The Care and Feeding of Your Conscience

Scripture: Romans 2:14-15, 1 Timothy 4:2, Matthew 12:31-32
Date: 01/06/2007 
The message covers your conscience, what it is, why God gave us a conscience, and how to care for it. The conscience is sensitive to right and wrong, it judges our actions, and prompts us when we go against what we believe is true. We all come equipped with a conscience by God. Our consciences can be scarred. They need to be governed by the word of God.
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Note: This is a verbatim transcript of the live broadcast. It is presented as spoken.

Morning. Happy New Year. I haven’t seen many of you since last year and it’s very good to see you again. I’ve been wearing that joke out. It is very good to see the Renjifo family together in church. Can you say amen? And back at Central. They’ve of course been in Germany serving there for the last couple of years and we’re very thankful they’re back home again. I also want to congratulate David on his marriage and thank you for that beautiful selection and Arlene for the special music. That was a delight. Thank you for letting me be your pastor. It is a privilege. We get together as a staff each week and I tell the pastors, I say, boy we are so thankful. We’ve got a great church here and it is a blessing to be here and I just want to thank you again personally for that privilege. So thankful for our staff and the hard work they all do. Aren’t these windows great? I’ve just got a lot I’m thankful for. I’m very thankful for that and the work that Harold and Melissa have done getting that seen to. It’s so quiet in here now and it’s going to keep us a little warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer and so we’ve just got so much to be thankful for.

This morning I’d like to talk to you about a message I thought something important to think about at the beginning of a new year and it’s the subject of your conscience, more specifically “The Care and Feeding of Your Conscience”. I couldn’t find a photograph of a conscience so I used a brain. If you have one of the conscience you could e-mail me, I’d like to use that. Maybe I should begin introducing this with a true to life story. You’ve heard people talk before about committing the perfect crime. Well, back in 1993 somebody thought they’d committed the perfect crime. Matter of fact, the FBI thought the perfect crime had been committed. Somebody stole an armored truck with about three million dollars in it in Las Vegas. They vanished then. Ten years went by. It appeared that they had committed the perfect crime. At least one of those two people that were involved in this crime was living a double life in Amsterdam. The money was gone. They realized of course that they were on the FBI’s most wanted list. Her name was Heather Catherine Tallchief.

At this time she was a mother still a young lady committed the crime in her twenties and now she was in her early thirties, had a son about ten or eleven years old and just got where, even though she was free, no one suspected what she was guilty of, that she was on the FBI’s most wanted list. Living in Amsterdam, had to take jobs just for cash, got to where she couldn’t take it anymore. Conscience was bothering her. who would want to go turn themselves in to the FBI when you’re on the ten most wanted list and spend who knows how many years in prison when you’re free? Someone asked her that question and this was her response, “Because you get very tired of running. This is not a life because I have been assuming someone else’s life that is not my life. If you’re living in a prison mentally then what is a box, a room?” In other words, compared to going to a prison cell, the prison I’m in now mentally because of my tormented conscience, it’s nothing. “What is a box with restricted privileges? It’s nothing compared to what I’ve already been through. I truly feel like I’m setting myself free.” So in September, 2005 she turned herself in to federal authorities in Las Vegas, has subsequently been tried and I think they only gave her five years because she cooperated so much and basically turned herself in. Now I’m not weighing in on whether or not she got the just sentence or not. The reason I mention this story is because it’s one of many I could tell you. I can’t remember the name of the lady who was involved in the murder of a policeman during the hippie movement in the 1960’s, lived on the lam for thirty years, had a family, restaurant business, nobody knew who she was, couldn’t take it anymore, turned herself in.

Do you remember who I’m talking about? And you hear about this often. Why? Their conscience was tormenting them. The Bible tells us that God is inviting us to live before Him with a clear and a pure conscience. Jesus came to save us from guilt and He came to save us from one of the side effects of guilt which is a guilty conscience. He wants us to live before Him with a pure conscience. Before I dive very deep in this message I think it’s a good time to get a definition. Conscience. The word conscience actually comes from combining, this is how I learned to spell it, of con science. Science means knowledge or the study of and it’s a knowledge or understanding of the study of yourself and what your values are. Dictionary definition is “a. A motivation deriving logically from ethical or moral principles that govern a person’s thoughts and actions; b. Conformity to one’s own sense of right conduct.” That’s a simple definition I like. “c. A feeling of shame when you do something immoral; d. The awareness of a moral or ethical aspect to one’s conduct together with the urge to prefer right over wrong; e. The part of our mind that judges the ethical nature of one’s actions or thoughts and then processes such determinations for consideration.” I was looking with my son Stephen last night.

We were going through the Internet. There’s a bunch of dictionaries and thesauruses and encyclopedias, you would not believe how much there is just trying to define what is the conscience? What is this inner voice in people that governs them that you can’t find with a scalpel, but it’s there isn’t it? It’s this guiding voice, this urge. Now to some extent… You have to listen carefully to everything I’m going to say. We all come factory equipped with an element of conscience to some extent. It is standard equipment. I’m telling you that being raised basically an atheist. I had a sense as far back as I could remember that certain things were just wrong and just right and I don’t remember when anyone along the way taught me. Matter of fact, indeed the examples I had were contrary in my life with my parents, but I knew some things were wrong and I knew some things were right. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but my mother would take me out shoplifting and she’d say, “Oh, they’ve got plenty of money. They charge too much.” And she would justify and rationalize it. Never saw her get caught. And you wonder how I ended up a thief, right? My father, millions of dollars, I watched him engage in petty theft more than once and he laughed, “Ha, ha! I got away with something.” So I did not have that kind of example, but you know what? I always knew it was wrong. I knew lying was wrong and yet my mother would tell me, “To be a good actor, Doug,” my mother was an actress. She’d say, “You’ve got to be a good liar.”

