7-12-3-3 A Good Conscience: " Purged...to serve"
We have a conscience which in God's eyes is cleansed of sin, knowing
that our sin has been overcome once and for all, and that we have
access to this through baptism. Our hearts were purified by that
faith (Acts 15:9); we were cleansed from the conscience of sins
(Heb. 9:14); all things became pure to us (Tit. 1:15; Rom. 14:20).
This is a good conscience, Biblically defined. When Paul said he
had a pure conscience before God, they smote him for blasphemy (Acts
23:1,2); there is an association between a clear conscience and
perfection (Heb. 9:9; 10:14). A clear conscience therefore means
an awareness that in God's eyes, we have no sin. Thus Paul's conscience
could tell him that he was living a life which was a response to
his experience of God's grace / forgiveness (2 Cor. 1:12). The conscience
works not only negatively; it insists that we do certain
things. It may even be that the goads against which Paul was kicking
before his conversion were not the pricks of bad conscience, but
rather the positive directions from God that he ought
to be giving his life to the service of His Son. Whilst we may still
have twinges of guilt, and sins to confess, from God's viewpoint
the slate is clean, and has been since our baptism. It is impossible
to believe this without some kind of response:
- We are purged in our conscience so that we might serve the
living God (Heb. 9:14)
- On account of our cleansed conscience, we like the priests
" draw nigh" to God (Heb. 10:22); the language (in the
LXX) of priestly service
- The result of a good conscience is love- and love isn't inactive
(1 Tim. 1:4,5)
- Actions are a proof that we have a good conscience (1 Jn. 3:18-22)
- Having the cleansed conscience of sins compels us to be obedient
to Governments (Rom. 13:5)
- Paul served God with his good conscience (2 Tim. 1:3)
- A good way of life and a good conscience are bracketed together
in 1 Pet. 3:16
- For the sake of our conscience, we should endure persecution
after the pattern of Christ on the cross (1 Pet. 2:19-22).
He did not hang there fearing a bad conscience; it was his clear,
sinless conscience before God which motivated him to endure.
It ought to be clear from all this that there is a compelling power
in realizing our forgiveness; the wonder of the fact that God looks
at us as in Christ, as without sin, as having a good conscience
cleansed from sin, will of itself constrain us to serve Him. There
is, therefore, a link between conscience and behaviour. It isn't
so much that we only do certain jobs or refuse army service etc.
because we fear a bad conscience, or we fear we might
get into a situation where we might get a bad conscience;
the surpassing excellence of our experience of God's grace will
positively bring forth a way of life in us which of itself precludes
certain occupations (e.g. munitions), bearing arms, etc.
The Positive God
The motivation we have for refusing the call of this present, passing
world is so great. The glorious, wondrous Truth of our salvation
and this " good conscience" is really beyond articulation
in human language. If we can just catch sight of it for a moment,
if we can see the burning zeal of God Almighty for our salvation,
His Name coming from far burning with redemptive zeal, as Isaiah
saw it, if we can enter into the passion of the struggling Saviour
as He groaned for our forgiveness, or into the power
of His resurrection and endless life; then the motivating power
will rush through our veins: to rise up and respond, to be separate
from this world and separated unto the things of the Kingdom. "
We are more than conquerors through him that loved us"
. A fine phrase; more than conquerors; not just conquerors.
I could heap up example after example of this positive, more than
positive, way in which God deals with us.
Paul in Romans does it better than I ever could; his logic
is so incisive. He reasons, for example, that if God so loved us
that He gave His Son to die in agony for us, before we were born,
" while we were yet sinners" , how much more does He show
His love to us now that we have accepted the Lord Jesus? And further,
if the love of God was shown so powerfully through the death
of Christ, how much more (if we can even begin to comprehend it)
was achieved through the resurrection? And even yet further
(and this is classic Paul), if the gift of His Son on Calvary was
the supremest expression of God's love, to give us a place in the
Kingdom is absolutely certain; if God didn't spare His Son's death,
to have mercy on you and me at the judgment requires far less from
Him than what He has already given; and so surely He will give us
that place which we seek; and not only a place in the Kingdom, but
all things; because the gift of Christ on the cross was
the greatest gift, therefore " all things" is less than
that, and therefore surely He will give them to those for whom Christ
died. And so the logic goes on and on and on. And " what shall
we say to these things?" . The answer is- a good conscience.
