The Vanishing Conscience

by Mike Ratliff

Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. (Romans 13:5 ESV)

In our last several posts we have looked at the lack of holiness in the Church along with God’s Holiness and His commands that His children be holy as He is Holy. Much of the hand wringing we do these days is the result of observing the symptoms of something that runs very deep in our society.

This blog is public enough that I do receive quite a few comments and emails from those who contend that “religion” is a scourge and a plague in the world. While I agree that that does describe man-made religion, we contend that genuine Christianity is not man-made, or man-controlled, or in any way a scourge or a plague. The blunt instrument that these “fellows” use in their “contentions” is entirely based in relativism. They claim to be using “reason” while accusing all who live by faith as being blind fools for being so certain.

While I was in Seattle last week I watched some tournament basketball on ESPN. One of the anchors in the broadcast I watched was Bobby Knight. People emailed questions to him directly. One of the emails asked about how “kids” had changed since he first began coaching and how that had influenced him to retire. His answer went something like this, “kids are kids, the problem is really with the parents.” That got my attention! He then spoke of the parents not teaching their “kids” to respect authority. He said it made coaching very difficult when the players refused to submit to the authority of the coaches.

This got me to thinking about how this “symptom” was part of the same problem we see in the “Church’s” lack of holiness. I am sure that if you have watched any television lately you have seen those commercials that show people doing “the right thing” as if that is exceptional. It shows people doing things to help others selflessly. My friends, what is tragic is that this is seen as exceptional. Relativism and self-centeredness is the real scourge and plague in our society. The Church simply mirrors society. Divorce rates in the professing Church are the same as society in general for example.

“Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:6-9 ESV)

God tells us that His ways are not the world’s ways. His ways are right and perfect for He is Righteous and Holy and Just. There is no darkness in God. There has never been any nor will there ever be any in Him. God is Holy and Just yet He will abundantly pardon those who repent and turn their hearts away from the flesh and the world and return to Him. This turning is the act of submission to Him as Lord. It is a dying to self. It is also submission to those in authority whom God has appointed over us all.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. (Romans 13:1-5 ESV)

Paul spoke in this passage to the great need for believers to submit to the governing authorities. Why is this essential? He states that we must be in subjection to not only avoid God’s wrath, but also for the sake of conscience. What has the conscience to do with this?

“An educated, sensitive conscience is God’s monitor. It alerts us to the moral quality of what we do or plan to do, forbids lawlessness and irresponsibility, and makes us feel guilt, shame, and fear of the future retribution that it tells us we deserve, when we have allowed ourselves to defy its restraints. Satan’s strategy is to corrupt, desensitize, and if possible kill our consciences. The relativism, materialism, narcissism, secularism, and hedonism of today’s western world help him mightily toward his goal. His task is made yet simpler by the way in which the world’s moral weaknesses have been taken into the contemporary church.” – J.I. Packer from Rediscovering Holiness p151.

God designed the conscience to be our guide in our quest for holiness and godliness. However, the conscience can be neutralized. What does that? When the warnings of the conscience are repeatedly ignored instead of heeded, by whatever means, it can become seared until the heart becomes so calloused that “guilt” over even the most heinous of acts are not even felt. The main culprit in this becoming overwhelmingly rampant in our time is the nearly complete tolerance by society of “sin.” In fact, we have generations now who have no concept of guilt and sin. Instead of viewing sinfulness as sin, these ‘acts’ are seen the result of some kind of disease.

In this scenario, everyone seems to be a victim. This victimism has taken the place of traditional morality, even in the “church.”

“Our culture has declared war on guilt. The very concept is considered medieval, obsolete, unproductive. People who trouble themselves with feelings of personal guilt are usually referred to therapists, whose task it is to boost their self-image. No one, after all, is supposed to feel guilty. Guilt is not conductive to dignity and self-esteem. Society encourages sin, but it will not tolerate the guilt sin produces.” – John MacArthur from The Vanishing Conscience p19.

How has this warped understanding of guilt and sin affected the church? The “teachings” of “mainstream” churches and other liberals, such as the “emergents” and the “post-evangelicals” fit right in with this ‘guiltlessness.’ The biblical Gospel points to the Law of God and how all of us have broken it. We are all sinners who could do nothing to save ourselves from the coming wrath of God against all sin. However, He had mercy on some by sending His son to pay the penalty for their sin. He poured out His wrath on Him on the cross. He imputed our unrighteousness to Him then judged Him in our place. However, the ‘liberal” focus is bent on replacing the biblical gospel with one that never even looks at sin and guilt. No guilt, no sin! Since they dump the biblical gospel for one that is more “relevant,” they exclude words like sin, repentance, contrition, atonement, restitution, and redemption out of their message. Since there is no reason for anyone to feel guilty then how could anyone be a sinner?