That’s an interesting philosophy because you’re trying to purportedly be something or somebody you’re not. So I wasn’t raised with the appropriate morals, but I always had an inner voice that said, “This is right and this is wrong.” The Holy Spirit does speak to even pagans. Let me give you a verse on that. Romans 2:14 & 15, “…for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things contained in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them…” Now we come factory equipped with an element of conscience, but that conscience is not perfect, it’s not complete without the word of God. Somebody has likened to the difference between true north and magnetic north. Some of you, especially if you’re pilots or if you do a lot of hiking, you know if you use a compass it will give you the direction of magnetic north, but it is not the rotational north pole of our planet. They’re not the same and I have it up here on the map. You can see the North Pole that the earth rotates on, that’s the yellow star. Magnetic north, and that’s actually magnetic north for the year 2000, it’s actually moving from Canada off into the ocean, it drifts northwest. It vacillates with the magnetic, molten core in the earth that has these currents. It’s moving. It’s typically somewhere in the north, but it’s not exactly north and a lot of us have a conscience but that conscience is imperfect because our consciences, let’s face it, can be taught and trained to think some things are wrong that may be right and some things are right that may be wrong.

Have you met people that have consciences out of whack? I mean, you and I know of people who will say something careless, hurt somebody’s feelings and they can’t sleep at night because they said something inconsiderate and then there are other people who can commit murder and sleep like a baby. Some of it is the way that they’ve trained their conscience. We’ve got to be careful that our consciences are governed by the word of God and that’s how you get true north and not just magnetic north because if you do your flying and your hiking by magnetic north you might head in roughly the right direction, but you’ll never get to the North Pole. You need to be guided by the word of God because how many times have you heard a person say, “Trust your conscience; just trust your conscience”? You can’t always trust your conscience because sometimes people think it’s their conscience and it’s their feelings and temptation can twist your conscience. It’s amazing how we can end up rationalizing things that are not right because we think it’s this inner voice and it’s not really what is right; it’s what we want to be right. The world says, “Let your conscience be your guide.” Have you heard that before? Well, in some matters, if your conscience is governed by the Holy Spirit you’re safe, but a conscience, like a compass, must be calibrated by the word of God and the Holy Spirit. Whenever we crank up the airplane part of your run-up procedure is you set your heading indicator. It must be calibrated because every time you turn off the power wherever you park the plane that’s where it stops. It needs to constantly be adjusted and even while you’re flying check your compass and your heading indicator. They’ve got to be calibrated because they drift. We need to make sure that the Holy Spirit and the word of God are guiding us. I’ve heard a lot of people blame the Holy Spirit for things. You know what the most common one I hear is? It happened this last week.

Happens frequently. A couple take a shine to each other. One is a Christian, one is not or they might be Christians of a different denomination. The word of God is extremely clear in those situations that you should not be unequally yoked. Please say, “Amen.” You don’t need a feeling to make that decision. People will say, “But we feel the Spirit. My conscience tells me it’s okay.” There is a thin line between conscience and hormones. A person sometimes might think that it’s their conscience, “I feel so strongly, it’s the Holy Spirit.” It’s not the Holy Spirit. It’s something else. It must be governed by the word of God. A conscience can be trained. One guy thinks something is totally right, someone else thinks it’s totally wrong and they both say, “My conscience tells me it’s okay.” So can you really trust what you think is your conscience? John 8:9 These men brought this woman who was caught in the act of adultery to Jesus. Now these are men who are plotting to kill Jesus. How much conscience would they have left? Evidently they still had some. Even wicked can have a sense of guilt. We just talked about a lady who stole an armored car who had a conscience. And they’re pointing to this woman and they’re saying, “Master, she’s been caught in the act of adultery. The law says she should be killed.” They’re making this pretence of really caring about the law and here they’re wanting to trap and execute Jesus who is the Messiah, the Author of the law. And so Christ ignores them. He begins to write down in the dust of the temple floor. There’s a lot of speculation about what He wrote, but I’m fairly confident that He either wrote the law again or wrote their sins more specifically and that could be very close to the same thing.

As He is writing out, they’re saying the law says such-and-such, they’re claiming to care about the law, and so He starts writing out the areas of the law they’re breaking. Then He gets up and says, “He that is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” He stoops down and keeps on chronicling their sins. What does the Bible say there in John 8:9? “Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last.” That could be because the oldest had the longest record of things that He had marked down there. I don’t know. Certainly the longer we live, the longer our record of sin, but their conscience was bothering them and they realize, “I have no right to condemn this woman.” For one thing they were accomplices in that they set her up to use her to trap Jesus. A person’s conscience can be affected by their culture, by faith, misplaced faith. I remember hearing a story about an evangelist who recently passed away was in Africa and he said that there was this one tribe and the people had such complete faith in the local witch doctor. On one occasion, I’m paraphrasing this story, someone had been stealing the chief’s eggs during the night and devouring them, someone in the village. They didn’t know who it was so the witch doctor gathered everyone together in the village and said, “If you confess, the chief will forgive you. If you do not confess, your hands will begin to itch and burn before the week is up.”

