FacebookTwitterRSS FeedPinterest

By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 11am Svc, 2016-11-20

 

One of the marvels of modern technology is the GPS or Global Positioning System. This can be a big help to us whenever we need to find directions to an unfamiliar location. All we need to do is to key in the address and then follow all the instructions given – “After 300 meters turn left,” or “keep right at the fork” or “Continue straight.” It is so easy and convenient to use, and I am sure many of us have used GPS applications installed in our mobile phones or gadgets while driving or commuting.

However I am sure that many of us have also found that the directions given are not always accurate. The App may tell us to make a right turn, but we discover that we can’t do that because there is no break in the road divider, and so we have to travel much further until we reach a U-turn. These occasional errors are not as bad as the ones that some people have experienced with their GPS. Instead of guiding them to their destination, it led them into a lake or up into a narrow mountain path. Thankfully, such disasters do not happen very often, and they only cause embarrassment to the drivers who had trusted too much in their GPS and had to be rescued. 

There is however, a built-in GPS in us which we use to guide us along our journey through life. And if errors occur with it, the results can be awfully destructive – immoral or dishonest behaviour, broken lives and broken relationships, or in extreme cases – a public scandal and a criminal record. We call this built-in GPS our Conscience. God has made us all to be moral beings. We are all born with a moral compass that guides us to do the right thing. This is what the Bible says in Romans 2:14-15 – “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.”

It is our conscience that evaluates our actions and intentions. It is an internal judge that examines all that we do and say. Whenever we think of doing something right, it makes us feel good. But whenever we think about doing something wrong, our conscience disturbs us and makes us feel uneasy, in order to prevent us from doing it. And if we persist to do it, our conscience will create a sense of guilt in us that doesn’t go away until we have put things right. 

One passage of Scripture which shows the importance of obeying one’s conscience is Acts chapter 24. This chapter describes how the apostle Paul defended himself against certain accusations before a Roman governor called Felix. You may recall from the previous sermons we had from the Book of Acts, that a huge riot broke out in Jerusalem when Paul was there. The Jews thought that he had desecrated the Temple by bringing Gentiles into it (21:28). Thankfully, the Roman authorities stopped the riot and took Paul into custody. Then a secret plot to assassinate Paul was discovered in time (23:16), and he was quickly dispatched to Caesarea where a proper trial was to be conducted before Felix, the Roman Governor of Judea (23:33). 

Let us turn to Acts chapter 24 to see Paul’s defense against all the charges that were brought against him before Felix, and how he later addressed Felix and his wife. This entire chapter has a legal setting– It is just like the scene in a Court of Law. Paul was the accused, the Jews were the plaintiffs, and the Roman governor Felix was the judge. The Jews hired an eloquent lawyer named Tertullus to plead their case against Paul (v.2). Paul presented his own defence, citing the lack of any evidence against him (v.13) and the absence of all the witnesses (v.19). Felix therefore adjourned the hearing to a later time when a key witness would arrive (v.22). Paul was kept under house arrest, to await the resumption of the trial (v.23). On the surface, everything appeared to be done in a very nice and proper legal manner.

But beneath the outward veneer of propriety, we see the subtle manner that sin works in the hearts of men. In v.2 Tertullus tries to win the judge over with sweet words of flattery: Seeing that by thee we enjoy great quietness, and that very worthy deeds are done unto this nation by thy providence…” 

In v.5 Paul is deliberately cast in the worst possible light. He is labelled as a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes: who also hath gone about to profane the temple.” The Jews on the other hand are portrayed as poor victims who had been terribly wronged – all they ever wanted to do was to give Paul a fair trial (v.6). But unfortunately the chief captain of the Romans viciously snatched him away from them, thus obstructing the course of justice (v.7). And now they are seeking the help of Felix to put things right by allowing them to judge this ‘pestilent fellow’ in their own Jewish court. What a horribly distorted picture Felix was given here!

But Felix knew the Jews too well to miss their real motives for wanting to have Paul. He had no intention of helping them at all. He never summoned the chief captain to give his testimony after that, and so the trial was never resumed. But Felix also had no intention of helping Paul. Even though he knew that Paul was not guilty and should be released, he let Paul remain under house arrest right until the end of his term as governor. Do you know why Felix did this? Verse 26 tells us – “He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him...” What a clear abuse of authority this is! 

The one who should really be put on trial is not Paul, but Felix. And God allowed him to have a little preview of the trial that awaits him at God’s final judgment. This happened when Felix and his wife Drusilla sent for Paul to hear what he had to say. Verse 25 tells us, “And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled…”

Why did he tremble? It is because his own conscience condemned him severely. It was now his turn to be the accused, and he could not escape from the guilt and shame of his many sins. What a huge contrast this was to Paul, who did not tremble at all during his trial despite the accusations the Jews had made against him through their high-powered lawyer. Why did Paul not tremble before them? It is because his conscience was clear – it was a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men. Actually, among all the people who stood in the court that day, the only one who had a clear conscience was Paul.

