By Rev Bill Woods
Acts 23:1– Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.”
Have you ever been persecuted because you’re a Christian?
– If you’re genuine, you can expect it:
2 Timothy 3:12 — Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
Matthew 5:11 — “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.”
Don’t confuse persecution with punishment.
– Persecution is when bad people persecute you for doing good — punishment is when good people punish you for doing bad.
Even Christians make foolish decisions, use poor judgment and mess up — then when consequences come they try to sound holy saying, “we’re being persecuted.”
We can expect some persecution for doing what’s right — if we’ll do what’s right.
– The Apostle Paul knew about persecution:
2 Corinthians 11:23-27 —
23 Are they ministers of Christ?–I speak as a fool–I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often.
24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.
25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep;
26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;
27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness–
He was warned he’d be persecuted if he returned to Jerusalem.
– When he arrived, a mob attacked him.
– Acts 21 and 22 reads like an Indiana Jones movie.
The Roman authorities arrived just in time to rescue Paul from this mob…they were in such a frenzy; the soldiers had to actually lift Paul over their heads to get him out of there.
Now Paul stood before the Roman authorities, and they decided to interrogate him by torture.
– They prepared to scourge him, but discovered he was a Roman citizen.
That scared them, and they backed off.
– They turned him over to the Jewish council.
– The Sanhedrin was their Supreme Court, made up of 71 leading Bible teachers (Chief Priests, scribes, and elders) — they had power to execute him.
– They’d already executed Stephen…………..
Paul knew their power, but he stood before them at peace.
– Acts 23:1— Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.”
Note the word, “earnestly” means He looked them straight in the eyes, not ashamed, not afraid, and not about to back down.
Paul had been a member of the Sanhedrin — now they considered him a traitor.
– There’s nothing they wanted more than to execute him.
– Yet he stood before them cool, calm, and collected.
There’s no way to live the Christian life and not be criticized.
– But we can have confidence in spite of the criticism.
- We have to be morally clean. Look again at Acts 23:1 — “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.”
What did he mean, “good conscience”
– Conscience is that inner voice which accuses us when we do wrong.
– The alarm that sounds inside us warning we’re about to do wrong.
A word of warning about your conscience.
– The world says, “Let your conscience be your guide.”
– That’s not always a good idea.
You can’t always do that…because conscience doesn’t set the standard of right and wrong, it only applies the standards you’ve been taught.
– Conscience is like a thermostat…it can be set to operate at many different levels.
Criminals cop plea deals to get reduced sentences [Eric Holder: Fast and Furious]
– Surely their conscience tells them not to rat on others they know about.
Their conscience bothers them to turn others in…not because it’s wrong, because it’s right.
– So, our conscience can lead us astray unless it’s based on a proper standard — The Word of God!
Acts 24:16 — “This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.”
– Then we can be confident in spite of criticism, and have peace in the face of persecution.
When you know you’re doing right in God’s eyes, and your acting according to His Word, then unfounded criticism will roll off you like water off a duck’s back.
–“If God be for us, who can be against us!”
We need to be careful with our conscience. It’s important, but…
1. IT CAN BE DEFILED — Titus 1:15 — To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled.
Conscience is like a sundial…you can shine a flashlight on a sundial and make it say anything you want it to, if you hold the flashlight from the right angle.
I’ve met Christians with sin issues — only to hear them say they don’t feel what they’re doing is wrong. “I’m ok with it…I don’t believe its sin.”
Truth isn’t based on feeling it’s based on fact.
– Their conscience is still there, it’s just been dulled and defiled!
– Stealing things from work
Conscience is like a window — the light coming thru the window is the Word of God.
– The dirtier the window, the less light gets thru…it isn’t as pure…it browns the light.
Some Christians sin so often they defile their conscience.
- The first time they “did that” it really bothered them…they confessed it, and tried to do better, but fell again, and felt guilty,
Eventually they didn’t want to confess anymore [negative feeling] so they just rationalized and swept it under the rug, and the glass darkened, and now they do it freely anytime…they’ve learned to accept something they shouldn’t!
