in the hearts of men that they think wrong is done to them and complain if God does not comply with everything they consider proper. They trample other believers with different convictions, considering them weak, immature, and ill-informed. Yet, these actions reveal that they do not understand discipleship.

This denial of self is more than giving up doughnuts for lent. Self-denial is more than dropping a couple of bucks in the offering plate as it goes by. Self-denial means that you completely turn your back on yourself. It means you no longer determine your goals, aspirations, and desires. You no longer insist that you have the freedom for certain actions and trample your brother’s spirit. Jesus informs the crowd that if they would be his disciple, they must abandon their self-righteousness and sin and submit wholly to him.

In verse 35, Jesus gives us the importance of self-denial. Whoever will save his life will destroy it. The one who tries to live on his terms will ruin it. This is why Paul stated that he counted all the things of value in this world as trash so that he could come to know Christ crucified (Philippians 3:8). What many believers fail to realize is that their unkind and selfish flaunting of freedom or judgmental spirit of conviction reveals their sinful heart, not their intense discipleship. Out of a desire to enjoy today, they ruin their life.

We live in the most affluent society in the history of humanity. The modern world’s dream has driven this affluence. The idea is that with hard work and drive, you can be whatever you want, combined with the promise of comfort if you do. As a result, humankind lives for pleasure and fun. Too many Christians live for themselves. But what if this is not the way of Christ? What if the call from Christ is actually to say no to ourselves? This is what Christ is telling us: we are to give up our dreams and ambitions for the cause of Christ.

This self-denial requires that we love God and others more than ourselves. This self-denial means that we view the world through an eternal lens. The things of this world will perish. The Kingdom of God will reign eternally. Yet, we demand our way today because we do not understand God’s plan for tomorrow. We fail to recognize that life is not about us or our pleasure. So we exalt self instead of denying self. We become arrogant and unteachable because we view other’s convictions as immature and irrational. We fail to recognize that the way of discipleship is through the gate of self-denial.

While the gate to discipleship is self-denial, the pack we carry on the path of discipleship is the cross. Taking up the cross was a proverbial expression. Still, this occurrence referred to readiness to endure even the most painful and shameful death in following Christ. We have romanticized the cross today. We use crosses as decoration. We put the cross on jewelry. And some even tattoo it on their body. We have made the cross safe and secure. But there is nothing safe about the cross.

This call to take up our cross refers to the Roman practice of parading condemned criminals through the city. At the same time, they carried the cross’ heavy horizontal beam to the place of their execution. When they arrived, their arms were outstretched and attached with nails or ropes to that beam. The beam was then hoisted up on a post so that the criminal could be exposed to the crowd until he died. As Pastor John MacArthur states, “Unlike contemporary forms of execution, crosses were designed to prolong the agony of death for as long as possible. As instruments of torture, shame, and execution, they were reserved for the worst criminals, offenders, and enemies of the state. The Romans crucified their victims in public, along highways, as a gruesome reminder of what happened to those who defied Caesar’s imperial authority.”[1]

As the crowd stood by watching the condemned criminal die, they would often mock and ridicule the condemned. They would curse at them and taunt them. The entire experience exposed the criminal to emotional shame as well as physical shame. In the same way, Jesus is calling his followers to die to themselves and to accept the shame that comes with following Christ. He calls his followers to give up this world and take their place alongside Him on the cross.

When the disciples in the crowd heard Jesus speak of taking up the cross, there was nothing mystical to them about the idea. They immediately pictured a poor, condemned soul walking along the road carrying the instrument of his execution on his own back. A man who took up his cross began his death march, carrying the very beam on which he would hang. So, for a disciple of Christ to take up his cross, he must be willing to start on a death march. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be willing, in his service, to suffer the indignities, the pain, and even the death of a condemned criminal.

When we deny ourselves and take up our cross, we follow Christ down the road of discipleship. Following Christ entails a wholesale buy-in to his cause. This call to discipleship means that we follow Christ in everything. It is a call for continual and total obedience. Following Jesus requires continuing determination to stick to the chosen path. What this means is that there is no category of Christian who knowingly, continually, and unrepentantly waves the white flag and resubmits himself to a life characterized by and dominated by sin. Nor is there any category of Christian for a person who lives for this world, who lives for self, who lives for pleasure or ease. Neither should a Christian willingly sacrifice his fellow believer for his comfort or ideas. Following Jesus means that we desire what Jesus desired, that His people would be sanctified (John 17:17). This desire leads us to sacrifice ourselves for the good of those Christ loves.
 
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[1] John MacArthur, Mark 1-8 (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2015), 427.