Chapter 20. Cleansing The Conscience
"Now the end [goal, point aimed at, result] of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned" (I Timothy 1:5).
Right versus wrongWhen people speak of doing what is right, they often say to "follow your conscience." Since a new creature is definitely involved in obeying God's commandments and doing what is right, we are interested in learning more about this mysterious element in humans; the conscience.
The Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines conscience as "the inner sense of what is right or wrong in one's conduct or motives, impelling one toward right action." What creates this inner sense? Can a sense of right and wrong evolve on its own? In "survival of the fittest," why would a healthy person help a weak person who they don't know and have nothing to gain by doing it? Without a belief in a creator, the conscience becomes even more mysterious.
Definition:Conscience: That aspect of the brain that distinguishes between right and wrong.
The enabling force of the conscience
"Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron" (I Tim. 4:1-2).The word "seared" in the original Greek means "to render unsensitive" or "to brand/cauterize". So, to what does our conscience become unsensitive? Being "sensitive" involves outside stimulus. What stimulates our conscience outside of ourselves? The Holy Spirit's promptings would provide an answer as to this source. Furthermore, the Bible supports this idea.
"And when he is come, he will reprove [convict, convince, rebuke] the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment" (John 16:8).One of the Holy Spirit's activities is to convince us of sin and of righteousness, or in other words, convince us of what is right and wrong.
"I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost" (Romans 9:1).As the Holy Spirit influences (both before and after conversion) and shapes (after conversion) the mind, it thus becomes the enabling force of the conscience.
"Conscience is the voice of God, heard amid the conflict of human passions; when it is resisted, the Spirit of God is grieved" (God's Amazing Grace 202.2).
"Without the Holy Spirit, without the breath of God, there is torpidity [slowness, lack of energy, dormant] of conscience, loss of spiritual life" (Ye Shall Receive Power 45.3).
Definition:Sensitive Conscience: A brain that, as a result of obeying the Holy Spirit, provides accurate discernment of right and wrong.
Definition:Seared Conscience: A brain that, as a result of ignoring the Holy Spirit, become calloused and unable to discern wrong.
Washing away guiltGod, through the Holy Spirit, has been working to sensitize human consciences since the beginning. The Holy Spirit convicts you of right and wrong from the moment you are born. Once you let go of your selfishness, the Holy Spirit can then move in to your mind and work to purify, or cleanse, your conscience. This is one of the main goals on which Jesus has been working, since He ascended to heaven in the first century. After completing His sacrifice, He began His ministry as our high priest in the heavenly sanctuary. Just like the priests in the earthly sanctuary would sprinkle the blood of animals on things to cleanse them (Heb. 9:19-23), Christ "sprinkles" His blood (perfect attributes) in the heavenly sanctuary in order to cleanse things, including our conscience.
"...The way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience...For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Heb. 9:9, 13-14).
"When the ceremony of cleansing was to be performed, these were placed in a vessel containing water from a running stream...and sprinkled the contents of the vessel upon the tent and the persons therin...The cleansing water sprinkling the unclean, symbolized the blood of Christ spilled to cleanse us from moral impurities. The repeated sprinklings illustrate the thoroughness of the work that must be accomplished for the repenting sinner. All that he has must be consecrated. Not only should his own soul be washed clean and pure, but he should strive to have his family, his domestic arrangements, his property, and his entire belongings consecrated to God" (RH, Jan. 9, 1883).Christ "sprinkles" the attributes of His perfect character onto you as part of the cleansing of your character. The attributes are brought to your mind by the Holy Spirit as He works to purify your mind by
- (a) developing your conscience to perceive right and wrong accurately, and
- (b) enabling you to follow the right, and therefore making you void of offense toward God (without guilt).
Definition:Sensitizing the Conscience: The process of developing a conscience that accurately perceives right and wrong.
Definition:Cleansing the Conscience: The process of developing a conscience that not only accurately perceives right and wrong, but also follows the right, therefore making it guiltless.
Eliminating GuiltWhen considering how guilt actually gets eliminated from your life, think about something you feel guilty about. Can you ask God for forgiveness, keep wanting to do it again, and not feel guilt? Until you acknowledge it is wrong and harmful, agree to let the the sin go (commit to never partake again), and God gives you power to stop wanting or accommodating that sin, you will feel guilty about committing (thinking/desiring or acting) it. This is true no matter how long ago the sin was committed or how many times you ask for forgiveness. This brings us back to the definition of character. The intentions and motivations are key. Only God's work to transform your nature and character so you stop acting out AND wanting sin, will ultimately eliminate all traces of guilt. Only forgiveness PLUS character transformation purges out the stifling, lingering, immobilizing affects of guilt.
"The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 3:21).
"To have our corrupt natures renovated by grace, our lustful appetites and animal propensities in subjection, to stand forth with noble, moral independence, achieving victories every day, will give peace of conscience which can arise alone from rightdoing" (1T 503.2).The Greek word translated in the Bible to conscience is "suneidesis", which means moral perception, to see completely and to understand. The conscience is that place within the mind, that the Holy Spirit shapes, which determines what you consider right and wrong. How much you submit to God in letting the Spirit transform you, determines how efficiently your conscience will function. Thus, a perverted conscience is one that has had little of or is absent of the voice of God. Everyone can choose whether or not to listen to God. Rejecting the voice of God (Holy Spirit) is like searing our conscience, making it less and less likely to hear His voice. Rejection is performed by not complying with with what you know to be right. If the Spirit is rejected long enough, the mind loses all sensitivity, and sadly a person eventually becomes totally beyond reach.
