For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you. (2 Corinthians 1:12)
You’ll remember that the apostle Paul was being assaulted as to his integrity, his righteousness, his authority; he was being attacked on every front. And in defense of himself, he doesn’t ask for the testimony of some other men. He simply says this, “Whatever you may be saying, our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience.”
Conscience, then, is the highest court on earth. Conscience is the soul’s warning system, according to Romans 2:15, which either affirms us as being good and righteous and holy, or indicts us as being evil and sinful and wicked. If we are going to have a peaceful life, if we’re going to enjoy happiness and fulfillment, if we’re going to have the kind of joy that gives us freedom to serve God gladly, then we have to have a clear conscience. To be able to say what Paul said should be the desire and the goal of every believer.
We want to experience that affirmation from our conscience, and that’s challenging because sin pervades our inmost being. When we come into this world we love our sin, our rebellion, our blasphemy. We seek every opportunity we can to manifest it. But we have a conscience that tells us we are guilty. It hammers us, like a relentless ringing in our spiritual ears.
So, what do we do? You could summarize this as follows: We try to silence conscience by camouflaging our sin; shifting the blame or redefining our sin; or disavowing our responsibility.
Adam and Eve did this in the garden. In Genesis, when they sinned, the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked. They sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. They tried to hide.
King David tried in futility to cover his guilt when he sinned against Uriah. He committed adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. When she became pregnant, David first plotted to try to make it seem as if Uriah was the father of the baby, according to 2 Samuel 11:5-13. That didn’t work. So then, he had to scheme to have Uriah killed. That only compounded his sin. Later, when David was confronted with his sin and repented, he said this in Psalm 32:3-4:
When I kept silent about my sin, my bones wasted away
Through my groaning all day long.
For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
My vitality was drained away as with the heat of summer.
David tried to cover it up, and his conscience just plagued him so that his life dried up. He literally became a sick, sick man.
Many people justify their sin by seeing it always as somebody else’s fault. Again, go back to Adam. He described Eve as the woman “whom You gave to be with me,” and therefore was blaming not just his wife but his God as well. Typically, people try to excuse their wrongdoing because they think they have some valid compelling reason. They convince themselves that it’s okay because they really are victims of some other source. In our day, we even label sin as sickness and deny that we have ever done anything really wrong. The human mind is endlessly creative in trying to justify itself.
Sometimes we’re so unknowing of God’s law that we just sin inadvertently. And that’s characteristic of us. We, like the psalmist, have to pray in Psalm 19, “Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults.”
There are things going on in my life I don’t even know about. We naturally tend to be insensitive to our own sin. That’s why Jesus said in Matthew 7, before you go poking in somebody else’s eye to take out a toothpick, why don’t you take the two-by-four out of your own eye? We can very often see sin better in others than in ourselves. And sin is very deceitful. Sometimes we think because we don’t see acts of sin in our life that we don’t have to deal with the attitudes of sin in our hearts.
So, human beings have a conscience, triggered when we sin, by the highest law known in our hearts. And since even pagans have the law of God written within them, so they know what is right and wrong, their conscience afflicts them with guilt. Usually they cover it up, justify it in some way, or just flatly ignore it because they’re so uninformed about the things that God says. And so sin can go on in the lives of people, becoming such a pattern that they don’t even label it as sin.
Now, that’s a dangerous way to live. Ultimately it’s going to damn you, because you’re camouflaging the very thing you have to recognize in order to come to a Savior.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 1994, titled “Keeping a Pure Mind.” In addition to serving as the pastor of Grace Community Church and the voice of Grace to You, Dr. MacArthur is the chancellor of The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, Calif. You can learn more about TMU at www.masters.edu.
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