This view of Christianity and the gospel can be held only by those who believe the myth that mankind is basically good. These folks are deluded into thinking that they are not guilty of sin, but are always victims, never villains. They see themselves as always deprived, never depraved. With this type of foolishness running rampant in our society we can have laws protecting the rights of women to kill their unborn child, but then charge a person with a double murder for killing a pregnant mother causing the death of the baby in her womb. This type of reasoning is an attempt to make crime a crime only if the ‘victim’ sees it that way. The removal of guilt as a result of violating God’s Law has produced a set of laws that are patterned in such a way that protect the criminal and actually victimize the victim even further.

The “church” has lost its place of being a pillar of morality in a sinful society. Instead of being in the world, but not part of it, most “churches” are doing all they can to buddy up with it by refusing to call sin sinful. These “Christians” will never say things that could possibly cause the guilty to feel guilty. After all, that would diminish their ‘relevance.’ For those who believe along these lines, I have some bad news for you.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17 ESV)

This is good news for those who do live by faith isn’t it? Who is saved? Those who are saved do live by faith. No one can be saved who do not live by faith. What does it mean to live by faith? It is the opposite way to live from those who aren’t convinced of the seriousness of their sin. There can be no salvation for those who are not convinced of the sinfulness of their sin. The following passage describes them.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:18-32 ESV)

What is the common denominator through this passage about these people? They do not see the sinfulness of their sin as a result of their seared conscience. They refuse to acknowledge that they are guilty. Their behavior is the result of their being victims after all… No, this passage describes the mindset of those who have done all they can do to kill their conscience. They have no moral bearing. They fight to have their sin legitimized. They call all who point out their sinfulness as being barbaric or medieval or Victorian or old-fashioned or Puritan. The genuine Gospel condemns them so they create one of their own choosing that includes everyone and condemns no one.

What is so tragic is that much of what is called “Christianity” has bought into this as well. Therefore, the visible Church is not holy. It is mostly in the same flesh-bound situation as our society. However, I know that many of you reading this have had your heart pricked. You know that what I wrote here is the truth. You know the sinfulness of sin and that the righteous live by faith, walk by faith, abide in Christ, and become Spirit-filled by becoming immersed in the Word of God. It permeates all parts of their lives. They submit to all, but tell the truth as well. They are not perfect, but walk in repentance. Jesus Christ is their all-in-all. They love the Lord their God with their entire being and their neighbor as themselves. The visible Church may become just another worldly institution, but that does not mean they are part of that in any way for the true Church does exist. Jesus said that He would continue to build His church and that the gates of Hades would never prevail against it.

He was not talking about the visible Church. He was talking about His sheep who have entered by the narrow gate and are on the narrow path. They walk by faith and see the sinfulness of sin because their conscience is working. God is working in them to tenderize their hearts even more so that they may walk before Him in obedience, full of their Lord’s grace and truth.

SDG

I

24 thoughts on “The Vanishing Conscience

  1. Amen Mike,

    Another great article and so right on. The world is fast asleep in sin and one of these days it will have a rude awakening. I don’t know how anyone can miss just how evil people are getting. Some people call them crazy I just call it evil.
    Romans 1: 18-32 fits this world right now. Thank you Mike and God Bless

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  2. Where there is no vision the people perish. That vision that the Word refers to is a vision of Almighty God and the Risen Christ. The church by and large has no vision of the divine and instead they have made their own golden calf and called it God.

    God will one day come down and destroy all these golden calfs. How wonderful it is to be safe in Christ! Even we who attempt to experience the Holy God fall very short so when sinners do not give the reverence to our Great God that He so deserves and instead create some relative charicature that has no resemblence to the Great and Triune Godhead, surrounded by worshiping seraphim and august in the heavens, what will be their end?

    Grace is God’s gift that is only effective through faith in the One True God and His only begotten Son. All other faiths, with the name Christian or not, are blasphemous poison that will one day judge their adherants. We live in spiritually toxic times and the coming of the Lord certainly draws very nigh. Watch and pray is our command as we look for the Blessed Hope and the appearing of the Great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.

    I bow to His everlasting grace purchased for me through the mystery of His sufferings!

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  3. So they think WE are the blind fools???? Wow, they say the ones being decieved don’t know it. We are in the apostasy big time. Any ‘blind fool’ can see that!! It was interesting that I read that the Egyptians saw all the things going on around them as calamities, but to Israel they were signs. We could say that of the false ‘churches’ today (Egyptians) and the real church (Israel). Its signs to us. No fear of God, no repentance. Like MacArthur says, ‘Half truths are no truth, they are lies’. Todays ‘churches’ for the most part are believing the lie thats been sent. The book by him, ‘The Vanishing Conscience’……we have it. Good read. These so called ‘churches’ do not have the message that declares that salvation is of the Lord. They think in their mind, they can accept Jesus and then live like they always have. Is this part of the delusion that God sends to them so they will believe the lie??

