The Key to Genuine Joy
Robert Wurtz II
Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned (1 Timothy 1:5)
Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck (1 Timothy 1:19)
The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21)
New Covenant Joy
For many, the joy of the Lord has been an illusive reality for which they have searched all of their Christian life. They have gravitated towards ministries that focused on joy, read books on joy, prayed for joy and yet still they have no joy. The reason for this is likely because the New Testament approaches joy in a different way than the Old Testament. The Old Covenant was designed for the old man, while the New Covenant is designed for the new man. You cannot satisfy the new man with Old Covenant means of joy. In the New Covenant joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:22) This is why Paul told the Ephesians not to be drunk with wine wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit. People for ages have sought merriment from intoxication; but that will never work with a Christian. It would be like putting Diesel fuel into a car that runs on Unleaded fuel. Not only would it not run, you risk causing all kinds of problems that will require strong intervention to reverse. Christians need the joy that comes from continual in fillings of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit has been sent in to the world in part to convince (convict) the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. (John 16:8) If we stop there we will totally miss the other side of what He has come to do. When a person is in disobedience the Holy Spirit with strive with man to turn them into the right path. He will ‘convict’ them. It is a miserable thing to be in this situation. The Psalmist David reflected on the time he had sinned with Bathsheeba and was running from God; For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah. (Psalm 32:4) This is a similar experience to one that God is dealing with to bring them to repentance. This is the mode of operation the Holy Spirit is in for them. Jesus told Saul on the road to Demascus that it was hard for him to kick against the pricks (goads); that is to say, it is hard to resist the Holy Spirit as he is working using all manor of means to secure your salvation. Goads were used in ancient time to keep the oxen in line as they plowed the fields. A goad is like a spear. In Judges 3:31 a man named Shugar slew 600 men with one. This is the picture we have of God’s dealing with Saul, and I dare say with all obstinate men and women. Stephen told the religious leaders that they did always resist the Holy Spirit as did their fathers. Is their any wonder they were so mean and miserable? But as soon as a person leaves off resisting, turns and trusts in faith, the Holy Spirit will leave off the operation of conviction and will pour in with His love and joy (Romans 5:5, Acts 13:52).
That your joy may be full
God wants our joy to be full (John 16:24, 1 John 1:4, 2 John 12). This is a primary reason why John wrote his epistles. This is why the focus is very straight forward- calling the people into a righteous walk with God. He calls us to walk before the Lord with no conscious sin. Notice how in 1 John 1:4 he tells us he is writing that our joy may be full and then immediately says these words, If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. (1 John 6-7) He is calling us out of sin and compromise and into a righteous walk with Christ. Notice he then says, BUT, if we sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (1 John 2:1) This means that forgiveness through the blood of Christ and confession (acknowledgment) of sin is not to be a first option, but more like a last resort. Like a fire extinguisher in the school hallway- in case of Emergency, break glass. Who ever heard of an extinguisher on the teachers desk for the frequent fires that erupt? We have an advocate with the Father, but we must totally abandon the idea that forgiveness is a first option. What did God tell Saul? Behold to obey is better than to sacrifice. Obedience is to be preferred to the application of the blood upon our sins. This is what John was saying, if you will walk before God with no conscious sin and if (and I mean if) you sin- make it right with God immediately and turn from it, then your joy will be full. Otherwise you will be relegated to a life of walking the isles at the Bible Bookstore or the liquor store seeking some other means of merriment.
In Psalm 51 David asked the Lord to restore to him the joy of his salvation. By implication he had lost his joy either after he sinned or he lost it and then started sinning as a result. I think the latter is in view. To whatever measure David or the most joyous in all of ancient Israel may have known the joy of the Lord, which was their strength, like John the Baptist as a man of God, it would have been least in the Kingdom of God. Joy in the New Covenant is taken to a whole new level just like love was taken to a whole new level. But as the Psalmist experienced, our supply of joy can be interrupted by sin.
What is the Conscience?
The CONSCIENCE is that unaffiliated member of our being that God has placed within us to speak, as it were, on His behalf. It is a double or joint knowledge, namely, one of a divine law or rule, and the other of a man’s own actions. It measures our behavior and attitude against what we believe to be right and wrong, absolutely. It judges exactly as it sees without any prejudice. As designed it will judge against the laws of God written in the heart, but as men and women pour folly and falsehood into their belief system the conscience will work from that data. Whatever is sincerely held as truth will be the standard the conscience applies.
The conscience in its God given form is used by the Holy Spirit to convince us of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 8:9). Truth resonates in the conscience of even the vilest of sinners. The conscience is the mechanism of moral judgment that men and women pass on the morality of his/her own actions. It also passes judgment on the purity of our motives. It is the secret testimony of the soul, whereby it approves things that are good, and condemns those that are evil without partiality. The will of God is the only rule that should immediately bind the conscience. No one has authority over the conscience but God. Keep that clear. Man can sear their conscience, but they cannot make it call evil good and good evil; nor can they cause it to lie down when it has risen to pass judgment on our behavior and/or attitude.
