Category Archives: 2013 – Jan/Feb

Thoughts on Acts 19:1-5 – David R. Pharr

Acts 19:1-5 provides precedent for a person being “re-baptized” when his previous baptism was not according to scriptural instructions.  In the case of the persons in the text they had been immersed according to the preaching of John the Baptist, which had only anticipated the redemptive work of Christ.  John never baptized in the name of Jesus.  Baptism in Jesus’ name began on Pentecost (Acts 2:38; cf. Luke 24:46f).  They needed to know and believe that John’s preparatory work had been finished and that the “one baptism” of the Christian dispensation must be in Christ’s name.

The issue, however, is not whether one’s baptism is said to be “in the name of Christ.”  Much error and evil occurs with mere claims of being in his name (Matt. 24:5; Acts 19:13ff).  Various baptisms performed in various groups may be said to be in Christ’s name, but are not in fact if they are not in harmony with Christ’s instructions.  Only when a penitent believer is being baptized that his sins might be washed away is he “calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). – DRP

Advertisements

The Signs of an Apostle – J. Terry Wheeler

I have become a fool in boasting.  You have compelled me, for I ought to have been commended by you; for in nothing was I behind the most eminent apostles, though I am nothing.  Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds  (2 Cor. 12:11f).

The second letter to the Corinthians is one of the most fascinating books in the Bible.  It is as clear a picture of the heart of the great apostle Paul as one can find (2 Cor. 6:11).

In that letter he is answering many concerns:  “Where has he been?  Why hasn’t he come back as he said he would?  Does his apostleship really compare to the other apostles?  He acts crazy, takes no money, has a pathetic ‘pulpit’ presence; why do we even listen to him?”

Titus, who had recently visited the church at Corinth, has his own questions for the apostle which the second letter answers:  “Are you sure they are going to have their contribution ready?  It sure didn’t look like it when I was there.”  Corinth was forever questioning Paul’s authority (1 Cor. 9:2, 3).  There were differences with him that the other apostles did not seem to share: he was not married nor did it seem he ever intended to be (1 Cor. 7:7; 9:5); he did not take a dime from Corinth to help in his ministry (2 Cor. 12:13); in fact, he worked as hard in secular labor as he did in ministry (1 Cor. 9:6); he was much more active than the rest (1 Cor. 15:10); he was much more at home with the Gentiles than the others (1 Cor. 9:21); he was the last apostle commissioned (1 Cor. 15:8), which meant no personal contact with Jesus (so far as anyone knew).  And of course, his history was blotted with the innocent blood of Christians (1 Cor. 15:9).

To a congregation that prided itself in preachers and in impressing the surrounding area and community with its sophistication, Paul was, for some, the last guy they wanted to depend on for spiritual guidance (1 Cor. 1:12; 4:10).  Add to that the obvious fact that some had designs on the church.  They wanted to make it their hang-out, their little nest-egg.  Paul’s influence threatened their machinations (1 Cor. 15:33, 34).  The quicker they could dispose themselves and the church of that, the better for them.

It is to this last bunch of brethren that Paul speaks so frankly in the last four chapters of 2 Corinthians.  He is confronting these fellows, who even presume to put upon themselves the designation of “apostle of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:13).  His love for even these false teachers is plain.  The pain in his heart is obvious and saddening (2 Cor. 12:15).  But he has had enough of their interference with the Corinthian brethren (2 Cor. 13:2).

The first time he came was to start the church and introduce them to the Savior (Acts 18:1-18).  The second time, he was so disappointed in them, he had to leave lest he “cut loose” on them, to their destruction (2 Cor. 1:23-2:4).  But now, after Titus returns to them with this letter, and they have had a chance to meditate on its contents, he will be at their doorstep (2 Cor. 13:1).  And he will not leave till this whole mess is settled one way or another.

It is exactly in this context that Paul speaks to them of his apostolic credentials.  These would be the validation of all Paul has done in Jesus’ name (Mark 16:20).  He reminds them of what they have already seen from him, and strongly indicates that, if they want it, there is much more to come (2 Cor. 13:3).

