Conscience Toward God (Cont’d)

In the first installment of this topic, we covered in a few words what the Scriptures mean by an “evil conscience” and a “purged conscience”. But what is meant by the concept of a “good conscience before (or toward) God” in Paul’s testimonies and in Peter’s exhortations? Let’s look at these passages one at a time.

“And Paul, earnestly beholding the council (Sanhedrin), said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (Acts 23:1). Many believe that Paul meant this introductory statement to refer to his past life as an observant and zealous, though yet unconverted, Jew. Likely he sought to appeal to their consciences, as to Jews who had the “oracles of God”, for their hatred toward him. The synopsis of Paul’s past in Philippians 3:4-6 is convincing enough in showing us that he did the religious things he did, including persecuting the church, while following the dictates of his conscience. From this, we can see the fallacy of the adage: “Let conscience be your guide.” To live with a good conscience before God is a commendable thing for even the natural man, but it is only a pure (purged) conscience that brings life and peace, and that is the result of believing on Him who is the “Light of men” (John 1:4). “In Thy light, we shall see light” (Psalm 36:9).

Again before the Jewish high priest and elders, during an answer to Felix, Paul says: “Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men” (Acts 24:16).  We have noticed that Paul’s life was marked by having a good conscience before God, but it took spiritual exercise to maintain that good conscience, and it will take “exercise unto godliness” for you and me as well, in order to profit and make progress in the Christian life (I Timothy 4:7-8).

Sometimes a good conscience toward God brings grief and reproach in the Christian life. Peter speaks of this when he writes in his first epistle: “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully” (I Peter 2:19) at the hands or mouths of the ungodly. But the reward for following in the steps of Christ, who once suffered for us, is to have fellowship with Him now (Philppians 3:10) and to reign with Him when He reigns over the earth in power and glory (II Timothy 2:12a).

Finally, there are things that a devoted Christian will do, steps that he will take, because he desires to obtain from God a good conscience as he walks through this corrupt world, of which Satan is the prince politically (John 14:30) and the god religiously (II Corinthians 4:4).  I believe that is the sense of I Peter 3:21: “Baptism . . . now saves you . . . as an appeal to God for a good conscience” (ESV). Baptism may not have as much meaning to the masses, nor be so risky of an act of faith, as it was in the early days of Christianity. Then it had undiluted significance to all as that which separated a Christian and his household, and saved them outwardly, from this world and its religion. May we have the faith of Noah, who built an ark for the saving of his house, condemning the world by it, of which baptism and its implied separation to God speaks (Hebrews 11:7, Romans 6:1-7). It is in this manner, knowing and practicing that which our baptism signifies, that a good conscience may be obtained from our gracious God.

 

Conscience Toward God

The Apostles Peter and Paul use the phrase “conscience toward God”, or “before God” several times in the Scriptures. Paul speaks this way when testifying before the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:1) and before Felix (Acts 24:16), and Peter does so twice in his first epistle (I Peter 2:19 and 3:21) as he encourages Jewish believers who were suffering the attacks and roars of those around them motivated by their adversary, the Devil. So what does “conscience” mean in these contexts?

We often hear that Adam gained a conscience when he sinned in the Garden of Eden and came to know good and evil, and this is certainly true in part. The Pharisees who brought the woman taken in adultery to the Lord Jesus in John 8 were convicted by their own conscience and went out from His presence, because they knew good and evil, and that knowledge of their own sinfulness condemned them, in spite of their self-righteous legalism.

However, conscience is more than simply that knowledge. It is also an innate sense of responsibility toward one’s Creator, for man was created a moral agent of whom obedience is expected implicitly. For the unbeliever this is in itself a condemnation, for he knows he is responsible to obey God, but has no desire or motivation to do so. He has, therefore, an “evil conscience” (Hebrews 10:22) which can only be cleansed by the blood of Christ. A true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ now has his conscience purged (Hebrews 9:14), and has “no more conscience of sins” (ch. 10:2), meaning that he lives in the full enjoyment that every claim of a thrice-holy God against himself for his disobedience has been met by the perfect sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ. He has fully met our responsibility before God, and our conscience is purged (purified) once for all, bringing us into the supremely blessed position of worshipers.

But we began with the phrases in Acts and Peter, which refer more properly to the believer’s sense of his responsibility to his God on a practical level, and speak of a life of faith and sensitivity to the claims of God upon himself. We will continue with this line of truth in the next installment.