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Having a Clear Conscience


Having a Clear Conscience

Romans 14:23b

Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill

I think it’s fairly certain this morning that some of us here drink alcohol and don’t see anything wrong with it because we are doing it in moderation. And yet, others of us here think that you can’t drink alcohol and claim to be born of God, even in moderation.

Now, what do you do about that kind of a question? And that’s what we’ve been talking about these past months. It’s discussed fully in a chapter in the book of Romans, chapter 14. You remember what Paul says there, and it’s really God speaking through him to us this morning. He says, “Look, if you are studying this book and are open to what it says to you, and if this book does not definitely forbid you to drink alcohol or, this book does not definitely forbid you to do something else, it’s important to live by your own conscience.î In other words, “If this Bible is not specific about some issue then it’s vital that you live by your own conscience and that you make your will correspond to your conscience.”

You remember what he says, he says, “Look, don’t look down on people that seem to be more liberal than you are about that kind of thing.” He makes it plain, “I am not talking about murder or stealing or fornication — the things that are clearly and definitely forbidden in God’s word. I am talking about other things about which there isn’t absolute clarity. In that situation, don’t look down on people that are more liberal than you are about something.”

On the other hand, don’t you yourself think that as long as your conscience allows you to do a thing, then that’s justification for you to do it. Because really you’re governed by a higher law. You’re to be responsible not only for what your conscience allows you to do, but for what your behavior may be doing to somebody else. And if your behavior, just because it’s more liberal, entices somebody else to ignore their conscience, then of course you are to be guided by that.

You remember loved ones, he says that in Romans 14 and it’s the last verse and you might just want to look at it, especially those of us who perhaps have not read it yet. It’s Romans 14:23, “But he who has doubts is condemned, if he eats, because he does not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

So really, the truth is that sin is lack of faith. Sin is doing something that in your inner conscience you don’t think you should do. That’s what sin is. So, if you drink just because a lot of other people think, “Ah, it’s okay to drink”, and your own conscience actually is uneasy about it, then you are sinning. And you will experience a sense of God’s condemnation within you, and you’ll sense a difficulty in getting through to God and you’ll begin to experience separation from him inside. You’ll find that you can mouth all the religious language and you can come to church and can sing the hymns, but somehow, the reality of God in your life is not as it was before.

If you drink alcohol, just because a lot of other people think and say, “Sure, you can be a Christian, you can drink alcohol,” then you have to be certain in your conscience it is the right way to go. But the opposite is true. If you don’t drink alcohol because a lot of other people are saying, “Oh, you shouldn’t do itî, or a lot of people are saying, “Oh, you can’t be a Christian and drink alcohol,” and you do it just because of that, and you sin against your own conscience, which is actually giving you a sense that it’s all right for you, then strangely enough, the same thing will happen.

If you do good for a reason other than God’s voice to you clearly in your own conscience, you sin. If you do bad for a reason other than God speaking in your own conscience then you also sin. Because sin is not a matter of moral right or wrong, it is a matter of separating from what God, the Creator, is saying to you, yourself personally.

So, if you find yourself differing from some older people — some people who are more mature in the faith and you find you’re differing from them — it’s up to you to look at this dear Book. Look at it again because that is a kind of a pause and prod by God to you, because we are meant to respect those who are older than us in the faith. So, if you find yourself differing from somebody that is older, you need to go back to this dear word and examine it and you need to make sure that you are living in the light of what this word says. Then you’ve to do what your own conscience tells you to do.

It’s the same if you are an older person and you see some younger person differing from you. First, you must go back to this dear word and then you must be absolutely clear in your own mind that your heart is to do the will of him that sent you. So that as far as you’re concerned, the only thing you’re anxious about is to get other people to live by their conscience. If that lessens your liberty and freedom, and you are willing to do it, you must be absolutely clear that your position is the same as that of Jesus. You are willing to do anything to encourage other people to live by their conscience. Then if you are clear upon that, you also have to live by your conscience.

Loved ones, why all this emphasis on living by your conscience? Well, there’s a very important reason for it and it ties up specifically with these days and times in which we are living, and I’ll show you it in this book. It’s in 1 Timothy 4:1-2, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared.” In other words, this dear book of God, says that in the later times — and so many things in our world today point to us being in the later times — some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons. How will they do that? Through the pretensions of liars or through people spreading lies. Through liars whose consciences are seared.