Well, before the week was up somebody had hives all over his hands and they were scratching and burning and in great pain and they finally confessed that they were the ones. Now did that witch doctor have the power to give them hives, or is it possible that the placebo effect took over and their guilty conscience and their faith pretty soon they started feeling their hands burning and itching? So it may have had nothing to do with anything physiological or even the Bible and the Holy Spirit, but sometimes a person, their conscience can be trained to behave a certain way because they think a certain thing is going to happen or is right or wrong. The Holy Spirit is what we need to guide us. John 16:13, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth…” You know a conscience is something like a thermostat in your house, but it must be adjusted and it must be the Holy Spirit that adjusts that thermostat. Now how many of us would like to have a clear conscience? Would you like to have a clear conscience? Would you like a really clear conscience or would you like to just think you’ve got a clear conscience? Is there a difference? Are there people who are guilty that think they’ve got a clear conscience? I want a really clear conscience.

The wicked do not have real peace. You can read in the Bible, Isaiah 57:21 “‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked.’” You might be thinking, “Pastor Doug, there are people like Saddam Hussein and other’s who might be guilty of mass murder and they seem to sleep at night.” We’ve heard about serial killers that can look coldly into the camera and just smile and act like they have no problem at all. Cold blooded. Conscience seared with a hot iron. But in most cases the wicked know that they’re wicked and they tremble and it bothers them. Most dangerous thing is when you don’t have any compunctions. Hebrews 13:18, Paul says, “Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably.” You notice that having a good conscience is something that is ongoing; it represents an ongoing desire to live honorably. Somebody said one time, “A bad conscience embitters the sweetest comforts. A good conscience sweetens the bitterest crosses.” It’s like Heather Tallchief. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a million dollars and a guilty conscience. Proverbs, many times, talks about how much better it is to have a handful with peace than a houseful with treasure with strife. I was hearing in the news this week the performer James Brown died. Already friends, family, former wives, and girlfriends are fighting over his estate, which I don’t think amounts to very much, and they’re so bitter and they’re using the media to blast each other.

Take it from somebody who has seen all of this firsthand, it is a lot easier to just let go and be able to go to sleep at night with a clear conscience than to fight and to claw, to be tempted to say things that are unkind for earthly possessions. You’re so much better off having peace and a good conscience than to violate your conscience and have wealth, to steal. There are people in Wall Street and they basically are thieves. They may have millions of dollars and others are jealous and think, “Oh, man, look how much they’ve got!” But some of them have gotten that by violating their conscience. They have no peace. I really believe that. It’s so much better to have peace. “A good conscience can sleep in the mouth of a cannon,” that’s a quote. “A good conscience can sleep in the mouth of a cannon.” It’s like a little bird in his nest by Niagara Falls sleeping. I heard a story one time that opening day of hunting season some game wardens did something very clever. Way out in the wilderness where they knew a lot of hunters would frequent they put a sign and it said, “Warden Hunting Inspection Station 1000 feet ahead.” And then about three hundred feet ahead there was a dirt road off to the right. They really had their inspection station set up on the dirt road off to the right because all of the hunters that were hunting illegally or who had gone beyond their legal limits when they realized that there was an inspection station, or thought, a thousand feet ahead, they all tried to take the logging road to go around it.

You can imagine their surprise. All they had to do is put that sign up that said “Inspection Station 1000 ft. Ahead” and they really put the inspection station on the only turnoff. People who didn’t have a clear conscience went down that side road. I heard another similar story about a man who was looking for a contractor to do some work for him. A number of people were submitting bids to do this building contracting and he’d bring them in his office one by one and he’d have the competitors’ bids on his desk. He would set a can of soda on top of the quote the other competitors gave. This man was looking for an honest contractor. So he thought, “I’m going to leave the office for a minute.” They noticeably could see their competitors’ bids on the table, but there was a can of soda over the other bids. He’d leave and say, “I’ll be right back.” He thought, “If they’re honest men, they will not be looking.” Some of them just couldn’t resist the temptation. They’d pick up the can of soda to look at their competitors’ bids to know what they had to compete with. What he had done is he had filled the can with bb’s and he had cut out the bottom of the can. Whenever they would go move the can all of a sudden zzz all these bb’s and you could never gather them up fast enough. They would be all over the floor and he’d come in, he’d see the bb’s on the floor, he’d say, “Thank you very much for your bid. We won’t be doing business together.” Because they were looking at his stuff and a person of ethics would say, “I’m not supposed to be looking at that.” They’re supposed to be sealed bids. It’s interesting sometimes the way that people might divulge a conscience. Jesus said, in John 16:7 and 8, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth.

It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” Now listen to this. Who is the Helper? Holy Spirit. “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment…” One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is to bring conviction. You know there has been a lot of talk in our culture, and I think some of it’s from the devil, not to feel guilty about anything. Freud sort of had that at his foundation that all guilt is learned and you shouldn’t feel guilt and guilt is what’s bad, guilt is what makes people sick. There may be some truth to guilt making people sick, but guilt is a good thing if you’re guilty. How many are not wanting to feel guilt when they are guilty? This is what society and kind of the psycho-babble of the day is. They’re all trying to make everybody feel good about being bad where God is saying, “No, you should feel bad if you are bad.” What do you do if you’ve got a child that is a kleptomaniac and has no guilt about it? Would that worry you? Don’t you want your children to have a conscience of what is right and wrong? And yet, we’re being told over and over in our culture, we’re being trained by the devil to think that bad is good and good is bad. It’s very dangerous when it gets to that place. On the subject of conscience the Bible talks about a pure conscience. A lot of people sometimes are plagued with something for years and they want to get it dealt with.

