30 Minute Radio Lesson - WAVG Radio 1450 AM

Clarksville church of Christ

November 28, 1999

Speaker: Richie Thetford

"Is Our Conscience A Safe Guide?"

Good morning and welcome to another presentation of "What Is Truth?" I'm Richard Thetford, evangelist for the Clarksville church of Christ, thanking you for taking the time listen this morning as we examine the truth of God's word. The fact that you have tuned in this morning tells me that you have an attitude of wanting to further examine the Bible. This morning we are going to be considering the question "Is Our Conscience a Safe Guide?" There are many individuals in the world today that base most everything they do on their conscience. But is this really a safe and accurate thing to do? As we discuss this subject this morning, I want to encourage you once again to get out your Bible and be prepared to turn to the passages that we look at this morning. In John 4:1 it says: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world." That is what I want you to do this morning. Make sure that what I am saying is in fact the message of God that is found in the Bible. It will not do either one of us any good whatsoever to do those things that are not authorized by God. It is so important that we understand in order to be accepted by God we mustDO His will (Matthew 7:21).

Now to our study for the morning concerning "Is Our Conscience a Safe Guide?" In Proverbs 16:25, the inspired writer states, "There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death." There are many today who think that it does not matter what one believes or does in religion just so he or she follows his or her conscience and does the best that he or she knows. Yet, the Bible, God's inspired Book, declares that a person may follow a way that seems right; that feels right; and yet in reality, be wrong. This is true in everyday affairs of life as well as it is in religion. It is not safe to just follow one's conscience in secular matters. After considering the question from this viewpoint, maybe we can better understand it from the religious side. We certainly should strive to be as safe with our souls, in fact more so, as we are with the daily affairs of life.

I am sure that almost all of us have had the experience of honestly taking the wrong road in traveling, and going several miles some times, feeling all the time that we were on the right road. However, our feelings so did not make it right. Our sincere honesty did not cause us to be on the right road. We just did not check the road map closely enough, or failed to read the signs. Maybe we did not understand the directions that we received. Anyway, when we found that we were on the wrong road, we just turned around and proceeded to find the right road and started traveling it. No, it did not make us angry at the person who informed us that we were going in the wrong direction. Why is it that all persons cannot be as reasonable and appreciative in religion? Why does a person think that one is "running him down" if he points out to him that he is on the wrong road religiously? He would not think so if he were taking an earthly trip. Why should he not have the same appreciation for the friend who is trying to help him get on the right road that leads to eternal bliss? Are we more interested in visiting earthly friends than in gaining a heavenly home? Maybe not, but we certainly should be more interested in going to heaven than any other place; but our conscience is not a safe guide in traveling here upon the earth. Why then, should one think that it a safe guide in going to heaven?

Doctors sometimes conscientiously treat for the wrong disease until it is too late to save the patient. Their being honest and sincere does not change the facts. Sometimes it is the honest mistake of the patient, although he followed his conscience, he just went to the wrong doctor. Suppose a person by mistake takes poison. Will his honesty save him? In taking medicine, is it safe to just follow one's conscience? Is it not best to read the label and follow the written instructions?

In religion, why not read the Bible and follow the written instructions of the Lord! Yet, many disregard the written commands and instructions of the Lord and just follow their feelings and conscience. Sincerity does not change the physical laws of nature in matters of health. Neither are God's other laws in the physical realm changed by being conscientious. If a person by accident takes hold of a powerful live electric wire, it will kill him regardless of his conscience in the matter. Neither can a linesman tell which wires are safe and which are not by merely following his conscience. The spiritual laws of God are not changed by honesty and sincerity any more than his physical laws. Merely following one's conscience does not save from spiritual death and damnation. Both the physical and spiritual laws of God must be respected and obeyed.

Many business enterprises have been failures although they were entered into with all good conscience. Maybe the investment was made without investigating. Sincerity does not keep banks from going broke, or the stock market from collapsing. Many have gone to the marriage altar and there exchanged their solemn vows in all good conscience later to learn that they had been tragically disappointed. The broken hearts, broken homes, and broken hopes attest this fact. All stand as living evidence that conscience is not a safe guide in marriage.

If we cannot safely follow our conscience in all these affairs of every day life: travel, health, business, and marriage, why should it be thought safe to just follow one's conscience in religion?

