Whatever happened to the Conscience?

Whatever Happened to the Conscience?

As I sit down to write this, I am looking at a postcard that just arrived in the mail from a local mega-church. The postcard is inviting us to attend their “relevant and fun worship services.” Another mega-church in the area promises, “The party won’t start until you get here.” Sadly, such appeals to the flesh are not an isolated occurrence. They are now the norm rather than the exception. Such appeals simply illustrate that, for most, worship is equated with self-gratification rather than exhortation, edification, and exaltation. Self-gratification appeals to the senses, the flesh, and the emotions, whereas true worship flows from an enlightened mind and a cleansed conscience (Hebrews 10:22).

The dilemma for a church that depends on appeals to the flesh is that it is awfully hard to have fun if your conscience is being assaulted by the convicting power of God’s word (Jeremiah 23:29). This will not do. We don’t want to be a party-pooper.

The Love of Darkness

Sadly, most people are willing, even desirous, of being ignorant of God’s word and His truth rather than have that truth convict their conscience. A convicted conscience interrupts and throws a wet blanket on the enjoyment of sin. It is not easy to sin with a convicted conscience — thus, there is a necessity of avoiding any conviction if someone is to continue enjoying his sin. This is the universal condition of all mankind. It is the condition Jesus describes in John 3:19, “men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil.” Here we see the universal condition of mankind — he loves the darkness. We see the universal antipathy of mankind — the light; and we see the reason for this antipathy — because their deeds are evil. This is why “everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:20). Exposed as what? What they are — evil, darkness, sin. They love darkness because darkness does not expose their sin for what it is. Darkness does not spoil the party. People cannot sin as easily or with as much enjoyment in the light as they do in the dark. The light convicts, converts, and conforms; it does not pacify, entertain, or amuse.

Biblical truth informs the judgment, corrects wrong and mistaken beliefs, and exposes the danger and sinfulness of certain attitudes and actions. Many people do what they do out of ignorance (1 Timothy 1:13). They do not know any better, and if they were better informed they would not do what they do. They may not be aware of the consequences or the danger or the sinfulness of their actions. If the pagan cities of Tyre and Sidon had of enjoyed the same light as the Jewish hamlets of Chorazin and Bethsaida, it would have led to their conviction and repentance (Matthew 11:21).

But when people are fully informed and still continue in sin then they can no longer plead ignorance. Instead, they demonstrate their contempt, blatant disregard, and despiteful disdain for the authority and will of God (John 5:39, 40). They exhibit their absolute refusal to be governed by His word, and they show that they regard His word as nothing and His person as unworthy of honor and respect. In short, they hate the light. No wonder the author of Hebrews issues such a severe warning of the danger of sinning against known truth (Hebrews 10:26). Those who sin against known truth have no excuse to extenuate it (John 15:22). The one who knows his Master’s will and does not do it receives many lashes (Luke 12:47; cf. 2 Peter 2:21).

The greater the light against which anyone sins, the greater he must violate his conscience. The more knowledge anyone has of truth, the greater his conscience is abused by sinning against it. The only way to avoid this is to either sear the conscience or evade the light. It is an immutable biblical principle that the more light to which a person is exposed, the greater the sin when he ignores or rejects that light, and the greater the condemnation (Mt 11:21-24). To whom much has been given, much is required.

Access to Spiritual Truth

Let’s apply this principle to today. We live in an age in which people have unprecedented access to spiritual truth. The Bible is readily available in virtually any form; printed, electronic, or audio. There are an abundance of resources available at no cost via the Internet to aid us in our study and understanding of Scripture. There are a plethora of commentaries, books, and theological articles at our disposal.

We live in a nation that has been given more light than any nation in history and governed by laws that have never restricted the access or propagation of light. But despite these unprecedented privileges our age is marked by a level of biblical illiteracy, theological ignorance — even among professing Christians — not seen since the Dark Ages when the Bible was unavailable to the common man. And this profound biblical and theological illiteracy has produced a vacuum into which all sorts of error and heretical teaching has rushed to fill.