What he designates as “signs of an apostle” are the miracles, wonders, and mighty acts of power that fill the New Testament and so fire our imaginations today.  it is a demonstration of control over nature (John 2:7-11), over the hidden “nether” world (John 11:43, 44), and over future events (John 13:38).  It involves what man has dreamed over for eons but what has always seemed elusive to him: the ability to corral and harness all the threatening forces that surround us daily, a power reserved, apparently, only for Deity.

It is this power that the Son of God came to us with and demonstrated so freely for our benefit.  It is the same type of power that his authoritative representatives continued to demonstrate (Acts 2:43; 3:6, 7; 4:33; 5:12).

But before he goes into these sensational aspects of his ministry, Paul stresses the humble parts of his service: his deprivations, his sacrifices, the dangers he was constantly facing, his emotional turmoil – the things that no one would count as valuable or helpful, and what his antagonists in the church were struggling so hard to avoid (2 Cor. 11:1-12:11).  But it was his use of these things to establish legitimacy that, to use Paul’s phrasing, “cut the ground out from under” the false teachers (2 Cor. 11:10-12).  They were into comfort, privilege, prominence, monetary satisfaction, and worldly sophistication, even to the point of lasciviousness, uncleanness, and fornication (2 Cor. 11:19-21; 12:21).  Paul was showing the church that, between him and them, there was no comparison.

It is intriguing to consider just what Paul might have had on his mind to discipline the members.  It is also interesting that Paul is somewhat afraid of further humiliation in their eyes, as if what would discipline them would humble him (2 Cor. 12:21).  But come what may, if they needed sharpness, as Paul put it, to get the point (that “rod” he referred to in the first letter – 1 Cor. 4:21), he was ready to supply it (2 Cor. 13:10).

Discipline is a principle in the Scriptures that, for our day and age, seems absolutely tasteless, if not downright mean.  We can hardly stand the idea of someone speaking so directly as to hurt our feelings (2 Cor. 2:2).  To contemplate actual physical discomfort as something good someone might truly deliver upon us is insulting and oppressive.  And to consider that God would be happy with that outrages us and throws us into total confusion.  Such things cannot be love at all, right?

But God would “beg” to differ.  Since we are so given to fleshly pleasure and comfort, stress and even pain are necessary tools to discipline our thinking and therefore our behavior (Rom. 8:5-13).  Paul disciplined himself as an athlete would, so he could win his “race” (1 Cor. 9:26-27).  But when one cannot (or will not) exercise such effort over themselves, the church must care enough to exact enough discomfort to bring the brother back to serious attention to spiritual matters (1 Cor. 5:5).  And if the church won’t, then God will (1 Cor. 11:31, 32; Heb. 12:4-11; Rev. 2:14-16).

Generally, discipline is not considered a miraculous manifestation as the Bible puts it forth.  It is a social and personal concern that Christians exercise toward each other as the need reveals itself (Heb. 10:24; 2 Thess. 3:14, 15; 2 Tim. 3:1-5).  Or it is a matter of providential care, God working within nature to provide us the necessary discipline for our sakes (Amos 4:7-10; Hab. 3:17-19; Rev. 2:22, 23; 9:20, 21).  But in the early years of the church’s development, the miraculous powers that declared God’s presence and power were called on to not only convey the truth of God, not only bless and heal in the context of that message, but would also be used to bring discomfort on the enemies of Christ and of righteousness, to discipline the church.

So what exactly would these signs be? It would be the impressive stuff, even the deadly stuff, that apostles could do to glorify Christ (John 14:12).  It brings to mind the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira at the feet of the apostle Peter, which had a marvelous salutary effect on the church at that time (Acts 5:1-11).  It brings to mind Paul striking Elymas the Magician with temporary blindness, which certainly impressed Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:6-12).  These wonders would be likened to what Paul did at Ephesus, when simple articles of clothing like handkerchiefs that Paul had touched could be brought into the presence of the demon-possessed and the demon would be forced out that instant (Acts 19:11, 12).  But ultimately, as Paul implies, it would be whatever it took to get the church’s attention to either withdraw from the false teachers or to help reclaim them after their repentance (Rom. 16:17, 18; Gal. 5:12; 6:1).