Dearly beloved, as we live in a world full of temptations to sin, it is good for us to learn about the Conscience we all have, so that we will too would desire to have a conscience that is void of offence. There are three lessons we need to learn about our conscience. 

1. It Is Useful to Prevent Sin.

Let us look again at verse 16 where Paul said, “And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.” Paul’s conscience had helped to keep him from sinning against God and against men. This in turn gave him the moral courage to stand alone against all the wicked people around him. Paul was able to face all his accusers without trembling. He was able to speak before the judge so boldly, because he had done nothing wrong. His conscience had done him a really great service.

That shows how useful our conscience can be to us. Whenever we contemplate some sinful thought or action, it serves as a warning bell. It tells us that danger is coming. This can help us to live without offence toward GodE.g. when somebody praises you for a work that is well done, and you begin to entertain great thoughts about yourself, your conscience will sound the alarm – “God deserves the glory for this, not you!” You can thank God that your conscience was there to stop you from committing the sin of pride.

A good conscience also helps us to live without offence toward men. E.g. You pay for something that you have purchased, but the cashier makes a mistake and gives you more change than you should receive. You feel tempted to keep it and walk out of the shop, but your conscience begins to nag at you – “That money is not yours to keep – go back now and return it!” Thank God for a conscience that has kept you from stealing.

Here is another situation: As you drive out of a parking lot you accidentally put a dent in the car that is parked beside you. Since nobody saw the accident, you begin to drive off as you are already late for an appointment. But your conscience pricks you: “Leave a note on the damaged car to bear responsibility for its repair!”

Here then is the application of knowing this: Make sure that you pay attention to the warnings of your conscience. Whenever you feel tempted to do something sinful, follow your conscience. Don’t debate with it. Don’t ask, “Why can’t I do this?” That will lead you on the wrong track. When conscience speaks, just follow it. If you want to be safe, get into the habit of following your conscience. Do this consistently, and you will become strong morally. You will enjoy the fruits of having a clear conscience and be able to bear a good testimony for God before the world. 

One problem that you will face however, is that conscience sometimes does not work as well as it should. In the beginning God created man with a reliable conscience. But when man sinned his conscience became faulty and therefore it is not as reliable as before. This has affected man’s ability to make good moral judgments. This is one reason why a person may sometimes think that he is doing something good when he is really doing something evil. As Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” It is only when a person is saved by Jesus Christ that his conscience is renewed as he is instructed in the will of God through His Word and the Holy Spirit.

The apostle Paul was just like that. Before he was saved, he did a lot of evil against God’s people out of a blind, misguided zeal. He went all out to destroy the Church of Jesus Christ. It was only after he was converted on the road to Damascus that Paul began to see how sinful his actions really were. He realized that he was a “blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious.” (1 Timothy 1:13) And as his renewed conscience began to work, he repented of all his sins and was forgiven. 

From that moment onward Paul “exercised himself to have always a conscience that is void of offence toward God and toward men.” That was what he testified in v.16. The word ‘exercise’ here is in a form that implies continuous or repeated action. It means that Paul made efforts to keep his conscience in good working order. This brings us now to the second lesson we should learn about our conscience… 

2. It Must be Maintained to Be Kept Useful.

What exactly does your conscience need in order to be well maintained and kept useful? Let me suggest four things to you. Firstly, it needs to be kept under God’s Rule: You should always let the Lord have complete rule over your conscience. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” You must never allow anyone bind your conscience by making you promise to do everything he says without question. Christ alone is Lord of your conscience. 

The second thing your conscience needs is God’s Word. Your conscience must be constantly equipped with God’s Word so that every judgment it makes will be fully aligned with God’s will. As Psalm 119:11 says, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee.” At the beginning of this sermon I talked about GPS errors. How can these be avoided? The accuracy of the GPS in your phone depends largely on its connection with the signal of at least three satellites that are orbiting the earth. GPS errors are often the result of a blocked signal (E.g. when we drive through a tunnel) In the same way, if you want to have a conscience that makes no errors, be sure to read or hear God’s Word regularly. Each time you do this, your conscience is recalibrated by an absolute standard, which is God’s unchanging Word.

And please ensure that God’s Word is the only standard you use for every decision you make. I want you to consider what Martin Luther said when stood before the Holy Roman Emperor at the Diet of Worms in April 1521 and was told to take back his teachings. But Luther didn't see any proof against his 95 theses which would move him to recant. He said, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

We go on to the third thing that your conscience needs, which is God’s Power. You must trust God for the power you need to follow its directions. While conscience is a great help to warn you of danger, it cannot give you the power to avoid it. A month ago the Australian news reported about an armed robber who turned himself in to the police because of his guilty conscience. What is interesting is that this was the fourth time that this young man had done this. He had been turning himself in each time he committed a crime since 2009 because his conscience was very effective: It gave him no peace. But this did not prevent him from committing another crime. 

This problem is mentioned in Romans 7:18-19 – “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” Thus we need something more than a conscience to live a life that is morally upright and free from the power of sin – We need the Holy Spirit’s power. How thankful we ought to be for the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts! Let us keep walking in the Spirit and submitting to His control. 