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  4. Pingback: Why I Am A Creationist « Sirius Knotts & Thoughts

  5. I found your comments to be of interest.

    I was writing a blog on why I am a Creationist and discussing the Argument from Moral Law. I happened to get kicked off my computer while composing it at this particular point. While signing back in, I noticed the title of your blog and supposing it might prove useful to the subject at hand, I took a look at it. Happily, it does address a side thought that space did not permit me to address.

    I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve placed a link to this blog from mine within the sentence, “Any more, society – even the Church – seems to be trying to do away with the concept of guilt, but it’s there and it’s an integral part of conscience.”

    The full blog is at: http://siriusknotts.wordpress.com/2008/03/17/why-i-am-a-creationist/

    Thank you,
    Sirius Knott

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  6. Mike, thank you for another good article that all professing Christians need to read. I appreciate the wisdom God has given you, it is amazing how God speaks through His people and teaches. John MacArthur’s book, ‘The Truth War’ is another worthy read, for those who enjoy the wisdom God has given this man. It is men like Dr. MacArthur, Paul Washer, my own pastor, and yourself that has encouraged me tremendously, I give all praise, glory and honor to the Father! God Bless!!

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  7. Mike,

    I agree with you on this, but there is a flipside to this coin.
    As a born-again believer, you are a new creation and are made holy.

    Sometimes as born-again believers, we continue to beat ourselves up over sin. It is preached over and over how horrible we are even AFTER we’re born again, which is totally unbiblical. (Unbiblical to think this way I mean).

    If we’re preaching to unsaved people, I agree with this approach. But for the born-again Christian, this kind of preaching is horrible. It keeps them from going and doing because they’re stuck beating themselves up over something that is already forgiven.

    I hope that makes sense? I’m contrasting unbelievers with believers and how they hear the same message, and born-again believers feel horrid instead of taking ownership of the promise that was made to us.

    Rom 6:5 For if we have become united with {Him} in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be {in the likeness} of His resurrection,
    Rom 6:6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with {Him,} in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;
    Rom 6:7 for he who has died is freed from sin.
    Rom 6:8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him,
    Rom 6:9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.
    Rom 6:10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.
    Rom 6:11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
    Rom 6:12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts,
    Rom 6:13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin {as} instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members {as} instruments of righteousness to God.
    Rom 6:14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

    In Christ,
    Chris
    http://sharpeningiron.wordpress.com/

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  8. Chris,

    Are you saying that we should not preach to Christians that that are called to be Holy and they should take their sin seriously? I am dealing here with complacent “Christians” who take “forgiveness” for granted and live in the flesh. I can quote many more scriptures here than you quoted that show that we are to put our sin to death and that takes work, commitment and Grace Chris…

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  9. No I agree with making sure born-again Christians take their sin seriously. But sometimes (at least in my neck of the woods), even that comes across as “You’re a horrible sinner”, “You deserve death” (instead of deserved) etc etc.

    Its the difference between living a life of victory over sin, and living a life struggling against sin. Does that make sense?

    Too many times we force Christians to keep looking inward like there is some stone unturned in there somewhere that they missed. Some sin they haven’t asked forgiveness for.

    Oftentimes we (born-again Christians) live “trying not to sin”, instead of living “Freed from Sin”.

    We become inward focused instead of outward focused.

    Does that help clarify?

    In Christ,
    Chris

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  10. Chris,

    My focus is to seek God, to walk with our focus on Him. As we draw near unto Him our sins will be exposed and it is then we confess and repent. From this we walk in victory not sin avoidance, but in obedience. We are to seek personal holiness. Unless we do this then we prove we re not His.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  11. Chirs:

    if we are truly following Christ, then aren’t we supposed to rejoice in the fact that we are depraved sinners who have been saved by the wondrous and radical free sovereign grace of God? As we grow deeper in God and His Word, wouldn’t we feel the gravity of our sins, and flee to the Cross of Christ for our deliverance through His imputed righteousness?

    Instead of talking about “trying not to sin” versus “freed from sin”, shouldn’t we just focus on Christ’s righteousness on our behalf? We are not told to “try not to sin”, which is Law by the way, not Gospel. We are rather told to surrender to Christ as Lord, and let Him be our all in all. And although we are freed from sin, the focus of the Gospel is never on freedom from sin rather than submission to Christ.

    Perhaps it would help if we juxtapose the depravity of Man alongside the imputed (not infused) righteousness of Christ. Then ask oursevesf this: ‘If believers were to focus on the imputed righteousness of Christ as their only hope of savation, will that make them “inward-focused’, or will it liberate them in shouts of praise towards our God?