To speak directly to the point, the signs of an apostle would be the miraculous works that only an apostle could do to underscore the authority of Christ, which the apostle represented (Matt. 10:8, 40).  It would be of a broader sweep than the spiritual gifts obtained by the laying on of the apostles’ hands (1 Cor. 14:18).  It would also mean a certain depth in the demonstration of power unique to them (2 Cor. 12:12).

It should be pointed out that, since Paul is the last apostle commissioned, and since there is no apostolic succession as far as the New Testament is concerned, it must follow that when the last apostle passed away, then the signs of an apostle died with him.  On the other hand, those who would claim latter day apostolic commission from Christ must be ready to defend the claim with the same sort of signs (raising the dead comes to mind here – 1 John 4:1).  Since God, like the truth, is perfectly consistent, we can expect no more apostles today.  The completed New Testament serves in their place (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).

It is worth noting that the book of Romans was written by Paul immediately after this third visit (or even during), while Paul was in the same locality (Rom. 15:22-25).  Most scholars are convinced that Paul wrote the book from Corinth itself.  That being the case, the book of Romans strongly implies that the problems of Corinth were truly settled to Paul’s satisfaction.  The secular history of the Corinthian church definitely bears that out.

If so, then we must take note that “the signs of an apostle” most certainly got their attention.  Perhaps simply the referencing of them in the second letter so put the “terror of the Lord” in them, that that was all that was needed.  We would hope so.

It is also worthy of note that the referencing of the signs is indeed all we do have in our day, the Lord obviously thinking that that is sufficient for us.  May such a reference to the Lord’s authority be effective with us.

CharSaint@aol.com

The Biblical Definition of Miracles – Jon Mitchell

Last month, how many of you heard a commercial on the radio or saw a Christmas movie on the television in which the Christmas season or Christmas itself was referred to as “a time of miracles”?  Usually, what is meant by statements like that is that Christmas is a very special time.  In like manner, many of us have visited new parents who are holding their precious gift from God that was just born and have heard the baby referred to as “a miracle.”  Again, what is usually meant is that babies are very special, and they are.

Unfortunately, using the term “miracle” in such a way, while seemingly harmless, is one of several ways in which misconceptions about miracles are founded in the denominational world of Christendom.  Many who profess to be Christians believe, as shown above, that a miracle happens to them whenever anything special takes place in their lives.  However, the miracles one reads about in the Bible are not defined in such ways.

Start at Genesis and continue on through the pages of Scripture to the New Testament, and you will read about miracles being done from time to time by some of God’s people.  You will also read of God himself performing miracles directly.  Yet, each and every one of the miracles described in the Bible are acts which violate the known laws of nature and science which God put into place when he created this world and universe.  Not one time is a biblical miracle defined or described as nothing more than an event which is special in a sentimental way, as is often the case today.

Consider the miracles we read about in the Old Testament.   God giving Joseph the ability to accurate interpret people’s dreams and predict the future (Gen. 40-41).  God causing a bush to burn and yet not be consumed in front of Moses, and then giving Moses the ability to turn his staff into a serpent and instantaneously make his hand leprous by simply putting it inside his cloak (Ex. 3-4).  God giving Moses the ability to part the Red Sea simply by raising his staff out over the water (Ex. 14).  Bitter water made sweet by Moses simply by throwing a log in it (Ex. 15:22-25).  God raining bread from heaven and causing water to come from a rock simply by Moses striking it, and Israel defeating Amalek in battle only when Moses would have his hands raised (Ex. 16-17).  God causing the walls of Jericho to collapse simply by having Israel march around the city for a week and then shout and blow trumpets (Josh. 6).  God answering Joshua’s prayer to have the sun and moon stand still so that Israel could win the battle against the Amorites (Josh. 10).  Many more could be cited, but notice that they all have one thing in common.  They all violate the laws of science and nature.  That’s what makes these events miraculous in nature.