The very way the Bible is written reflects God's positive attitude
towards His people, and His repeated imputation of righteousness
to us. Just consider these examples(1):
- The disciples are said not to have believed " for joy"
(Lk. 24:41). But the Lord upbraided them for their arrant foolishness
and plain unbelief. They slept, we are told, “for sorrow”- when
they should have stayed awake as commanded. Despite His peerless
faith, the Lord Jesus marvelled at the extent of other's faith
(Mt. 8:10); and the Gospels stress how sensitive He was to the
faith of others (Mt. 9:2,22,29; 15:28; Mk. 5:34; 10:52; Lk. 7:9,50;
8:48; 17:19; 18:42). Yet measured by His standards, they probably
hard knew what faith was. Yet He " marvelled" at their
faith, even uttering an exclamation, it seems, on one occasion
(Mt. 8:10). Their sleepiness is excused in the statement "
for their eyes were heavy" (Mk. 14:40), even though their
falling asleep at that time was utterly shameful. The chief rulers
are described as believing on Christ (Jn. 12:42), even though
their faith was such a private affair at that time that it was
hardly faith at all. such a Lord of grace gives every reason for
us to have a good conscience before Him. Despite the fact that
when the crisis of the cross tested their faith, the disciples
really didn't believe, the Lord spoke so positively of their faith,
despite knowing that they would all scatter from Him: " My
mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God and
do it" (Lk. 8:21). He spoke of how that band of rough, mixed
up men were filled with the joy of little bridesmaids because
He was among them (Lk. 5:34). Now this is an essay in imputed
righteousness. When He most needed them, they fell asleep. Yet
He kindly says that their spirit is willing but their flesh was
weak (Mk. 14:38); yet elsewhere, the Lord rigorously demonstrates
that mental attitudes are inevitably reflected in external behaviour,
and therefore the difference between flesh and spirit in this
sense is minimal.
- Whether the woman of Mk. 14:8 really understood that she was
anointing His body for burial is open to question. But the Lord
graciously imputed this motive to her. The women who came to the
garden tomb weren't looking for the risen Lord; they came to anoint
the body (Mk. 16:3). But their love of the Lord was counted to
them as seeking Him (Mt. 28:5).
- Job was anything but patient. “What is mine end, that I should
be patient?” (Job 6:11 RV). He justified his “rash” words on account
of his sufferings (6:3). “Why should I not be impatient?”, he
argues (21:4 RV). And yet…”You have heard of the patience of Job,
and have seen the end of the Lord, that the Lord is very pitiful”
(James 5:11). Surely “the end of the Lord” was that He imputed
righteousness to His servant, counting an impatient man as patient?
This surely strengthens our faith in His grace, so that we can
have the cleansed, good conscience.
- David was, in God's opinion, a man after His own heart, who
fulfilled all His will (Acts 13:22). Yet this is the God whose
ways are not, and cannot be, ours. Yet this is how humble He is,
and how positive His view of a faithful servant.
- At the shores of the Red Sea, it seems Moses' faith wavered,
and he prayed something at best inappropriate. All we read is
God's response: " Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto
the children of Israel, that they go forward" (Ex. 14:15).
It seems that Moses' 'cry' isn't recorded- by grace. Likewise
it seems Zacharias probably said far more than " Whereby
shall I know this?" when Gabriel told him he would soon have
a son. It would seem the conversation went on for so long that
the people outside wondered why he was staying so long. Presumably
he remonstrated with the Angel with other, graciously unrecorded
words, and thereby earnt the punishment of dumbness (Lk. 1:18-22).
- The people sacrificed in high places because there
was no temple (1 Kings 3:2). But this is really a generous excuse.
It wasn’t God’s intention there should be a temple for worship;
there was one place where the Name dwelt, therefore the
lack of a temple did not justify worshipping in the high
places; and several times the people are criticized for doing
just this. And yet the record in this place is so positive and
almost justifying of the people.
- Israel made a captain and set about to return to Egypt (Neh.
9:17). But this is omitted in the historical record; it simply
says that this is what they thought of doing (Num. 14:4).
The depth of their apostasy is graciously unrecorded.