In other words, many of us will be lost in these days because we do not take note of what our consciences are saying. You know that we’re all breathing a sigh of relief because “1984” [George Orwell novel] is over, and here we are! ìBig Brotherî is not watching us, and there is no such thing as doublethink. The tragedy is that we are through “84” and we haven’t escaped. Just because ìBig Brotherî does not take the form of the secret police or the government, we think that we’ve escaped. But there are thousands of us who are practicing homosexuality, who are engaging in drugs, who are engaging in easy going behavior with our wives. Why? Because ììBig Brotherî,î the “in thing,” is watching us.

There are thousands of us today who are doing all kinds of things that we would never have dreamed of doing when we were children or, that our parents would never have dreamed of doing, and even that we ourselves never considered doing them. There are thousands of us doing them because ììBig Brotherî,î the ìin thingî is watching us. Why? Because the people in our office are doing it and the people in our work are doing it. Also, the people in our school and our college are doing it. They all think itís right. Thousands of us are engaged in all kinds of little and big deviations in our life, not because we think itís right or wrong in our conscience. As we long ago gave up listening to that. We do it because you’re square if you don’t do it.

Everybody is easy going about their sexual morals today. Everybody is easy about alcoholism and drugs today. And we keep thinking, “We’ve escaped ìBig Brotherî.î We have escaped the ìBig Brotherî of government, but thousands of us are governed in our lives by ìBig Brotherî, the ìin thingî or the swinging group or the sophisticated thing to do.

But it works both ways. Thousands of us are going to church today for the same reason. Thousands of us attend Bible study groups, thousands of us are being nice to our children and thousands of us are engaging in seminars of all kinds because ìBig Brotherî, the religious neighbors, the pastor and our colleagues, the other friends that we have, our wives, think that we should do it. So there are thousands of us in these days who are being prepared to be sitting ducks for someone who will come along and tell us all that this is the ìdone thingî to do, so we should do it.

But loved ones, it doesn’t matter how much doublethink you practice. It doesn’t matter how much you engage in double thinking and say, “Oh, well times are changing. Society is different today. People think of these things differently.” It doesn’t matter how much you engage in that doublethink, you are still responsible to the voice of God within you which is your conscience. That conscience is a sure guide. It is still what God judges your life by. It is still on the basis of your response to your conscience that God determines whether he is able to give you a sense of his presence and approval on your life or not. So, the conscience is what will keep us in the course that God has for us. You have within yourself a gyro-compass that is set for the course that God has planned for your life.

Brothers and sisters, I know society is trying to make all of us think we’re the same. I know that. I understand we are all under the same pressure. Society makes us think we’re a cipher or a social security number. The whole commercial situation on the television ads try to make us think that we are all the same. That’s part of what kills us, you know. I don’t know about you but it’s wearing to me to think, “Oh, I am just another number.”

When somebody says, “Oh yeah, all you husbands and wives are the same” there is something killing about that. And I know it’s killing because the loved ones that I have married just recently, they’re the same as loved ones that I have married 20 years ago. They believe that their wedding is unique and I know it’s unique. But the whole of our society is bent on persuading us, “Ah, you’re all the same. You all respond the same way. You’re just a bundle of little animals that look slightly different.”

Loved ones, this dear word says that is wrong. There’s nobody like you. There is not another soul like you. There has never been another soul like you. There has never been anyone like you. There will never be anyone like you. There will never in the whole of the world’s history, ever be anyone like you. You are one unique creation of the dear Father in heaven and that’s what God says.

God says that through Jesus. He says, “Listen, my Father has numbered every hair of your head, every hair of your head is numbered by my Father. My Father knows you in a way that you don’t even know yourself. You have never counted the hairs of your head. My Father has counted the hairs of your head. He knows you through and through because he has only made one of you. There is only one of you.” Brothers and sisters, you have a unique voyage to sail. You have a unique journey. You have a unique life.

There’s a plan for your life that you alone have, that God only has for you. It’s true, and none of the rest of us knows it, it doesn’t matter how well we know you, none of us know the plan that God has for your life. God had one copy of that plan, just one in the whole of the universe, just one copy and that copy is in your conscience. It’s in your conscience, that’s it.