We see the same thing with the miracles we read of in the New Testament.  God causing a virgin to be pregnant with Jesus, itself a fulfillment of a prophecy made hundreds of years earlier (Matt. 1:18-21; cf. Is. 7:14).  Jesus instantaneously healing every disease and affliction among the people, including paralysis, epilepsy, those oppressed by demons, lepers, discharges of blood, blindness, the mute, those with withered hands, and even raising the dead (Matt. 4:23-24; 8:1-4, 28-34; 9:1-8, 18-34; 12:9-14).  Jesus giving his twelve apostles the ability to do the same (Matt. 10:1-4).  Jesus calming a terrible storm simply by speaking and walking on water after feeding thousands of people with only five loaves of bread and two fish (Matt. 8:23-27; 14:13-33).  God raising Christ from the dead on the third day after his death on the cross (Matt. 28:1-10; Rom. 1:4).  The Holy Spirit descending on the apostles on the day of Pentecost and giving them the ability to speak in other languages (Acts 2:1-21), as well as healing the lame (Acts 3:1-10), causing the instantaneous death of those who had lied to them and God (Acts 5:1-11), healing the sick by simply having their shadows fall on them (Acts 5:12-16), and healing paralytics and raising the dead (Acts 9:32-43).  Again, many more examples could be cited, but notice once more than all of these events violate the laws of science and nature.

As people who will have to give an account for every careless word we speak (Matt. 12:36-37), we are commanded to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) as oracles of God (1 Pet. 4:11), and God’s Word is truth (John 17:17).  Therefore, when we speak of miracles we need to speak of them the same way that God speaks of them in his Word…not as special, sentimental events which come about naturally like the birth of a child, but rather as signs and wonders done by God through men which violate the laws of nature.

Furthermore, if we are to speak the truth about miracles done by God through men, we must also proclaim that they no longer takes place today.  There are several denominations whose adherents claim to perform miracles, but careful examination of what they do combined with comparisons made of biblical miracles shows their claims to be counterfeit.  The different types of miracles are listed by Paul in his letter to Corinth, in which he calls them “spiritual gifts” (1 Cor. 12:1-11).  Two of those gifts were miraculous wisdom and miraculous knowledge (v. 8).  Knowledge (what one knows) and wisdom (the ability to use correctly that which one knows) are obtained naturally through education and experience; thus, miraculous knowledge and miraculous wisdom would come instantaneously, without having taken the time to grow in them via education and experience.  Paul also mentions faith as a spiritual gift (v. 9).  This is not the faith which comes naturally through the hearing of God’s Word (Rom. 10:17), but rather is the type of faith needed to do something miraculous like move a mountain (1 Cor. 13:2; Matt. 17:20).  Today, the only way anyone obtains wisdom and knowledge is through natural means, and many people who have strong faith in their ability to perform miracles have attempted to move mountains, only to no avail.

 

Paul then lists gifts of healing and the working of miracles as spiritual gifts (vs. 9-10).  Those who claim to miraculously heal the sick and perform other types of miracles today do so quite differently from how Jesus and the apostles miraculously healed people and worked miracles back in biblical times.  Today, those who claim to do miraculous things to other people usually ask them to “wait a while” before they “begin to feel the effects” of the miracle.  Usually the only “miracle” done instantaneously is causing someone to “lose consciousness” by touching them on the forehead.  (This writer once visited a charismatic church and saw someone fall to the ground in the aisle, apparently having miraculously lost consciousness; it was interesting to observe the “unconscious” person shifting on the hard floor trying to find a more comfortable position!)

 

Paul also listed prophecy and distinguishing between spirits as spiritual gifts (v. 10).  Prophecy is not only the miraculous foretelling of the future, but also literally means “to speak on behalf of someone else.”  Today, prophecy takes place naturally whenever we preach and teach nothing more than God’s Word (2 Tim. 4:2; 1 Pet. 4:11); by doing so we are “speaking on behalf of” God.  Those who attempt to miraculously prophecy by predicting the future have always been proven to be false prophets when their prophecies fail to come to pass (Deut. 18:20-22).  The distinguishing between spirits refers to the miraculous power to automatically know what is in a person’s heart, a power Jesus had (John 2:24-25) and which was exercised by Peter in the incident with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11).  Obviously, such a power doesn’t exist today.  How many times have we been sure about what a person has been thinking or planning, only to be proven wrong?