They’re living godly lives, but there’s something little that’s bothering them and they just want to have a pure conscience. The Brooklyn Library reported that they came to the front steps one day, in New York City; they found a big old stack of books that was left that someone had checked out in 1935. The late fees totaled $5,521.00 and on the box it said, “Better late than never.” They had checked out the books in 1935 maybe they were moving, they found them all, they said, “Oh!” They felt guilty and they needed to take them back. Do you ever find something you borrowed from somebody a long time ago and you’d forgotten that you borrowed it? I’ve got a book on my shelf and it hurts my conscience whenever I see it. Somebody leant it to me; they made it clear they were lending it to me, and they said, “I want it back when you’re done.” Now I don’t know how to reach them, but I’ve still got the book. Then of course there are a lot of people I’ve leant books to and I’ve never got them back. Works both ways. Does your conscience bother you? You want to keep your conscience sensitive. You don’t want to get to the place where you don’t have that feeling of guilt when you’ve done something wrong. You know what’s dangerous is when we get to the place where we say, “Oh, it’s just a little thing.” And the little things don’t bother us. We want to have a conscience that is pure. Somebody said, “A good conscience makes a soft pillow.” It makes it easier to sleep at night. Paul said, and this is a verse I especially want you to underline, Acts 24:16, “And herein do I exercise myself, to have always…” What does exercise mean? Is exercise laying down or is it active? He says I’m actively always working to have “a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.” There are offences towards God, and there are offences towards men. I borrowed my neighbor’s ladder a couple of weeks ago. I said I wanted to clean our windows.

We have a two-story section of the house and I can’t reach them. He was nice enough to loan me his ladder. My conscience bothers me when I have something that belongs to somebody else, I hope there’s others here that are wired this way, I don’t feel complete peace until I’ve given it back in good condition. It bothers me, and I think it should. We should respect other people’s property. Doesn’t it bother you if someone borrows something of yours and they don’t return it or they bring it back broken and it doesn’t bother them? We ought to be training people. Some people have no compunctions about that. Our conscience should tell us. Well, I couldn’t get all of the windows done one day and so the next day it was cold and I didn’t want to do them right then, get out on that ladder, but I said, “No, I’ve got to get John’s ladder back. I have his ladder.” So I cleaned it, he wasn’t home and I put it over the fence very carefully so he would see it right away. I just wanted to get it back to him. I’ve also found as soon as you borrow something from somebody, it’ll break. I remember the pastor who baptized me. I was putting in a garden. Pastor Joe Phillips had a rotor-tiller, a Merry-tiller. I still remember, Briggs and Stratton engine. We were trying to put in a garden.

It was new ground; it had never been broken. He said, “Borrow my rotor-tiller.” I said, “I’m afraid just as soon as I borrow it, something is going to go wrong.” He said, “Oh, it’s the most dependable rotor-tiller! I’ve had it for thirty years. You won’t have any problems.” Oh, part of was because I probably didn’t know what I was doing, but I don’t think I plowed one furrow before I sheared the key pin on the crankshaft which is a major repair. I don’t think it ever ran for that pastor again. I felt so bad. See? It still bothers me today. I’m really sensitive about getting stuff back to people. You, some of you, some of you who are watching I’m pointing at you too. You’ll send me a manuscript and you’ll say, “This is our original copy. Please read it and send it back to me.” Don’t do that to me! Then I’m so afraid. I’ve got their only handwritten copy of this manuscript they’ve written, they want me to read it, and I don’t always have time. Then I try to read it and then I’m afraid I’m going to forget about it and lose it. I actually had one fellow say, “I sent you my only copy.

I had to rewrite.” I had misplaced it. Don’t do that to me! I can see what my judgment is going to look like. I’ll stand before the Lord. The Lord is going to be tapping His foot, this big old stack of tapes and videos and manuscripts people have given me. He’ll say, “Doug, these weren’t yours, but they were in your stuff when you perished.” Some of you here, you know, you’ve handed something to me, and you’ve said, “Doug, I want you to listen to this tape.” Do you know what I always say? What’s the first thing I say? “Do you want it back?” I do. I say, “If you want it back, make a copy you don’t want back and give that to me. Don’t give me your original. It makes me very nervous.” Now I know I’ve got some stuff that some of you have leant me and I’ll get it back to you. You’d better write your name on it. But that ought to bother us.

We ought to have a conscience about that because you know what it’s called? Stealing. I’m trying to train our kids, we should all do that, to be on time. Time is the stuff that life is made of. If you tell someone that you’re going to be somewhere at a certain time and they’re waiting for you and you’re late because of carelessness. Sometimes things happen, but if you’re late because of carelessness you are stealing a piece of their time and time is life and you are taking some of their life. I think Christians ought to try to be on time. I don’t think we should be casual about being late. Our conscience ought to bother us. If I’m driving somewhere and I’m late it makes me a little uncomfortable. It should if you’ve got a conscience, right? It’s when we get to the place where we’re so used to doing things wrong, we’ve got two choices. We either get comfortable having a bad conscience so bad things don’t bother us anymore, or we change and try and do the right things. A conscience is a blessing. You know what it’s like? It’s like your nerve endings.

You know what leprosy is? It’s when you get to the place… I used to think, as a kid I heard these stories about lepers losing their fingers and their toes and I thought leprosy was a disease where you’re just walking along one day and all of a sudden a finger falls off. That’s leprosy. Then I came to learn, no, what happens is it affects the nerves where they stop feeling. If you are touching something you feel it. If your finger is being pinched you instinctively feel it or if it’s being burned. Lepers lose their sensation in the extremities and they injure their fingers and their nose and their toes and their extremities. They don’t know that they’re being burnt or crushed and they lose them largely through injury. Pain is a blessing. If you get where you don’t feel pain anymore, you’ve got leprosy. Your conscience is supposed to stay sensitive. You know a good safecracker; this is probably a twist of logic here, but a good safecracker files the skin of his fingertips so they are so sensitive they can feel every little click and nuance of that dial.