Conscience is the exercise of one's judgment or power of feeling that enables him to know when he is doing what he has been taught to be right. The conscience either excuses or accuses one for his conduct. It bears witness. It is that part of the mind that enables us to know when we go contrary to what we have been taught to be right. The conscience is similar to a court of law. The court does not make the law. The court decides if actions or conduct has been in accord with the established law. When one is doing what he has been taught to be right his conscience is referred to as "good." (Acts 23:1). Or, as "pure," (2 Timothy 1:3). Or, as "void of offense," (Acts 24:16). If one violates the warnings of the conscience, he "defiles it," (Titus 1:15). Or, one may eventually "sear it," (1 Timothy 4:2). The conscience should not be violated. We should never do that which we know or think is wrong. However, to think a thing is right does not make it right. If we doubt the safety of a bridge, the proper thing is to stay off of it until we find out and know it is safe. The same principle applies in moral and religious questions.

Conscience is formed by teaching. Although there may be some inherent perception of right and wrong concerning questions of morals, yet religious convictions are only formed by teaching. Those who practice sprinkling of a candidate as a religious practice do so because they have been taught that is it right. Those who conscientiously try to keep the seventh day Sabbath today do so because they have been taught that is right. Those who live with several wives also argue that they do it conscientiously. This does not make it right. Just because a person does a thing with a good conscience does not prove it is right, neither does it prove that one is right with God.

Instead of conscience being a safe guide, it must be safely guided. It must be formed by the right teaching of God's Word. Hence, we are commanded to teach. Only the truth can make one free. Jesus states in John 8:32, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

The practices of heathens prove that conscience is not a safe guide. Having been left to themselves, their practices are far from being in harmony with the truth of God's Word. If conscience were a safe guide, it would guide the heathens safely. There would be no need for mission work, and no need for teaching.

When Paul went to Athens, he found a city filled with idols and idol worship. They were very religious, but very wrong. They did not know the true God nor how to worship Him. Read Acts 17:22-31. Their conscience had not guided them correctly. They needed the truth of God's word to guide their conscience.

Before his conversion, Paul was a violent persecutor of the church. Listen to him in Acts 26:9, 10,"Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them." Paul thought that he was right. Did that make him right? He acted with all good conscience. Look at Acts 23:1, "And Paul, looking steadfastly on the council said, Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience until this day." This was spoken by Paul after he became a Christian and looked back over his life. While he was persecuting the church with all good conscience, he did so because he did not know the truth, or else did not believe it. His conscience did not guide him correctly. While his teaching was wrong, his conscience was not a safe guide. By living up to his teaching he was living up to his conscience; but he was still wrong.

So, one may live in accord with false doctrine and have a good conscience. No, it is not sufficient just to live according to the dictates of one's conscience. When Paul's understanding was changed, his conscience was changed, and his life was changed accordingly. He repented of his sins, confessed Christ, and was baptized in order to have the guilt of his past life removed. Although he had prayed and fasted, he could not have his sins removed and become a child of God until he did what the Lord commanded: "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16).

Today, Christ has all authority in religion. He makes this very clear in Matthew 28:18, when He states, "All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth." His written word, as guided by the Holy Spirit through the inspired writers of the New Testament, is our guide. We are to be guided and governed by the inspired word, the Bible, in life; and we shall be judged by it in the last day. Jesus states: "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him--the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day" (John 12:48). We are not going to be judged by how we think or feel, but by the revealed Word of God. In Psalms 119:104, 105, the Lord states, "Through Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path." Christ comes on the scene and states that all authority now resides in Him. So stated in Matthew 28:18. The inspired writer John says, "Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son" Christ's will or testament is revealed and written for us. There is no excuse for ignorance. The Bible is a very easily obtained. In fact, the Bible continues to be the best seller year in and year out.

Now I invite you to listen to the reading of three passages: First, Hebrews 5:9, "And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him." Second, 1 Peter 1:22, "Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth...." And, third, Matthew 7:21- 23,"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'"

From these passages it is readily seen that obedience to God's will is essential to salvation. Many religious people will be turned away at the judgment because they have not done God's will. Although they have been very religious, have prayed much, and done many works; still Christ will say "DEPART." It takes more than being morally good to be saved; it takes more than faith only; it takes more than baptism only. Too many form their religious convictions without studying the Bible. Many just go by what they THINK, and not by what the Bible says. This does not please God. We must do his will. No, just following one's conscience will not take the place of obedience.

One may commend himself highly, and insist he knows he is saved by the way he feels; but this will avail nothing unless the Lord commends one. We can only know what pleases the Lord by what He has revealed in His Word. Paul states in 2 Corinthians 10:18, "For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends." Did you hear what the apostle said, "For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends." Truly, our conscience must approve of what we do, but just because the conscience approves does not make us right, unless we are following the teaching of Christ Jesus and His revealed word.