There is another thing that your conscience cannot do for you – It cannot remove the guilt of your sins. It will torment you with guilt every time you commit sin, but it cannot remove that guilt from you. Thus, the fourth thing which your conscience needs in order to work well is God’s Forgiveness, which comes only through the death of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. I speak now to anyone here who has been struggling with a guilty conscience for a long time, perhaps for things you have done or for things you have not done. You don’t have to be troubled by this guilt anymore, because Christ has shed His precious blood on the cross to purge your conscience as Hebrews 9:14 says, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works [or works that lead to death] to serve the living God?”

How can we appropriate this purging of our conscience? We can appropriate it by confessing our sins to God each time we are convicted of them. 1 John 1:9 says. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” How wonderful it is to be forgiven and to have the burden of guilt completely removed from one’s conscience. As King David said,“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.” (Psalm 32:1-2)

Thus we have seen four things that we can do to maintain a conscience that is void of offence: They have to do with God’s Rule, God’s Word, God’s Power and God’s Forgiveness. 

Coming back to our passage, we that Paul exercised himself to always have a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men. The Roman Governor Felix, on the other hand had a conscience that was full of offence toward God and toward men. According to well-known historians like Tacitus and Josephus, Antonius Felix was an ambitious Roman slave who craved for power and position. He became the governor of Judea by political intrigue. He was known for his frequent displays of ferocity and cruelty – the flattery that was lavished on him in v.2 was thoroughly hypocritical, for the Jews actually disliked him.  

Felix was also known for his immoral behavior. Drusilla, who is mentioned in v.24, was his second wife. She was already married to a Syrian king, but Felix was so captivated by her beauty that he persuaded her to abandon her husband and marry him. Felix was also motivated by greed, as can be seen by the bribe he expected in v.26. 

That’s why he trembled when Paul “reasoned about righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come.” His conscience was convicting him that he lacked righteousness and temperance. His conscience made him tremble with fear as he realized that he could not escape from the judgment to come. But what did Felix do with his conscience? He simply ignored it. He did not fall down on his knees like the Philippian jailer in Acts 16 had done and ask, “What must I do to be saved?”

He stopped Paul from proceeding any further and said to him, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.” This brings us now to the third lesson we should learn about our conscience…

3. It Will Become Useless if It Is Ignored.

It is sad that many people who come under conviction of their sins do not repent. They choose to ignore that conviction, and continue to commit those sins. They may even say to their conscience, “I will heed your warning at a more convenient time!” But that more convenient time never comes. And after some time they cease to feel any more pangs of guilt and shame whenever they sin, because their conscience has been seared as it were, with a hot iron (1 Timothy 4:2). It has become dead and useless. 

So please don’t ignore your conscience. Be sensitive to its warnings. When you commit sin, be sure to confess it immediately and seek God’s forgiveness. Do you know what will happen if you do not confess your sins? In order to suppress your guilt feelings you may convince yourself that your sin is alright. This will lead you to commit it again and say, “It’s not so bad. Nothing happened to me. Everybody is doing it. After all, I am not as bad as many others.” Then little by little your boundaries will extend further and further, until you believe that there is nothing wrong with your sins. God says in Isaiah 5:20,“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness.”

It is very disastrous to have a conscience that no longer works for you. What do you think will happen to a building that has its fire alarm system completely disabled? It will burn down and be completely destroyed!

I will end this sermon with a word to those who are still unsaved: Please do not delay to respond to God as He speaks to you. God wants you to know that you have disobeyed His commandments. You have broken the laws which are written in your heart. Does your conscience agree with this? I am quite sure that it does. When the Jews brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus demanding that she be stoned to death for her sin, He replied, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (John 8:7) They were all so convicted by their own conscience that they went out one by one, beginning with the eldest, even unto the last. No one was left to cast a stone at her because no one was without sin. Can you claim to be without sin?

God has shown His great love and kindness to you. He has given you many opportunities to repent of your sins and turn to Jesus Christ for salvation. But as long as you refuse to do this, God cannot withhold the judgment you deserve for all your sins. Do you tremble at this thought? Do you feel uneasy about the judgement to come? If you do, then that’s a good sign: It means that your conscience is doing its work. And the right way to respond to such uneasiness is to confess your sins and seek God’s forgiveness through the death of Christ on the Cross. 

Will you turn to Him and be saved today? Or will you end up just like the Roman governor Felix? History records that two years after he ignored his conscience, Felix lost his position because of some atrocities that he committed. He was recalled to Rome to answer all the charges brought against him by the Jews. And he would have suffered severe punishment if not for the pleas of his influential brother before the Roman emperor Nero. Felix was spared from a death sentence, but he will not be spared from the sentence of eternal death. And when that happens he will only be able to look back with great regret at the time when God spoke to him through his conscience, and he will wish that he had heeded the warning when he had the opportunity to do so.

So please do not end up like Felix. If your conscience is sounding the alarm, repent of your sins right now and turn to Jesus Christ without any more delay.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25