The Bare Soul - February 20, 2011
For Conscience Sake

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "For Conscience Sake" delivered to the homeless
at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on February 17, 2011.

For Conscience Sake - February 17, 2011

Acts 24:16 - In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.

Many of us can remember from early childhood the adage, "Let your conscience be your guide". Most children are taught from an early age what is the difference between right and wrong. Even those with little or no parental involvement inherently know when their behavior is acceptable or not. According to British researchers from a 2008 study, "children have an inbuilt sense of right and wrong". This is just one of many research groups that have found similar results during the past century. Scripture has long confirmed what to many of us is the obvious. The Apostle Paul explains that, like children, even those without someone to tell them what is right and wrong will invariably know the difference. He writes to the church at Rome, stating: Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law.  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 (Romans 2:14-15). Paul declared that no person is without excuse to obey the law. No matter if you are Jew or a Gentile, a religious person or pagan, no one can stand before God someday with a supposed alibi regarding their behavior. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). And, if all are honest, they will admit to this truth on this side of eternity where there is ample time and opportunity for repentance.

During Paul's defense before the Roman governor Felix, the apostle was only too aware that both his Jewish accusers and his Roman imprisoners understood this law of conscience. Whether they wanted to admit it or not, he knew that every man's life either accuses or defends himself in his actions. Paul's rebuttal to those who sought his death in the twenty-fourth chapter of Acts was meant, first of all, to show the Jews he was bound by the commandments handed down by Moses. Secondly, and of greater importance, that he was restrained by a greater law -- the law of conscience that was dictated by love for God. In our lead verse, Paul states that he does his "best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men." Of interest to our study, however, is the phrase "In view of this" which precedes his statement of conscionability. We must therefore retrieve "that" of which he speaks of previously. In verse 15, Paul states "that": ... having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. The apostle cleverly appealed to his Jewish accusers sensibilities by stating all men must live with conscience before God on a daily basis, ensuring their right-standing with the Father. In addition, he also spoke a stinging word of rebuke to his Roman captors regarding their garbled view of eternity. Ancient Romans held to many belief systems regarding an afterlife. Some believed that there would be a judgment at the river Styx when they either had eternal coinage to give to the boatman, Charon, or they didn't. If they did (which was symbolic of living a good life) then the ferryman would transport them to the Underworld to live for eternity. If not, they were left to wander the shores. Other viewpoints, depending on which Greek belief system they might have inherited, lived rather nihilistically and believed that this world was the end of their respective journeys (e.g. the Cynics, where our contemporary word derives).

In a brilliant defense, Paul recognized that he could never win by going on a punitive tirade against his accusers. Instead, he merely stated the facts of man's relationship with God. He told his audience that someday, on that last day, there would surely be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. Notice that he didn't say "the good and the bad". Paul would have known those to be much too relative terms to give this mixed group of listeners. Instead, he defined them as those who had either accepted the forgiveness of Jesus through "having a hope in God" or those who had shunned the Savior and His salvation for their lives. Through the Holy Spirit, Paul set them up to ask themselves the same question that he invariably asked himself on a daily basis, "Have I lived today with a good conscience before God and men?". He knew that the only answer they could honestly provide in their defense was "no". That is the case of any of us. If we do not know the Savior, there is no cleansing of our conscience before our God. If we have not accepted the blood of Jesus as the redeeming work in our life, then our consciences are "wicked" and not "righteous". Only through Christ is there the hope of salvation -- that we will be resurrected into newness of life. That is the reason why we look to Jesus for His power to cleanse our consciences and to make us stand in His presence, not by our own works, but by His death on Calvary (Hebrews 9:14).

At some level, we all know when we transgress God's ways. Paul elevated Jesus in himself to his accusers, stating that the only way he could stand before them blameless and with a clear conscience was by the redeeming life of the Son of God living within. Today, many know the righteous way to live, yet they deny the power to do so. They have rationalized God to the point, like the Romans, that they have adopted a conscience that is fitting for their lifestyles. Through their self-deception, they have prevented both themselves and possibly others from finding the Truth as outlined in the scriptures. Their consciences, as Paul states to Timothy, have become seared in the fire of their own lust to live separate from God (I Timothy 4:2). However, there is healing and restoration for all who would but humble themselves and submit to the conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8). Whether we have become religious "prudes" like the Pharisees, believing our own righteousness will save us, or we have dumbed down our consciences to the point of not believing anything, the Savior is there to resurrect any and all who would call upon His Name. Newness of life can begin, right now, when we receive Him into our life. May we all experience the resurrection from the dead through a blameless conscience, both now and on that final day.

Heavenly Lord, grant us the ability like your servant Paul to live blamelessly before You, everyday, with a conscience that is cleansed through the blood of Jesus Christ. Help us to live before You with hearts sprinkled clean by His redemption. And, help us, like Paul, to testify of Your goodness to others. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

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