The Conscience, Love, and Submission

I’ve always been fascinated by the human conscience.  Maybe it started about 20 years ago when I first read Luther’s self-defense where he said his conscience was held captive by God’s Word.  Maybe my interest in the conscience started when I was learning about freedom of conscience in the context of the Reformation and sola Scriptura.  Or maybe my interest in the conscience started when I was very young and wrestled with a sensitive conscience myself.  Whatever the case, Christopher Ash’s book on the topic is wonderful.  I’ve mentioned it before, so I won’t go into details.  However, I do want to share two short sections I underlined in my copy:

“Love makes it easy for others to follow their conscience.  The individualistic and selfish insistence that I will do everything I am free in Christ to do, whether it be eating idol food (in Corinth) or eating bacon sandwiches (in Rome) is not motivated by love.  If I love someone and I understand just how important it is for them to maintain their integrity by doing only what their conscience allows, then I will do all I can to make it easy for them to do that.  ‘Knowledge puffs up’, makes me feel good about myself, ‘while love builds up’, that is, builds up the church (1 Corinthians 8:1).  If I cause their conscience distress by my actions then I am not acting out of love (Romans 14:15)….”

Our consciences need to be trained to submit to the Bible.  …Our unreliable consciences ought to be deliberately and consciously subject to the reliable Word of God.  There is such a thing as the tyranny of the weak conscience in a church.  This  is where people who are actually wrong cling so tenaciously to the preciousness of their (misguided) conscience that they will never learn anything else.  ‘Oh,’ they say in a prissy voice, ‘you musn’t trouble my conscience!  I am very protective of my precious conscience!’  And so they end up making an idol out of their conscience.

…[In Romans 14:5 Paul] does not want anyone to do something while convinced in their own mind that it is wrong.  That would be sinful.  But it is also sinful if I treat the conviction of my own mind as my ultimate authority.  …[Paul] wants our consciences to be in a constant process of recalibration, so that they get more and more closely aligned with the Word of God.”

Christopher Ash, Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience (p. 156-158)

Shane Lems