God has put the gyro-compass to guide you on that unique journey inside you in your conscience. That’s the only guide you have. There isn’t another. It doesn’t matter about Billy Graham; it doesn’t matter about this man or that man. It doesn’t matter even about your Dad or Mom. Inside in your conscience God has put a guide for you and he says, “As long as you keep correcting that compass by this dear Book of mine, that compass will guide you firmly and surely.” It is an insult to you or anyone to say, “You ought to do this because everybody else is doing it.” No, you have a unique journey to travel.

The sun is so big that you could fit how many earths in it? One and a quarter million earths could fit in our sun. Our sun is one and a quarter million times the size of this earth. Now our sun is only one of 400 stars, 400 similar stars, all with other planets orbiting around them, only one of 400 stars in the universe. One of 400 such stars in the Milky Way, and the Milky Way is only one of millions of such star systems throughout the whole universe. Indeed, our Milky Way seems just on the edge of the universe.

If you want to compare the stars in relationship to the space that is in the universe, it’s like sprinkling a quart of water over the 196 million square miles that forms the earth’s surface. That would give you an idea of how small the stars are in relationship to the space of the universe. And you are a speck of dust in that universe. You are a speck of dust in that universe with a planned voyage, a planned journey, lovingly planned and outlined by your Creator.

There is only one way to find your way through that and that is, by listening to your conscience. Loved ones, it’s everything. It’s everything. Every little echo that you get from your conscience is more valuable than the weakest radio signal from Mars. It is precious. You should treasure it and cherish it. The voice of your conscience is God’s voice within you. Just act according to your conscience.

Every time you respond to your conscience, you will find your life with God brightening. Every time you move with your conscience against particularly everybody else, God will brighten his presence in your heart and your life. Because you see when you live by your conscience, you are declaring against everybody else’s words, you are declaring, “I believe that God exists. I believe that he is my Father. I believe that he has outlined a plan for my life and that he will guide me along it.”

Every time you act according to your conscience, you’re exercising faith. Every time you ignore your conscience or reject it, you’re saying, “I don’t believe there is a God who knows me and who has a plan for my life and has certain things that I should do and don’t do. I don’t believe that. I believe that your opinion is as good as anybody else’s as to what I should do. I believe that I am out here on a trackless wasteland trying to find my own way. And I’ll pick a little information from here and a little from this book and a little from that idea and a little from that convention and I’ll kind of make my own way.” It’s utter lack of faith. That’s what sin is.

Sin is absolute lack of faith. Sin is independence of God. It is believing that God is not in existence and is not planning your life. That’s why lying is wrong. Lying isn’t wrong just because God has a thing against lying. No, that’s not it. Lying isn’t wrong just because God sat there and thought, “Now what will I make sins? Oh yeah, lying, that’s a good thing to make sin. Now if it were a different world, I would make loving other people a sin.” That isn’t it.

Lying is not sinful because God decided, “I am going to make lying wrong.” Lying is sinful. Lying is full of sin because lying is full of lack of faith, that’s it. Lying is a complete rejection that God is in charge and he is controlling things. See here it is, loved ones, I will show you it in this book. It’s in Ephesians if you look at.

Ephesians 1:11, “In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of His will.” Now it’s a plain statement. God accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will. Lying is a downright declaration that you don’t believe that. Lying is you declaring, “The only way I’m going to get myself out of this mess is by manipulating the circumstances my own way. The only way I am going to survive in this situation is not by God’s approval. Forget that, I have to get the boss’s approval someway or other. Or I have made an error here and the only way to get out of it is by straining the truth a little.”

Lying is absolute lack of faith that God is able to accomplish all things according to the counsel of his will. Lying is believing that unless you can wheedle your way out of this difficult situation, there is no power on earth that can deliver you from it. Lying is sinful, not because it’s wrong ethically, but because itís full of sin. It’s full of lack of faith in God.

It’s the same with pointing the finger in criticism. That’s wrong. That’s why that is sinful. It’s not sinful just because God said criticizing others is ethically the wrong thing to do. Pointing the finger at someone else in criticism is declaring that you care more about your boss’s approval than about God’s and the only way to get his approval is to knock this guy down one and to point out what he’s doing wrong. Pointing the finger at somebody else in criticism is refusing to believe that God is able to convict that person of sin and complete and reform their life and you are determining you have to reform it yourself. That’s why pointing the finger is wrong.