 

Paul then listed tongues and the interpretation of tongues as spiritual gifts (v. 10).  These are perhaps the most misunderstood and erroneously defined miraculous spiritual gifts in the list.  Those who claim to miraculously speak in tongues today say they are doing so when they speak nothing more than gibberish.  They are not speaking Spanish, German, Mandarin, etc., but rather nonsense babblings and gobbledegook.  However, the miraculous speaking and interpreting of tongues in biblical times was nothing more than the ability to suddenly speak in an actual, societal language or interpret it, without having first studied and learned it naturally (Acts 2:6-8; 1 Cor. 14:10-13).  Having tasked the early Christians with the awesome task of preaching the gospel to all nations, the miraculous ability to speak these nations’ languages would be very expeditious to the fulfillment of that task.

 

In the middle of his discourse on these miraculous spiritual gifts, Paul acknowledged that not all in the church had these gifts and then mentioned how having these powers was meaningless without love (1 Cor. 12:27-13:7).  He then specifically stated that these miraculous spiritual gifts (citing prophecy, tongues, and knowledge) would “cease” and “pass away” when “that which is perfect has come” (1 Cor. 13:8-10).

 

Many modern proponents of miracles believe that “the perfect” of verse 10 is a reference to Jesus, which is understandable.  However, the Greek word (teleos) which is translated “perfect” literally means “complete” or “mature.”  This same word is used in the New Testament to refer to God’s Word (Rom. 12:2; James 1:25).  When Paul was writing 1 Corinthians, the New Testament was obviously not yet “complete” or “mature.”  That would change with the completion of Revelation not many years after Paul wrote to Corinth.  Therefore, Paul was stating in 1 Cor. 13:10 that when God’s Word was complete, the miraculous spiritual gifts would cease.  This makes sense when one remembers that miracles were performed by Christ and his apostles and prophets through the power of the Holy Spirit in order to confirm the Word of God which was being proclaimed by them (Mark 16:17-20; Heb. 2:1-4; 1 Cor. 12:1-11; cf. Matt. 12:28).  Once that Word became complete and mature, confirming it through the miraculous would no longer be needed.

 

Again, we are commanded to “speak the truth” (Eph. 4:15), and God’s Word is truth (John 17:17).  If we are to speak the truth about miracles, we must not only define them the same way the Bible defines them, but we must also acknowledge that they have already served their purpose in the plan of God and no longer take place today.                                                                         http://www.preacheroftruth.com

Editor’s Page, January/February 2013 Issue – David R. Pharr

[Acts] connects the evangelistic example and gospel teaching of the Savior to the daily practice of every saint…While every book of the Bible contains a portion of God’s blueprint for the church, Acts is the detailed diagram that connects various parts of the scheme – the saving of men’s souls through the spread of the gospel.

Don Iverson, Commentary on Acts

Does the Bible teach that there will be an actual Judgment Day?

Paul declared that all men are commanded to repent, “Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:30f).  Jesus often spoke of a “day of judgment.”  Various texts speak of the final Judgment as “that day.”  The day of judgment will be at the “last day” (Jn. 12:48).  This will be when Christ comes “in his glory, and all his holy angels with him.”  His coming for judgment will be his coming with his angels to take vengeance against those that “know not God, and obey not the gospel” (2 Thess. 1:7ff), which is at the same time that he comes “to be glorified in his saints” (2 Thess. 1:9).

Will every person, the saved and the unsaved, come before Christ in the Judgment?

The Bible is clear that there will be a final day of judgment in which we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10).  Before King Jesus will be gathered all nations (Matt. 25:31f), including all the dead, small and great (Rev. 20:11f).  The day has been appointed (Acts 17:31), and our being there is as certain as death (Heb. 9:27).  Everyone, the living and the dead, will be there to answer for their deeds (1 Pet. 4:5).  In the words of Paul, this will be “in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel” (Rom. 2:16; cf. 2 Tim. 4:1).