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  12. My point is this.

    For born-again Christians that continue to sin willfully, there is judgment and this should definitely be preached.

    For lost people, there is judgment and condemnation.
    This also should be preached.

    Now there is a 3rd group. Those that have taken possession of their salvation and the promises made to them. We should exhort them to continue the “good fight”, to continue to grow etc. Where is the encouragement to those that live righteously and sin unwillingly?

    1 John 5:17-18 tells us:
    17) All unrighteous is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death
    18) We know that no one born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.

    Verse 17 has a cross reference to 1 John 3:4
    4) Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness

    There is an ability to not sin that is given to us when we are born-again. But if we do sin unwillingly then there is an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ
    1 John 2:1
    1) My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

    See my point? As believers we we’re not “sinners” anymore. We might sin unwillingly, but that doesn’t make us sinners. Some of us might even choose to sin willingly out of ignorance, or rebellion, but even this can be forgiven.

    Not all Christians act like this. Some groups/denominations do a good job of exhorting their believers to live sin-free lives, set apart. But other denominations to a poor job and make their born-again believers feel like something is wrong even after their conversion. They make them feel like they have some stone unturned in there that they need to keep asking forgiveness for. And that is not biblical.

    In Christ,
    Chris

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  13. Brother Chris,

    At salvation God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us. We are not made perfect though. However, we are regenerated which means that our Faith is quickened by God’s Grace. (Ephesians 2, Romans 4) Does this mean we don’t sin? No, we still sin. However, as we walk according to the Spirit we do so by drawing near unto God. This causes us to see our sin clearly in His light. This brings us to repentance. Perfection is not for this life brother.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  14. I didn’t say we were perfect. I said plainly that we sin unwillingly.

    Let me ask you a question that might better explain my position.

    Do you expect to sin today? Do you think its unavoidable because you are a sinner?

    In Christ,
    Chris

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  15. Chris,

    I believe that saved people (genuine) still sin. I expect to sin today because I am not totally sanctified and God is using my sin in that process. Yes, all genuine believers are capable of not sinning. Our new nature makes this possible, but we are imperfect and will sin eventually both intentionally and unintentionally because we still have our flesh demanding that we do. We do not sin when we walk by faith are spirit-filled. All that is of faith is not sin, but everything else we do is sin. That is what I am talking about brother.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  16. Mike,

    Before we go any further, please understand that this is a thoughtful discussion only. I’m am not being critical, only asking questions and hopefully providing something to think about. If you think I’m a heretic, then I want you to tell me, or if I take an unbliblical position, I want you to tell me. I am _not_ trying to be argumentative. Just wanted to clarify that.

    Also please remember my original comment was about the flipside of the coin. To empower Christians to live like they are free which they are. To take ownership of that.

    You said, “I expect to sin today because I am not totally sanctified and God is using my sin in that process.”

    So God is using your sin in the process of sanctifying you?
    I think this is an un-biblical position.

    Romans 6:21
    Rom 6:21 Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death.

    (what benefit is SIN? There is no usefulness of sin)

    Rom 6:22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.

    (Freed from sin AND SANCTIFIED)

    Rom 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    This is the flipside of the sinner coin that I was trying to illustrate. We end up with a lot of ‘gloomy gus’ Christians instead of Christians that see every day as a new opportunity to server Christ. They see every day as a new test, trial, temptation instead.

    I’m not saying you teach this way. I am saying there are a huge number of churches that DO teach/preach this way.

    In Christ,
    Chris

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  17. Chris,

    No, my position is completely biblical for I am describing the process of sin mortification which is a huge part of our sanctification. The struggle, the repentance, all of that God uses to grow us. I think you are misunderstanding what I wrote. God does not wave a magic wand over each saved person and them make it so they will never sin. No!!!!!!!!!!!! He leaves us in these bodies with our flesh still wanting us to attempt to be fulfilled by acts of the flesh. This is still in place Chris even in the most mature Christians. We must do as John Owen taught and work with God in putting these lusts to death. It is this that God uses to grow us spiritually. To teach Christians that this isn’t so creates antinomians who live like they can sin all they want and it does not affect their eternal position. However, Christ said that those who are His CONTINUE in submitting their lives to Him and seek Personal Holiness through repentance and the Father’s PRUNING.

    The view that we are to ‘Let go and Let God’ is a fallacy and does not work…

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  18. I agree with the magic wand bit and I agree that we still will struggle against the flesh. I think you missed what I was trying to get at. Nothing I have said would suggest antinomianism.

    So, I’ll take my leave now since we seem to have a disconnect in our conversation. 🙂

    God bless,
    Chris

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