Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Clear Conscience Study

Clear Conscience, Pure Heart, and Undefiled Service
“Everything is pure to those whose hearts are pure; but nothing is pure to those who are corrupt and unbelieving, because their minds and consciences are defiled. Such people claim they know God, but they deny him by the way they live. They are despicable and disobedient, worthless for doing anything good.”
Titus 1:15-16
This passage in Titus has very strong language! When I read it, it deeply disturbed me, because I knew it was a picture of many people in the church today, who claim to know God, but deny him with the way they live. At times in my life, it was probably a picture of me.
I have again and again been reading in the scripture that we should have a pure heart and a clear conscience. I began to wonder what that really meant. This passage is the crux of my study. It is very clear what the horrible consequences are when our consciences are defiled. What does that mean to have a conscience that is defiled?
The Greek word is miasmos and it literally means contamination. That word immediately brought to my mind contaminated water. What happens to water when it becomes contaminated? Something poisonous or harmful, even just a little bit, is mixed in with pure water and makes it completely unfit for us to drink or use. Would we consider drinking water that had the tiniest bit of contamination in it? Feeding it to our children? Absolutely not! That is how our sin poisons our lives, and the lives of others as well. When we have willful sin in our lives, something that we know is there but refuse to really deal with, it is contaminating our conscience, and in essence, everything we touch.
I read the commentary by Matthew Henry on this passage, and he says this: “To good Christians that are sound in their faith and thereby purified all things are pure… but to those that are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; things lawful and good they abuse and turn into sin; they suck poison out of that which others draw sweetness; their mind and conscience, those leading faculties, being defiled, a taint is communicated to all they do. The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, Prov. 15:8 and 21:4, The ploughing of the wicked is sin, not in itself, but as done by him; the carnality of the mind and heart mars all the labour of the hand.”
This is not directed to the people of the world who are clearly lost, but to the religious person, working in the church, “serving the Lord.” How frightening is this? When there is sin in our lives that we refuse to confess and repent of, we are not only contaminating our own consciences and preventing our own intimacy with God, but we are tainting all the work that we do and marring all of the labor of our hand. For example, in our sinful state, we continue to sit on a committee at church, in a position of power. We are tainting all that we do in that area of the church. We pursue things for the church that are not of the Spirit. Or we continue to teach Sunday School or a Bible Study, we are “worthless for doing any good” there, according to verse 16. We are actually inhibiting the work of God by our service! We are literally leading others astray.
How could this be? None of us are perfect, and aren’t we ALL supposed to be serving the Lord? Yes, but we have taken far too lightly the stubborn sin in our lives that we wear so comfortably. When will we understand that our sin does not only affect us, but it hurts others as well? Husbands and wives, your sin is damaging your spouse. Parents, your sin is affecting your children. Christian, your sin is damaging the people who look to you as an example of Christ. We claim to know Him, but we deny Him by the way we live. Do you think that reprimand is too strong for it to apply to you? Your sin could not be serious enough for that! God is a Holy God, and cannot tolerate the willful sin in us that we are not willing to make right. 1 Timothy 1:19 says “Cling tightly to your faith in Christ, and always keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked.” Sin can destroy us! It can take us down, and fast! Priscilla Shirer says “Sin will take you farther than you wanted to go, keep you longer than you intended to stay, and cost you more than you intended to pay.” How true. I think we have all been there.
What do we do when we know that we have sin in our lives, when we feel in bondage, when we don’t know how to crawl out of the pit? First, we should fall on our knees before our God and confess. Ask the Holy Spirit to break our hearts over our sin the way it breaks our Father’s heart. James 4:8-10 says “…Wash your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you hypocrites. Let there be tears for the wrong things you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependance on Him, he will lift you up and give you honor.” There ought to be deep sorrow in our repentance! If there is not, you are still believing some portion of the lie that Satan fed you to get you there to begin with. Hebrews 12 says we need to “strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress” before we can run the race. I am a runner, and I certainly would not go into a race with any weight on my body. What is weighing you down? In what way have you chosen your own course over God’s for your life? Jeremiah 2:13 says “For my people have done two evil things. They have forsaken me- the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all.” What a perfect picture of what we do when choose our own will over God’s! We walk away from the perfect, abundant fountain of pure water, and we build ourselves these cracked, ugly, pots that can’t even hold the water in. Throw away your cracked pot, and go back to the fountain. Then when you experience the perfect forgiveness that comes from God’s amazing grace, when you stand right before the Lord, you can serve Him with a pure heart and a clear conscience. Who knows what good things He has planned for you to do in His Kingdom?