Does this mean that one’s final destiny will not be determined until the day of Judgment?

It is a mistake to conceive of the judgment as for the purpose of determining guilt or innocence.  The judgment will not be a trial in which cases must be argued before a verdict can be determined.  It is only in this life that men and women have opportunity to change their status before the Judge.  “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment.”  One’s status will be according to “the things done in his body, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10), “according to their works” (Rev. 20:12).  People may protest their guilt (Matt. 25:37ff) and argue their own merits (Matt. 7:22f), but God has a definite and perfect record.

Salvation is by grace, not merit (Eph. 2:8f).  We can know we are saved in faithfulness to the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-2).  John wrote that we can “know that we know him” by keeping his commandments (1 John 2:3).  We cannot know that our obedience is perfect, but we can know whether we are walking in the light and whether we confess our sin (1 John 1:7, 9).  We cannot know that we will never fall, but we can know whether we are keeping God’s commandments (1 John 1:3; Phil. 2:12).

If no one’s status cannot be changed at the judgment, what is the purpose of the day of Judgment?

The day of judgment will not be an occasion for convincing the Judge, but it will be the occasion for convincing sinners.  “And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (Jude 14f, emphasis added).  There will be exoneration, vindication, of the justice of God.  Even the condemned will have to acknowledge that the Judge of all the earth is right (cf. Gen. 18:25).  Some in their sin might now argue, “God wouldn’t condemn me for what I’m doing,” but in that day all unrighteousness has its reward (2 Pet. 2:13).

Numerous passages show it equally certain that there will be a gracious reward for the righteous.  “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…” (Matt. 25:34).  “And whatsoever ye, do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.  But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons” (Col. 3:24ff).

The fairness of divine justice is forcefully defined in Romans 2:6-11, which tells that God “will render to every man according to his deeds:  To them who by patient continuance in well doing see for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; but glory, honor, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: for there is no respect of persons with God.”

Some say there will be several different judgment days with different classes of people judged on different occasions.  Is this true?

Not only do we have Jesus saying “all nations” would be before him (Matt. 25:31), we also find several occasions when he indicated that people living during the time of his ministry would be at the judgment with people who had lived centuries before them.  Tyre and Sidon had been destroyed around three centuries before, but they would be at the judgment with Chorazin and Bethsaida (Matt. 11:21).  Other texts show Sodom (about 2,000 B.C.) in judgment with Capernaum (Matt. 11:23f); people who heard Jonah (about 850 B.C.) in judgment with Jesus’ generation (Matt. 12:41); and the Queen of the South (around 1,000 B.C.) in judgment with the people of Jesus’ day.  After citing these points Roy H. Lanier, Sr. made the following observation:

“Surely no one will argue that these individuals, or these people of these particular cities of those generations will be in that judgment with generation or particular people to whom Jesus talked, but that no other individuals or cities of those generations will be in that judgment.  We have found five generations of five different nations, scattered over a period of nearly two thousand years, who are to be in the judgment, ‘in the day of judgment,’ together.  Who can show with any show of reason that all the nations from Sodom to Jesus will not be in that same judgment?  But if all the nations and generations from Sodom to Jesus will be in the judgment, ‘in the day of judgment,’ will not all nations of all times be in that judgment?  And if all nations of all times are in that judgment, that will include the nations living at the time of the coming of Jesus.  So we are forced to conclude that Jesus included all nations of all times when He said [‘Before him would be gathered all nations.’]”  (Twenty Years of the Problem Page, p. 99).

The Human Conscience – Terry Gunnells

The most valuable technological invention for travelers in recent years has been the Global Positioning System (GPS).  It is a magnificent travelers’ aid but it is absolutely useless if it is not properly set.  The beginning and the end of this article shall be that the conscience is the component of humankind that makes us God’s special creation.  Our conscience separates us from the animal world but unless it is properly trained, it is of no value.  This article will not deal with pathological disorders that damage the function of the conscience.

