When A Conscience Calls...

I tend to take Sundays off from blogging, but I'm going to make an exception today.

If nothing else, then perhaps it will be therapeutic for me to get it off my chest since I can't really talk to anyone else about it right now I'm afraid, which tells you how serious it is.

With Halloween approaching in just a few days, some of you may be familiar with the classic horror flick When A Stranger Calls... from your more worldly days.

Ironically, I first saw it at an LCMS "Lock-In" when I was about 13 or so in the early 1990s. Nice, huh? Because the story of a psychopathic killer terrorizing a babysitter, then returning several years later to terrorize her again is just what confirmands need to relax during a church sponsored sleepover. Anyway, it was a film that was praised mainly for its "realism" due to its ability to make a majority of viewers feel like the scenario could just as easily happen to them one day. I thought about that this week, but not for the reason you might expect.

Did you know that there's a lesser known horror movie called When A Conscience Calls... that is way more realistic and scary! The problem is that a lot of people haven't seen it. In fact, a lot of people don't want to see it because the thought of it is "too real" and "too scary" for them.

Can you blame them though? I mean, the mere thought of listening to your conscience nowadays seems so old and outdated. And, of course, there's that whole "seared" conscience thing mentioned in 1 Timothy 4.

1 Timothy 4:1-2 (ESV) 1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared,

I like how the Lutheran Study Bible exegetes this: "The conscience of those peddling demonic doctrines have either been 'branded' by Satan to show his ownership of them or 'cauterized,' leaving them unfeeling and unable to distinguish between right and wrong."
But what else does the Bible tell us about the conscience and its importance? Should we really fear it? Should we ever ignore it? Here's what one Christian resource had to say:


Question: "What is the conscience?"

Answer:
The conscience is defined as that part of the human psyche that induces mental anguish and feelings of guilt when we violate it and feelings of pleasure and well-being when our actions, thoughts and words are in conformity to our value systems. The Greek word translated “conscience” in all New Testament references is suneidēsis, meaning “moral awareness” or “moral consciousness.” The conscience reacts when one’s actions, thoughts, and words conform to, or are contrary to, a standard of right and wrong.

There is no Hebrew term in the Old Testament equivalent to suneidēsis in the New Testament. The lack of a Hebrew word for “conscience” may be due to the Jewish worldview, which was communal rather than individual. The Hebrew considered himself as a member of a covenant community which related corporately to God and His laws, rather than as an individual. In other words, the Hebrew was confident in his own position before God if the Hebrew nation as a whole was in good fellowship with Him.

The New Testament concept of conscience is more individual in nature and involves three major truths. First, conscience is a God-given capacity for human beings to exercise self-evaluation. Paul refers several times to his own conscience being “good” or “clear” (Acts 23:1; 24:16; 1 Corinthians 4:4). Paul examined his own words and deeds and found them to be in accordance with his morals and value system, which were, of course, based on God’s standards. His conscience verified the integrity of his heart.

Second, the New Testament portrays the conscience as a witness to something. Paul says the Gentiles have consciences that bear witness to the presence of the law of God written on their hearts, even though they did not have the Mosaic Law (Romans 2:14-15). He also appeals to his own conscience as a witness that he speaks the truth (Romans 9:1) and that he has conducted himself in holiness and sincerity in his dealings with men (2 Corinthians 1:12). He also says that his conscience tells him his actions are apparent to both God and the witness of other men’s consciences (2 Corinthians 5:11).

Third, the conscience is a servant of the individual’s value system. An immature or weak value system produces a weak conscience, while a fully informed value system produces a strong sense of right and wrong. In the Christian life, one’s conscience can be driven by an inadequate understanding of scriptural truths and can produce feelings of guilt and shame disproportionate to the issues at hand. Maturing in the faith strengthens the conscience.

This last function of the conscience is what Paul addresses in his instructions regarding eating food sacrificed to idols. He makes the case that, since idols are not real gods, it makes no difference if food has been sacrificed to them or not. But some in the Corinthian church were weak in their understanding and believed that such gods really existed. These immature believers were horrified at the thought of eating food sacrificed to the gods, because their consciences were informed by erroneous prejudices and superstitious views. Therefore, Paul encourages those more mature in their understanding not to exercise their freedom to eat if it would cause the consciences of their weaker brothers to condemn their actions. The lesson here is that, if our consciences are clear because of mature faith and understanding, we are not to cause those with weaker consciences to stumble by exercising the freedom that comes with a stronger conscience.