They want to increase their sensitivity. Now a safecracker is not the best illustration for a conscience, but what I’m getting at is we want to keep our conscience sensitive. Sometimes we get a callus on our conscience and things we ought to feel we don’t feel anymore. One of the things I love to observe in an evangelistic meeting is as people come, they’ve got a conscience, but their conscience has become crusty. Their conscience has been damaged by the philosophy of the world that “you shouldn’t feel bad about doing bad, shouldn’t feel guilty about being guilty, and just feel good about yourself. You’re okay, I’m okay, doesn’t matter what you do.” That’s kind of the thinking of the world. Am I right? Isn’t that sort of what you know? “You just have an ‘alternate lifestyle.’ It doesn’t matter what you do. Don’t let anyone judge you. Just don’t hurt any whales or trees and everything is okay.” I guess I just pegged myself. But they come to an evangelistic meeting and all of a sudden they come up to me and they say, “Brother Doug, I want you to pray for me.

I’ve been struggling with smoking and it really hasn’t bothered me until now I’m coming to these meetings.” The Holy Spirit is working on their hearts and they’re convicted and I haven’t said a thing about smoking. Or they’ll come to me, and this is common in our culture today let’s face it. Is it easier for people to live together today without being married than it used to be? Has God’s law changed or has people’s consciousness about it changed? They’ll come to an evangelistic meeting and they’ll sheepishly come up and they’ll say, “Pastor, these meetings are great. We’re just wondering, you know, all our friends are living together and many of them aren’t married and it’s bothering us now.” I go, “Praise the Lord! That’s the Holy Spirit.” Isn’t that right? It’s making them feel a little uncomfortable. It should. The scary thing is when it goes the other direction. II Timothy 1:3, “I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience…” God wants us to serve Him with a pure conscience following what we know is right. I Peter 3:16 “having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.”

Now if you are persecuted and you are abused verbally for doing what’s right, as long as your conscience is good, it’s unfortunate, but you know, you don’t need to lose any sleep. If you know that what you’re doing is right, others might deride you for it, but you don’t have to… you have to live with yourself, right? It’s really a question of there are three parties involved: the world and people in it, God, and yourself. Who are you going to please? If you make up your mind that you’re going to live in a way to please God, live in the sight of God, not try and please people, not even try and please yourself, but if you put God first it will end up giving you a clear conscience and you will be serving yourself in that respect. Do you know that the government has what they call a “Conscience Fund”? It’s been around over a hundred years.

It’s a Conscience Fund. Someone, a long time ago, started sending checks to the government, and they said, “I’ve cheated on my taxes and it’s bothering me.” They especially noticed that after Billy Sunday or Billy Graham, the two evangelists, would go through town all of a sudden the government would get a surge of checks for the Conscience Fund. They would say something like “I cheated on my taxes” or “I held something back,” or “I failed to report and it’s bothering me and I’d rather be at peace with God than keep this money whatever the amount is.” I heard about one letter they got. It said, “Please accept this check for fifty dollars of funds I have failed to pay. I have been unable to sleep. If I still can’t sleep, I’ll send the balance.”

Now the Bible tells us that while we’re talking about the care and feeding of our conscience, it’s not just our conscience we need to think about. The Bible tells me that I also need to be concerned about your conscience. You know if a person is living with a guilty conscience it’s hard for them to be saved. There are some people who have a guilty conscience that really shouldn’t even be guilty, but they think they have a guilty conscience and the Bible says, “Without faith it’s impossible to please God.” We should encourage people to live with a clear conscience. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. Back in Bible times, you’ll read a lot about this in the New Testament, the Orthodox Jews were extremely sensitive about eating even clean meat, sheep, goat, that had been offered to a pagan god. The butchers throughout the Greek and Roman Empire whenever they butchered any animal, chicken, sheep, goat, it could have even been in the clean animal category, they never killed an animal without having one of these idols there. How many of you have gone to a Chinese restaurant and there’s a little Buddha there when you walk in the door? The Orthodox Jews would not eat in that restaurant because they feel like “We’re contributing to idolatry.”

Now I shouldn’t have said that because some of you now feel guilty about that. Paul says you have a weak conscience. He does. He talks about those whose conscience is weak, they’re afraid, they’re hypersensitive. So they would not eat any meat that had been offered by the seller or the butcher to a pagan god even though you’re buying it, you’re not offering it to a pagan god. I mean, by that logic you can’t buy anything at Wal Mart that might have been made by some Buddhist in China. That kind of narrows your options, doesn’t it? You can take this to extremes. You can’t put your money in Wells Fargo Bank because they happen to buy stocks in unethical things. What do you think they do with your money? They invest it and some of the things they invest in I can guarantee you would not approve of. Might invest in RJ Reynolds Tobacco. Now some of you are going to take all of your money out of Bank of America and Wells Fargo. Do you see what I’m saying? Some peoples’ consciences are so sensitive that they are constantly living in fear.

Well, Paul was saying, “Look, the idol is nothing; you didn’t offer it to the idol.” But there were people who were sensitive. Let me let Paul speak for himself. I Corinthians 10:27 “If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake.” Don’t say, “Was this offered to an idol?” No, you’re clear, right? Probably was, but don’t ask is what he’s saying. “But if anyone says to you, ‘This was offered to idols,’ do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake; for ‘The earth is the Lord's, and all its fullness.’ Conscience, I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man's conscience?” Now let me see if I can make that more modern. Periodically at our Bible Answer program someone calls in and we get a question. “Pastor Doug, I Corinthians 11 talks about a woman and cutting her hair.” The Jury is out in most churches about what to do with that one place where Paul talks about women and the length of their hair.