There is no Old Testament word which can clearly be translated “conscience.”  The only word that is used is leb, which is generally translated “heart.”  The functions of the conscience in the New Testament probably are equivalent to the Old Testament.  Though the Greek word syneidesis, translated “conscience,” is used 31 times in the New Testament, it is never clearly defined.  It functions as a self-evaluation in relation to a standard – Romans 2:14-15; the conscience assures one of consistent, integrative, non-wavering Christian living; its inner stirrings motivates one to act constructively without the threat of punishment – Romans 13:5; Acts 24:16; inhibits us from misleading others – 1 Corinthians 8:4-9; produces guilt and self-condemnation – 1 John 3:19-20.

It is obvious from Romans 2:14-15 that Paul understood the world to be divided into two groups of people.  The Jews had the Law and if they died under the Law, they would be judged by the Law.  Gentiles were endowed with a God-given moral compass which gave them a natural sense of right and wrong.  Neither of these groups could claim exemption from the Judgment of God.  One had knowledge; the other only had an innate conscience.  This being said, there must be a part of the conscience that is moral and ethical by nature and a part that can be educated.  To get right to the point, one cannot know the scheme of redemption by osmosis or nature.  He or she must be taught (Romans 10:17).  One cannot be taught wrong and behave (obey) right.  It is only when one is taught right that he or she can trust his or her conscience.  His or her GPS must be set right.

Assuming that the Hebrews were right to equate the conscience with the heart, we must examine the spiritual heart.  The spiritual heart has at least four components.  First, the intellect which allows one to think, reason and understand.  This allows the hearer to contemplate and deliberate on the facts, both pro and con.  Having comprehended the message correctly, it then becomes the theology by which the hearer lives which is his or her guiding principle (GPS) called the conscience.  If one misunderstands the message, like Eve did, then the end result is error, and, of course, one operates on a false premise and his or her destination is in peril.  The value of the conscience is limited to what truth it knows.

The third component of the spiritual heart is the will.  That is where decisions are made.  At this point the doctrine of the free will of man enters the picture.  An honest seeker of truth, one of spiritual integrity, is given the freedom to choose or refuse to do right or to stray from the straight and narrow path.

The fourth component of the spiritual heart is the emotions.  This is so powerful and can override the use of reasonable decision making if not kept in balance by the intellect.  Satan uses the power of emotions to confuse the truth and hold one in a path of destruction because of tradition or the fear of the reprisal of men (John 12:42).

In the integrative workings of the spiritual heart, the conscience depends on correct information from the intellect; the will depends on an informed conscience and the emotions which send a vote of approval or disapproval based on what one likes or dislikes.  It allows love to pour into the heart to make the decision to serve God.

Perhaps the most noted example of one’s conscience being set wrong is the Apostle Paul.  He was a full-blooded Jew, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin (Romans 11:1), educated at the feet of Gamaliel, who was a renowned Doctor of the Law (Acts 5:34; 22:31).  Paul was so committed to defending the faith of his fathers that he killed Christians (Acts 22:3-4).  As a matter of fact, he was on his way to Damascus with letters (warrants) in hand to arrest the Christians there when he was stricken down and chosen to be an Apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:3-5).  When Paul stood before the august Jewish Council, the first words out of his mouth were, “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (Acts 23:1).  Apparently the High Priest didn’t think much of Paul’s statement and ordered the men standing nearby to smite him in the mouth.

When the GPS realizes the traveler has made a wrong turn, it immediately begins to urge the driver to make a “legal U-turn.”  This is the equivalent to the Christian’s conscience warning or forewarning us that we are leaving the straight and narrow path and we must make a “U-turn” and return to the true path of righteousness.  This is spiritual repentance.