Another reference to conscience in the New Testament is to a conscience that is “seared” or rendered insensitive as though it had been cauterized with a hot iron (1 Timothy 4:1-2). Such a conscience is hardened and calloused, no longer feeling anything. A person with a seared conscience no longer listen to its promptings, and he can sin with abandon, delude himself into thinking all is well with his soul, and treat others insensitively and without compassion.

As Christians, the way to keep our consciences clear and to receive His help in obeying Him and His Word is through His Word and His Sacraments. We must also be sure to consider those whose consciences are weak, treating them with Christian love and compassion.

You're probably wondering why I'm bringing all of this up today.

In case you missed it, I've been referring to this past week as the week When A Conscience Calls... because on three separate occasions I found myself in a situation that demanded I obey my conscience (Acts 24:16) regardless of the personal cost to me and my family.

I know it probably sounds so dramatic, but this is no hyperbole.

First, even as the sole income provider in my household, I turned down a job offer of a lifetime (after interviewing for nearly two months) that would've instantly doubled or tripled my pay and provided health benefits for my family of four, after learning about several things the company was doing on a regular basis (and would want me to do on a regular basis) that were just plain immoral and wrong (a.k.a. sinful).

Second, I decided to remove myself from serving as a "Lay Deacon" in my local church due to what I've recently learned about the Augsburg Confession, Article XIV.

Third, I had to speak "the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15) during our church's "Creating Our Future" public congregational meeting after our "Interim Pastor" and some of my brothers and sisters kept promoting the un-Biblical concept that our church needs to "change" and become "more relevant" to the "unchurched" if it's ever going to survive, because "this isn't 1949" and "it's not even 2000 anymore." Yikes!

Yes, all three opportunities provided me with a unique opportunity to confess the truth and to glorify, honor, and praise Him and Him alone in the process, but I have a confession to make, my dear friends.

My confession? Doing the right thing is not as easy as we'd like to think it is. At least, for me it wasn't in all three cases as my fallen fleshly lusts sprang up from my heart.

Actually, it's really, really hard! It's incredibly hard even though your conscience is screaming at you to do the God-honoring thing. Please don't misunderstand me either. It's not like God loves me more, or like these particular "righteous deeds" of mine are somehow exempt from being the kind of "filthy rags" that Isaiah wrote about in Isaiah 64:6. So, I hope you know that I'm not trying to look for pity here or to prop myself up as some kind of "Super Christian" either.

This is a personal blog dedicated to documenting my escape from Evangelicalism to being a Confessional Lutheran and this is part of that story. If the Lord decides to use it to help others who will one day go through something similar (or who are going through something similar today), then Amen!

Oh yeah, I almost forgot something. The aftermath is the worst part though. Having conviction in Christ and following your conscience in a specific moment is actually a lot easier than having to endure the aftermath.

For me, doing the right thing this week on three separate occasions has meant having to face both family members and friends who did not agree with me at all, and who are even upset that I made the decisions I made (some unexpected responses for sure!). Seriously, it's like the Twilight Zone over here at times. Still, I'm glad He gave me the courage to have conviction, and I don't regret any of it (Romans 8:28).

The more time I spend with the divinely inspired words that the Apostle Paul penned, as found in the New Testament, the more I not only hear the heart of the Lord and am comforted by His words, but the more I can identify with Paul's heavy heart for those he loved even when they were at fierce odds with him.

Here's something that I found from 2 Corinthians that is extremely applicable to our messages published here in recent days.



The Light of The Gospel

2 Corinthians 4:1-6 (ESV) 1
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God,a we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

What a comfort this passage was to me after this week!

Paul's proclamation of Jesus was bold and public, which made him easily vulnerable to judgment by others. In verse 1, we read the words "do not lose heart" (other translations have it as "faint not"), which came from a strong Greek term that refers to abandoning oneself to cowardly surrender.

That was not how Paul responded to the continual attacks he faced. The task of ministering the New Covenant was too noble to lose heart over (Galatians 6:9; Ephesians 3:13). We would be wise to remind ourselves of this truth often even though we are aware of the fact that we will likely fail to do what's right at times.

Since God had called Paul to proclaim the truth (has called each and every one of us to confess and proclaim it), Paul could not abandon his calling, and neither should we. Instead, he trusted God to strengthen him (Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 9:16-17; Colossians 1:23,25), and so should we.