Read Psalm 19:13. Define willful or deliberate sin. Give some examples from your own life.

I would define your conscience as your ability to feel the conviction of sin from the Holy Spirit. Read Psalm 32:3-5. How did the Psalmist feel when under the conviction of the Spirit?

1 Timothy 4:2 is a warning about false teachers. He says “they pretend to be religious, but their consciences are dead.” (NLT) What are the possible reasons for this? How do you know your conscience is not dead?

2 Corinthians 7:1 says “Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete purity because we fear God.” Is there anything defiling your body or spirit? Are you working toward complete purity?

1 John 3:21-22 says “Dear friends, if our conscience is clear, we can come to God with bold confidence. And we will receive whatever we request because we obey him and do the things that please him.” When our conscience is clear, why do you think it says we can approach God with bold confidence? In all that you will do today, how much of it will be in order to please God, or to please yourself?

Pray a prayer, thanking God for being faithful to show you your sin, for giving you the opportunity to get right, and for then allowing you to approach Him with bold confidence! As you go through your day today, ask Him if He is pleased with you and if you are being obedient.

Part 2
“In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use. If you keep yourself pure, you will be a utensil God can use for his purpose. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.”
2 Timothy 2:20-21
This analogy Paul uses in this passage intrigued me at first. I think it’s an analogy geared for women…kitchen utensils! He says there are two kinds of utensils; the fancy ones made of gold and silver that are for special occasions. Then there are the cheaply made utensils that are used for the everyday. Interestingly, he doesn’t tell you which one you ought to be. This confused me at first, because I was torn. I have some elegant pieces in my kitchen, all of which we received as wedding gifts. I have several sets of china, because I really like dishes. I loved my china when we picked it out and received it as newlyweds! However, I was thinking of the coffee cups in particular. I can’t recall if I’ve ever used them. How strange, that they should be so beautiful, but of so little use to me. But they’re just not really good for everyday use. For a coffee cup, they’re just too small, considering how much coffee it requires for me to get up to do my Bible Study and write before things get going in my house… and they’re just so dainty, and can‘t be run through the dishwasher. Just not an everyday utensil, in my house. In fact, the things that I really love in my house are those that are useful for everyday. The familiar and useful pieces. I’m a practical girl. Giving me a coffee mug that is beautiful, but is not comfortable to hold, won’t hold much coffee, and has to be cleaned by hand, is only going to collect dust in my cupboard. But I still love an attractive piece as much as anyone. I like to set a pretty table. I like for everything to match. Presentation is half the fun in making a good meal.
I guess my conclusion is that I want to be both. I want to be a utensil made of gold and silver, the refined and purer materials. I want to be glittering and attractive to the Father for his use. I also want to be clean and ready for his everyday use. I don’t want to be used by Him on the rare occasion. I want my life to be about His constant use of me for His purpose. How can I be both these things? How can I be a tool, ready to serve the Master, bringing honor to Him everyday? Paul tells us. If you keep yourself pure, you will be a utensil God can use for his purpose. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work. Keeping ourselves pure, and our lives clean; purifying ourselves from the sin that mars our lives, and makes us unacceptable to represent Him to others. I don’t want my ugly sin to get in the way! It’s exciting to think of the things that God has planned for my life, and how He wants to use me for His kingdom! I want nothing more! But I have to keep myself pure, and not allow sin to take hold of my life. Of course I will sin, but if I continue to examine my heart and ask Him what is offensive in me, He is faithful to show me and convict me of it. I want to pursue a life of holiness and purity. Just as Paul said in Philipians 3:12, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection! But I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be.”