"All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men" (Matt. 12:31).This dismal state of hopelessness, referred to as the unpardonable sin, only occurs after long and comprehensive efforts by the Spirit. Christ loves each person so intensely, and we are assured that every possible effort is made and every possible avenue explored, in order to save each person.
Definition:Guilty Conscience: A brain that has acted wrong, contrary to its knowledge of what is right.
Definition:Clear Conscience: A brain that acts according to what it understands as right.
"The true Christian obtains an experience which brings holiness. He is without a spot of guilt upon the conscience, or a taint of corruption upon the soul" (Maranatha 230.2).Honesty of heart is the key; knowing there is no cherished area of the heart that you've kept off limits to the Spirit, not allowing willful ignorance or self-deceit to interfere, and being honest when examining your desires. This promotes confidence.
"Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus...Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water" (Hebrews 10:19, 22).
ImpressionsRemember that the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the bible and His promptings will never contradict the Bible. As we previously studied, God's word is truth and must be "eaten" regularly. This will help to not only develop a sensitive conscience, but avoid the pitfalls many fall into by substituting their own "impressions" for the voice of the Holy Spirit.
"It is not enough for a man to think himself safe in following the dictates of his conscience. . . . The question to be settled is, Is the conscience in harmony with the Word of God? If not, it cannot safely be followed, for it will deceive. The conscience must be enlightened by God. Time must be given to a study of the Scriptures and to prayer. Thus the mind will be stablished, strengthened, and settled" (Our High Calling 143.3).
"If man can take one breath without being dependent upon God, then he may lay aside God's pure, holy Word as guidebook. The truth must take control of the conscience and the understanding in all the work that is done. The Holy Spirit must preside over thought and word and deed. It is to direct in all temporal and spiritual actions" (The Publishing Ministry 155.4).
Hyper SensitivityAnother pitfall is to become hyper sensitive. Just like your immune system can respond excessively to an allergen, you can respond excessively to the Spirit's promptings. This occurs when the Holy Spirit convicts your conscience of something, you listen and change your ways accordingly, but then proceed to worry endlessly about every detail. You worry that you haven't done enough. You search and search for ways to go further. You condemn yourself.
God has given comfort and guidance to those who begin to feel these excessive worries.
"For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things" (1 John 3:20).It is important to recognize this type of reaction early on. Though being overly sensitive can begin out of a sincere desire to please God, it can, if left untreated, lead you to become fanatical, intolerant worried, and unbalanced.
"Now we read in the Bible of a good conscience; and there are not only good but bad consciences. There is a conscientiousness that will carry everything to extremes, and make Christian duties as burdensome as the Jews made the observance of the Sabbath" (Selected Messages Book 2, 319.3).God gives rest, not burdens.
Self-dependence vs. self-respectThe most careful, conscientious person can never lean on his or her own abilities or guidance through temptations and decisions in life. Knowing your limitations and having complete reliance on Christ is critical. Does this mean we think of ourselves as worthless and in a negative light? There are times when a person thinks of themselves as lowly in a way that is not helpful to their conscience and does not show God in a good light to others. Viewing yourself as worthless instead of unworthy is a trap. Self-respect and dignity will accompany your cleansed conscience. A healthy, realistic and accurate view of yourself and your inestimable worth is developed during this process.
"Some who come to God by repentance and confession, and even believe that their sins are forgiven, still fail of claiming, as they should, the promises of God. They do not see that Jesus is an ever-present Saviour; and they are not ready to commit the keeping of their souls to Him, relying upon Him to perfect the work of grace begun in their hearts. While they think they are committing themselves to God, there is a great deal of self-dependence. There are conscientious souls that trust partly to God and partly to themselves. They do not look to God, to be kept by His power, but depend upon watchfulness against temptation and the performance of certain duties for acceptance with Him. There are no victories in this kind of faith. Such persons toil to no purpose; their souls are in continual bondage, and they find no rest until their burdens are laid at the feet of Jesus." (Faith and Works 38.3).
"It is the privilege of everyone to so live that God will approve and bless him. You may be hourly in communion with Heaven; it is not the will of your heavenly Father that you should ever be under condemnation and darkness. It is not pleasing to God that you should demerit yourself. You should cultivate self-respect by living so that you will be approved by your own conscience, and before men and angels. . . . It is your privilege to go to Jesus and be cleansed, and to stand before the law without shame and remorse. 'There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.' Rom. 8:1. While we should not think of ourselves more highly than we ought, the Word of God does not condemn a proper self-respect. As sons and daughters of God, we should have a conscious dignity of character, in which pride and self-importance have no part" (Our High Calling 143.4).In summary, the more a person listens, AND adheres, to his or her Bible-educated, Spirit-led conscience, the more sensitive it becomes to the Holy Spirit's promptings. This, in turn, will produce a cleansed conscience as guilt is washed away. Because this process is key to eliminating guilt, it is essential in order to experience peace and true happiness as a new creature.
Next Bible Term: Obtaining Righteousness By Faith
Conversion: The singular instance in time when you become willing and equipped to begin the process of true character transformation.
Overcoming: The process of character transformation and development.
Authentication: The testing and proving of character and its rewards.