The Guilty Conscience
The GUILTY conscience is one that believes the person has acted in disharmony with what the person believes is right and wrong. A guilty conscience is a primary obstacle to us coming to the throne of grace or to do His service (Hebrews 9:9). It shouts GUILTY, which tends to cause man to want to run or hide from God. This is what Adam and Eve had done when God came looking for them. In this way man cannot act contrary to what they believe is God’s will without suffering the pain of conscience. A guilty conscience can seize upon the person like a claw upon the mind. Many criminals have confessed under duress from their conscience.
The Purging of the Conscience
The blood of bulls and of goats could not take away sins- nor did that blood have the power to PURGE the conscience of its guilt when a person had sinned. People had a sense that they had done wrong and struggled to find relief. However, we read in Hebrews 9:14, 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 to serve the living God, and again, Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:22).
The Evil Conscience
Of an EVIL conscience there are several kinds. When our conscience has lost its sense of right and wrong (to some degree or another) it could be called a polluted or defiled conscience. This comes about from false criteria with which the conscience judges. The mechanism may work, but the ‘laws’ written in the heart may have been non-biblical teachings that should have been ‘cast down’ as they exalted themselves against the knowledge of God. The conscience is ‘evil’ when it gives either none or a false testimony as to past or present actions.
When reflecting upon ones own sin and wickedness, if the conscience feels no pain, it is EVIL, and said to be seared or hardened (1 Timothy 4:2). This is caused by ones deliberate quenching of the Spirit of God as He would seek to bring correction to our life through the conscience. A ‘dull spot’ develops in the area that the conscience is continually quenched or seared. It is also EVIL when, during the commission of sin(s), it remains silent.
A Good Conscience
A GOOD conscience is one that has been purged by the blood of Christ and is utilizing the laws of God written upon our hearts BY GOD as a reference point for its moral decisions. Everyone is born with certain ‘default’ laws upon our hearts in so much as to render every human being who ever lived as guilty before God for their sins (Romans 1:28). As we grow in the knowledge of God our conscience is trained with right information and becomes increasingly effective as a guide.
The Weak Conscience
A WEAK conscience is one in which there are residual rules and regulations of men that have nothing to do with God, but yet are present in the heart and are used by the conscience to make rulings for good or evil. This is seen in great detail in Romans 14. As it is written, accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand (NIV).
This is true in all sorts of disputable matters. The issue is, does the person have a pure biblical justification in their conscience for what they are doing? If so then they are acting in faith. If a person believes that what they are about to do is sin- it is sin unto them (Romans 14:23). Why, because they cannot do it in a pure conscience. They cannot act in faith and whatsoever is not of faith is sin. A person must walk in step with the conscience until they become full persuaded in their own heart that the behavior is not a sin.
Dealing With a Weak Conscience
This is not to say that God has a different set of rules for everyone because He does not. The issue has to do with our growth and having been built up in the knowledge of Christ (Ephesians 4:13). It takes time for God to erase things like ‘old wives fables’ and ‘legalistic laws’ and add HIS LAW in their place. There are also times when we may be vulnerable to certain sins and the Holy Spirit will CONVICT us to stay away from the things that make us fall. We must be sensitive to God and our conscience. One must not be advised to transgress the conscience, nor feel it is OK to do so. If a person thinks something they are about to do is a sin- they should not do it.
Traditions and the Conscience
We have certain traditions, as did the Pharisee’s, that make the word of God of no effect (Matthew 15:3). And that, because a lot of ‘taste not, touch not, and handle not,’ teachings exist that have cropped up in the last 200 years. As it is written, Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations — “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using — according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh (Colossians 2:22,23 NKJV). Change comes when we prayerfully spend time in God’s Word seeking to know the truth of God.
On Liberty and Freedom
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another (Galatians 5:13).
It is possible for a Christian to do things in front of other Christians that they view as sin and cause them to stumble in the faith. This is very important. We read in Romans 14, Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died (Romans 14:13-15).
So then the summation of these things is found in Romans 14:21-23, It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin (NKJV).
This is where believers must be conscious of the conscience of others. It is the charitable thing to do. To dismiss a sincerely held conviction of other believers is to walk uncharitably and to risk sending the message that it is ‘OK’ to transgress the conscience. Until the person can be fully persuaded in their own mind as to what is right and what is wrong, we are to bear their infirmity.
Evidence of a Seared Conscience
The only thing worse than an overly-sensitive conscience is a seared conscience. When a person can compromise or sin and feel no pain of conscience (whether in whole or in a particular area), repentance is in order. Once repentance is secured God must send a healing to reestablish sensitivity to the conscience. To transgress the area again is to re-sear what God has healed. The great enemy of our conscience is the ever increasingly wicked world system that is dumbing down the conscience of society. God has placed the Church (true Christians) in society to be a light unto it’s conscience (if you will). When believers conform to this world they have a diminishing conscience. Soon they side with evil with no pain of conscience. They can subject themselves to the presence of evil with no problem. This is the great challenge of our times. We must reject this tendency, maintain a good conscience, lest we be as some (who) having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck (1 Timothy 1:19)