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Living with a clear conscience, Kings Fellowship, 24th June

June 24, 2012

Today I had the privilege of sharing again with the folks at Kings Fellowship…  the topic we looked at together was “Living with a clear conscience”… a recording of the talk can be heard here.

Yet again here is a copy of my notes for the talk with some of the presentation slides… enjoy.


Living with a clear Conscience…

Good morning folks it’s really great to be back with y’all again.

I’d also like to take the opportunity to say Hi and welcome to any folks listening in to this talk on the podcast and I pray that God will use this talk, what I have come to share this morning to minister light and life to you all.

The last time I had the privilege of sharing with you I talked about living a life worthy… living a life worthy of your calling.

And this morning I’m going to share something related… to help us live such a life.

As I’ve been away from Kings for a few weeks I took the opportunity of reviewing the last three weeks preaches that I’d missed, listening to Thom, JD and Jon Farrimond… just in case this talk would just be a repeat of something you’ve already heard recently…

and I think what I’m going to share this morning is going to fit into an overall theme that seems to me to be coming through in what I’ve heard… a theme of living Godly, purposeful lives in unity of spirit.

Over the past couple of months a word has been re-occurring in my devotions… Conscience.

This morning I am going to share a few thoughts about Living with a Clear Conscience.

I can guess what you may be thinking… that’s a bit of a downer.  Conscience… that’s gonna be  heavy.

Well I believe that God is preparing us to go deeper into the life he has called us to…

and he wants us to make use of ALL the tools he makes available to us to draw closer to him…

And I think that our conscience is an instrument that he uses to develop our lives…

if we become aware of how he wants us to engage with it…

if we pay careful attention to how it is used that our conscience could become an important part of living a life worthy.

Realizing that this talk might seem a bit heavy going I went to look for a video illustration on the internet, something that would help communicate this message, maybe something humorous and engaging…

and found… nothing…

even words related to the subject of engaging with our consciences found only a few sparse examples.  The closest was a video asking dozens of people what the word “Integrity” means… and well… the results were just sad.

I guess that conscience seems an old concept… it’s not trendy.  It seems an idea fallen out of style… that has passed it’s time. not worthy of a video…

It may be that we treat conscience a bit like Bart Simpson treats his soul, in one episode of the Simpsons when Bart was asked why he sold his soul to Millhouse for $5 he shrugged his shoulders and replied “I wasn’t using it”.  Maybe we’ve just stopped being ‘aware’ of our conscience…

It maybe even that you have what you might think of as an ‘old fashioned’ conscience about some things – perhaps through what your parents have taught you – but feel embarrassed because it does not fit with the views of your friends, or with what you see as your lifestyle, or even what you’ve been learning in School or University. In all these situations you can feel torn one way and another.

Conscience doesn’t seem relevant – out of touch even with the pace of modern life.

This morning I want to take a fresh look at conscience…

to communicate that I believe that the state of our consciences are precious to God…

and that living with a clear conscience is a good life…. A life worthy of our call.

So rather than being neglected or ignored we should take heed of what our conscience says to us and to develop our consciences further.

But first we need to start by asking the question…

What is conscience…?

Okay – this bit may get a bit technical… and I can only ask you to bear with me in this…

Conscience, from one of the definitions I’ve looked at, is an aptitude, intuition or judgment within us that distinguishes right from wrong.

Our conscience derives from what we value and the norms  (principles and rules) of behavior that we have received.

The conscience creates an emotional response to our decisions and actions based on these internal values, principles and rules so that if our behavior or action is not in alignment (agreement) with these we feel bad…. feelings of remorse.

I suppose it’s a bit like an internal yardstick that measures our thoughts and actions against a scale of ‘rightness’…

when our actions measure up to the scale we achieve peace…

when we don’t our emotions are disquieted.