I’m not even altogether clear on that. I don’t understand everything in the Bible, but a lady will call and she’ll say, “You know I feel really convicted I shouldn’t cut my hair, Pastor Doug.” I’ll say, “I may not agree with your convictions, but obviously you’re not going to be punished by the Lord for having your hair grow,” the women, that is. The Bible says, “It’s a shame for a man to have long hair,” so I’m separating the two. So I’ll say, “Look, if that’s how your conscience feels then grow your hair.” I don’t want to say anything that will have a person violate their conscience. Periodically I’ll have somebody call and they’ll say, “I’m not comfortable with women wearing pants of any sort at any time for any occasion.” I’ll say, “Well, then don’t. I don’t have a burden to convince you to violate your conscience.” Because I think that I need to be careful not to encourage someone to violate and I’m not the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the Lord might be telling somebody to do something that I don’t understand that’s different. They might be at a different place and so certain things are in that category. I remember one time I went to a restaurant I’d been to many times before. I was with a person who had a very hypersensitive conscience.

I ordered vegetable fajitas and they were going to order the vegetable fajitas but they wanted to know, “Is that grill the same grill that you cook your pork on?” They looked at him and they said, “Well, yes.” He said, “Oh, I can’t eat that because it says you’re not even to touch that which is…” I changed my order. I said, “Alright I’ll have the salad.” I didn’t want to hurt their conscience, and that ruined it for me. I’d never thought to ask that before. Do you all know what I’m talking about? And so you need to be sensitive to where other people are at and you don’t want to make anybody stumble and this is what Paul is talking about when he says, paraphrase version, I become all things to all men that I might win some to Christ. We need to care about where other people are with the Lord. Now that doesn’t mean that we should wink at a person who has a conscience that is misinformed. There are some people who think, “My pastor tells me that once I’m saved, I’m saved and it doesn’t matter how I live.”

I do have a burden to change that person’s mind because they’re wrong and they’re on the road to destruction if they don’t believe it. They’ve got to know what the truth is so you don’t say, “Well, as long as you’re sincere you can keep on living in sin. As long as you believe you’re saved because you went to the altar when you were ten years old.” They’re wrong. Their conscience has been badly trained and that false teaching is deadly. How long your hair is or whether or not you get your vegetable fajitas cooked on the same grill, that’s not the stuff that is going to determine eternal destiny. You all hear what I’m saying? We need to be intelligent about what the differences are and where do you draw the line so we need to care about another person’s conscience.

An injured conscience. Some people have damaged their conscience through abuse. Titus 1:15 “To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled.” Ellen White said in the book Acts of the Apostles “Temptations confuse the conscience.” How many times have you known somebody, they want to do something bad enough they can rationalize just about anything. People in the past have rationalized adultery and murder and stealing and you can find a rationalization for almost anything if you want to. Temptation will confuse the conscience. Mark Twain said, “An uneasy conscience is like a hair in the mouth.” He had a way with words, didn’t he? I Timothy 4:2 Paul here says, “…speaking lies in hypocrisy,” talking to the lost, “having their own conscience seared with a hot iron…” You know sometimes you can have a part of your body badly burned and it kills the nerves and you never feel on that spot again. Some people have damaged their conscience through abuse.

An Indian man put it this way, “Your conscience is like a triangular wheel in your heart, and when you are obeying it’s stationary and you’re at peace. When you do something wrong it begins to turn and the edges hurt.” That little triangle goes around and it cuts in your heart. “If you ignore it and keep doing what’s wrong you wear the corners off and it doesn’t hurt anymore.” I thought that’s an interesting perspective on the conscience. I was reading this week about one of the great infamous pirates of the past, Pirate Charles Gibb, guilty of killing four hundred people. He was finally apprehended by the British and brought to justice. Before he was executed he told at his interview, “The first time I plundered another ship and I had to kill some of the crew, I had never killed anyone before, I was in torment. I could not sleep at night. It bothered me so. I was wretched, but as I continued in my life of piracy it got to the place where I could take a ship, take all of its possessions, slaughter the entire crew and sleep like a baby at night.” He’d killed his conscience.

You’ve heard stories of people that have done that. The danger is, this is where you start to border on the sin against the Holy Spirit. I might talk about that real quick. Matthew 12:31-32 “Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven... And whoever speaks a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” I’d like to offer to you that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is when you resist the work of the Spirit on cleaning up your conscience. It’s very dangerous. Often someone will in their youth sit through an appeal where the pastor is making an altar call, they want to surrender or they want to return to the Lord, but they say, “Not now.” They resist. Something holds them back, and as the years go by it gets easier and easier to put it off, or they can finally get to the place where they just don’t feel the urge to go forward anymore.

Somebody told me that if you take some of these migratory birds that have this strong migration urge and you put them in a cage at the peak of the migration season they will beat themselves against the cage trying to escape and go to their breeding grounds, but once that season has passed they stop and you can even open the cage and they’ll stay. They’ve missed the season and they’ve lost the drive. There is a time in our lives when God calls us. It’s very dangerous, especially for young people to think, “I do believe the Bible, I want to go to heaven, I want to serve Jesus, but there are some sins I’d really like to try out before it gets too late and before I get old, and maybe later in my life then I’ll repent.” You have no guarantee that that urge is going to be available then. You have no guarantee that the conviction will be there. Today if you hear His voice don’t harden your heart. Now is the time of salvation, the Bible says. Resisting that altar call can get easier over time and then a person can come to a place where they commit the unpardonable sin. Romans 9:1 “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit…” You notice, in case you’ve wondered, is the conscience different from the Holy Spirit?