I’m reminded of something that happened way back when I was pastoring the Nazarene Church in Grand Coulee, Washington.
- We lived in a dump of a parsonage that I wouldn’t even put my dog in.
- It was full of mold, mice, termites, ants and spiders, the roof leaked profusely, and the floor was rotten and collapsing in a couple of the rooms. The house was so unhealthy for our baby, Tammy, that we eventually had to move, by doctor’s orders, if we wanted to keep her alive!
I had my mimeograph and a few other office items in the dank old basement.
I would go down the rickety stairs to do my work (those stairs eventually collapsed and I had to climb through a basement window to get to my “office.”)
There was a spider that lived on those stairs.
- Every time I would go down the stairs (before they collapsed) I’d see that spider quickly dart to safety into a crack in the shadows under the step.
- This happened every time I went downstairs, but I noticed the spider was getting used to me and didn’t dart away quite as fast when I used the stairs.
One day he’d become so accustomed to my passing that he didn’t dart at all.
- That was his demise!
What a lesson! We can become so used to this sinful world that we lose our fear of falling into Satan’s trap and that could bring our spiritual demise!
The conscience can be defiled…
2. It can be Seared — 1 Timothy 4:1-2 — Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron,
You see all those old Westerns where the cowboys grab a branding iron and burn the ranch symbol into the cow’s hide. Searing a conscience is like branding animal flesh…the nerve endings die.
There’s an old Indian proverb that says conscience is an arrowhead inside the heart…when you sin, it turns, and the sharp edge pricks at your heart — over time, if you ignore it and let it keep turning, the sharp edge dulls to a rounded, smooth end, and you can’t even feel it anymore as it spins away.
An old prospector sleeping in his tent, tied his dog outside.
– The dog started barking so he hollered at him to be quiet.
– Again he barked and the old man cussed at the dog.
– The dog barked again, and he kicked the dog. Again and again, and he kicked it to death!
- He went back to sleep, only to be murdered by the intruders the dog was trying to warn him were coming!
Many Christians have kicked their conscience to death and now are headed headlong for disaster and don’t even know it…because they’ve disconnected the alarm.
– The conscience can be defiled and seared…
That’s why there’s no difference between the moral standards of the Church and the world today……………….(pre-marital sex, co-habitation, homo-sexuality, divorce……..)
3. It can be Evil — Hebrews 10:22 — “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.”
This conscience actually approves of evil.
– It’s become so warped, perverted, and twisted, that it calls good evil and evil good.
– The Bible says, “woe unto them that” do that.
Even Christians can get so distorted through continually living in sin that they no longer know the difference between right and wrong.
– Don’t say it can’t happen to you, or hasn’t happened.
There was a pastor in Texas who had child porn pop up on his PowerPoint Presentation…how can a man of God get to that point?
– He allowed his conscience to be defiled, then seared [deadened], and it became an evil conscience.
– He probably felt justified in what he was doing right in his church office!
How is it in America that we’ve come to the place of allowing a woman to kill her unborn child?
– Same 3 answers — Conscience can be defiled, seared, and tolerate evil.
– We explain Same sex marriage as just an alternate lifestyle.
– Sex before marriage is now acceptable because everybody does it.
– Drugs and alcohol are the norm to take our mind off the pressures we face.
Paul was being persecuted, but he had peace. He stood with confidence in the face of criticism, because he had a good conscience, through confession and repentance.
My prayer is that we allow God to tenderize our consciences.
– We get back to His standards and we get back to Holiness.
That only happens when we spend time with Him and surrender to His Will.
Next week I plan to speak on how to rid our “wretched selves” of the “body of death” before it destroys us. Please read Romans 7 and 8 in preparation.
PODCAST A GOOD CONSCIENCE
The updated version of Rev Bill Woods’ book “There Is Still Power In The Blood” will be available soon.