Have you ever had moments when you do what you think is right, but feel emotionally troubled by it… or times when your emotions tell you to do something and yet your mind tells you it is foolish… these are times when we experience ‘disquiet’ is our conscience making itself known.  Something doesn’t measure up…

What is being challenged in these times is the fact that we are not acting with Integrity with respect to what we value and the principles and rules by which we hold dear. Something doesn’t measure up…

What about other times when our actions measure up to the yardstick… we achieve… peace.

When we act with integrity, peace follows.  No matter if the choices or decisions we make are difficult for us…

making moral judgments can be very difficult…

but acting in alignment our with conscience brings peace.

Living in Integrity, living in peace comes from a good conscience.

The ideal of conscience is that it should ensure that your reason and your emotions are in line behind what you are doing – in other words, you act out of conviction in a way that is emotionally satisfying.

Ok, you may say – that sounds all very good… very psychological… very behavioral sciency… but what does God have to say about conscience…

The answer “is quite a lot”… and IMHO the ‘science’ is confirming the spiritual truth.

I carried out a word search for the word “conscience” in the New Living Translation, and it appeared 32 times. 5 times in the old testament – mostly associated with growing in wisdom… and twenty seven times in the new testament.

In the new testament the apostle Paul seemed to be the writer the most exercised about the state of our consciences.

And there are three things I’d like to highlight, mostly from the writings of Paul, concerning conscience, and finishing off with looking at a way of personally engaging with our consciences on a daily basis.

Freedom in your own conscience

In Hebrews 9 describes the difference between the sacrifices of the priests in Jewish law and the sacrifice of Christ… from verse 9…

For the gifts and sacrifices that the priests offer are not able to cleanse the consciences of the people who bring them. 10 For that old system deals only with food and drink and various cleansing ceremonies—physical regulations that were in effect only until a better system could be established.

It’s really no wonder that conscience is barely referred to in the OT.  The people were faced with no means of living with a clear conscience… until…

Christ Is the Perfect Sacrifice

11 So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. 12 With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.

13 Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. 14 Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins.

With the sacrifice of Christ our consciences are changed, transformed.  We have written on our hearts new values, new principles and a new rule – To Love God with all our hearts, and to love each other…

The death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ purifies our conscience, we get a new yardstick… a new standard by which to measure our thoughts, words and actions… Love.

In 1 Timothy Paul says…

1 Timothy 1:5-6

5 The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. 6 But some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions.

Paul sees that the end purpose of instruction, teaching is that people would be filled with love and one of the three places that this comes from is the peace and integrity of action that comes from a clear conscience…

In this lies our Freedom in Christ, our consciences are clear.  We are set free, free to live lives worthy of his call… not lives of remorse, but of integrity and peace.

It should be of not great surprise that this integrity, having a clear conscience is one of the requirements of leaders that Paul outlines his letter to Timothy… examining prospective leaders for clarity of conscience…

I think this goes further than just for leaders…  I think that each of us has a unique calling, and that the new yardstick that comes from being in Christ Jesus is uniquely tailored to your call.

The transformation of this internal measuring stick is deeply personal… and acting in integrity with your call, coming into the peace from it and expressing the love that flows from it is unique.

If we assume that ‘everyones’ conscience is the same… then we miss the point… and we try to make people conform to some ‘cookie cutter’ conscience… and this is wrong.

So it is important for us to…

Respect the conscience of others

Paul in writing to the Roman Jews defends gentile believers, giving their conscience demonstrated by their behavior as evidence of faith… Romans 2:14-16

14 Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. 15 They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. 16 And this is the message I proclaim—that the day is coming when God, through Christ Jesus, will judge everyone’s secret life.

The Gentiles demonstrated that secret life is of conscience… a life of integrity aligned on the love of God… a life of faith in Christ.

A circumcision of the heart… and he tells the Romans that this is precious and should be respected… not a cookie cutter approach… again in Romans he writes…

Romans 14:1-3

14 Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. 2 For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. 3 Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them.