False teaching can only grow and flourish in the soil of biblical ignorance. This makes spiritual ignorance today all the more sinful and inexcusable because it is a willful and deliberate ignorance. And, a willful and deliberate ignorance is no different than an out and out rejection of divine revelation.

Peter wrote that those who scoffed at the doctrine of Christ’s returning in judgment were also willingly ignorant of the fact that God had already once judged the sinful world by a flood (2 Peter 3:5). Scoffers willingly reject any biblical truth that will convict their conscience, that conflicts with their quest of self-gratification, their desire for fun, or that will poop their party. Their rejection is not the result of a lack of information or evidence, it is not theological; rather, their rejection is for moral reasons. The truth conflicts with their pursuit of self-worship so “they suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18; cf. 1 John 4:5, 6). You have to know the truth to suppress it.

Ignorance Is Not to Blame

When people continue in sin because they refuse to take advantage of all the knowledge God has made available to instruct them in His will, their sin cannot be blamed on ignorance. People can know and may know if they want to know, but they do not know because they do not want to know. Puritan pastor Richard Sibbes wrote, “It will be the heaviest sin that can be laid to our charge at the day of judgment, not that we were ignorant, but that we refused to know, we refused to have our conscience rectified and instructed.” How dreadful will be our account for abusing and rejecting such light, “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation” (Hebrews 2:3)?

Jesus warned “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels (Mk 8:38). Woe, woe, woe to an enlightened people among a wicked generation. How many icons of Christian pop-culture have already violated their conscience to preserve a career? How many have denied their convictions to avoid being marginalized? How many pastors have already conceded the truth rather than compromise their popularity? How many are like Demas who claim Christ with the tongue but still worship the world? What is more needful for the soul: fun or conviction?

Paul commanded “do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness” (Ephesians 5:11), but how many professing Christians do? Maybe not directly, but very often indirectly by justifying those who do, by providing some extenuating excuse (1 Timothy 5:22). Certainly, many participate vicariously through the forms of entertainment they choose. What?! Sons of light entertained by the unfruitful deeds of darkness, who take pleasure in wickedness? It is not so easy to enjoy when you identify it for what it is — is it?

Those who profess to be Christians need to step back and ask why they have so little, if any, interest in growing in their knowledge of God and His will. And if they profess to have an interest, they need to consider why they expend so little effort in gaining this light. People do not love what they do not know and what they do love they want to know better. The only way to know God and His will is through His revelation contained in Scripture. It is impossible to know whether we are in the will of God if we do not know His will. It is impossible to live a life that pleases God if we do not know what pleases God. We cannot know if we are living in sin or have sinful attitudes if we are not aware of what those sinful attitudes and actions are. It is impossible to keep from falling into error and even heresy if we do not know the truth.

Darkness Rushes In

As truth becomes obscured or recedes, error and falsehood increase. As good and right withdraw, they are not replaced with a different kind of good and right, but evil rushes in to take their place. Error crowds in as truth declines and evil takes over as good diminishes just as darkness comes in as the light of day dims. What else but darkness comes when light recedes? A swept house will not stay empty (Matthew 12:43-45).

The aged Apostle John wrote, “If we say we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth, but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:6, 7). All who are in Christ are bound to imitate Him (1 John 2:6). Are you in the light or still in the dark? If you are in the light, walk as sons of light (Ephesians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:5). Open your heart to obey whatever light God has revealed to you in His word. Above all, obey the light of the gospel while you have opportunity. This was the advice of Jesus, “Walk while you have the light, so that darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes” (John 12:35).

This nation has been unkind to Christ and abused its privileges. The darkness is thick because there is so little light. Light would spoil the party. Much of what is proclaimed as light is really darkness, and “If the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness” (Matthew 6:23). Obey the light before God removes His candlestick and plunges you into darkness. Light rejected, blinds. Greater light brings greater responsibility and harsher judgment for willfully rejecting the light. There is no excuse today for spiritual and biblical ignorance. According to this biblical principle, it will be more tolerable for the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum in the Day of Judgment than for much of the professing church today.

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