So where do we begin? How do we pursue a life of purity so the Master can use us? Paul breaks it down for us. Verse 22 says “Run from anything that stimulates youthful lust. Follow anything that makes you want to do right. Pursue faith and love and peace, and enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.” Paul makes it very simple for us. He gives us four instructions. #1, flee temptation. He says Run! Don’t flirt with it, don’t go near it, don’t think about it. Usually if we allow our minds to ponder the sin that entices us, we end up smack-dab in the middle of it pretty quickly. Recognize the sin that you are prone to, and do everything you can to run far away. If you have a problem with gossip, you might need to avoid the friends that you always gossip with. If you can’t control yourself on dates, you need to stop dating. If you have a problem with pornography, you need to get rid of your computer. The solutions are far more simple than we make them. We are just not willing to RUN when we ought to be high-tailing it out of there. If you think you can stay and admire what entices you, you are fooling yourself. Put pleasing the Lord at the top of your priority list, and RUN.
#2, follow righteousness. When you find yourself running from sin, what should you run towards? Run toward the things of God. Ask for discernment about things that are pleasing to the Lord, and follow them. When we stop chasing sin in our lives, we have to run toward something. Run toward righteousness.
#3, Pursue faith, love, and peace. What are you pursuing in your life? We are all pursuing something. What do we put our time, energy, and passion into? Paul says, put it all into faith, love, and peace. If we are pursuing faith, we are practicing spiritual discipline. We are praying, studying the Word, interceding for others, worshiping Him. If we are pursuing love, we are thinking not only of ourselves, but actively expressing God’s love to others. We are serving others, encouraging others, putting other people’s interests above our own, as in Philippians 2. Lastly, if we are pursuing peace, we are not stirring up dissension. We don’t force our opinions and desires on others for the sake of pride. We are not using words that are harsh and hurtful, no matter how we’ve been wronged. We are lovers of peace, as the Bible calls us to be.
And #4, we are surrounding ourselves with friends who also have pure hearts for God. Paul says to “enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.” What great advice! Don’t misunderstand him, he is not saying we should not have lost people in our lives. To the contrary. We need to be a light wherever we go, and we need to make intentional relationships with those who need the Lord, being faithful to show them a God who loves them and wants to save them. But these should not be your closest friends! If your best friends are lost people I would venture to say there is a problem. The people you spend most of your leisure time with, the people you seek advice from, the people who are your source of companionship ought to be Christians. The deep friendships in your lives ought to be people who call on the Lord with pure hearts, and encourage you to do the same. If you think your mission in life is to bring everyone else up, be the “designated driver”, be the lone Christian in the bunch, you are setting yourself up to fall and fall hard. Your greatest desire in life ought to be the Lord, and when it is, you will naturally crave to be around others who feel the same way. We need the encouragement of other Christians. We need people who will pray with us. We need people who will keep us accountable and speak truth even when it is painful. I am immensely grateful for these people in my life. I treasure the friendships I have with those precious women who have pure hearts for God, and show me how to be better. And I enjoy their companionship more than anything!
When I found this passage, it became a daily prayer for me. How I long to be useful to the Father! Start praying Lord, purify me. Show me anything in me that has to go. Make me clean and ready for your every good work. Amen.

Honestly, identify the sin areas in your life that you are prone to and that entice you. What or who should you be running from? Make a plan to run.

Read Psalm 51:5-13. Write it down and put it somewhere you can meditate on it for a week and memorize it.

What does it mean to run toward righteousness? Think of some examples of things you can “run toward.” If you don’t know, think of someone who you could discuss this with, and make a plan to “run toward righteousness.”

Read Psalm 24:3-6. What does it say about those whose “hands and hearts are pure”?

Make a short list of friends in your life who “call on the Lord with pure hearts.” Write a note to each of them, sharing 2 Timothy 2:22 with them.

Read Hebrews 10:26-29. What does it say about those who continue to deliberately sin after knowing the Truth? How do we “trample on the Son of God?” Verse 29 in the NLT says “Such people have insulted and enraged the Holy Spirit who brings God’s mercy to his people.” Who is he talking about?

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