Yes, it’s the difference between true north and magnetic north. Paul makes a distinction here. “…my conscience… bearing… witness in the Holy Spirit…” Through the Holy Spirit guiding “my conscience” Paul knew he was safe. That’s the only way you’re really safe. Otherwise you can get to the place where your conscience isn’t bothered with something that is bad because through overexposure we can get to where we think it’s good. Aesop, the fable teller, told a story one time, good point to it, about this wealthy man who bought property next door to this other man who had a tanning factory tanning leather in these big vats and it stinks. I’ve been by a tannery before and it sends out a terrible stench animal skins and chemicals. And the man said, “Look, you’ve got to move your operation to the other side of your property. I just can’t stand it anymore.” And he said, “Soon, soon.” As time went by he’d say, “Soon.” Pretty soon the wealthy man who owned the property next door never asked him anymore. He’d just gotten used to the smell. That’s sometimes what happens. Christians sometimes damage their conscience by exposing their souls to that which is vile in television, videos, movies, magazines, and at one point when we first see that we say, “How could…”

Let’s face it, friends, those of you who have been alive a little bit longer, you know that people living in the 50’s and 60’s would have risen up in outrage if all of a sudden overnight the current programming had shown up on their television sets even in black and white. Do you agree? The stuff that passes as legitimate and appropriate today, there would have been a riot fifty years ago, but little by little the culture has become accustomed to the stink so that just like living by the railroad tracks or in the path of the airport you get where you just don’t even hear the roar of the planes and the trains anymore and our conscience starts being seared. Things we’d never dream of doing we do vicariously by watching others do them. I say this frequently because I really believe it’s one of the most dangerous influences spiritually on God’s church today is many are injuring their consciences by being entertained through the sins of others through the media. We all need to pray that God will give us the victory over that very dangerous element.

In caring for your conscience I want to close by a couple of points. One, be honest with yourself. The most dangerous thing you can do is where you begin to convince yourself that bad is good and good is bad. Isaiah 5:20 “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” I’ve tried, and I think God has helped me with this. God has blessed me because this is one of my attitudes. If I think something is wrong, I might not be ready to give it up, but I’ll say, “Lord, I know it’s wrong. Help me.” Don’t start to rationalize that it’s right as long as you know it’s wrong. Whenever I was trying to quit smoking I frequently fell, but I never got to the place where I said, “Alright well I guess it’s okay,” and started defending it. I said, “Lord, I know it’s wrong.

I’m not ready now, but…” Be honest with yourself. If there’s something in your life and you know it’s not appropriate, admit it. Say, “Lord, I’m not ready. I don’t have the strength.” Whatever you want to say, but identify it. Don’t begin to rationalize it because that’s speaking against the Holy Spirit, isn’t it? That’s when you begin to get on the borders of committing the unpardonable sin. Your conscience is something like a guardrail in your backyard protecting you from a chasm, a big old hole. When you begin to pull down that guardrail, when you take up that fence, one night you’re going to be walking in your backyard, you’re going to fall in that hole. It’s there to keep you safe from that. Don’t lie to yourself. If you get comfortable telling half truths a whole lie is not far away. The truth is the truth is the truth. We’ve got to be honest about the little things and it’s in the little things that we ultimately gain the victory in the big things.

Now I can’t stop without at least addressing some people’s conscience is bothering them and it shouldn’t be. God has forgiven you and you won’t forgive yourself. You’ve got to learn to take God at His word. “Oh, but, Pastor, I think about what I did and I feel so guilty.” Well, you asked God to forgive you, do you believe He will? Are you going to set yourself up as a higher tribunal than the Almighty? If God says “Look, I’ve forgiven you,” then what right do you have to say, “My judgment is better than God’s judgment”? You’ve got to learn to forgive yourself. I understand that if a person has a limb amputated or if they lose a limb sometimes they can feel what’s called phantom pain. They may have lost their leg but they still feel their toe itch. The toe is not even there, but they feel it itch. It’s as real to them as if it was there, but it’s not there and they’ve got to come to terms with the fact that it’s not their toe itching. It is just the nerve endings that think the toe is there. Some of us still feel guilty because we have not forgiven ourselves. You need to base your feelings on the word of God. Don’t feel guilty when you shouldn’t and then watch out for people who will come around to try and make you feel guilty about something you shouldn’t feel guilty about. Let’s face it, there are a lot of people who are hyper-legalistic and they’ll go around and try and make everyone feel bad about everything. They want to be your conscience for you. Don’t fall for that either. Make sure that the word of God is the guide and the Holy Spirit is the guide.

Conscience cleansing. How do we get a pure conscience? I John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Is there something in your life your conscience is bothering you? Confess it to God. Be honest with Him, say, “Lord, I need help.” By God’s grace, forsake it. There may be some area where you need to restore the pledge, return what is robbed, go to someone apologize, make the wrongs right as far as humanly possible and then ask for God’s mercy and then believe that He forgives you. Hebrews 9:13-14 “For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh…” Back in the Old Testament they would feel relief in their conscience from the blood of a lamb, from the blood of a goat.

They’d feel better when they sacrificed a goat because their religion taught them that the blood of that goat somehow would be a symbol of their forgiveness and they felt better. Paul is saying if that made them feel better, “how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, (cleanse) your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” The Blood of Christ can not only cleanse you from the past sins, it can cleanse you to serve the living God. That’s what I want. Hebrews 10:22, the last verse, “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” That was our opening verse. Let us draw near. Friends, God wants you to have a clear conscience before Him. It doesn’t always come right away. It must be trained by the word of God, guided by the Holy Spirit. Heard something interesting this week. Our family in one of our journeys we went to visit a submarine the U.S.S. Nautilus, first American nuclear submarine.

