I’ve been reading the Bible since I was a child. I’ve read it all the way through many times. Yet it is such a gloriously rich book (and perhaps my memory is so poor?) that frequently I come across a passage or phrase that will make me wonder, “Have I ever seen this before?”
That happened to me the other day while reading the book of Acts. I came to chapter 24, in which Paul is making his defense before Felix the governor. As a part of his response to the charges the Jews had levied against him, he admits “that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law, and that is written in the Prophets; having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection both of the righteous and the wicked. In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before man” (24:14-16).
There’s a lot in these verses: that Christianity was identified as “the Way” – that Paul understood Christianity to be the culmination of what the Law and the Prophets had written – that the Christian’s hope (like that of many Jews in Paul’s day) was the hope of resurrection – that both the righteous and the wicked will be raised on the last day (see John 5:28-29). But what struck me as if I’d never seen it before was the last sentence – in view of the fact of a general resurrection of all mankind, Paul “took pains” (the ESV translation) to have a clear conscience in relation to God and to man. Two things stand out to me: 1) that the resurrection is that which motivated Paul to aim for a clear conscience; 2) that maintaining a clear conscience was a passionate pursuit of the apostle.
Does the reality of a future resurrection motivate us as it did Paul? Do we think on our future hope, and does it lead us to give greater concern for holiness? Do we have regard for our conscience? Do we take pains to keep a blameless and clear and good conscience, living according to the standard of God’s holy law that we have learned from God’s word? Do we desire to have our consciences informed by that standard, so that when we deviate from it, our consciences are pricked, and we are quick to confess our sin, believe the gospel and turn back to God, confessing and making restitution (as necessary) to those we have sinned against? Is our conscience sensitive like a radar that can pick up the motion of a mosquito, or is it seared and hardened like a steak left on the grill too long?
Do a study of the New Testament use of the word “conscience,” and you will see how important the conscience is to the Christian life, and how undervalued it is among modern Christians. Pray that the Lord would give you the same cognizance and concern for this moral faculty that the apostle had. Search your heart – is your conscience clear? If not, do you care? If you do care, do you know the way to a clear conscience (faith in Jesus and repentance toward God)? Will you, like David in I Samuel 24, allow your conscience to strike you when you have sinned against God or man? Or will you ignore and suppress the witness of God through your conscience (as David did in his sin against Uriah and Bathsheba)? May the God who will raise us from the dead give us a heart to do our best to keep always a clear conscience before him and our neighbor!