There can be no doubt in the mind of any honest and sincere person that the religious world is greatly divided. We look around us and see churches on every corner, wearing different names, practicing different doctrines, doing different things. As we are challenged by this religious division, one might be led to ask, "How can I know the true church of the Lord? How can I become a member of it? Is it possible to be just like the first churches were in the first century when they were first established by the apostles?" I believe that is possible to answer these questions. I believe that the church will have some distinctive identification marks. Please follow along with me carefully:

What about its Name? The individual followers of Christ were called Christians, Acts 11:16, 1 Peter 4:16. There were not different kinds of Christians, just simply Christians, followers of Christ. As a church, several Scriptural designations were used: Jesus referred to it as "My church," Matthew 16:18. Paul referred to "the churches of Christ," in Romans 16:16. It is possible for a church to wear the right name and be wrong in other ways; but no one can be wrong in name and right before God.

What about the Terms of Pardon? The true church taught that men must hear the gospel. Romans 10:17 states, "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." Hearing produces faith in Christ Jesus as the Son of God and without that faith it is impossible to please God. So states Paul in Hebrews 11:6. One must repent of their sins. Jesus said, "Except you repent, you shall likewise perish" (Luke 13:5). One's faith in Christ must be confessed before men. Paul states, "for with the heart man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Romans 10:10). One must then be immersed in water for the remission of sins. So states Peter in Acts 2:38, agreeing with Christ in Mark 16:16, when He said,"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." This then puts one into Christ. Paul says,"For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:27). If you are looking for the New Testament church, you will find one that teaches these terms of pardon or salvation.

What about its worship? In the First Century these early Christians observed the Lord's Supper each week. Acts 20:7, states, "upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul preached unto them." When a first day of the week rolled around, they partook of the Lord's supper. What kind of music was used in these early churches? Ephesians 5:19 states,"speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord." These early Christians were speaking to one another, they were singing. Mechanical instruments of music are not found in the early churches of the first century. These early congregations were financed by free-will offerings of their members. 1 Corinthians 9:7, states, "Let each man give according as he hath purposed in his heart." You will find no bingo games, raffle tickets, or pie sales in the New Testament. One might do these things with a good conscience, but unless the conscience is properly taught it is not the standard upon which man can trust his eternal destiny.

What about the organization of the church? Christ is the head of the church. Colossians 1:18, states, "And he is the head of the body, the church..." It has never had a human head, and has none today. Each congregation was locally independent and organized with its own elders or bishops, with its own deacons, evangelists, and teachers. These elders "tended only the flock that was among them" (1 Peter 5:2). There were no regional or national associations, no organizations larger than the local congregation made up of its members. Each congregation was autonomous, that is, it answered to no other. They were not dependent upon some society, organization or association that told them what they could or could not do. Their only authority was the revealed truth of God's word.

I realize that the statements I have just made will not set well with all religious people. It is not my intent to belittle, or downgrade anyone. It is my intent to challenge each listener this morning to examine your beliefs and practices. Examine them in the light of God's Holy word, the Bible. Do you have book, chapter, and verse for all that you do in religion. It is not enough to say, "I think what I do is right." Do you really know it is right and can you prove it by what God has said? Can you substantiate your practice? Or perhaps, you do not care. And, if that is so, my heart goes out to you. Surely, it does make a difference what we believe and what we practice in religion. Remember, we quoted our Lord when He said, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven." Are you doing the will of the father or of some man? How can you determine if you are or not? By giving scriptural references to substantiate your practices. My friend, do not let someone else do your thinking for you. Open your Bible, study the scriptures, be sure that you are right in the sight of God. One day you shall stand before Jehovah in judgment, and you will be there alone. You will not be judged by what someone else said or did, but by what you did. You, and you alone, are responsible for the salvation of your soul.

Do you want to please God? Who among us would answer "NO!" But, if you would please Him, you MUST DO His will. You can be a Christian and only a Christian. Comply with the simple terms as given by our Lord and his apostles. He will add you to His church. Then be a faithful servant in His vineyard. Worship and serve Him in harmony with His truth. And when life's fleeting shadows shall have all passed away, the Saviour will usher you into those mansions He has gone to prepare to all those that obey and serve Him!

This is Richard Thetford, evangelist for the Clarksville church of Christ thanking each of you for listening to this morning's broadcast and invite you to listen again next Sunday morning at 8:30 A.M. for another presentation of "What Is Truth?"