Arguing over what is right or wrong, on issues of conscience is not helpful – it doesn’t draw us closer to the heart of God…. it doesn’t encourage the Love that is rooted in clear conscience.

Not arguing over matters of conscience re-occurs in the letters to Timothy and Titus.  Meaningless discussions that divide us from each other and cause pride to rise…

However, Acceptance is key, acceptance is the loving way, not to feel superior…

We need also to understand that the yardstick of our consciences are NOT fixed…

for as we grow in wisdom and understanding of what it means to be a Christian…

as we draw deeper into the calling of our lives… deeper into the person of Jesus…

more and more of this yardstick is revealed… and our consciences develop… and we need to be aware of this both in us, but also in others…

I think that Paul sees a person’s conscience as something that develops in their Christian lives… he calls us again and again to make for the goal… to exercise spiritually… but also to take care that we don’t in our growing freedom cause others to fall…

In 1 Corinthians 8:8-10

New Living Translation (NLT)

8 It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do.

9 But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. 10 For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol?

and in 1 Corinthians 10:23-32

23 You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial. 24 Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.

25 So you may eat any meat that is sold in the marketplace without raising questions of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

27 If someone who isn’t a believer asks you home for dinner, accept the invitation if you want to. Eat whatever is offered to you without raising questions of conscience. 28 (But suppose someone tells you, “This meat was offered to an idol.” Don’t eat it, out of consideration for the conscience of the one who told you. 29 It might not be a matter of conscience for you, but it is for the other person.) For why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks? 30 If I can thank God for the food and enjoy it, why should I be condemned for eating it?

31 So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. 33 I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.

Okay, so we have freedom, and we should also be sensitive to the conscience of others…

But…

What if we choose just simply to ignore the leading of our consciences… what would

The consequences of ignoring your Conscience be…?

Paul again writing to Timothy outlines two specific cases…

the first… the first of these is a deliberate act against conscience… 1 Timothy 1:18-20

18 Timothy, my son, here are my instructions for you, based on the prophetic words spoken about you earlier. May they help you fight well in the Lord’s battles. 19 Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked.

deliberately violating your conscience leads to a faith destroyed, shipwrecked. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy was clear cling to your faith… be a man of integrity… be a man of peace… keep your conscience clear.

Timothy had received instruction, he had taken it into his being, not just head knowledge… it became a guide for his conscience… his yardstick…

One of the organizations I worked for once sent all the middle managers away on a leadership course.

The course was very intense… it presented a best practice model of leadership (The yardstick for leadership)… while at the same time putting more and more pressure on the group in a series of increasingly difficult tasks…

the aim (and it was very effective about it too) was to talk about what a good model looked like, and to highlight our own personal behaviors when under pressure…

at the end of the course most found that the gap between the model leader and their personal reality was significant…

and the idea was that we were to go and apply ourselves to become model leaders…

well that was the theory.  For a few months things did change for the better, then something odd happened… some folks started to demonstrate their old behaviors came back, and more strongly… they had learned how to use their old well ingrained behaviors more effectively – it was pretty horrible.

We had been given instruction – but the choices made by some following it seemed totally contrary to the instruction… and the result seemed to me as a moral shipwreck.

Folks we need to be engaged in the exercise of developing our consciences.  Not fighting against them, and rejecting the moral guidance within it.

The second consequence from Timothy involves deception… 1 Timothy 4:1-2

Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons. 2 These people are hypocrites and liars, and their consciences are dead.

Our sense of right and wrong, and the resulting integrity and peace that comes from our thoughts and actions being aligned through the prompting of our conscience can be totally killed off if we allow ourselves to be deceived and to follow incorrect teaching.

Deception by it’s very nature is something that is planned to mislead us.  And detecting deception is a necessary and subtle skill.

Without conscience we would have no moral compass of right and wrong.  There is no place for peace, no place for remorse… an unfeeling mush.  No truth, no passion.