It was really something because, until the Nautilus, they couldn’t stay under long enough to go under the North Pole. Not only that, they frequently had to surface because they had primitive navigation equipment and so these submarines every now and then would have to come up at night, check the stars, see where they were, go under. That’s very dangerous for a submarine. It’s supposed to operate in stealth. Well, when they developed the Nautilus not only did it, because of nuclear power, have the ability to stay under for months, now these boomer submarines they could theoretically stay under until they run out of food. Filter the air, filter the water. We’ve got someone working at Amazing Facts that was an engineer on a submarine. It’s a very interesting story. The Russians became very nervous when they discovered that America now had the technology to go from California to their coast under the ice because they could navigate. They used something called an internal magnetic gyro navigational system, very sophisticated piece of equipment that enabled them to navigate without a compass underwater and know exactly where they were. It was something internal.

Even though they could not see the sun, moon, or stars, they could not see the light; they could not read a typical, can’t look out the windows on a submarine and say, find out where we are. There are no windows on a submarine. I always thought that was sort of cheating. Wouldn’t you like to at least look out a window and see a coral reef or something? No windows. They are guided by something within that was giving them a constant. God’s word guided by the Holy Spirit will refine and calibrate your conscience to help you know where you are and where you need to go. That means we need to stay in God’s word. New year, I hope you are on a Bible reading program. I spoke at the Academy yesterday encouraging the young people to get into a Bible reading program. Read the word, pray for God’s Spirit and He will guide you, He will lead you, He’s got a path for you. I want to live before God with a pure conscience, don’t you, friends? I want to claim the blood of Christ to cleanse my conscience. Is that your prayer? Why don’t we turn to our closing hymn? “He Leadeth Me,” what number is that, Debbie? 537 Let’s stand together as we sing this.

He leadeth me: O blessed thought! O words with heavenly comfort fraught! Whate'er I do, where’er I be, still 'tis God's hand that leadeth me. He leadeth me, he leadeth me,

by his own hand he leadeth me; his faithful follower I would be, for by his hand he leadeth me.

Before we sing verse three I’d like to make an appeal to you. Some of you maybe have had areas in your life where you have been resisting the voice of the Spirit speaking through your conscience and you know there is a risk of that voice growing dull and quiet. Some of the edges on the wheel are getting worn off. That urge to migrate towards God is growing weak, but you still hear Him; it’s still there. Have you made a complete surrender of your heart to the Lord? It’s a new year, first Sabbath of the new year. Maybe there are some of you who have never yet made your decision to be baptized. There might be some who need to be rebaptized. But I’d like to make an appeal, I’d like to open the church to you and say that as we sing verse three and the Holy Spirit speaks to your heart if there are some here who need to come to the Lord for the first time, or if some your conscience is telling you there is something that needs to be made right and you want to return to the Lord and ask that the Lord will upgrade your conscience, that He will train your conscience, that you can live with a pure conscience through the blood of Christ before God, we want to have prayer for you. Come as we sing verse three together. We’ll pray together.

Lord, I would place my hand in thine, nor ever murmur nor repine; content, whatever lot I see, since 'tis my God that leadeth me. He leadeth me, he leadeth me, by his own hand he leadeth me; his faithful follower I would be, for by his hand he leadeth me.

I’d just like to ask the church at large, new year, nice Bible number 2007, would you like to say, “Lord, by Your grace, I want to rededicate myself to follow wherever You lead in this new year.” As a church we recommit ourselves to follow where God leads. He’s doing great things through this church and I think it’s going to happen as each individual says “We want to be consecrated to God.” Is that your prayer? Let’s sing verse four together.

And when my task on earth is done, when by thy grace the victory’s won, e’en death's cold wave I will not flee, since God through Jordan leadeth me. He leadeth me, he leadeth me, by his own hand he leadeth me; his faithful follower I would be, for by his hand he leadeth me.

Amen. Father in heaven, thank You very much for the message from Your word which reminds us to keep our conscience without a fence before You and our fellow man. Lord, we have all violated our conscience at times. Forgive us. We pray, Lord, that You will file away the callus that has grown in places. Help us to have a conscience that is clear, calibrated, and acute to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Help us, Lord, to have a conscience that is guided and led by Your word. Lord, if there are any areas in our lives where we have been living and going against what we know to be right, we pray that You will help us to confess what the truth is. Do not let us rest. Do not let us feel right about doing wrong. We pray, Lord, that You will trouble us. Bring that gift of conviction. And then I pray that we’ll find peace that comes from surrender in cleansing. Lord, I also want to pray for those who are troubled when they should not be. They are struggling to forgive themselves when the blood of Jesus was provided to cleanse them from all sin. Help them to find peace. Help them to accept the promise that You have forgiven them, that they can be new creatures. I pray that our conscience will be governed by Your Spirit and led by Your word, not by the world, not by others. So bless us, Lord, that we might live in Your presence. Be with this church in the year before us and I pray that we can do great things for Your cause. It’s in Jesus’ name we ask. Amen.

Those who have come forward, if there are some who would like to speak to a pastor we have Pastor White here, we have our head elders that are here and they’d be happy to visit with you and have prayer with you. We’d love to welcome you into the Central family. If you’d like to know more about that, please fill out one of the cards in the back of the pew. You may be seated. For those who would like to stay behind for prayer, we are also going to have a special session of prayer in the front of the church as we leave His sanctuary.

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