Having a Confident Conscience

June 14th, 2017

For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you… Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. (2 Corinthians 1:12,15 ESV)

We can live confidently in Christ, our consciences cleaned by His grace and guided by His Spirit. “Conscience” is that aspect of the human soul that knows right from wrong. The Bible has much to say about the matter. Consider these few verses:

  • Our consciences bear witness to the fact that originally we were made in the image of God, but that image is scarred because of sin. We do not perfectly follow our consciences. “They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them” (Rom. 2:15). They defend us one moment in that we have a conscience, and accuse us the next because we do not follow them all the time.
  • Our consciences are imperfect, so they they are not the same as the Holy Spirit of God who resides within the believer. “Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:2). We each often feel guilty for the wrong reasons and do not feel guilty when we should. (See also 1 Cor. 23-29)
  • To regularly neglect our conscience will lead to a shipwrecked faith: “holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith” (1 Tim. 1:19 NIV)
  • Yet the more we walk with God in fellowship, the more informed and healthy our consciences are. “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5 NIV).

Paul had just finished writing about the overwhelming pressures he felt in his life and ministries that caused him to even despair of life (2 Cor. 1:8-11) . God had delivered him - not only from the deadly peril but also from the overwhelming fear that he had felt in its presence. In the verse above he explained the reason for his confidence, and laid down for us a principle of life - how to live confidently with a clear conscience.

Here is what he stressed:

He had listened to and heeded the Spirit’s voice: Above the deafening din of the world’s noise, he had learned the discipline of hearing from God. He meditated on the Word and communed the Spirit. He had worshiped Christ in his heart. His conscience was shaped not merely from his childhood memories, not merely from the voice of his teachers as a young man, and not from his fears or superstitions, but from the voice of the living God and the purity of His Word.

He had shunned worldly “wisdom”: The word “wisdom” appeared in 1 Corinthians, and it was apparently a word used quite often in the church of Corinth. Paul wrote to them:

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. (1 Cor. 2:6-7 NIV)

The spiritual person may have many friends who are less spiritual than he, but he follows only one voice and only one Master. He distinguishes between the ways and values and thoughts of the world and the thoughts of God. We cannot be spiritual if we have never learned to say “no” to the world and to its influences - especially to its false “wisdom.”

He behaved with simplicity, godly sincerity, and according to the grace of God: The complexity of the world’s thinking that says, “on the one hand” and then “but on the other hand,” that knows neither pure good nor admits to pure evil, was cast away from his mind. Instead he walked in simplicity of heart, eschewing all and any impure motives, and in sincerity. Grace was the value he held, which meant that he knew he himself was undeserving of God’s favor, but that God poured this out freely through Jesus Christ to all who believed.

In this grace and simplicity he engaged others lovingly and kindly. As he wrote to the Colossians, “Him [Jesus] we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1:28 NKJV). He had come through the fire of trials with the life of God and the grace of Christ guiding his thoughts and every decision, relationship, and value.

Grace meant that he had not considered himself perfect, but rather his direction was Godward and he was quick to confess his failures and live daily in the reality of the grace of God. He refused to live under the illusion of his own moral perfection or perfect determination. He knew that he did not always know what to do in and of himself alone, but he trusted that God did and would guide and enable him to stand. As he wrote to the Philippians:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14 NIV)

This is God’s goal and plan for every Christian, that we might in simplicity of obedience, in freedom of conscience, and in the joy of the Spirit. The two Christian disciplines that we should have are to daily confess our sins and to surrender to the Lordship of Christ - forsaking the world and following the Christ.

You can have a clean conscience if you will confess your faults to Christ and commit to follow Him daily.

This was the blessing that he wished to share with the Corinthians - the Christian joy of confident living in purity of conscience with the Lord.

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Constant Dependence on the Lord

June 13th, 2017

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, regarding the affliction that happened to us in the province of Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of living. Indeed we felt as if the sentence of death had been passed against us, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. He delivered us from so great a risk of death, and he will deliver us. We have set our hope on him that he will deliver us yet again, as you also join in helping us by prayer, so that many people may give thanks to God on our behalf for the gracious gift given to us through the help of many. (2 Corinthians 1:8-11 NET)

Life is not lived in a vacuum, in an absence of real circumstances and situations. We may wish we could withdraw to some ideal retreat setting and live out our days there in commune with the Spirit. But that is not how life is to be lived. We may be helped to withdraw from time to time - we each need our special times with God on the mountaintop - but life is lived in the valleys.

In this tremendous letter we call Second Corinthians, Paul does not begin proclaiming the peace of the retreat center, of the mountaintop, of the prayer closet. Instead he teaches us about living in the fullness of God in the midst of overwhelming circumstances.

A common false quoting of scripture today goes something like this: “I know the Bible says that God never gives us more than we can handle.” My question is: where does the Bible say that? I have never found such a verse. I have found Romans 8:28 which states that all things work together for good for those who love God, but that is a very different thing. Paul, in fact, said here that he was overwhelmed, that they were burdened “excessively, beyond our strength.” And in this overwhelming reality he learned to lean upon Jesus.

“We have set our hope on him!” is the triumphant victory cry of the Christian. We learn the meaning of these words - of this spiritual reality - in the midst of frustrations, difficulties, and despairing circumstances. Near the end of this letter, Paul wrote:

But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10 NT)

The list of things he had learned to rejoice in is exactly opposite of what we would seek out ourselves to promote spiritual growth and nearness to Christ.

  • “weaknesses” - the word in the original was used much as we use our word “weakness” and could mean both physical and mental or emotional weaknesses. In all of his frailties - physical, material, social, emotional, mental, and spiritual - they had driven him closer and closer to God.
  • “insults” - the word means not just to be insulted by social equals, but to be legally chastised by the haughty and petty government officials - the “little emperors” who ran the small places but were filled with self importance and looked down their noses with disdain at Christians.
  • “troubles” - the word means “necessities” or “constraints” or “dire straights.” When he needed to do something but did not have the means to do it, he had to depend on God.
  • “persecutions and difficulties” - these words are clear in themselves - the hardest and worst things imaginable he had also learned could be turned to good in the hands of God.

This does not mean that evil is actually good, but that when evil and hardship had sought to ruin his spiritual life, the end result was life and not death!

At what point is there personal failure here? At what point is Paul talking not merely about attacks from the world but the outworking of some personal failure on his part - the lack of planning, for example? Or the problem of neglect or simply forgetting? I believe they are all included, even his own failures, in the first word above - “weaknesses.” They drove him to the grace of God - it is the man who is convinced he is a great sinner that makes the best Christian.

In your circumstances today, write on a pad of paper the challenges you are currently facing. Whatever feels overwhelming, impossible, extremely hard - give these things to God. Ask Him to show you His face, His grace, and His power in your life through these things. God shows Himself to us when we know we have needs that only He can meet.

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