We need to grow in the wisdom and understanding that is at the very heart of Christ Jesus so that we discern the truth…

We need that truth to become integrated into our conscience… our thermometer of right and wrong.

For this awareness and discernment to happen it is important for us to…

Stay in contact with our conscience

Paul encourages us to run the race, to finish well, to exercise spiritually… to become spiritually fit…

Heather and the kids were at the Olympic flame procession through Inverness.  They were close to where the Flame entered the Northern Meeting Park.  The Flame carrier was a white haired lady who was walking towards the park… as she drew close the guys who were there as the support team encouraged her to start jogging… and with their encouragement she did start jogging as much as she was able as she entered the park to the roar of the crowd.

And I want to encourage you this morning… I want to encourage you to engage in partnership with the Holy spirit to hone and develop your conscience.

And like all exercises a little every day proves to be best and this is the challenge I lay before you.

This is for you to try out and develop for yourself at home…

Take some time each day to exercise your conscience – if you can take a minimum of 20 minutes to try this exercise that would be excellent… it would be probably best the end of the day, just before heading to bed.

  • Find a place where you can be quiet and still – sitting in front of the TV, or your computer would not be likely to be an appropriate place.  Try to avoid distractions… even finding a place to be quiet can be hard to achieve… but stick with it.
  •  If you’re like me you probably have a lot goes through your head when you try to be quiet… and I’ve found that can’t be quiet on my own strength… so call on the Holy Spirit for grace and the strength to receive his peace and quiet.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to be present with you and to fill you with life. Soak in the Spirit and relax as you would in a warm bath.
  • And when that stillness arrives – give God thanks for the day.  Thank him for his goodness and mercy… give him your worship… for He is worthy.
  • Then ask the Holy Spirit to guide your reflection of the day that is just ending…
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to all wisdom and understanding
  • Reflect on a time, or times, during the day that you experienced a deep inner peace… while this may be from a positive experience, it may also come from a difficult situation… but one where you acted with integrity.
  • Then ponder questions about what things contributed to that feeling of peace…

Did this time bring you to a sense of greater hope, greater faith and greater love?

Was some great desire/passion sparked within you?

Where your motives clear and transparent?

How close did you feel to God?

  • Acknowledge God for these things specifically… thanks and worship should rise up again.
  • Then ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom and understanding of values and norms that God wants to develop in your life that will draw you closer to Him. Wait and soak in Him.
  • Ask that these would be sealed in your conscience and with thanks and praise to finish this time of reflection.

I personally try to recall part of Philippians 4.. when reflecting on the day…

4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! 5 Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.

6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

Going to bed reflecting on how God was close to you during the day – actively seeking out peace, through the workings of your conscience… it’s a good way to end the day.

This exercise is not prescriptive… adapt it in whatever way that draws you closer to the Love of God through the workings of your conscience…

But there is something I’d like us to do together right now to engage with our consciences…

This morning we will be celebrating communion here together at Kings… and part of that celebration we should also examine our consciences… as it says in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29…

… Anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. 29 For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself.

In closing this morning I’d like us to take a couple of minutes to spend in quiet reflection, waiting in the Holy Spirit, engaging with the Holy Spirit, giving him space to bring to mind anything that he wants to highlight to us.  To examine ourselves… in his light.

This may be where your conscience experienced disquiet because of a thought, word or deed that you may have had or done… and if such is highlighted to you this morning… then I ask you respond in an appropriate way…

If you need to go to someone and right a wrong then do so… if you need to ask for forgiveness then do so… ask for light and life from the Holy Spirit.

So we’ll first have a few moments of silent reflection…

then a piece of music will play… it’s two versions of the same song that have been echoing in my thoughts over the past week or two in preparation for this morning… it is (to me) about the spirit of God using and molding our conscience to draw us closer and closer to him… and I wanted to share these with you this morning to close the talk.

Peace be with you…

[Tunes… Spirit of the Living God]


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