- Asa is recorded as serving God just as well as David, when
actually this wasn't the case; but God counted him as righteous
(1 Kings 15:11). The incomplete faith of men like Baruch was counted
as full faith by later inspiration (Jud. 4:8,9 cp. Heb. 11:32).
Sometimes the purges of idolatry by the kings is described in
undoubtedly exaggerated language- such was God's joy that at least
something was being done? Israel never really wholeheartedly committed
themselves to Yahweh, and yet 2 Chron. 20:33 positively and hopefully
says: " As yet the people had not prepared their
hearts unto the God of their fathers" . They never did.
- The Lord saw the zeal of the mixed up, uncertain, misunderstanding
disciples as storm troopers taking the city of the Kingdom of
God by force- knowing exactly where they were coming from and
where they were going (Mt. 11:12).
- The descriptions of the faithful in the Kingdom use language
which is surely exaggerated; they overcame even as the
Lord overcame (Rev. 3:21). They are described as clothed in white
linen, just as was the Victorious Saviour straight after His death
(Mt. 27:59). A comparison of our struggles with the Lord in Gethsemane,
let alone the cross, reveal that we do not overcome as He did.
We have not resisted unto blood in striving against our own sin.
We will have the right to the tree of life (Rev. 22:14); yet our
salvation is by pure grace alone. We are " meet" to
be partakers of the inheritance, we walk worthy of the Lord Jesus
unto all pleasing of him (Col. 1:10-12), the labourers receive
the penny of salvation, that which is their right (Mt. 20:14).
We are either seen as absolutely perfect, or totally wicked, due
to God's imputation of righteousness or evil to us (Ps. 37:37).
There is no third way. The pure in heart see God, their righteousness
(to God) exceeds that of the Pharisees, no part of their body
offends them or they pluck it out; they are perfect as their Father
is (Mt. 5:8,20,29,48). Every one of the faithful will have a body
even now completely full of light, with no part dark (Lk. 11:36);
we will walk, even as the Lord walked (1 Jn. 2:6). These impossible
standards were surely designed by the Lord to force us towards
a real faith in the imputed righteousness which we can glory in;
that the Father really does see us as this righteous. Men have
risen up to this. David at the end of his life could say that
he was upright and had kept himself from his iniquity (2 Sam.
22:21-24). He could only say this by a clear understanding of
the concept of imputed righteousness. Paul's claim to have always
lived in a pure conscience must be seen in the same way.
The Example Of Israel
" Some" Jews didn't believe (Rom. 3:3); the majority,
actually, but the Father is more gentle than that. The whole tragic
history of God's relationship with Israel is a sure proof of His
essentially positive character. Right at their birth by the Red
Sea, the Almighty records that " the people feared Yahweh,
and believed Yahweh, and his servant Moses" (Ex. 14:23). No
mention is made of the Egyptian idols they were still cuddling (we
don't directly learn about them until Ez. 20). Nor of the fact that
this " belief" of theirs lasted a mere three days; nor
of the fact that they rejected Moses, and in their hearts turned
back to Egypt. " There was no strange god" with Israel
on their journey (Dt. 32:12); but there were (Am. 5:26). The reconciliation
is that God counted as Israel as devoted solely to Him. The Angel
told Moses that the people would probably want to come up the mountain,
closer to God, when in fact in reality they ran away when they saw
the holiness of God; almost suggesting that the Angel over-estimated
their spiritual enthusiasm (Ex. 19:21-24 cp. 20:18). Likewise the
Angel told Moses that the people would hear him, " and believe
thee for ever" (Ex. 19:9). Things turned out the opposite.
At this time, God saw no iniquity in Israel (Num. 23:21). He fulfilled
His promise at Sinai that if they were obedient, He would make them
His people; and He did, counting them as obedient. Yet the events
of the intervening forty years hardly sound like Israel being obedient;
He " suffered their manners" forty years (Ps. 95:10; Acts
13:18). Yet this is how they were counted (Ex. 19:5 cp. Dt. 27:9).
He saw them as a young woman 'going after' Him in the wilderness
years, attracted to Him (Jer. 2:2). Even when we do read of the
sin of Israel at this time, God grieved over the carcasses
of those He slew (Heb. 3:17).