In verse 2, we read the words "have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways" (other translations say "have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty"), and "renounced" here means "to turn away from" or "repent," and "disgraceful" means "shame" or "ugly." The phrase "underhanded ways" refers to secret immoralities, hypocrisies, and the sins hidden deep in the darkness of one's life.

This appears to be a reply by Paul to a direct and slanderous accusation against him, that he was a hypocrite, whose mask of piety hid a corrupt and shameful life. The phrase "we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word" comes from a Greek word that means "to tamper with" and was used in non-Biblical sources to speak of the dishonest business practice of diluting wine with water.

Ironically, the False Teachers responded to Paul's charges as he stood upon the truth of God's Word, and actually accused him of being a deceiver himself who was twisting and perverting the teaching of Jesus and the Old Testament Scripture! Even 2 Corinthians 4:3 bears witness to this shameful truth. The False Teachers accused Paul -- the one who was bringing the subject up with them out of genuine love and obedience -- of preaching an antiquated message.

So, Paul showed that the problem was not with the message, or the messenger, but with the hearers unless they repented and accepted the truth ("And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.").

1 Corinthians 2:14 (ESV) knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.

The Christian cannot persuade people to believe. Only God can do that.

2 Corinthians 4:4 is where we get to the heart of the matter here. The words "the god of this world" is pretty clear, isn't it? Furthermore, the words "this world" represents the current world mindset expressed by the goals, hopes, ideals, opinions, philosophies, and views of the majority of people. The consequence ("has blinded") is that Satan blinds men to God's truth through the world system. Without Christ, man left to himself will follow that system every single time, which panders to depravity and deepens moral darkness (Romans 3:11; Matthew 13:19). Again, Satan is who Paul's talking about here (Matthew 4:8; John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11; Ephesians 2:2; 2 Timothy 2:26; 1 John 5:19). Satan's work is to "darken" hearts and minds.

However, the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, remains a clear and visible light to the whole world, even though some have closed their eyes to it. Jesus Christ, who is both God (1 John 5:20) and man (1 Timothy 2:5) in the flesh (Hebrews 2:14), clearly reveals to the world who God is (John 14:9). He and the Father are, in essence, one (John 10:30; John 17:11; John 17:21). Jesus is also the perfect image of humanity for our sake. In Him is restored the image of man, lost in Genesis 3.

Ultimately, however, it is God who allows such blindness (John 12:39-40). As in the days of Isaiah, God's judgment locked people in their unbelief. They would not believe, so they were condemned to become those who could not believe. Why would God allow such blindness? For His eventual glory, honor, and praise.

In 2 Corinthians 4:5 we read "what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord," and while the False Teachers attempted to try another tactic (this time they accused Paul of preaching for his own benefit!), they were actually the ones guilty of doing so.

Paul contrasts his servanthood with his critics' boasting of themselves. I like how Paul was always humble (2 Corinthians 12:5,9; 1 Corinthians 2:3), he never promoted himself, and always preached Jesus Christ as Lord (1 Corinthians 2:2). Unfortunately, his critics took his boldness in faithfully preaching Christ crucified as a sign that he lacked humility.

I just love 2 Corinthians 4:6 where Paul alludes to the power of God in creation, when His Word literally brought light into existence. That miraculous Word of creation is at work through the Gospel, which alone can enlighten hearts that are dark with sin.

But then Paul adds the exclamation point and reminds us that the righteousness, love, and grace of God (indeed God's very heart) are seen in Jesus (John 14:6; Romans 5:6-8). Again, we return to the Lutheran Study Bible's commentary on this passage to bring us home:

The essence of Paul's ministry was "mercy" through the Lord Jesus alone. Such mercy compelled him to be straightforward, authentic, and transparent as a servant of God's people. Merciful ministry exposes and binds us to the people we serve. We must never give in to the temptation to think that merciful ministry can be done from afar, as a master and as a servant. The same Lord who made "light shine out of darkness" will strengthen our hearts to be courageously transparent servants. Thanks be to God, who is generously merciful to us. May He prepare us and bind us to those who need such mercy. Amen.

Simply beautiful! It's weeks like the one I just had that make me so grateful for His Word in both the blessing and comfort it brings.

In a Lutheran Layman's terms, as difficult as it may be us all at times, I pray that the Lord will help us to be faithful when called to be so that we can confess, contend, and defend given our loyalty to Him and our desire to be a servant for Him and a servant to His people (Galatians 1:10).

[NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with Lutheran doctrine -- in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word -- so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray. Thank you in advance for your time and help. Grace and peace to you and yours!]

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with...Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all mature spiritually (myself included) then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!