It’s the same with lust, you know. It’s the same reason why lust is sinful. Lust, either between man and woman or man and man or woman and woman. Lust is sinful for that same reason. I’ll show you it loved ones, itís in 1 Corinthians 2:9.

1 Corinthians 2:9, “But, as it is written, ëWhat no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” That’s why lust is wrong and is full of sin. Lust is saying, “I have something in me that it doesn’t matter what God has prepared for me. It doesn’t matter what he has prepared for me that we can’t imagine at this moment. It’s so wonderful. I want it now. I want mine now. I don’t believe he has prepared some incredible exhilaration, which is so much greater than anything I can get on earth here. I don’t believe there is a sense of an all-knowing oneness with him that I can’t get anywhere else. I don’t believe it. I want to grab what I want now.”

Lust is wrong because it’s full of sin. It’s full of disbelief in what God says. When he says, “Look, what you get in a sexual relationship is nothing compared with the sense of exhilaration and oneness that you will find with me as you come closer and closer to me. Moreover, you’re going to incapacitate yourself for that if you waste yourself in what you can get here from each other.” That’s why lust is sin.

It’s full of sin because it’s an absolute lack of faith in our dear Father and what he is signaling to you in your conscience is what he has for you. A signal that he is absolutely adequate to fulfill, and that he can fulfill every need you have and he can deliver you from every situation you get into.

If you say to me, “Well, how do you know? How do you know when you are really having faith in him and when you’re really having faith in others?” Loved ones, your conscience, your conscience will tell you. Your conscience informed by this word day-by-day. Your conscience is the gyro-compass that will keep you close to God.

Now here is some of the difficulty we get into. We share with each other how to find God and then, many of us get involved in those little formulae and we say, “If I do this and this and this, I ought to get this degree of closeness to God.” And we get involved in a technique. The only way to get close to God is to listen to his voice inside your conscience and to obey it and do it. Then as you do it, he reflects his favor in your life and he makes his presence real.

So, is there anything in your life at present, where you are not acting according to your conscience? I’d really encourage your heart. We’re all engaged in saying that lust is a big thing. Fornication is a big thing. And not praying in the mornings that’s a little thing. That’s stupid. There are no big things or little things.

There’s no big faith or little faith. You either have faith or you don’t have faith. If you don’t have faith, that’s sin. That’s why you feel such bewilderment in your life and such a sense of loss of identity. No wonder. If you’re a little speck of dust, flying through that massive universe and you’re in a trackless wasteland, no wonder you feel a lack of identity. No wonder you feel lost. No wonder you feel lonely. No wonder you feel bewildered, if you’re not listening to the one little ìradioî signal that the creator of the universe has put inside you.

Loved ones, is there any place in your life where you’re sinning against your conscience? If there is, that’s a loser. You can’t win. Don’t you see? It’s not a preacher trying to make you good. Don’t you see that? It’s not some guy trying to make you good or trying to make you a Christian. You’re a loser. You can’t win. That’s a losing streak.

You’re so made that you’ll end up in darkness and loneliness at the end of this life and in continual bewilderment in this life, unless you begin to align your will with your conscience. Otherwise, you’re on a trackless wasteland and you’ll never know where you’re going and you’re at the mercy of the rest of us. You haven’t a clue where you are going and don’t know how to go.

So brothers and sisters, itís really a very private thing. Itís a realistic attitude of you to your God. I’d encourage you to put it right this morning. I wouldn’t care what friends are lost. I wouldn’t care what style of life I had to give up. Iíd get into reality. You’re the only one like you in the whole universe and the only copy of the plan for your life is in your conscience. I’d encourage you, you know, if you can see it this morning, Iíd act. If you don’t, you wonít be able to see it tomorrow, you won’t. You won’t be able to see it tomorrow.

There’s a covering comes across your eyes. You can’t see it the same way tomorrow. I’d act today. Carmen [choir director] said they had a nice hymn to sing. It’s a real hymn, and maybe as they sing it, maybe it would be good if we would make a covenant. We could just bow our heads and make our peace with God, loved ones. Let’s do it. Let us pray.

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