Sometime ago, after our daughter gave us a large-screen GPS, we set it to travel from our home in Barnwell to the small town of Estill which is about 30 miles away.  Having traveled to Estill several times previously, I automatically assumed the GPS would send us down Highway 3 which is the way I always went.  Does that not remind us of the majority of the religious world who operates on assumptions and self-will (Proverbs 3:5)?  I had the GPS so frustrated.  I laughed and told my wife I was running it crazy.  It said to turn left at every crossroads, which would have taken us back toward the satellite’s best route.  On one occasion, when it was obvious we had taken a different route than the satellite had planned, the GPS simply conceded and said, “Recalculating.”

When our way differs from God’s way, the only one who must recalculate is us.  God’s planned path of righteousness will not change; therefore we must change.

When we arrived in Estill we decided to follow the instructions of the GPS back home and were surprised that there was a much better way than i had traveled in the past.  Now those who know me know that I have made a major religious recalculation and found a much better way.  Like Paul, I did what I did for years with a good conscience but I was mistaught, and as Paul told Timothy, “I did it out of ignorance” (1 Timothy 1:13).  Under the Christian Dispensation one cannot plead ignorance (Acts 17:30).

If the conscience is the theology by which we live, it becomes what Peter calls the hidden man of the heart (1 Peter 3:4).  The heart is the core or central innermost part of anything.  It’s the part of us that God sees (Matthew 15:8).  I often tell people God is not a lip reader; He’s a heart reader.  It was the part of the prodigal son who cried out, “Father, I have sinned against Heaven and in thy sight…” (Luke 15:21).

One cannot study the conscience without studying guilt.  It’s what made the prodigal son come to himself (Luke 15:17a).  Without a good case of guilt, we might never repent.  True repentance is changing because we want to be reconciled to God.  A hypocritical repentance is saying we’re sorry to escape punishment.

There are certain religions that control their constituents by making them feel guilty and ashamed.  This is called Ecclesiogenic guilt or depression fostered by the church.  There’s no forgiveness; no grace.  All problems, sickness, financial are a result of one’s lack of faithfulness to the Church.  It is based on “if you had done this or that,” these things would not have happened to you.

When our conscience hurts, we still may have peace with God because we are His (1 John 1:7-9).  I loved my father so much, when I did something wrong I ran to him because I trusted him to do right by me.  I see that as how God helps our conscience when we feel guilty.  Guilt causes us to make things right and trust God.

Brother Gus Nichols told this story.  One night he could not go to sleep which was uncharacteristic of him.  He tossed and turned and finally Sister Nichols said, “Gus, what is wrong with you?”  He said, “I think I offended brother Jones and I can’t get it off my mind.”  She said, “Get up and go over there (to his house) and get it straightened out,” which he did.  He came back home and fell asleep like a baby.  That’s objective guilt – that’s what keeps us straight.  That’s the purpose of the Christian conscience.  To kick against one’s conscience is to kick against the pricks like God told Paul in Acts 9.

Then there is doubt!  Where does doubt come into play?  The story is told of the boy who approached his mother and asked her if the shirt he had in his hand was too dirty to wear to the event he planned to attend that evening.  She did not bother to look at the shirt and immediately said, “Yes, it’s too dirty.”  The boy said, as most teenager would, “But Mom, you didn’t even look at the shirt!”  She said, “I didn’t have to look – if you had enough doubt about the shirt’s cleanliness to ask, then it is too dirty!”  Perhaps this is the real meaning of Romans 14:23.

Paul says what we think is permissible might bring ruin to a weaker brother.  He went on to address the subject of ambivalence or doubt.  If there is even a glimmer of doubt about a thing, don’t do it.  When a man defies his conscience he has sinned already.  So, if a man’s core is his faith, and his conscience is a part of his core, then to some extent his faith and his conscience play a similar part in directing his path.  Aquila and Priscilla had to reset Apollos’ GPS.

He, like Paul, was zealous in what he was doing but he had to recalculate.  The admonition Paul gave to the Corinthians might well fit this context too.  He that thinks his GPS is set right had better take heed lest he end up at the wrong destination.

When the theology is right, the conscience is right and we can trust it to be our guide.  The time has come, however, that men’s consciences have been seared with a hot iron (the sensitivity dulled) and they fell no shame or guilt at egregious sin or when they stray from the paths of righteousness.

teg8891@aol.com