The Vanishing Conscience

by Mike Ratliff

5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. Romans 13:5 (NASB) 

Part of daily devotional time is to pray for personal holiness along with wisdom, discernment, and Christlikeness. Why do I do that? Just take an honest look at the visible church all around us. What is missing? Yes, we have religion. Yes, we have growing churches. But if you take a good, long, hard look at the spiritual maturity of most professing Christians in the U.S.A. what do we come up with? 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. But as I stated above, the vast majority of those “Christians” these religion haters are referring to are the same ones I was talking about who could best be described as fleshly, worldly, and spiritually dead. 

I say in interview once several years ago with Bobby Knight. He was answering questions emailed directly to him.  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. Have you see those TV 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.

6 Seek the LORD while He may be found;
Call upon Him while He is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake his way
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the LORD,
And He will have compassion on him,
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.
8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.
9 “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 (NASB) 

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.

1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. Romans 13:1-5 (NASB) 

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.

16 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. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “ BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” Romans 1:16-17 (NASB) 

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.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. Romans 1:18-32 (NASB) 

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.

Soli Deo Gloria!