Even when God punished Israel, He seems to later almost take the
blame for their judgments; thus He says that He left some of the
Canaanite nations in the land to teach Israel battle experience
(Jud. 3:2 NIV), whereas elsewhere the presence of those remaining
nations is clearly linked to Israel's faithlessness, and their survival
in the land was actually part of God's punishment of Israel. He
almost excuses Israel's apostasy by saying that they had not seen
the great miracles of the Exodus (Jud. 2:7). " The portion
of the children of Judah was too much for them" (Josh. 19:9)
almost implies God made an error in allocating them too much; when
actually the problem was that they lacked the faith to drive out
the tribes living there. Likewise " the coast of the children
of Dan went out too little for them" (Josh. 19:47), although
actually " The Amorites forced the children of Dan into the
mountain: for they would not suffer them to come down to the valley"
(Jud. 1:34). When Dan fought against Leshem, this one act of obedience
is so magnified in Josh. 19:47 to sound as if in their zeal to inherit
their territory they actually found they had too little land and
therefore attacked Leshem. But actually it was already part of their
allotted inheritance. Yet God graciously comments: " all their
inheritance had not fallen unto them among the tribes of Israel"
(Jud. 18:1). Further such examples at the time of the conquest could
be furnished; they are epitomized in the conclusion: " The
Lord gave unto Israel all the land...and they possessed it, and
dwelt therein...there stood not a man of all their enemies before
them" (Josh. 21:43,44). But their enemies did stand before
them, they didn't possess all the land. Yet God puts it over so
positively, as if it's a story with a happy ending- when actually
it's a tragedy. Even when rebuking them, God sees them as in some
ways " perfect" (Is. 42:18-20). Israel were like Sodom,
and yet they weren't treated like Sodom (Is. 1:9,10). They were
Jeshurun, the upright one, but they kicked at God (Dt. 32:15). Their
request for a human king was, as God Himself mightily demonstrated
to them, an utter rejection of Him, and He grieved because of it.
And yet when God gave them a King, He expresses His decision in
quite a different tone: " I will send thee a man (Saul)...that
he may save my people out of the hand of the Philistines: for I
have looked upon my people, because their cry is come unto me"
(1 Sam. 9:16). God speaks as if the gift of Saul was akin to the
provision of Moses, to save poor Israel from their unwarranted persecution.
Actually, Saul was slain by the Philistines- in His foreknowledge,
the Almighty knew all about Saul. But in His pure grace, He doesn't
reflect this in the way He speaks at this time.
Later, just because Judah were a bit better than Israel, the Spirit
says: " Judah yet ruleth with God, and is faithful with the
saints" (Hos. 11:12). But just two verses later: " Yahweh
hath also a controversy with Judah" (Hos. 12:2). And poor Israel
are pitied by the Spirit " as a woman forsaken and grieved
in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused" (Is.
54:6). This is incredible. Israel treacherously went after every
young man of the nations she saw, it was her who grieved and refused
God; and yet here, the gracious Sovereign puts in all round the
other way, as if she was the sweet young wife who was refused and
subsequently lived life with a broken soul. There is a powerful
logic in all this. If this was the love of God for His people Israel,
how much more does He love us who at least try to respond through
His Son? It is a struggle for us to really believe all this. It
was the struggle of the Egyptian shepherd girl of the Song who just
couldn't accept Solomon's protestations of love. She felt that her
perfume had lost its fragrance (Song 1:12 Heb., cp. Jud. 16:19 Hebrew).
She felt ugly before Him, unworthy of His love. And yet she struggled
against this sense of unworthiness. She saw His love, and fain would
But our own experience of God's grace should surely indicate that
for us, it needn't be such a struggle. We really can believe
it, and have a thoroughly cleansed and good conscience because of
it. This God of absolute grace and enthusiasm for our redemption
really is our God, and is manifested in our Lord Jesus. When finally
He appears, we shall be able to say that " Lo, this is our
God; we have waited for him" ; He will be the character that
we expect Him to be. The Christian who thinks his Lord is a hard
man will find Him like this; but to us who know Him as the Lord
of all grace, this is how He will surely be. In the meantime, our
experience of Him and His character will in itself lead us to the
positive expression of His Name in every aspect of our existence:
from our objection to violent military activity, to our speech,
even right down to our body language.
(1) There is more discussion of this in Enduring
To The End (Endpiece).